Sunday, March 26, 2017

Southern Baptists ​in Disarray Over Calvinism!

From the limited research I have done into this, the story appears to go something this: At one time Baptist churches in the US were not generally Calvinists—although a sprinkling of Calvinists could be found among them, who were generally tolerated. This continued until around the turn of the century when an increasing number of Baptist preachers and pastors began to emerge from the seminaries who were indoctrinated with Calvinism, because they were taught by Calvinist professors and teachers who had entered the seminaries. That raised hackles among the traditionalists who did not buy into Calvinism, to the point that tempers were raised and accusations of heresy were made.

In November 6-7, 2008, the “John 3:16 Conference” was held at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga, to make a biblical and theological assessment of five-point Calvinism, and give an appropriate response to it. The conference was sponsored by Jerry Vines Ministries, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and about 1,000 pastors and laypeople attended the conference.

In May 30, 2012, a group of the traditional (non-Calvinist) faction of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) issued an (anti-Calvinist) statement titled, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation,” whose purpose was “to more carefully express what is generally believed by Southern Baptists about salvation.” This statement can be seen on the Connect 316 website here, a PDF copy of which can be downloaded from here. Dr. Eric Hankins was nominated to produce the draft, with input from other prominent Baptists and theology professors at several SBC seminaries and colleges. (The general leadership of the SBC appear to be embarrassed by this document, and have called it “semi-pelagian” and other uncomplimentary names, and generally avoid making references to it in their public discussions.)

On July 15, 2013, the Connect 316 movement was launched by five original Board Members, with Rick Patrick of Alabama acting as the Founding Executive Director, joined by Ron Hale of Tennessee, Eric Hankins of Mississippi, Tim Guthrie of Tennessee and Tim Rogers of North Carolina. The purpose of the organization was explained as follows: “Although many theologically driven ministry organizations existed for the support of Reformed pastors and theologians, no such network existed to assist Traditionalists in the task of connecting with one another. Connect 316 was formed as an organization rooted in the theology of the Traditional Statement. In the Summer of 2012, after hundreds of Southern Baptists had declared their affirmation of Traditionalist theology, it seemed beneficial to find ways to bring them together in an ongoing manner rather than simply relying on the one-time signing of a single document.” Link.

This resulted in more contention and consternation among Southern Baptists, with tempers and blood pressures rising, and accusation flying around. In response to that Dr. Frank S. Page, President and CEO of the Executive Committee of the SBC, set up a 19-member “Calvinism Advisory Committee” (composed of members from both sides of the divide) in August 2012 to look into the issues in dispute, and find a solution to the differences​ which threatened to fracture the SBC. This Advisory Committee issued the statement titled “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension: A Statement from the Calvinism Advisory Committee,” which came out exactly one year later on May 30, 2013.

The chief architects of the statement were Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Dr. Eric Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church, Oxford MS; who were the chief members of the “writing committee” set up to produce the draft, which the other members of the Advisory Committee then debated, discussed, amended and finally approved. The complete text of this statement can be seen hereIt is a conciliatory statement designed to bring about a reconciliation and unity of purpose among Southern Baptists of the two different theological persuasions, while at the same time acknowledging their differences.

The SBC Calvinism Advisory Committee later held a panel discussion on the subject, a video recording of which can be seen above (also here). Dr. Al. Mohler and Eric Hankins later staged an open discussion between the two of them on the subjects dealt with by the Advisory Committee, titled “Theology and the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” a video recording of which can be seen here:

Also worth studying in conjunction with the above is “The Baptist Faith and Message,” the latest version of which can be seen hereThe original version of this statement was produced in 1925, which was subsequently​ revised twice, first in 1963, and then again in 2,000. A side-by-side comparison of all three versions can be seen here.

An interesting example of the kind of debate and discussions that have taken place among Southern Baptists over this issue is the “Calvinism: Concerned? Confused? Curious?” conference held in August 4, 2012, at Crestwood Baptist Church in Oldham County, Ky. This conference had four general sessions, ending in a final concluding remarks by Dr. Frank S. Page, which can be seen on YouTube as listed below:

The first two is a 2-part series of lectures by Dr. David Dockery, titled “The Current Resurgence of Reformed Theology,” which provide a historical background to the development of Baptist theology. The third video is titled “Calvinism: Dialogue from Differing Theological Perspectives,” and is a panel discussion between two representatives of the different sides of the divide, Dr. Hershael York (Calvinist), and Dr. Steve Lemke (non-Calvinist), moderated by Kevin L. Smith. The fourth video is titled “Calvinism Conference: Q and A”. It is a question and answer session involving all the above named participants, with Dr. Frank S. Page now also joining the panel for this particular event. The fifth and final video contains the concluding remarks by Dr. Frank S. Page, followed by a prayer.

How all of this will impact the Southern Baptist Convention in the years that lie ahead remains to be seen. For the remainder of this post I am going to comment mainly on what was said in the fourth video by Dr. Hershael York, who is on the Calvinist side of the divide. The fourth video can be seen here:

At around 15:10 minutes into the video Steve Lemke states that Baptists don’t like to be called Arminians particularly because of the “security of the believer”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, and had to look it up. Calvinism teaches “once saved, always saved”. The Bible teaches that one is not “saved” until they have “endured to the end;” and that it is possible for someone to lose their salvation by falling away after they had “believed”. That is clearly taught in the Bible, which appears to be also the Arminianism position. So why Baptists should have a problem with that is something that needs to be explored further. Continuing on with the rest of the discussion, however, at 18:38 minutes into the video the following question was asked:

“Can you really substantiate that God is a God of love if he shows partiality towards the elect? Can you even say that God is just if he does not love all equally?”

The question relates to the Calvinist doctrine of “unconditional election,” meaning that God had predestined some to be saved and others to be damned without reference to any “merit,” worthiness, or righteousness on their part. To this Dr. Hershael York gives a lengthy reply, to which Dr. Steve Lemke in turn gives a good answer. But in my opinion his answer doesn’t go far enough. So I am going to examine in more detail what Dr. York had said, and see how it compares with what the Bible teaches. His answer begins as follows:

“I will begin with that. First of all what God loves more than anything else is his holiness and his glory. You have to say that our theology has to be God centered, not man centered. If you sum up my view, what people call Calvinism or whatever, I want to preach God as high as I can get him; and you know how I want to preach humanity? as low as I can get them, because that shows the greatness of his grace.”

I certainly don’t want to preach humanity any higher than they deserve to be; but I wouldn’t want to preach them any lower than God himself has preached them either. If God “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” to die for them and save them (John 3:16), then God appears to preach mankind a bit higher than he does:

Romans 8:

31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

Philippians 2:

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

I prefer to be closer to God’s preaching than his. God’s glory is in fact promoted by our salvation and redemption. That is how God “glorifies” himself—by saving and redeeming us, and atoning for our sins:

John 13:

31 Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
32 If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.

Jesus glorified God by saving and redeeming us. Not only that, but the Bible also says that God is “glorified” when we do good works, and keep his commandments (Matt. 5:16). If God “loves his own glory” more than anything else, as Dr. York suggests; and God’s glory is promoted by saving and redeeming us; and even man by his own actions can do something to promote the glory of God; then man’s estimation in the sight of God cannot be as low as he likes to preach it to be. He then continues his answer as follows:

“If you take that question, this is the same question for instance that liberals would ask about God telling the Israelites to wipe out Ai in Joshua chapter 8. They would say, Well, what kind of God is that? I mean, God that tells them to go in there and kill everybody, every man, woman and child in a whole city, 12,000 of them in that city. The bottom line is that the text has to say what the text says. And I am not going to make a defense of God’s character, when humanity sits in judgement on God.”

The problem with that is that while the story of Ai is indeed found in the Bible, the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election is not. If he wants to defend the doctrine of unconditional election biblically​, the story of Ai isn’t going to help him any. He continues:

“God is the creator and sustainer of all that is; and what you have to do is to say he has the right to do as he chooses, and all of humanity deserve hell, and he has the right to save some and not others.”

What God has the right to do, and what he has chosen to do are two different things. The question is not what he has the right to do, but what he has chosen to do; and what he has chosen to do according to the Bible is not unconditional election. What he has chosen to do is that he is “no respecter of persons,” meaning that he does not discriminate. He does not have “favourites”. There is no “partiality” with God. He judges all men equally according to their works. He punishes the wicked according to their wickedness, and rewards the righteous according to their righteousness. That is what the Bible teaches:

Acts 10:

34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

Romans 2:

11 For there is no respect of persons with God.

Ephesians 6:

9 And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

Colossians 3:

25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

1 Peter 1:

17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:

Dr. York then continues:

“And now in fact even if you don’t have the so-called Calvinist view, here is your choice, either you are going to worship a God who chooses to save some, and chooses not to save others, …”

Of course he chooses to save some and not others. The question is, on what basis does he makes that choice: and he has told us how. He judges them according to their works—whether they be good or whether they be evil—and rewards them accordingly:

John 5:

28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

Dr. York then continues:

“… or else a God who could save everybody, but he leaves it up to everyone.”

I hope that made sense to him, because it didn’t to me. God leaves what “up to everyone”? He continues:

“Either way, you have a God who could do something he does not do.”

That makes no sense. God has told us what he will do. He judges them according to their works—and rewards them accordingly​ (John 5:28–29). Nothing could be simpler or easier for anyone to understand. Why Calvinists can’t, remains a mystery. He continues:

“That is why I say, If your issue is what I call theodicy, if it is about justifying God, you don’t do it either way, by simply kicking the can down the road to freewill.”

Nobody is “justifying God”. God justifies himself. You would only need to “justify God” if he behaved irrationally​ the way the Calvinists say he does. Since luckily he doesn’t,  there will be no need to “justify God”. God has said that he is “no respecter of persons,” but that he rewards everyone according to their works. How can anything be plainer or more easy to understand than that? Is he really not understanding it, or is he pretending not to? He continues:

“You still have a God who is greater than man’s freewill, who could overrule man’s freewill, but chooses not to, …”

Of course he chooses not to. Why should he, if he doesn’t want to? God wants men to be free, to choose for themselves between good and evil—and be rewarded accordingly​. If God’s intention had been to “override” their freewill, why would he want to give them freewill to begin with, to decide for themselves whether to choose good or evil? That is the whole argument against Calvinism, that God has made man free to choose for himself. Why is that so hard for a Calvinist to understand? He continues:

“… and so that still doesn’t get at what is underlying this question, can you call God a God of love if he shows partiality?”

How is God “showing partiality” by allowing men to freely choose between good and evil, and reward them accordingly? I cannot believe for a moment that he does not realize how ridiculously​ absurd, meaningless,​ and nonsensical his entire argument is. He is either playing stupid, or else he thinks that everybody else is stupid except himself. He continues:

“Well God shows no partiality in the face of his holiness.”

Which makes no sense to anybody including himself, I am sure. He continues:

“It is his holiness that is the standard, and that is his primary love. His love is of his glory and of his holiness, and everything he does is consistent with his holiness and his character.”

I hope that made sense to him, because it doesn’t to me. That ends his answer to that particular question. Turning to another subject, at 25:21 minutes into the video he makes this comment:

“I really do think that inclusivism and universalism are our biggest problems​. Earlier today when Dr. Dockery made the statement that even when the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention were ‘particular Baptists,’ the folks in the pews were not … they say that is congregationalism at work. Well, congregationalism at work today believes in inclusivism and universalism. I shudder to think that if you took a poll at the Buck Run Baptist Church tomorrow, where I have preached my heart out for the past almost 9 years, and preached an exclusive gospel, I just hate to think how many people would say, if you asked them, What about the guy who is out there in the back side of the world who has never heard the gospel, does he go to hell? I fear that there would be some who even in my church, who would say, Well no, they won’t go to hell. Oh, God wouldn’t be fair to make that guy go to hell.”

Maybe that is because the members of his congregation know their Bibles better than he does. It could be that they are familiar with these verses, which he does not appear to be:

Romans 2:

6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
11 For there is no respect of persons with God.
12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

Galatians 6:

7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

Acts 10:

34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
35 But in every nation [and religion] he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

These verses apply to people of all nations and religions, not just to Jews or Christians. All are saved who work righteousness, by virtue of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Nobody is saved “by their own works”. They are saved by God when they do what he says. That is not the same as saying that people “save themselves,” or are saved “by their own works”. He continues:

“Folks, if that guy isn’t going to hell, we don’t need to do missions. But that guy is going to hell.”

We do missions because if they come to know the true and living God, and believe in him, they will be more willing to repent and keep God’s commandments​, which is what the Bible says is required for their salvation:

Matthew 7:

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

“Faith alone” doesn’t save anyone. Keeping God’s commandments does. Those who have never heard of Jesus, but still do what is right and pleasing in the sight of God out of a good conscience, will still be saved, like it says in Rom. 2:6–16; Gal. 6:7–10; Acts 10:34–35 quoted above. They will be saved by Jesus Christ, by virtue of the Atonement which he has made. They won’t be saved “by their own works”. That is what the Bible teaches. He then continues:

“And to me that it is the huge problem in our churches, that people are falling prey to this cultural, sentimental view of God, that holds fairness as the standard instead of Justice.”

He is talking an awful lot of nonsense, and apparently doesn’t know it. Justice and fairness are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, fairness is an integral part of justice. The decision of a judge would not be just if it was not fair. God would be unjust if he was unfair. He continues:

“And God never claims to be fair.”

That is not only false, but borders on blasphemy. God certainly claims to be fair. That is what is meant by being “no respecter of persons”. See the scriptures quoted above. God is not only fair, but is consistently fair. He is consistent in his fairness, and will never be unfair. He applies the same standard of fairness to everyone. He judges them according to their “works;” they that have done good to salvation, and they have done evil to damnation. That is written all over the Bible, Old and New Testaments. To accuse God of partiality and favouritism, against the express teaching of the Bible to the contrary, borders on the blasphemous. He continues:

“He claims to be just and holy.”

And fair. He would be neither just nor holy if he wasn’t fair.

“And all of the world is lost apart from the gospel, and that is why we give what we give, and go where we go, and do what we do, because they really are lost, and there is no other name under heaven whereby they must be saved except the name of Jesus.”

And God is also “no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34–35). At 33:12 minutes into the video the following question was directed specifically at Dr. York:

“Will you please explain John 3:16 from a Calvinist view?”

He seems to have been taken off guard by that question, and gives it a rambling and incoherent reply. Then at 35:25 minutes into the video Dr. Lemke intervenes with the following remark:

“... I do know Calvinists to understand ‘world’ to mean the ‘elect’ in the world, and put a kind of specialized definition on it.”

To this Dr. York replies:

“I don’t say that, I don’t say that with John 3:16. I know some do. But I believe … I have no problem with saying that God loves the entire world. He loved the entire world so much that he gave his Son. He loved the world, and I think that means humanity, I already pointed out to you he did not do that for the angels, he did that for the world. And so I have no problem saying God loves the world, and meaning the entire world.”

He obfuscates and prevaricates. Calvinists are not known for speaking their mind when it suites them not to. The real question is, Did Jesus die for everyone’s sins, or just for the sins of a few, the “elect”? And who are the “elect”? Are they predestined to be the “elect,” or are they free to choose for themselves, and be the elect by their own choices? If Dr. York no longer believes in predestination, limited atonement, or unconditional election, why is he still a Calvinist? If he believes in all of those, why does he obfuscate and prevaricate? Why does he not speak his mind properly? What is he afraid of? What does he have to hide?

Further into the video a discussion arose concerning the doctrine of the “original sin,” which Catholics and Calvinist adhere to (including infant baptism), but traditional​ Baptists don’t. To this at 40:36 minutes into the video Dr. York gives the following reply:

“I believe in the original sin because I am a parent and now a grandparent, and I have seen it in every generation. My sons were sinners just like their mother, and we never had to teach them how to hit each other. We never had to teach them how to be greedy or selfish. We never had to teach them how to lie. You know, they got that all on their own, where did they get it? They got it from their mother, so …”

More obfuscation and prevarication, and hiding the real truth. That is not the doctrine of the original sin. The doctrine of the original sin is not about little children being naughty. The doctrine of the original sin says that a one-day old infant, who has not had a chance to do good or bad, is guilty because of the sin of Adam. The doctrine of the original sin is about guilt. It says that a newborn infant is guilty, not because he did something wrong, but because Adam did something wrong. That is the doctrine of the original sin—which is why the Catholics have invented the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, to avoid the assumed transmission of that “guilt” to Jesus.

The Baptist churches have traditionally managed to avoid all of that Calvinistic claptrap; but the Calvinists are now bringing it all back in again with a vengeance through the seminaries and in the pulpit, and causing a lot of consternation and division among the Southern Baptists; and that debate shows no sign of abating. An example of the more vocal expression of the backlash of the traditionalists against the rise of Calvinism in the SBC is the following lecture given by Dr. Rick Patrick, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL, on Nov. 29, 2016. Note especially the closing remarks at the end by Dr. Paige Patterson, where he recommends that the Calvinists in the SBC should go and join the Presbyterian Church, where they would feel more at home! (Start watching at 25:50 minutes into the video to avoid the introductory songs and comments):

Time will tell how it will all play out in the end. My guess is that Southern Baptists will not have an easy ride.

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