On January 9, Dr. Rick Patrick, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, Alabama, posted an article on SBC Today entitled, “Saying ‘No Mas’ to Additional Calvinist Entity Leaders”. Before I go any further, let me first say that I pray that the Lord will continue to use Dr. Patrick to feed and shepherd the flock at FBC Sylacauga; and, secondly, that this post is not arguing for a particular soteriological position, but rather pleading for unity among both Calvinists and Non-Calvinists within the Southern Baptist Convention.
In the article, Dr. Patrick argues that the Traditionalists of the SBC must respond to the growing number of Calvinists in SBC leadership. “Recently, such leaders have typically possessed exceptionally strong theological, philosophical and personal ties to Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. A proactive effort by trustees to install Soteriological Traditionalists would serve to counter-balance this disproportionately Calvinistic influence.” What is interesting about this opening remark is that for many years the SBC leadership has been disproportionately led by those of the “Traditionalist Movement.” That being the case, commotions were not made by those of the Calvinist camp. In fact, in the last half century, both Calvinist and Traditionalist Southern Baptists were united together in what is now known as the “Conservative Resurgence” (Thank God for that!).
After listing those who have been appointed to SBC leadership who have ties to Mohler, he issues his concern with the number of “Mohler protégés”. “If Southern Baptists refuse to address this problem, it is possible that one day every single Southern Baptist entity might be led by a Five Point Calvinist or a Four Point Amyraldist, with the “whosoever will” doctrines embraced by a majority of Southern Baptists being practically abandoned. Leaders influence followers. If all our leaders are one day Calvinistic, what will happen to our theology in the Southern Baptist Convention?” The honest answer is that the Convention would be moving back to its historical convictions. This question fails to remember that the Southern Baptist Convention in its founding was at the very least “Moderately Calvinistic” in its convictions. The founding and early history of the SBC is marked by Calvinist leaders, such as W.B. Johnson (first president of the SBC), James Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly Sr., as well as Basil Manly Jr, and B.H. Carroll. Also worth noting is that the New Hampshire Confession of Faith (moderately Calvinist) was the first confession to which the Convention adhered to. This question also assumes that Calvinists deny the truth of Romans 10:13, which itself is quoting Joel 2:32. Charles Spurgeon, perhaps the most well known Calvinistic Baptist, affirmed this truth whole-heartedly. “Let us arose ourselves to the sternest fidelity, labouring to win souls as much as if it all depended wholly upon ourselves, while we fall back, in faith, upon the glorious fact that everything rests with the eternal God.” As Dr. Emir Caner, president of my alma mater, Truett-McConnell University, once said in Baptist History class, “Any theology that lessens your evangelism is a bad theology.”
Next, Dr. Patrick calls for those in the Traditionalist camp to take their stand and declare a resounding “No mas” to the Calvinists in the SBC.
To our Calvinist partners, we say: ‘Because the last several entity leaders have been drawn from your wing of the convention, the next several entity leaders should, and frankly must, be drawn from ours. This demand is only fair and just, for we are part of the convention too—the part that pays an awful lot of the bills. And because we do pay a lot of the bills, it is only right that some leaders from our theological wing should be chosen to fill SBC entity vacancies just as the leaders from your wing have been chosen so frequently over the past few years. We refuse to sit back and quietly watch you take over the leadership of every single Southern Baptist entity, one right after the next. Our message to you is simple. No mas.”
This message that Patrick is calling for the Traditionalists to declare is troubling because in essence he is saying that money equals power: those who give more and donate more consequently deserve the power. Again, for years the SBC was dominated by Traditionalist leadership (which is perfectly fine), but just because there happens to be a present influx of Calvinist leaders in the SBC, the leadership is suddenly disproportionate? Patrick takes this idea one step further, suggesting that because money is on the side of the Traditionalists, it should be used as leverage to bring about the appointment of Traditionalist leaders. “Unfortunately, the only possible strategy is to withhold our financial contributions through convention causes—a measure which at first blush may seem overly drastic, but upon reflection, is truly the only option available to us.” The fact that this statement was even made reflects the current state of the Convention. If we are going to label certain doctrines as secondary doctrines, why do we treat them as if they are primary? If the Baptist Faith and Message was written to unite both Calvinists and Traditionalists, then why is there not unity within the convention? What can Southern Baptists do to take the proper steps toward unity? There are two essential steps that must be taken if unity is to become a reality.
First, there must be a resolve to accomplish the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) The purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention is “… eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians, for the propagation of the gospel, any law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.” (Charter of the Southern Baptist Convention, December 27, 1845). The mission statement of the SBC similarly reads, “As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.” The SBC has historically been a uniting of Baptist Churches to accomplish the Great Commission. The first step toward unity is focusing and devoting all efforts as local churches to accomplish the mission God has given us.
Second, there must be a resolve to unite. The Baptist Faith and Message was written to represent and unite all of the churches within the SBC. We must realize that the main goal is fulfilling Christ’s mission. Consequently, if we focus and unite around that common goal, tertiary doctrines will not divide congregations as they have in years’ past. We must gracefully and lovingly acknowledge and engage each other when we do have differences in doctrine, rather than quickly dividing into camps. In order to gracefully engage one another in our differences, we must keep in mind that we all only know in part (1 Cor 13:9). If we remind ourselves of these things when we dialogue with those who may disagree on a particular issue, love will be displayed, and Christ will be glorified. Unity is essential for accomplishing the mission. Think about the most recent Convention meeting. Pastor Steve Gaines and Pastor J.D. Greear, who are at different ends of the theological spectrum, showed hope for unity in the SBC. Greear withdrew from the race after neither candidate reached fifty percent in the first ballot or the runoff. Gaines, who is a traditionalist, was endorsed by Greear who leans Calvinistic in his doctrine. If anything can be said about these two men, it is that they displayed true unity. I thank God for both of them, and may we follow their example.
My prayer in this article is that Southern Baptists of both the Calvinist and Traditionalist camps will truly live life centered around Christ and His mission. May the SBC continue to proclaim the Gospel to the nations. May all Southern Baptists unite, longing and striving for the day when Psalm 67:3-4a will be a reality.
“Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy”