At the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston, Robin Foster asked an excellent question of Kevin Ezell during his North American Mission Board report: “After seeing last night that word was put out that we work together with Acts 29 and that we have partnerships, could you clarify that and also define exactly if there is any partnership formally or informally and how do we work with them if we do?”
Ezell began his response dismissively with, “That’s the absolute first time I’ve ever been asked that,” before recovering with, “I do appreciate your question.” For good reason, Ezell has been inundated with requests asking him to justify the unequal partnership discriminating against Non-Calvinists:
Although Southern Baptists are willing to accept into our membership ALL Acts 29 Pastors who affirm the BFM 2000, the Acts 29 Network is UNWILLING to accept into their membership ALL SBC Pastors who affirm the BFM 2000.
Ezell explained our partnership: “We plant Southern Baptist Churches. Our church planters are expected to endorse The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and give to the Cooperative Program. We don’t ask questions necessarily about what type of conferences they go to or what type of support networks that they might be a part of.” Along with many others, I believe we should.
While conference attendance is irrelevant, I believe we must ask about their support networks. When we plant such churches, we enter into a financial partnership with a distinct religious organization whose beliefs clearly differ from ours. The SBC has labored to remain soteriologically inclusive. Why then should we partner with a network that is soteriologically exclusive?
Many Southern Baptists may be unaware that the doctrinal statement of Acts 29 excludes Non-Calvinists. According to their website, “Churches planted from within the Acts 29 network are expected to agree to the doctrine and mission of our network.” Among those doctrinal statements that exclude some Non-Calvinists is an affirmation of total inability found in the statement, “Sin has totally affected all of creation including marring human image and likeness so that all of our being is stained by sin (e.g. reasoning, desires, and emotions).” Their view of election implies that it is unconditional: “We believe that the salvation of the elect was predestined by God in eternity past.” The context makes it clear that this is not simply a foreknowledge type of election, but a predetermined type. Even more clear is their position on irresistible grace: “We believe that God’s saving grace is ultimately irresistible.” Clearly, these positions are much more narrow than those found in the BFM 2000.
Groucho Marx once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me for a member.” My concern is almost the reverse: “I refuse to pay for any network that would NOT have me for a member.” Make no mistake—when we partner with another organization, we are not only supporting our own. We are also supporting theirs. Many organizations have begun such partnerships believing they were using the other party to promote their own interests, only to discover later that the other party was actually using them instead.
Why would any of my Calvinist brothers ask me to support financially a network with a Statement of Faith that not only excludes me personally, but also contradicts The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 on the significant matter of soteriological neutrality, the very issue we are making a special effort to address in Southern Baptist life with such sensitivity and grace?
I gladly welcome the Truth, Trust and Testimony in a Time of Tension Report. It clearly describes both the kind of cooperation we should all promote and the significant differences we should all admit. But when Southern Baptist Calvinists bring a third party to the table whose standards for membership exclude their Non-Calvinist Southern Baptist brothers, the resulting friction is not due to a lack of charity on the part of Non-Calvinists.
Perhaps the affections of some Southern Baptist Calvinists are actually closer to the Acts 29 Network than to the SBC. The possibility is very real that church plants started primarily with Southern Baptist resources might fall into the hands of the other partnering organization. This situation is a bit like the old adage that you should “dance with the one what brung you.”
An indecisive young lady has one suitor who purchases her prom ticket, buys her corsage, takes her to dinner and escorts her to the dance hall. There she meets another suitor, who tells the first one to go fly a kite before engaging her in conversation, offering her a glass of punch and asking her to dance. If I’m the first suitor, I ask the lady to make a choice. She has the right to choose him over me, but they cannot expect me to pay for their date. This partnership does not work. I have been excluded by him and rejected by her.
Southern Baptist Calvinist Brothers, hear my impassioned plea. I don’t mind working together with you in fulfilling the Great Commission, but please don’t make me pay, through an unequal partnership, for the reformed vision of an organization outside of Southern Baptist life that accepts my money but not my membership. Acts 29 excludes me. Please allow me to reciprocate.
By Rick Patrick, Pastor
First Baptist Church
West Main Baptist Church, Alexandria, Tenn.
Ben Simpson, Pastor
A woman in my church contacted me about her friend whose husband was not a Christian and had been given only six months to live. I soon visited the man, but I didn’t get very far. He clearly confessed to have never repented and believed on Jesus. I shared and demonstrated how we’ve sinned by breaking God’s law, condemning us before God. I asked him if he were to die today, would he go to heaven or hell. He unblinkingly said he would go to hell. When I asked if that concerned him, he matter-of-factly said, “No!” I explained why it should concern him and how Jesus Christ died so that he could be forgiven, but the man wasn’t moved. I gave gospel material to him and left. In the meantime, we prayed for him.
I came back four days later. We spent a long time pouring over the Scripture. After quite a bit of talking, I invited him to repent and believe on Jesus, but again, he wasn’t ready yet. I got up to leave, and then a breakthrough happened. As we shook hands goodbye, he said to me with deep sincerity, “You’ve touched something in me today.” I praised the Lord and told him to cry out to Jesus to save him from his sin when he was ready, as I’d already instructed him how to do. I told him as I walked out the door, “I hope that the next time I see you, you’ll be a Christian.”
When I came back a few days later, he was smiling. He told me how he had repented and trusted Christ. We praised the Lord together for God being so gracious to save him. What a blessing it was to have been used by God, to see another sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and who will never taste death!
Baptists in early America instinctively felt they had divine permission to preach their beliefs to all who would lend their ears to truth. Without waiting for the laws of man to change in their favor, early Baptists fearlessly demanded respect by living out heart held religious freedoms by preaching the Gospel in pulpits, public gatherings, porches, and prisons. Baptists have never asked for pity or persecution as they stood up for the religious freedoms of all Americans.
Religious liberty was a foreign concept to most early Americans prior to the Revolutionary War of 1776. Borrowing an old world concept, each colony usually sponsored a state church. Taxes supported the clergy and it was unlawful to not attend church in some of the colonies. Religious dissenters were dealt with quickly and sometimes crudely.
This would change as philosophical concepts espoused by John Locke eventually undergirded the mental framework of Americans that … “All men are created equal, …they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Also, the price that early Baptists paid with their personal sacrifice paved the way for the new government of the United States of America to get out of the business of religion and the governing of churches.
In Virginia, the Anglican Church (or Church of England in the old world) was the established religion of the colony. All licenses to preach had to be issued from the Anglican bishop and without this document the preacher would be out of step with the church and state.
Baptists were not impressed with having the sanction or license of man to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The heartfelt conviction of religious liberty empowered Baptists to believe that every human being has the right to worship as they please without the coercion of a state run church. These convictions were troublesome to the Anglicans (or Episcopalians as they were later called) who ruled the land of Virginia and imposed religious fines.
For instance, in 1623, a person could be fined the amount of one pound of tobacco for being absent from worship without a reasonable excuse. For missing church for one month, the sinning person forfeited 50 pounds of tobacco. If a colonist said anything to disparage a minister, the sinning person was compelled to pay 500 pounds of tobacco and to apologize to the minister in the presence of the congregation.
In 1643, Virginia passed a law that gave the right to preach the Gospel to those whose beliefs conformed to those of the Church of England. These laws were strengthened after the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1661. In 1662, laws were passed making it unlawful for parents to refuse their children the divine sacrament of baptism from a lawful minister of the county in which the child was born. Dissenting parents were fined 2,000 pounds of tobacco with half of the fine going to the informer and the other half going to the public.
Presbyterians in Virginia found favor to preach and practice their faith by petitioning under the Act of Toleration. Baptists saw their right to preach the Gospel as a God-given commission; therefore, they usually chose the more difficult road. They did not wish to be “tolerated” by anyone.
James Ireland, a Baptist preacher in Culpeper County was a man who endured the persecution of the established church in Virginia. He was baptized by Samuel Harris, thereby connecting him to the Sandy Creek Baptist tradition. Ireland represents the unassailable spirit among the early Baptists in Virginia for a long list of them was persecuted.
Ireland started giving great witness to what the Lord Jesus had done in his life immediately after his baptism. Mr. Manif of Culpepper County extended an invitation to young Ireland to come and preach in his community. The local authorities threatened Ireland upon his arrival. He decided to “suffer all for Him.” The authorities threw him in the county jail with the thought that this would silence the preacher. To their surprise, great crowds would gather outside the jail cell window of James Ireland to hear the Gospel.
A plot was hatched to place a keg of gunpowder below Ireland’s jail cell. The explosion did more harm to the jail than to the preacher. Next, detractors tried to suffocate Ireland by burning brimstone and Indian pepper in the jail. With that failing, they bribed a doctor to place poison in his medicine as Ireland was being treated for the fever. The jailer owned a tavern, and on several occasions he allowed rowdy drunks in the jail to beat Ireland and urinate in his face.
This terrible treatment worked against the established church as many leading citizens were converted by Ireland’s message and enduring spirit. He wrote many letters while in this jail and he signed them, “From my Palace in Culpepper.”
In 1770, Ireland was released from jail after a 5-month stay, but his persecution did not end. He persevered as a church planter and pastor. Along with many other Virginia Baptists, he fought bravely for his new nation during the Revolutionary War. In 1786, Ireland got to witness the Commonwealth of Virginia pass “An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.” This law guaranteed all Virginians the right to practice their faith without fear from the government or state run church.
These valiant Virginia Baptists influenced men like James Madison and George Washington to finally understand that “religious toleration” was not enough. Baptists did not want a state run church to “put up with them” by tolerating them with patronizing attitudes. True religious freedom would allow people to practice (or not practice) their faith and to be respected as equal citizens in the new land of the free.
Today Baptists represent more than 25 percent of Virginia’s people of faith, while the remnant of the state church is below three percent.
© Ron F. Hale, June 17, 2013