Abandoning Doctrinal Fidelity for the Lowest Common Denominator

February 13, 2009

While attending the FBC Jacksonville Pastor’s conference, the events of last week have weighed heavily on my mind. Namely what our site, SBCToday, should be about. The resource managers have primarily taken up the cause of the nearly forgotten doctrines concerning Baptist ecclesiology. Because of this, some have referred to us as “Baptist Identity” (BI), “neo-Landmark/Landmark,” or “fundamentalist” while sometimes adding “spooky.”

Frankly, last week Friday and most of Saturday, I was not keeping up with the blogs, yet through the preaching of God’s Word at the conference, God was dealing with me in how I represent His Word on the blogs. For what am I willing to suffer in the proclamation and upholding of His Word? This question was driven to me as Dr. Mohler preached from Colossians 1:19-28. Dr. Mohler’s point was that that we are “called,” men of God, not men working in a profession. This calling requires us to uphold the Word of God and suffer if we are called to do so in the proclamation of the truth. Essentially Paul was willing to suffer for the sake of the church to fulfill the Word of God.

It is my opinion that over the past couple of weeks, my name has been suffering for something that does not equate for what Paul is calling us to suffer. Though I believe I have done nothing ethically wrong in my blogging activities last week, I did in fact abandon my primary purpose of proclaiming the wondrous biblical truths of God and in articulating the overall situation Southern Baptists are facing. There is a systematic diverting of attention from doctrinal fidelity by the Southern Baptist (SB) ecumenist. This is being done by aligning oneself to the lowest common denominator for cooperation, a false redefinition of terms, and a pragmatic approach to missions cooperation.

I joined with the other men at SBC Today to bring awareness to the almost forgotten and severely neglected theology of Baptist ecclesiology. If anything, I wanted to be a part of the grass roots movement to help Southern Baptists journey back to their biblical heritage concerning matters of the church.

With this endeavor in SBC Today, I have frequently used a term called “ecumenical” or “ecumenist.” While some have dismissed using these terms as being unhelpful, by using them in the context of Southern Baptists, I have understood it and applied it in three ways:

1. Those in Southern Baptist life who are ecumenical are those who seek to cooperate using the lowest common denominator. Not only in Southern Baptist life is this a movement, but it is also in the wider evangelical community. The recent evangelical manifesto proved this as the document itself abandoned inerrancy as a distinctive for evangelicals. In the SBC calls for cooperating on the essentials of the Gospel is the mantra. After the 2007 SBC Convention in San Antonio the Garner motion was an effort of the ecumenists to keep SBC entities from making decisions beyond the doctrinal limitations of the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). The ecumenists saw the BF&M as a “maximal document,” limiting the trustees to doctrines only addressed in the BF&M. In other words, the trustees could not fully fulfill their mandate as agents of accountability of the SBC. Fast forward to today. No longer are calls given by the Southern Baptist ecumenist to keep the BF&M as the limit of doctrines that are necessary for cooperation. Now the caveats have increased and the ecumenist desires to cooperate solely on the “essentials” of the gospel as long as those essentials remain in a state of flux so that no one is eliminated from their tent of cooperation. The belief in a regenerate baptized (immersed) church membership no longer matters. The ecumenist wants to work with the paedobaptist or sprinkler whether they were baptized as an infant or not. These issues are not of great concern to the SB ecumenist and do not impede cooperation for them.

2. Those in Southern Baptist life who are ecumenical wrongly redefine terms in order to evoke action towards their cause. Terms have been used to invoke fear among various groups of Southern Baptists. “Fundamentalist,” “spooky fundamentalist,” “Landmark,” “neo-landmark,” and “avant-garde self-styled defenders of Baptist Identity,” have been used against confessional Southern Baptists. Recently the issue of closed verses open communion took front stage. Those who believe that a church should allow, at a minimum, only those who are saved and baptized by immersion to participate in the Lord’s Supper were called “neo-Landmark.” Yet, by this post here, it was shown that those Southern Baptists who practiced this are abiding within the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message. Those who accuse confessional Southern Baptists as neo-Landmark are themselves outside of what Southern Baptists officially believe. The aforementioned terms have been wrongly used to describe those who are Baptist Identity.

3. Those in Southern Baptist life who are ecumenical focus more on pragmatism and cultural preference (or feelings) rather than Biblical principles in forging their worldview. For instance, one may not want a woman to pastor their church because their discomfort “is personal and cultural – and not Biblical.” But when an autonomous state convention of cooperating churches, because of biblical beliefs, decides to disfellow themselves from a church that has a woman for their pastor, the convention is scourged on blog posts saying that it is unfair for a state convention to hold, in particular, those biblical beliefs not only in doctrine, but also in practice. Autonomy is only held in cases where it benefits the ecumenist. The state convention of cooperating churches, for the ecumenist, is not autonomous in this decision, yet through out Baptist history, there is example after example of associations and conventions who have operated as an autonomous body of churches that did not allow themselves to compromise their doctrines by one church’s decision to act independently of the confessional belief of the body. To claim that cooperating churches in a state convention cannot act autonomously against one aberrant church is weak if not illogical to say the least.

The ecumenical reformer understands certain truths from God’s Word to be stumbling blocks to cooperating with others. Where the doctrine does not pragmatically fit, it must be removed. We see this time and time again in the seeker sensitive or emergent church movement that is creeping into our convention. Don’t misunderstand, doctrine is not unimportant to the ecumenical reformer if it aids their cause, but when it is perceived to being a stumbling block, it must either be removed or avoided because it takes away from the pragmatic benefit of cooperation.

There is no doubt that a movement is afoot to make doctrine of secondary importance behind the shortsighted pragmatical benefits one perceives. When inerrancy (truth without any mixture of error), believers baptism by immersion, and the Lord’s Supper are considered tertiary doctrines that should not impede cooperation in a convention, association, or network of churches, then those who are not ashamed of the doctrines that make us Baptist must speak up and “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”