In the epistle of 1 John, the apostle is fighting a heresy that is contrary to a proper understanding of Christology. The heresy was known as Gnosticism and it distorted a true apprehension of who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and how a believer should live in light of the right response to those questions. Today we are facing another heresy involving who Jesus is and what he has done. While different in some respects from Gnosticism, it still has the same root issue of epistemology: “Where do we get our information concerning a correct understanding of our Savior?” or “Whose Jesus do we follow?”
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.”
As you begin reading Part II, I need to remind you of a disclaimer. I am writing this taxonomy as if I were writing in 1980. The conclusion brings everything up to today, but the first part of this paper is presented as one writing during the Conservative Resurgence in order to identify the verbiage.
Southern Baptist and Inerrancy: Four Options
Option 1: Southern Baptists who believe the KJV is the scripture that is inerrant.
These Southern Baptists are proud of their belief in the inerrancy of the Scripture. They are so proud of this belief that their churches have it written in their constitutions that the KJV is the authorized translation. These churches are not very cooperative and see their commitment to the Cooperative Program as their missions mantra. These churches are not very cooperative within their associations. They may only give token support to their association because the Director of Missions came to their church and used a different translation; therefore, they believe he must be a liberal. These churches hold tenaciously to their desire that people come to Jesus, but that desire is not as strong as the desire to make certain it is the “right” people.
Someone well said;
A minister without boldness is like a smooth file, a knife without an edge, a sentinel that is afraid to let off his gun. Men will be bold in sin, and ministers must be bold to reprove.
How are ministers to reprove sin? Well it is based on Scripture. If a minister were to reprove sin based on society and the norms implemented by society, then ministers would today be approving of homosexual marriages. Oh, wait, we have ministers that are doing that already. Ok, then we would have ministers approving of husbands and wives ending their marriages because they just are not compatible. Oh, wait, we have that also. Ok, then we would have ministers that are approving of killing babies in the womb because it is the mother’s choice whether to be an incubator for nine months. Well, we have that going on also. These three issues are results of society driven decisions that preachers make for no other reason but that it goes against conventional thinking.
John Mann, who has contributed to SBC Today before, has offered a new treatise which we are happy to publish. He is pastor at La Junta Baptist church and in 2001 he lead the congregation to disfellow themselves from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and uniquely align themselves with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In this first article, he argues that the battle for the Bible is really not over, as some still cannot affirm the inerrancy of scripture. Altogether, the next series of posts from him will be his “apologia” as to why La Junta Baptist church made this move.
After having been asked numerous times why our church felt led to affiliate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), I felt it necessary to put our thought process into print for the benefit of those who are seeking direction for their congregation. After having participated in many hours of research, discussion, and observation, I have concluded that the SBTC stands closer to my view of what it means to be a Baptist, both historically and doctrinally.
My observation is that there has been a widening in the gap of like-mindedness and doctrinal unity between the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and LaJunta Baptist Church (LJBC). As two rivers flow what is seemingly a parallel path, time will eventually reveal if there is any degree of variance. The further they flow, the wider the distance between them becomes. The gap will eventually become so great that they both cannot be viewed from a common standpoint. It is my contention that this is what has happened with the BGCT and LJBC. When that is the case, it becomes necessary to choose one path or the other, for both cannot be followed.
In sum, our church felt that we needed to withdraw from the BGCT and to affiliate with the SBTC because it is the state convention that stands closest to the Biblical principles, missions support, and convictions that we embrace as a congregation. We are a Southern Baptist church because we believe in the work and message of the Southern Baptist Convention. We are convinced that the Scriptural interpretation and practice of the SBC is closest to our own. On the other hand, the continual drift of the BGCT away from the SBC has revealed a great chasm. Our study was one which began with what we understood Scripture to say, and then, which convention stood closest to Scriptural purity. Our study revealed that to be the SBC, and by extension, the SBTC. We found the BGCT to be sorely lacking in Biblical faithfulness as we understand it.
With that in mind, I offer the following reasons why I believe this to be so. The evidence that is offered is public and accessible for all. I have copies of all the original material on file. The congregation of LaJunta Baptist felt so deeply about the importance of these issues that we voted on August 12, 2007 to include this paper in our historical records and also to allow the distribution of this paper in its entirety to all interested parties. The comments are intended to reflect the personal convictions of the pastor and the people of LaJunta Baptist Church.
Please understand, though I fiercely oppose theological errors (those made by others and those errors of my own), I believe every individual to be of value to God, His Creation, and the work of His Kingdom. My ruminations are simply an attempt to contribute to the work of the Kingdom as we seek the edification of the saints, which occurs in fellowship, and often, in tension.
Doctrine is part and parcel to what it means to be a Baptist. Baptists are people who believe what they do about God and the world because of what the Bible teaches about God and the world. The SBTC without reservation affirms the complete Word of God as being inerrant. However, after studying the BGCT’s stance on Scripture, I noticed a hesitancy to affirm “inerrancy.” In a document produced by the BGCT in 2002 for the purpose of comparing the SBTC to the BGCT, they stated, “most BGCT leaders and messengers in recent years have shunned that word as a politicized codeword more than a descriptive theological statement, while still affirming the complete authority and trustworthiness of the Bible.”
I do agree that the Bible is authoritative and trustworthy, but I must go further and say that the Bible is the perfect and inerrant Word of God. I believe many entities are trustworthy and authoritative. For example, I personally would say that the police force and the military are authoritative and trustworthy; however, I would not say that they do not make errors. I do not hesitate in stating the Bible is inerrant, neither does the SBTC. The Bible is certainly trustworthy and authoritative, but it is much more.
Most BGCT pastors and churches would affirm inerrancy, yet interestingly enough, denominational employees of the BGCT and the agencies and entities to which they send Cooperative Program money may not be required to follow suit. That means that state convention employees may have a different view than the majority of the pastors and churches to whom they offer service. To the contrary, the SBTC has made clear that all employees must affirm their belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. The resulting difference is best illustrated in an article that appeared in February 6, 2006 Baptist Standard which was written by Dr. Roger Olson, a professor of theology at Truett Seminary (a BGCT supported seminary). The title of the article is “Why Inerrancy Doesn’t Matter.”
In this article, Dr. Olson states that Truett professors “vary in their views of biblical accuracy while holding firmly to biblical authority.” He further states that Truett does not need to dictate what professors believe because inerrancy is one of the “secondary matters of doctrine.” Dr. Olson offers his conclusion by asserting that the Bible is “(often) infallible,” and even goes on to state that, in regards to a particular text, “the best approach is to admit that Paul made a mistake.” Biblical inerrancy is not a matter of secondary doctrine to me. It is of primary importance. Without a sure word in our hand we have no sure word for the people. I desire to give my congregation more than a ‘best guess,’ but rather to give them a rock solid word from God. This demands a perfect revelation from God that is both sufficient and inerrant.
Dr. Olson’s conclusion is highly concerning to me because this particular professor is teaching the pastors of the future, and is being supported by monies given by the BGCT. For the time being, the majority of pastors support inerrancy, but given a generation of theological education under men such as Dr. Olson, how far away are we from drifting down the river of theological liberalism? In most cases, as goes our seminaries, so go our pastors. As go our pastors, so go our churches. My concern is that if we remove the Bible from the pastors’ hands, we remove the message from our pulpits. I desire to be aligned with organizations that offer an unqualified voice to the inerrancy of Scripture. I believe this stance is more clearly articulated by the SBTC, not only in denominational documents, but more importantly, by denominational practice.
In sum, the BGCT has left herself without a solid foundation for theological exercise and doctrinal accountability because they have allowed a crack into the foundation upon which they have tried to build their structure. I reiterate, each and every individual is due respect, freedom of conscience, and opportunity to speak. However, where cracks creep into one’s foundation, we are demanded to warn others of the error. A failure to maintain a solidified doctrine of Scripture will inevitably leave one without a foundation capable of the task before it. I believe a failure to embrace a doctrine of inerrancy is to lay a foundation with cracks beneath the surface. These hidden cracks ultimately will be revealed.
Recent Southern Baptist Conventions have heard the repetition of the statement, “the battle for the Bible is over.” However, a keen ear and sharp eye will be quick to discover that the battle for the Bible begun in Eden when the word of God was first questioned, and certainly remains to this day as Satan continues his efforts to seduce Another’s Bride to commit harlotry by satisfying one’s own temporal hunger for self-appeasement. The battle for the Bible will not be over until the Word once again manifests Himself to the kingdoms of the world as the supreme King and Lord.