Published June 13, 2013
NASHVILLE (BP) — A 19-member advisory committee on Calvinism has issued its report to Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page, acknowledging tension and disagreement within the denomination on the issue while urging Southern Baptists to “grant one another liberty” and “stand together” for the Great Commission.
“We can talk like brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can work urgently and eagerly together,” the 3,200-word report reads.
“We have learned that we can have just this kind of conversation together, and we invite all Southern Baptists to join together in this worthy spirit of conversation. But let us not neglect the task we are assigned. The world desperately needs to hear the promise of the Gospel.”
The advisory team – not an official committee of the convention – was assembled by Page in August 2012 to advise him on developing “a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism.”
The committee was composed of Calvinists and non-Calvinists from different walks of life in the convention. The report lists areas of theological agreement and acknowledges differences between the two camps, saying “we do indeed have some challenging but not insurmountable points of tension.” The committee says its goal was to “speak truthfully, honestly, and respectfully” about the issue, and that disagreements over Calvinism should not “threaten our Great Commission cooperation.”
“We affirm that Southern Baptists stand together in a commitment to cooperate in Great Commission ministries,” the report says.
“We affirm that, from the very beginning of our denominational life, Calvinists and non-Calvinists have cooperated together. We affirm that these differences should not threaten our eager cooperation in Great Commission ministries.
“We deny that the issues now discussed among us should in any way undermine or hamper our work together if we grant one another liberty and extend to one another charity in these differences. Neither those insisting that Calvinism should dominate Southern Baptist identity nor those who call for its elimination should set the course for our life together.”
Southern Baptists, the report continues, should “not only acknowledge but celebrate the distinctive contributions made by the multiple streams of our Southern Baptist heritage.”
An overview of the statement
The report tackles nine specific areas of theology. Read the entire 3,200-word report.
Here is an overview of the document.
The offer of the Gospel.
“We affirm that the Gospel is to be made known freely to all in the good faith offer that if anyone confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes in his heart that God has raised Christ from the dead, he will be saved.
“We deny that the Gospel lacks any power to save anyone who believes in Christ and receives him as Savior and Lord. Anyone who understands the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit may, in prayer and petition, trust Christ through repentance and faith, and we should plead with all sinners to do so.”
The atonement of Jesus Christ.
“We affirm that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was both penal and substitutionary and that the atonement He accomplished was sufficient for the sins of the entire world.
“We deny that there is anything lacking in the atonement of Christ to provide for the salvation of anyone.”
The necessity of conversion.
“We affirm that salvation involves the conversion of the sinner, whereby the sinner consciously clings to Christ by faith, repents of sin, believes the promises of the Gospel, and publicly professes faith in Christ. We affirm the necessity of conversion and the truth that conversion involves the will of the believer as well as the will of God.
“We deny that salvation comes to anyone who has not experienced conversion. We also deny that salvation comes to any sinner who does not will to believe and receive Christ.”
The Great Commission.
“We affirm the church’s duty to obey Christ by preaching the Gospel to all the nations and by making disciples who obey all that Christ has commanded. We affirm every believer’s responsibility to tell anyone and everyone about Jesus and the responsibility of every congregation to be a sending, going, and giving assembly of believers.
“We deny that missions and evangelism can be neglected without denying the power of the Gospel; that any church can be faithful without a missionary urgency; and that any believer can be obedient without telling others about Jesus. We deny that evangelism can exist apart from the call to make disciples. Every sinner should be implored to trust Christ by calling on Him through repentance and faith, and every convert should be discipled toward maturity, commitment to the church, and passion for the lost.
“These streams include both Charleston and Sandy Creek, the Reformers, and many of the advocates of the Radical Reformation, confessional evangelicalism, and passionate revivalism,” it says. “These streams and their tributaries nourish us still.”
Both sides of the theological divide, the report states, have extremes that should be rejected.
“We must stand together in rejecting any form of hyper-Calvinism that denies the mandate to present the offer of the Gospel to all sinners or that denies the necessity of a human response to the Gospel that involves the human will. Similarly, we must reject any form of Arminianism that elevates the human will above the divine will or that denies that those who come to faith in Christ are kept by the power of God.
“How do we know that these positions are to be excluded from our midst? Each includes beliefs that directly deny what The Baptist Faith and Message expressly affirms.”
SBC leaders, entities, churches, and even prospective ministers all have a role in ensuring that a debate over Calvinism does not divide the denomination, the report says.
“We should expect all leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention and all entities serving our denomination to affirm, to respect, and to represent all Southern Baptists of good faith and to serve the great unity of our Convention,” the report maintains.
“No entity should be promoting Calvinism or non-Calvinism to the exclusion of the other. Our entities should be places where any Southern Baptist who stands within the boundaries of The Baptist Faith and Message should be welcomed and affirmed as they have opportunities to benefit from, participate in, and provide leadership for those entities.
“In order to prevent the rising incidence of theological conflict in the churches, we should expect all candidates for ministry positions in the local church to be fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine, even as we call upon pulpit and staff search committees to be fully candid and forthcoming about their congregation and its expectations.
“We must do all within our power to avoid the development of partisan divisions among Southern Baptists.”
The committee’s report calls on Southern Baptists to discuss the subject of Calvinism charitably, and it specifically mentions those on social media.
“We affirm the responsibility of all Southern Baptists to guard our conversation so that we do not speak untruthfully, irresponsibly, harshly, or unkindly to or about any other Southern Baptist. This negativity is especially prevalent in the use of social media, and we encourage the exercise of much greater care in that context,” the report says.
“... We deny that the main purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention is theological debate. We further deny that theological discussion can be healthy if our primary aim is to win an argument, to triumph in a debate, or to draw every denominational meeting into a conversation over conflicted issues. Of more significance to our life together than any allegiance to Calvinism or non-Calvinism should be our shared identity as Southern Baptists.”
The report further urges Southern Baptists to “grant one another liberty” in those areas “within The Baptist Faith and Message” where “differences in interpretation cause us to disagree.” The report then lists a series of areas of disagreement, such as, “We agree that God loves everyone and desires to save everyone, but we differ as to why only some are ultimately saved.”
“These differences should spur us to search the Scriptures more dutifully, to engage in lively interaction for mutual sharpening and collective Gospel effectiveness, and to give thanks that what we hold in common far surpasses that on which we disagree,” the report says.
“But these particular differences do not constitute a sufficient basis for division and must not be allowed to hamper the truly crucial cooperative effort of taking the Gospel to a waiting world. Southern Baptists who stand on either side of these issues should celebrate the freedom to hold their views with passion while granting others the freedom to do the same.”
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