There is a fault line forming in the Southern Baptist Convention that I am afraid is about to split wide open. It seems that every day in the SBC blogosphere there is discussion over the theological divide in the SBC and some are less than pleasant. Some articles I have read have not been much more than emotionally charged, misrepresentations of the “other side” and some of the comments I have seen have been less than helpful. If it were not for comment moderation on most sites, I’m sure the comments would go way beyond what should be coming from the keyboard of Christians. Others however, have been helpful in helping us feel our way toward an understanding of the issues.
As I am thinking through this whole issue of Calvinism / Arminianism in the SBC, I am really heartbroken to see some of the things that are happening. Daily we are pushing the limits of the commands in Ephesians 4 about speaking the truth in love, putting away all bitterness, slander, and malice, being kind to one another, and speaking in such a way that it gives grace to the hearers.
I was reading a biography on Patrick Hues Mell which was written by his son, Patrick Hues Mell, Jr., entitled, The Life of Patrick Hues Mell. To be quite honest, I was completely blown away by what I read on page 59. Patrick Mell was a former Southern Baptist Convention President and Chancellor of the University of Georgia. Three things caught my eye in reading about the doctrine and preaching of this former SBC President.
First I was amazed at Mell’s fervor in defending what has historically been the position of the Southern Baptist Convention. There is no such thing as “Calvinism sneaking into the Convention,” as it has often times been claimed, it has always been here. The second thing that seized my attention is the fact that from very early on there were those in disagreement with certain doctrines. But neither of these two facts are what really struck me. What really mesmerized me was the way that the opposing viewpoints were handled in the past. Mell states:
When first called to take charge of the church Dr. Mell found it in a sad state of confusion. He said a number of members were drifting off into Arminianism. He loved the truth too well to blow hot and cold with the same breath. If it was a Baptist church it must have doctrines peculiar to that denomination preached to it. And with that boldness, clearness and vigor of speech that marked him, he prea6hed to them the doctrines of predestination, election, free-grace, etc. He said it was always his business to preach the truth as he found it in God’s Word, and leave the matter there, feeling that God would take care of the results. But while he never swerved an inch from the defence of truth as he believed it, he was most courteous to those who differed with him. Among those who sat under his ministry for ten, twenty and twenty-five years were people of other denominations who were as warm friends as any he had. Some Methodist brethren attended every conference meeting as regularly as did those of his own flock, and it was a source of great pleasure to him. They might shake their heads at what they called his ’hard doctrine,’ but they would shake his hand as cordially at the close of the sermon and they claimed a share of his visits as much as did the members of his own flock.
Both Calvinist and non-Calvinist should stand together, lock arms, and reach the world for Christ. The enemies are not within, yet for some reason we have turned on ourselves instead of focusing our energies on the real war. We preach the same gospel. There is little doubt in my mind that my answer to “sir, what must I do to be saved?” would be much different from the answer one would get from a Southern Baptist coming from the “other side.” I put that in quotes because there really is no “other side.” We are all Southern Baptists, and we are better together. We can do more together. Disagreements are inevitable and coexistence is possible, we just have to bear in mind we all serve the risen Lord Jesus Christ and the man across from us, regardless of age, race, or reformed status is our brother in Christ and we are but fellow laborers all working for the glory of God.
Image source: http://williamdicks.blogspot.com/2009/03/calvinism-vs-arminianism-debate.html. For further reading see The Life of Patrick Hues Mell by Patrick H. Mell, Jr.
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