A Letter to my SBC Brothers.
For the past two weeks I have been trying to make sense of the recent statement on soteriology issued by the SBC. I went through it, point by point, scripture by scripture, only to come up dry. It didn't take long for me to determine where I stood in relation to the views presented, I stand at odds with nearly all of them. Nor did it take me long to determine how I felt about the general premise for the statement being issued, I was disheartened and disappointed by it. What has taken some time is determining exactly what my response should be.
It cannot be a coincidence that this went down in the midst of my personal 30-day internet hiatus. Had I been blogging actively I would have jumped into the fight immediately and came out with guns blazing. Thankfully, my impulsive nature was stifled when I was forced to wait. I've had two weeks to think and pray and study and pray and think about how to proceed from here. As I see it, there are two clear routes lingering in front of me.
Route one follows my flesh. My screaming, angry, demanding flesh that's burning for answers. This is the road I would have readily jumped on two weeks ago. Jumping into the comments section on SBC Today and mixing it up with all the other rage monsters. I want to sit down with you, Brothers, and have you explain to me exactly how you would define apostasy. I want to chat a while about Romans 5 and Hebrews 6. Oh yeah, and let's not forget Romans 9. Can we please sit and talk a while about Romans 9?!
Boy, that's what my flesh is aching for. Answers. Explanations. Retractions. Apologies. Right out of the gate I was ready to fight for it all. Then the Spirit began tugging at my heart with questions. Actually, with a question. A single question that gets to the bottom of the issue: Child, you're getting carried away by symptoms, can you not see the problem?
Oh Spirit, how great thou art! The problem isn't what's in this article. To say that would be to assume that my interpretations of these hefty theological issues are infallibly correct, and I can make no such claim. The problem is the goal and purpose of such a statement which is clearly aimed at drawing lines. No, you're not asking every self-identifying Southern Baptist who has Calvinist leanings to find another denomination. No, you're not saying that if we don't agree with every point in this statement we are terrible Southern Baptists. But what you are doing is outlining our differences and using your platform to declare that said differences are significant enough to set us apart. That, Brothers, is divisive.
I have never gone so far as to call myself a Calvinist, Southern Baptist fit nicely and I have existed contently under that label. Now I find myself in a conundrum. If I have to choose a side, and the "traditional" side is represented by the statement at hand, then I am forced to sidle on over to the Calvinist camp. I didn't realize the two were at such odds. So my knee jerk reaction when forced to pick a team is to prepare a defense against my opposition. That brings us to Route 2.
Brothers, I do not doubt your hearts, but I do question your motive. Because I worship a God that desires unity amongst his children, not division. When I read through Scripture it is not lines and divisions and separation that screams at me from these pages, it is oneness. Now, I am no theologian, and my years of biblical scholarship are laughable in comparison to yours. But I have a Bible, and I have the same Spirit inside of me that you have in you. The Spirit that discerns and guides me into an understanding of this precious text. I have read every verse you referenced in your statement. I have cross referenced, I have prayed, I have asked questions of other brothers and sisters. But it was the Spirit that led me to a profoundly concise answer. A passage of Scripture that was not included, but is so significant. The words of our Savior in John 17:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me."
(John 17:20-23 ESV, emphasis mine)
Not once when I read through Paul's letters do I find him addressing the First Church of Corinth or the Fifty Seventh Church of Ephesus. What I find, over and over again, is a call to unity. What this letter has sparked in me is reassessment of what I have come to accept as "biblical church". If there was one church of Corinth, why are there more than fifty in my small town of Henderson, TX? Are we to assume that there were no disagreements on theological issues in the Pauline days? Quite the contrary. I think we can learn quite a bit from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. They were squabbling, much like we are today, and Paul's response is just as acutely critical to our ears as it was to the Corinthians:
"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement." (vs 10)
Paul has been given word that there has been quarreling in the church of Corinth, and the quarreling (coincidentally) revolves around the leadership of men. One man claims to be a follower of Paul, while another a follower of Cephas, and another a follower of Christ. Sound familiar? We all want a label, and a leader. It's not enough to just follow Christ, we want to say I am a Southern Baptist, I am a Methodist, I am a Calvinist. Let me echo Paul's wonderful response from vs 13:
"IS CHRIST DIVIDED?"
No, you say? Then why are we so concerned with boundaries? Why are we cramming ourselves into boxes that were meant to be dissolved along with our sins on that cross? Why do we have such a strong aversion to anything that doesn't perfectly line up with our beliefs? Perhaps it's because when iron sharpens iron, it creates sparks. I'm not saying we should worship with Muslims or Mormons or Hindus, I'm saying that the foundation upon which our faith and fellowship should be built is salvation through Jesus Christ. If we have that in common, the rest is (dare I say it?) . . . secondary. I know, gasp if you must. I did seven years ago when I sat in the audience and listened to Beth Moore talk about spine and rib issues. I questioned her wisdom for years after that, and now, with arms wide open, I embrace it.
I ask you this, do any of these affirmations or denials affect the way that we live and breathe and function as followers of Christ Jesus? Do they change the way we carry out the great commission? Are they in any way significant in the winning of lost people to Christ? No. These are issues to be discussed and debated amongst mature believers in private settings. Not on the interwebs, where Satan lurks and feeds on material like this. Where baby Christians skip over their milk and try to chew the fat, before they've even sprouted teeth! And where the world is watching with wide eyes as American Christians bicker over theological issues that were never meant to divide us. Imagine if all of the passion and energy and time that has been put into this controversy had been, instead, poured into the much more important task of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the dying world. Imagine.
Satan wants the two sides of this issue to fight to the death. To the split. To the further fragmenting of the (visible) church. He wants the "traditional" Baptists to continue to push the importance of their "traditional" soteriology to the point that Calvinists will walk away all together. And he wants the "New Calvinists" to be so offended that they draw their own line in the sand and begin renaming their churches. That's what he's been whispering into my ear. But I won't have it. Instead I will shout back that none of this matters. I'm dropping the labels. All that matters to my heart and mission is that I follow Jesus Christ, and to the best of my knowledge and ability I live my life in accordance with Scripture.
I affirm love.
I affirm unity.
I deny labels.
I call you Brothers, because you are just that. You are my brothers in Christ. It's not our interpretation of tough Bible passages that unites us, it is Christ. And I will challenge every person with whom I come in contact to not let Satan into this. Have your concerns, have your disagreements, but have them in the spirit of unity. Don't let a seed of division grow into a monster. What we need most right now is humility and prayer. Seek it. Not in the comments sections of controversial blogs, but on your face, alone with God. And please, for the love of all that is holy, stop this incessant bickering!
Your Sister in Christ