On the eve of what many believe will be a historic Southern Baptist Convention, an article titled “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” has been drafted, published, and signed by many SBC pastors in our convention. This letter is tragic on the basis of fellowship and doctrine as listed below. As we move forward, do we want to be considered the “Fightin’ Baptists” or the “Religious version of the Hatifelds and McCoys?” Sure there is a reason to fight, a time to fight, and most present day SBC pastors would agree that the “Conservative Resurgence” was a worthy cause as many faithful men such as Adrian Rogers, Jerry Vines, Paige Patterson, W.A. Criswell, and others faithfully stuck their necks on the line for the inerrancy of Holy Scripture. The question is, are we ready to fight again, fight brothers and sisters, fight churches, split churches, end friendships, be distracted away from missions, and spill much blood in the process?
Tragedy #1: Divisive Agenda
According to Scripture, brothers and sisters in Christ are to “love one another.” The lost world has grown accustomed to seeing people fight and oppose one another in the world, but should that be the view that our people have of us in our communities? Should that be the “gossip” among the community that First Baptist is fighting Second Baptist in town over Calvinism? How much will that help our agenda to reach the community for Christ?
1 John 4:7-11 is abundantly clear on this issue:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
When I read some of the Calvinistic blogs, I don’t smell the aroma of 1 John permeating from the computer screen! That same thing is true when I read this letter by Dr. Eric Hankins. Furthermore, when SBC pastors, leaders, and professors sign this letter, it’s almost as if a line is being drawn in the sand and a request is being made for action. What should the action be? Would anyone who signed this list support the following reactions by the Calvinists in the SBC?:
- Take up the sword and fight it out to the death through blogs, creeds, resolutions, angry SBC annual meetings and political maneuvers that would result in votes that would split our convention down the middle?
- A massive exodus by all Calvinists who are tired of being labeled as “heretics” by those who are supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ.
Most people understand that these two possible reactions would be detrimental to our convention. So, the next question should be asked to Dr. Eric Hankins and those who have signed their name to the letter - What is your purpose in this letter? Is it to do any of the following:
- Officially label Calvinism as a heresy?
- Officially ban any and all Calvinists from serving in the SBC?
- Sniff out Calvinists and cause them to lose their churches and prevent them from being called to churches based on their Calvinistic doctrine?
What exactly is the purpose of this letter? Have we forgotten our history as Southern Baptists where we had Calvinists such as Lottie Moon, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, A.T. Robertson, John A. Broadus, and many others who served in our convention along with those who were less Calvinistic (Reformed) in their doctrine? They didn’t fight over it, throw mud, and pull out the heresy sword to use on one another. In recent history we have had Albert Mohler serving together with Adrian Rogers. Why are we headed down the broken road of schism over Calvinism today?
We must ask some important questions:
- Does this honor God? Is this fight a necessary schism over essentials that would cause one of the two camps to be considered heretical?
- Will it help us reach more people for Christ?
- Are we prepared to announce that Lottie Moon, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, John Newton, Jim Elliot, John Bunyan, and a long list of others are officially labeled as heretics who preached a false gospel? Is that where these men such as Dr. Eric Hankins want to lead our convention?
Tragedy #2: Doctrinal Ambiguity
The letter claims it was drafted for the purpose of doctrinal clarity on the “traditional understanding” of salvation by Southern Baptists. However, if you read the language contained in the letter, it creates greater ambiguity than clarity on the doctrines, and it openly contradicts the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (hereafter referred to as the BF&M).
Ambiguity on the Free Will of Man
The letter states the following regarding the free will of man in article eight:
We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.
The BF&M Article IV on Salvation states the following regarding regeneration:
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.
The BF&M makes it clear that regeneration (being born again) is an act of God whereby He changes the sinful heart of man. While man responds to God – it was God who initiated the work in the beginning to that specific person. Nowhere in the BF&M does it suggest that all people without exception are moved upon in that specific way by God. So, that leaves us with this reality – unless God does this special work of regeneration – sinful man will not respond to God (John 6:44). Is man ultimately free to come to Christ or must be be drawn by the Father? How does that drawing work take place? When was it planned?
Furthermore, this letter aligns more closely with the National Association of Free Will Baptists than it does with the Southern Baptist Convention’s BF&M. The reality is – this article clearly violates, denies, and contradicts the official stance of the BF&M on the doctrine of salvation and should be rejected by SBC pastors, professors, and leaders as a divisive agenda that will harm our convention in the area of fellowship and doctrine. This letter has a divisive agenda that will harm pastors and churches in our convention. Should we separate certain SBC institutions that are more Calvinistic from our “family” and mission? Should we allow the language of heresy and division to continue among us as Southern Baptists in relation to Calvinism? I will not be signing this letter because I believe it’s clearly divisive and it openly contradicts the BF&M that I embrace.
This letter deserves a response – one far greater than this blog post – and it is my prayer that many people in the life of the SBC will take immediate action against this divisive agenda. We are not Free Will Baptists – we are Southern Baptists – and there is a clear difference as we examine our doctrinal statements and history. As Southern Baptists we are not afraid to take bold stands, but when it comes to taking bold stands in the wrong direction, we need someone to sound the alarm! God spare us from infighting and the destructive behaviors of the Hatfields and the McCoys. May God be pleased to spare the SBC (and the churches that represent the SBC) from a civil war!
Let’s build bridges, lock arms together, and impact our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ!
For His glory,
Pastor Josh Buice