In the first section (Why Should Christian Organizations Draw Boundaries at All?) of Wayne Grudem’s article Why, When, and For What, Should We Draw New Boundaries? (see previous post), there is much common ground from which those expressing different views regarding new policies at the IMB and other SBC entities can find a good starting point for the discussion related to these questions.
Although some “liberal” Baptists may perhaps voice disagreement with the initial thesis that there are indeed times when Christian organizations (including local churches, denominations, mission organizations, specialized ministries, educational institutions, and professional groups) should set doctrinal boundaries, it is my impression that nearly everyone involved in the current discussion would be in agreement with Grudem at this point. If doctrinal boundaries are left completely up in the air, the door is indeed opened for false teaching that harms the church.
Moreover, as Grudem argues, “if false teaching is not stopped, it spreads and does more and more damage.” The history of Christendom is rife with examples that show this to be the case. Grudem states: “In practical terms, once a church or Christian organization allows some vocal advocates of a false teaching (or even one) to have a position of influence in an organization, then those people become precedents by which others can be allowed in.” I think that as Southern Baptists today, we would almost all be in agreement with this idea as well.
On Grudem’s third point, “If false teaching is not stopped, we will waste time and energy in endless controversies rather than doing valuable kingdom work,” I think it is very important the distinction he makes, when he says: “I do not think that he (Paul) meant they (his readers) should avoid profitable doctrinal discussions or even useful debate…when Paul urged his readers to avoid controversies, he did not mean all controversies, but rather the fruitless, endless controversies that disrupt the peace of the church, that hinder us from doing more productive ministry, and that show no indication of moving toward resolution.”
It is my opinion that the discussion on the controversies of the past year have been, for the most part (with a few exceptions), fruitful thus far. Blogging has opened a door for many who would not otherwise have such an opportunity to communicate their thoughts. I personally have learned a lot about why people hold the views they hold, and been able to evaluate the Scriptural basis for these views more thoroughly, as a result of the written opinions of many bloggers.
At the same time, though, I think we do well to remember that blogging also opens the door more widely than ever before for “fruitless, endless controversies.” I think we all would do well to seriously take into account, before we post anything, whether or not what we have to say is really constructive, and will help work towards the edification of the Body of Christ, and the advance of Kingdom of God.
I also believe that there is general agreement on Grudem’s fourth point: “Jesus and the New Testament authors hold church leaders responsible for silencing false teaching within the church.” We may have some nuances of disagreement over just what is “false teaching” and what is not, as well as over exactly how church (and other Christian organization) leaders should go about enforcing this accountability. But, on this basic point, I believe we are in essential agreement.
As to the fifth point, a refutation of the objection that “doctrinal boundaries don’t do any good, because they cannot be enforced,” I also believe there is general agreement. It is true that there will always be the possibility of those who are not totally honest regarding their agreement or lack thereof with established doctrinal boundaries. I do not believe those who express any caveat they may have in relation to doctrinal boundaries (such as the BFM) are necessarily being dishonest, however. It is rather those who secretly maintain discrepancies with these boundaries, and say nothing about it, or intentionally try to twist their language to make it sound as if they are in agreement, who show true dishonesty. I believe it is generally incumbent on those leaders with the authority to enforce doctrinal accountability to determine whether or not expressed caveats fall outside the realm of acceptabilty.
There is also the reality that words are often interpreted differently by different people, no matter how specific we intend them to be. I, for instance, was not aware of the great significance certain people attach to the phrase “church ordinance,” as it appears in the Baptist Faith and Message, until reading views expressed on blogs this past year. Several have argued, for instance, that this implies that baptism is always to be administered under the supervision of a duly established local church. While that may have well been the intention of the original drafters of that phrase, I am almost certain that many who have signed the Baptist Faith and Message did not grasp the full implications of what they were signing regarding this point. I am likewise convinced that a significant amount of people who voted to approve the BFM were unaware of the supposed implications of this phrase.
In spite of these almost unavoidable weaknesses, however, I think we all (or almost all) would be in agreement that it is much better to have clear doctrinal boundaries than to have none at all.
Although, at this point, we still haven’t gotten to the “meat” of the issues involved in the current discussion, I think we do well to point out the essential agreement that exists here, with the intention of preempting possible “straw man” arguments that might crop up, as well as unfair labeling of others and accusations that don’t really square with the truth.