Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Application of Grudem's Article to the Current Situation in the SBC (Part 1)

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.


Geoff Baggett said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent post. I look forward to your next installment.

I think that there are plenty of "straw man" arguments, names being called, and boat-loads of sarcasm being thrown about in the current conversation about SBC life (in the blogosphere). I tend to think everyone needs to "dial it down" a notch or two. We need more calm, thoughtful contributions like yours.

I enjoy your blog ... adding you to my roll right now.

Bro. Robin said...

Bro. David

I hope you don't mind me bringing up something concerning Dr. Grudem's paper not mentioned in your current post, but I wanted to get your thoughts on one of Grudem's statements and my thoughts about it.

Grudem states, "I do not believe that historic Pentecostal groups such as the Assemblies of God should allow into their leadership people who deny that spiritual gifts like speaking in tongue and healing and prophecy continue today. To do so would be a significant threat to the nature and purpose of that denomination."

The main issue you, me and others have been dealing with is the tongues and PPL issue. I don't know how Dr. Grudem feels about the current debate, but should this line of thinking not apply to the SBC, with a prohibition against those who advocate tongues and PPL from leadership and (might I add) denominational position.

Reading Dr. Emir Caner's white paper on tongues and historical SBC policy shows that tongues and PPL is not what has identified us as Southern Baptists. The IMB has had a "no tongues" policy for over thirty years and NAMB has had policies against PPL for over ten. Their is historical precedent that the SBC has not endorsed the more charasmatic gifts of tongues and PPL.

So, since the Assembly of God denomination should not appoint someone who does not affirm these charasmatic practices because it would be a significant threat against them and their purpose, then should the SBC (in following Dr. Grudem's advice concerning the Assemblies of God) not appoint people who practice or affirm tongues or PPL since the practice or teaching of those doctrines would be a siginificant threat to the nature and purpose of the SBC?

This is just a thought I had while I read his paper. I look forward to your response, but I don't have internet capabilities readily available. I am away enjoying the family during the holidays. Thanks and God bless

God Bless

Tim Sweatman said...


Excellent post. Your remarks about how people interpret the same words differently are especially relevant to all of these issues about boundaries and parameters of cooperation. I look forward to your subsequent posts on this particular matter.


Bro. Robin,

The quote you cite is very interesting. The difference is that the continuing of the sign gifts is a key component of Pentecostal theology and practice; thus, to deny that such gifts are valid today would strike at a key part of their belief syatem. On the other hand, the SBC has never addressed the issue of the sign gifts in any version of the BFM. And while the SBC has never endorsed the practice of such gifts, it would be a stretch to claim that opposition to the sign gifts is a defining doctrinal characteristic of the SBC. Thus, I simply don't see how believing that the sign gifts are valid today would be a threat to the nature and purpose of the SBC.

David Rogers said...


Thanks for the encouragement. Hopefully you will be saying the same thing as we try to steer through some much more turbulent waters on the upcoming posts.


I essentially agree with the answer Tim has given. However, I prefer to defer a more in-depth discussion of this particular question until we get to the upcoming post that will deal with that part of Grudem's paper.


Thanks for the encouragement, and your answer to Robin's question.

Bro. Robin said...

Bro. Tim

I would have to disagree with your assessment that it would be a stretch to claim that opposition to the sign gifts is a defining doctrinal characteristic of the SBC. For thirty years it has been on the books for IMB appointees and for ten years concerning PPL with NAMB. With this kind of track record, while it has not been addressed by the BF&M, it has set a precedent in our beliefs and policies.

Another item Grudem addresses is that as time goes, different issues come up and must be addressed. PPL is an issue that has come up recently and if we follow the precedent that has been set by SBC policy, which has also defined our nature, then we would naturally follow Grudem's advice and reject the charasmatic gifts that define a more Pentecostal bent towards theology and practice.

I would still suggest reading Emir Caner's paper on tongues and SBC historical policy. He shows the SBC has historically rejected such charasmatic practices.

Bro. David

Thank you for allowing me to discuss this. I look forward to the post you will deal with this. When I get back home, I might deal with this also. Thanks and God Bless!

Bryan Riley said...

A question that has been nagging at me: What foundations does the bible provide for denominations?

As is usual, great post.

Alan Cross said...

While I understand the historical nature of our denominational divisions and distinctions, I don't think that history should carry as much weight as is given. I am a Baptist, not because they have a stance on sign gifts, but because I believe the SBC truly tries to be biblical in our confession.

I think that one of the purposes of doing theology is to be corrective. We are to teach, rebuke, correct, warn, etc. The SBC was a denomination that historically discriminated against blacks. We were born over a controversy involving slavery. We were largely silent or opposed the Civil Rights movement. But, there has been correction and a rethinking of the theological basis for segregation that was offered by many, including people like W.A. Criswell.

If we are committed to stay true to Scripture and let it shape and teach us, many of these artificial divisions will begin to melt away, in my opinion. If we tie ourselves to our history so closely, that we do not allow Scripture to continue to shape us, then I think we border on idolatry.

David Rogers said...


The question you raise, though not specifically addressed in this post, is a question I have treated, in one way or another, at various times on this blog. It is indeed a question on which I have a great interest.

You might want to check out, for example, the following posts...

Under What Banner?
Bottom-line Loyalty
Denominational Idolatry Reproved
Denominational Distinctives

Also, as usual :^), I am in agreement with what Alan has to say here as well. For some reason, he and I seem to think alike on these questions.

I think maybe I just need to hire people like him and Tim Sweatman (see comment above) to answer the comments on my posts for me. :^)

Debbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie said...

Sorry, the post I deleted was just to grammatically awful. :)

Alan Cross has articulated what I feel.