Saturday, February 24, 2007

Application of Grudem's Article to the Current Situation in the SBC (Part 9)

We now come to a point in Grudem’s article that I believe will play a major role in deciding the current debate over the new policies in the IMB, and eventually other issues in SBC life as well:

6. PURPOSES OF THE ORGANIZATION: Is the teaching a significant threat to the nature and purposes of the organization?

After posing this question, Grudem makes the following observation, which seems especially relevant to us as Southern Baptists at this time:

In asking this question I am attempting to take into account the fact that God raises up different organizations for different purposes… The situation is somewhat different with denominational groups and denominational or theologically-distinct seminaries. For example the Presbyterian Church in America is Reformed in its doctrinal convictions. If it were to begin to admit Arminians into leadership, it would be a significant threat to the nature and purposes of the denomination, and I do not think that it would appropriate for them to do so. It would fundamentally change who they are. Or, to take another example, 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 tongues and healing and prophecy continue today. To do so would be a significant threat to the nature and purposes of that denomination.

Grudem gives some examples of how the answer to question # 6 might be applied in other denominations. Let’s think some of how we might determine the answer in relation to “PPL,” “alien immersion,” and the IMB…

The Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention, originally drafted in 1845, contains the following statements:

Article II. Purpose: It is the purpose of the Convention to provide a general organization for Baptists in the United States and its territories for the promotion of Christian missions at home and abroad and any other objects such as Christian education, benevolent enterprises, and social services which it may deem proper and advisable for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.

Article IX. Missionaries' Qualifications: All missionaries appointed by the Convention's boards must, previous to their appointment, furnish evidence of piety, zeal for the Master's kingdom, conviction of truth as held by Baptists, and talents for missionary service.

If it were possible to arrive at a unanimous conclusion of who we are as Baptists, and what is “truth as held by Baptists,” I believe the answer to Grudem’s question # 6, as regards the issues currently under discussion, would be relatively simple. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be quite so easy. Let’s consider first the question of “private prayer language”…

Up to the present, Southern Baptists, as a group, have never officially defined themselves as opposed to the practice of “private prayer language.” None of the three versions of the Baptist Faith & Message (1925, 1963, & 2000) has ever made any mention one way or another of “PPL.”

Undeniably, individual Baptists have on various occasions expressed their opposition to “Pentecostal/Charismatic” doctrine and practices, including, at times, the related issue of “private prayer language.” Some have even gone so far as to claim Baptists as a whole, or practically as a whole, have been united in these views.

The recent article in the Feb. 15 edition of the Florida Baptist Witness entitled “Is Charismatic Theology historically Baptist?” gives some good examples of this:

James A. Smith:

Can Southern Baptists adopt elements of charismatic theology and still be considered Baptist?

Paige Patterson:

Overall, consistently, for all the years of Baptist theology, whether we are talking about Anabaptists, whether we are talking about British Baptists, or whether we are talking about American Baptists and certainly Southern Baptists have rejected the charismatic interpretation of spiritual gifts.

For us to become charismatic in our emphasis now would be a major, new departure for Southern Baptists.

However, in the same edition of the Florida Baptist Witness, in a separate article, there are some quotes by other Southern Baptist leaders that would appear to lead to a different conclusion…

Ken Hemphill:

There are legitimate issues of interpretative difference on this matter among scholars with a commitment to biblical inerrancy. While I do not personally practice a prayer language nor advocate such practice, I do not think we should make this a test of one's commitment to the conservative resurgence, the principles of biblical inerrancy, or loyalty to Southern Baptist life and work. I think we should be guided by Paul's preference for intelligible speech in the gathered assembly and his caution that we should not prohibit a private prayer language.

We must be careful not to allow issues of personal interpretation and preference to deter us in our passion to expand God's kingdom through our Baptist family of faith.

James Leo Garrett (addressing the possibility of including a statement on “PPL” in the Baptist Faith & Message):

If you begin to put in things you disagree on, you begin to turn the statement in a different way. I don't believe there is now unanimity. It might be wise to wait on that.

Regarding the new policy on baptism at the IMB, any serious student of Baptist history must recognize the fact that there have been times in Southern Baptist past in which a significant group, perhaps even the majority, has been sympathetic to Landmarkist views, including the illegitimacy of so-called “alien immersion.” However, in the end, Landmarkism did not win the day. As Robert A. Baker states in the book The Southern Baptist Convention and its People, 1607-1972:

James E. Tull is probably correct in suggesting that Landmark ideas had filtered into the bloodstream of Southern Baptists, for some of them are still evident; but the radical denominational enlargement and concentration beyond the local church level that took place in the early decades of the twentieth century in the structure and function of the Southern Baptist Convention point unerringly to the disintegration and overbalancing of Landmark views. A strong Landmark undercurrent would have rendered impossible what took place in Southern Baptist organizational life between 1917 and 1972.

Some will undoubtedly protest and say that the new policy on baptism is not directly Landmarkist, and those who support it are not necessarily Landmarkers. While it is true that there were Baptists who opposed so-called “alien immersion” before the arrival of J. R. Graves on the scene, and there are some who oppose it today who do not necessarily identify with all of the teachings of Graves and Pendleton, I maintain that a certain brand of what I would call “Neo-Landmarkism” does indeed underlie the new policy.

In many ways, it would appear the soul of the Southern Baptist Convention is in the balance. Some would say there is a danger of turning “charismatic.” I believe this is a “red herring.” Very few in Southern Baptist life, even among those who are opposed to the new policy on “PPL,” would want the SBC to become “charismatic.” On the other side, some would say we are in danger of returning to Landmarkism. Although there are certain elements of the Landmarkism of J. R. Graves and J. L. Pendleton that seem to have “run their course,” I would say the dangers of “Neo-Landmarkism” gaining ascendancy in the SBC are much more real than those of the SBC going “charismatic.”

The issues are no doubt broader than just this. But the controversy over the new policies at the IMB seems to be illustrative of two streams of thought, one which would like the SBC to be, in general, more “open,” and one that would like the SBC to be more “closed.”

If the recent Baptist Identity Conference in Jackson, Tennessee, is any indication of where we are headed, though, I believe there is good reason to be encouraged. Recognized Baptist leaders, such as Frank Page, Thom Rainer, David Dockery, Mike Day, Ed Stetzer, Greg Thornbury, and Timothy George, without making clear reference to the policies at the IMB, from my perspective, all seemed to be advocating a view of Baptist identity tending more to the “open” side of the spectrum than the “closed.” All of these men are at the same time solid advocates of the authority of the inerrant Word of God and other basic doctrines held by conservative, evangelical Southern Baptists across the board.

It is my hope that I am not mistaken here in my interpretation of the spirit in the air in the SBC. It is also my hope that the Board of Trustees of the IMB, when they make a final decision on the review of the new policies, will be able to see that, indeed, those new policies seem to be out of step with the overall nature and purpose of the SBC at this time in history.


Tim Sweatman said...

I believe part of what has made the SBC such an effective missions movement is that we have not defined ourselves around issues like charismatic theology, predestination/free will, or eschatology. We have wisely agreed to work together even though we have differing views on these issues. Defining ourselves on the basis of such issues will reduce our effectiveness by dividing us unnecessarily.

Alan Cross said...

Great analysis, David. No surprise here, but I completely agree.

You are absolutely right about the tone of the Baptist Identity Conference as well. All of the speakers, except for a notable minority, seemed to advocate a more open view of Baptist life, while remaining strong conservatives and inerrantists. If that view wins the day, our future is bright. I pray that it does.