During the past couple of years, there has been a good bit of debate regarding the influence of Landmarkism within the SBC. Although I am a pretty far cry from being a political pundit, I believe the recent vote at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention may well have been a pretty good referendum on this question (read about it here). I was not there, but here are a few of my observations based on what I have read on the internet:
1. The proposed amendment was to strike from the ABSC constitution the statement: “The Baptist Faith and Message shall not be interpreted as to permit open communion and/or alien immersion.”
While, as I understand it, state conventions are officially autonomous, and are free to make the doctrinal statements they wish, it is interesting to me that, in addition to approving the Baptist Faith and Message, the ABSC has officially gone on record as interpreting it. The problem is that the terms “open communion” and “alien immersion” are open to interpretation themselves. I had always assumed that the phrase “Being a church ordinance, [baptism] is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper” precluded the option of “open communion.” Inasmuch as, strictly speaking, my personal view is not that of “open communion,” but what some (such as Nathan Finn) have called “modified open communion,” I may not have needed to sign the Baptist Faith and Message with a caveat after all. At least not, according to the way many Arkansas Baptists apparently interpret it.
I don’t have a clue where they get that the BF & M says anything one way or another about “alien immersion,” though.
2. The vote total in favor of the amendment was 383 votes (63%) to 225 votes (37%) against. However, that was not enough, since the constitution requires a 2/3 majority (67%) in two consecutive conventions in order to pass.
It is difficult to know for sure how many of the people who voted in favor of the amendment actually believe in and/or practice “open communion” and the admission of “alien immersion.” However, it seems significant to me that a pretty clear majority appear to at least be open to this possibility. This is in Arkansas, a state that is generally considered to be a stronghold of Landmarkism within the SBC. It is also significant to me, at the same time, that 37% appear to favor an interpretation more in line with Landmarkist views. This is evidence that what Timothy George once called “the ghost of Landmarkism” is still with us, and is something to be taken into account.
From what I read into these statistics, there is a very real possibility, or even probability, that the majority of rank and file Southern Baptists do not expect SBC denominational employees and missionaries to hold to “closed communion” or reject “alien immersion.” At the same time, it is evident there is a real division within the SBC (if the ABSC is representative of the rest) over these issues. That would not be so much of a problem if Landmarkism did not carry along with it the tendency to exclude those who do not give assent to its tenets.
I doubt the authors of the ABSC constitution contemplated this particular situation when they came up with the 2/3-majority, 2-convention clause. However, I think it is ironic, and somewhat ominous, for the SBC at large, that a Landmarkist-leaning minority was able to hold sway in this particular situation.
3. By in large, the people who voted in favor of this amendment were, no doubt, solid conservative Southern Baptists who are supportive of the Conservative Resurgence in general.
Greg Addison, chairman of the committee that presented the amendment, is a personal friend, who grew up with me in the youth department of Bellevue Baptist Church, under the pastoral leadership of my father, Adrian Rogers. He was a staff member of Bellevue for several years, a frequent preacher in the Bellevue pulpit, and someone of whom I know, beyond a shadow of any doubt, my father thought very highly.
It is significant to me, as well, that Ronnie Floyd, Senior Pastor of FBC Springdale & the Church at Pinnacle Hills, as well as candidate for the presidency of the SBC in 2006, publicly supported the amendment. According to his blog, his church practices “open communion,” and handles cases of “alien immersion” on an individual basis.
Pretty good evidence to me that this is not, as some would have us believe, a matter of compromising with the authority of the Word of God. As Floyd says, “Yes, our commitment is to doctrinal purity. We hold the line tight, even to the point of losing possible members to our church. However, we are to be a biblically grounded, Christ-centered people of God. We cannot negotiate away the precious doctrine of salvation as well as other doctrines.”
At the same time, I think it is significant that Floyd defends the right of his church to dissent with decisions they feel are not biblically correct: “Please understand that while we do associate with the Arkansas Baptist Convention, we are an autonomous body of Christ. No convention office dictates to our church how to practice our faith. As a local body of Christ, we have the liberty to interpret Scripture as we believe is right and prayerfully historically accurate.”