With all of the division in the Southern Baptist Convention over the issue of Calvinism, I was overwhelmed with joy this morning as I read an interesting article in the Florida Baptist Witness. It was titled: “Calvinism advisory team listens, learns at first meeting.”
The article recounted a recent meeting that was wisely called by the SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page. Around the table were various influential SBC leaders of the Calvinist and non-Calvinist persuasion.
The article quoted Page as saying of the August 29-30 meeting: “The goal for the meeting was not to argue theology or to try to change each other’s minds. … I was greatly heartened by the civil tone that marked the meeting.” With the division that has been taking place in the SBC over this issue, Page’s actions to call this meeting were courageous and wise. I’m certain that he was relieved that it was characterized by civility.
The article went on to say that Page’s purpose for this group was to create “a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism.” Again, wise leadership! The primary goal of the Southern Baptist Convention is to create a partnership among churches for the purpose of obeying all aspects of the Great Commission. With our varied theological paradigms, discussion needs to take place to see how we can work together to accomplish that primary objective.
I was so glad to read that discussions have started and that they were characterized by civility as we as Southern Baptists seek, with renewed vigor, to carry out the Great Commission. There is so much more kingdom work to accomplish and no time to “draw the line in the sand” among the Lord’s servants. Most certainly, there is room for discussion and understanding as we strive for a biblical mindset on all matters of theology. However, in no way should we allow Satan to divide us or hinder us from carrying out the Great Commission in partnership with each other.
I have read much about the greatest movement of God on American soil, an event called the First Great Awakening. As thousands upon thousands of people were saved, it literally changed the cultural landscape of our country. Whose preaching brought about this present day Pentecost? Calvinists? Non-Calvinists? The answer is … both. It was led by Calvinists (George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, etc.) as well as non-Calvinists (John & Charles Wesley, etc.) alike. It was as they partnered together that more people came to faith in Christ in the period of a few years than we have experienced in that same time frame since then. Oh, that we could learn from Christian history!
To be sure, Whitefield was not indifferent to John Wesley’s opposing views. He wrote a lengthy letter to point out what he believed was error in Wesley’s theology. Yet, while that letter was confrontational, it was also characterized by compassion.
But, it is important to note that with this unreconciled difference, they were still used by God to win the lost. To show the mutual respect these two “sides” had for each other – at the end of his life, George Whitefield (Calvinist) asked John Wesley (non-Calvinist) to preach his funeral. Wesley graciously did so. Talk about civility!
I am convinced that the best days are yet ahead of the SBC if we can get past the “line in the sand” mentality. If only we can find the common ground in the non-negotiables of the Gospel to proclaim a crucified and resurrected Christ to a lost and dying world.
There will be time enough to speak to each other about where our beliefs differ … and we must have some of those conversations. But if we can agree that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again to forgive any who will believe and surrender themselves to His Lordship over their lives, then we must work together to share the message. There is little time to tell the lost about the Gospel. We must be about the Father’s business.