“Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:22-26, NIV
As it happens, this was my sermon text from this morning. It followed on the heels of a sermon I preached last week on having the mind of Christ from I Corinthians 2. Though we do have a few “doctrinal policemen” in our congregation, by and large one of our greater needs is more Biblical literacy, particularly for the younger members of the church. Fortunately, many of those who need the deeper study of the scripture are aware of their need, and that makes it easy to know which direction to go.
But it seems that doctrinal debate in the SBC is becoming more divisive and intense. I don’t know if it is the introduction of the blog that has amplified this growing debate, or whether it has been there, lying under the surface for some time, but it seems that a war of words has been growing and developing between various theological elements, all under the Southern Baptist label. It seems that the arguments are enhanced by a quest for denominational power, at least for some individuals involved. Reading some blogs, the scripture I quoted above comes to mind, and I often wonder what “outsiders,” whoever they may be, think about what is happening. It is certainly on display for anyone to see.
The effects of the last denominational war, which was ostensibly over the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy, are still shaking themselves out. The long, detailed, systematic theological arguments that came about as the result of that battle left Southern Baptists with a damaged reputation both in the eyes of fellow believers from other denominational backgrounds and among those whose understanding and perception of Christianity was already biased against it, the “lost” as we call them. Even now it is hard to distinguish the effects of the doctrinal differences that were pointed out in such detail. Few on the “moderate” side actually left the SBC, most of those who did have kept one foot in the convention, and in some cases, actually only dipped a finger or two outside of it. The evidence of their doctrinal error, mainly focusing on the ordination and calling of women to the senior pastorate and a soft, permissive policy toward those in same-sex relationships is barely visible. Most moderate churches still preach from the scriptures and treat them as if they are God’s written truth, they do not call women to ordained ministry positions and they generally do not affirm same-sex lifestyles. Granted, there are a few that do, and most Baptist moderates stand opposed to disfellowshipping them from convention life, but that has been the major difference.
It now seems that the debate is focusing on the old reformation arguments between Calvinism and Arminianism. The fur has been flying for quite some time, with side issues like the gift of speaking in tongues as a private prayer language interjecting themselves into the argument. Increasingly, there are blogs that contain detailed theological arguments either refuting someone else’s position, usually by name, or defending their own. If this is the sermon content that is being preached in some churches, no wonder the church membership figures are moving in reverse! The intricate details of the belief systems are outlined in strong, powerful language that utilizes catch phrases designed to make sure that the person on the opposite side of the argument understands the intensity of the put-down. It becomes clear in reading some of these lengthy works that there is no love lost between those involved in the argument and, if given the chance, the “winning” side would gladly use whatever power they might have to put their opposition at a disadvantage, whether it is denying them from a pastoral opportunity to disfellowshipping them from the denomination.
I’m all for healthy theological, doctrinal dialogue. I am apalled by the Biblical illiteracy that exists in most of our churches, and I think it is important for us to sit down together, and work together as a body of Christ to make sure that our members are convicted in their beliefs and that they are growing in their knowledge and understanding of God’s revealed truth, as Paul says to Timothy, “as workmen approved.” We are united under the banner of Christ crucified and resurrected, the simple basic truth of the Christian faith which is the anchor of our salvation. There are those, however, who sound as if any difference of interpretation in a long list of doctrinal beliefs can nullify a person’s claim to salvation, that if they somehow do not come to the correct intellectual assertion, they can’t be saved because they do not have the proper understanding of salvation. That is not grace, it is legalism.
The suggestion that Baptists might be intolerant makes most of us bow up with indignation. Yet, in observing how some Baptist ministers treat other ministers who disagree with their perspective, it may be a reputation that is well deserved.