[The following post is slightly adapted from a blogpost that was originally published on 11/16/05
I am very thankful to be a member of a church congregation
that is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention
. I am thankful for this because the Southern Baptist Convention (both historically and currently) has been devoted to proclaiming that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I am thankful that we are associated with the Southern Baptist Convention because the SBC has done much work for the kingdom of God throughout the world through the International Mission Board
. And I am thankful because the SBC is the convention of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
, the school from which I graduated.
Nevertheless, there are some significant problems that are common to a great number of Southern Baptist churches: problems that have led many within the Southern Baptist Convention to recognize the need for reform
. Among these problems is the tendency of many pastors in the SBC to neglect the thorough preaching of certain teachings in the Bible: teachings that are deemed to be too difficult to understand or too controversial within Christian circles. Chief among these neglected teachings of the Bible is the teaching of predestination. Great Bible passages dealing with this teaching, such as Ephesians chapter 1, Romans chapter 9, and the last section of John chapter 6, are either entirely ignored or only touched very lightly in all too many Southern Baptist Churches. This fear of causing controversy over the teaching of predestination is so prevalent that in the responsive reading selection # 603 of the 1975 edition Baptist Hymnal (published by Convention Press, and still used in many SBC congregations) Romans 8:29-30, which speaks of predestination, is systematically skipped over.
As should be expected, the willful neglect of passages that are so rich in teaching from God has led to discernable negative consequences in many areas of Southern Baptist life. In the majority of Southern Baptist churches, the teaching of God's sovereign predestination of individuals to eternal life in Christ has been replaced with 'free-will' philosophy. Teachers of 'free-will' assert that an individual's salvation is ultimately dependent upon their own choice: a choice, according to this philosophy, which is not predetermined by God.
Bible teacher R.C. Sproul
(a Presbyterian pastor) explains how Bible students impacted by 'free-will' philosophy are negatively impacted by this teaching:
Any Christian who wants to be biblical knows that they have to have some doctrine of election- some doctrine of predestination- because its on every page. So you gotta deal with it. So then the question is, 'How do you understand election?' And the way that this is usually done is that they say, -"Well, yes God elects people but He elects them on the basis of what they do. And He knows in advance- from all eternity- what they're going to do when they come to certain crossroads. And on the basis of that foreknowledge- or prescience- then He issues His election."But election, then, is rooted and grounded in the work of the individual.
To get this very simple- down and dirty- I say, "OK, are you a Christian?"
"Do you have a family member or friend who's not a Christian?"
"Please tell me why you are a Christian and that other person isn't."
-"Well, I believed and the other person didn't."
And I say, "I understand that, but why did you believe- why did you say 'yes' to the Gospel- when your friend said 'no' to the same Gospel? Is it because you're better than they are?"
And what do they say, a hundred times out of a hundred?
-"No! Of course not!" They know they can't say that.
I say, "Is it because you're smarter?"
"Let me ask it again, when you're neighbor said 'no' to the offer of the Gospel, is God pleased with that?"
"Is that the right decision?"
"Is that the wrong decision?"
"Is that a bad decision."
"Is it a sin to say 'no' to God?"
"Well, you didn't commit that sin, you did the right thing, the good thing, and the virtuous thing. So, in reality, you're telling me that the reason you're a Christian and that your neighbor is not is because you did the right thing, and they did the bad thing. And so, though you protest as loudly as you can, if you really believe what you're telling me, you're trusting in your ultimate salvation in your good behavior. You may say, 'Well I couldn't have done it except for the grace of God!' But its the same grace He gave to your neighbor. In the final analysis, there was some 'island of righteousness' in you that caused you to say 'yes' to that grace where you wicked neighbor said 'no'. You have something of which to boast. Not to mention how Paul not only destroys that position, but wipes off the spot where it stood in Romans 9 when he makes it emphatically clear that it is 'not of him who runs, not of him who wills, but of God who shows mercy'(Romans 9:10)."
[from Sproul, R.C. Put on the New Man. Audio recording. St. Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, FL. October, 2001.]
So the philosophy of 'free-will' subtly influences many Christians with a 'works-righteousness' mentality- a mindset that distorts the truth of Scripture about the utter sinfulness and hatred toward God naturally present in every human heart (Eph 2:1-3) by imagining that there is something that we offer to God for which salvation is received. This thinking is not only found among church members, but among pastors as well. So there are Southern Baptist pastors who proclaim the inerrancy of God's Word and yet go outside the clear teaching of the Word of God to institute man-centered worship styles and programs that were never dreamed of by the apostles in order to try and influence the will of spiritually lost individuals to "accept Jesus." Pastors who are both culturally savvy and full of charisma cause the number of people in their congregations to grow tremendously with these methods, while pastors who lack one or both of these characteristics anguish over what change they must institute in their ministries so that they can lead more people to "choose Christ."
What is needed in the SBC is a wholesale return to the biblical understanding of God-that He is absolutely Sovereign and therefore ordains all that comes to pass so "that nothing happens by chance, but everything befalls us by absolute necessity"-and a biblical understanding of Man: that he is utterly sinful, so that every part of Man after the Fall recorded in Genesis chapter 3 is in bondage to sin and therefore "since the Fall of the first man free choice has been a reality in name only, and... we can of ourselves do nothing but sin." Only when these truths are embraced will there be real humility in the SBC, which is the key to this convention being favored by God, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:5b NIV 1984).
Labels: Reformation Theology