Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The G3 Conference: Its Location in Southern Baptist History, and Hope for Its Future


Introduction

The G3 Conference held at the end of last week was not just a conference by and for Southern Baptists. The speakers and attenders of the conference were not all Southern Baptist, and the conference organizers certainly hope that its impact extends beyond a single denomination.

On the other hand, the conference was held at a Southern Baptist church [Pray's Mill Baptist Church], about half of the speakers were Southern Baptist, and the majority of attenders [from what I could tell] were Southern Baptists. I do think that much of the impact from the conference will be among Southern Baptists. Even non-Southern Baptist evangelicals who are interested in the G3 Conference should care about its impact among Southern Baptists, since the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in America.

“The Controversy” Among Southern Baptists

Throughout most of the 20th century, motivated by a genuine concern for reaching educated non-Christians– coupled with the sense of progressive pragmatism that characterized their age– Southern Baptists in general drifted into an Arminian mode of thinking (emphasizing the supposed ‘free-will’ of Man), with Southern Baptist institutions of learning eventually embracing liberal theology.

At the end of the 20th century, there was a Conservative Resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention by which the Convention as a whole reaffirmed their commitment to inerrant, infallible Scripture. Liberal theology was purged from the seminaries, and the Word of God was re-affirmed in Southern Baptist preaching. During the Conservative Resurgence, Southern Baptists often referred to the struggle between conservative and liberal elements in their midst simply as “the controversy.”

The Controversy Among Conservatives

During “the controversy” in the Southern Baptist Convention, a small but growing group contended for a more far-reaching Reformation in the SBC. They believed that although the doctrine of inerrant, infallible Scripture is important and foundational, a reaffirmation of this doctrine is not enough to accomplish the lasting change that the Convention needed. Instead, Southern Baptists should look back to their robust theological heritage– firmly rooted in the Reformed Baptist tradition– and they should proclaim the sovereign grace of God, set against the backdrop of a biblical understanding that Man’s will is not essentially “free,” but enslaved to sin. From out of these convictions, Founders Ministries was eventually formed.

Again, the G3 Conference is not directly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but in as much as this conference will have an impact on the SBC, it will be through building on the commitment to inerrant, infallible Scripture. The G3 Conference should prompt Baptists to not only affirm certain doctrines found in Scripture (though these doctrines are important, as Voddie Baucham made clear in the last sermon at the conference), but to dwell upon the glory of God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. As John Snyder made clear in his sermon at G3, our understanding of what the church is and how the church operates must be driven by a deepening knowledge of God Himself.

Controversies Before “the Controversy”

The controversy between conservatives and liberals was not the first major controversy faced by Southern Baptists. At the 1995 meeting of the Southern Baptist Founders Conference, Timothy George delivered an address titled “Lessons from Controversy in the SBC.” In this address, George cited RBC Howell (the second president of the Southern Baptist Convention), who indicated three 19th century controversies encountered by the SBC and its immediate predecessor, the Triennial Convention. (The Triennial Convention was the first nation-wide association of Baptists in America). These 19th century controversies involved Campbellism, Hyper-Calvinism, and Landmarkism. Each of these early controversies helped Southern Baptists to define themselves in distinction from various errors.

Southern Baptists (and likeminded baptistic groups) who affirm conservative theology in its Reformed expression must learn from the past and be on guard against Campbellite, Hyper-Calvinist, or Landmarkist elements attempting to re-assert an influence upon our belief and practice. Those who attended G3 were properly warned concerning the first two errors just mentioned. Josh Buice, in the first sermon at G3, directly preached against the idea that water baptism provides a ground for justification or accomplishes the remission of sins (this is the most notable error of Campbellism; see his related article HERE). Other speakers and songs that were sung at G3 re-enforced a commitment to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Steven Lawson, in both Thursday night’s final sermon and the Q&A following that sermon, spoke powerfully against Hyper-Calvinism (the idea that God’s sovereignty over salvation somehow lessens our responsibility to call all people everywhere to faith and repentance). Lawson and other speakers called upon preachers to plead with sinners concerning the urgent and immediate need for faith in Christ (see 2 Cor 5:20).

Rather than similarly guarding against Landmark teaching, the central defining doctrine of this error (that the term “church” only refers to local congregations of baptized believers and never to the one universal body and bride of Christ) was actually proclaimed at the G3 Conference in David Miller’s Friday morning sermon [see my blogpost on this HERE]. None of the other speakers made any direct statement against Landmarkism (though Voddie Baucham’s words in favor of confessionalism implies a rejection of Landmarkism, as the Baptist confessions affirm the one universal church). Practically speaking, Landmarkism is a problem in that it seriously hinders efforts at gospel proclamation that extend beyond denominational lines. (For example: Together for the Gospel would be impossible if the Baptists in the group believed that other members were not part of the body and bride of Christ.) [See more on the error of Landmarkism HERE.]

Conclusion

Concerning G3, it is my hope and pray that:

  1. This conference will continue,
  2. Even as the theme for the conference changes from year to year the emphasis on the Gospel-proclaiming church as a reflection of God’s grace with an emphasis on God's glory will continue,
  3. Landmarkism will be firmly rejected (even as Campbellism and Hyper-Calvinism continue to be rejected),
  4. This conference will be an engine for true reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention,
  5. This conference will be a means by which God brings about true revival in churches (SBC and otherwise) across America. 

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