Wednesday, June 23, 2010

SBC and Reformed? Why does it matter?

I must be missing something. 

There is a discussion on Les Puryear’s blog, and now at SBC Voices about whether or not you can be Reformed and Baptist.  This discussion really is not about Calvinism.  It is more about “Reformed” polity and other distinctives of Reformed theology. 

Allow me to tie a few things together, and then I will explain why I am confused.

1. The Southern Baptist Convention as a denomination began as a missions endeavor.  The hope was for like-minded churches to pool their resources to be more effective in missions. 

2. “Like-minded” is more about issues related to the gospel itself, the practice of baptism, and regenerate church membership.  It had little to do with other issues of polity.

3. Because of this belief the desire was to keep local churches autonomous.  That means that local churches are able to maintain their own polity, etc. so long as they held onto the gospel, the biblical practice of baptism, and regenerate church membership.  (Perhaps some will accuse me of rewriting history here—but I think it may be a decent summary). 

Summary: Southern Baptist Convention=like-minded autonomous churches pooling their resources to spread the gospel to the nations. 

This is why I don’t understand much of this whole discussion.  Can you be a Reformed Baptist?  At the end of the day this whole thing comes down to semantics.  What does it really mean to be Reformed?  What does it really mean to be Baptist?  I just do not understand why this matters. 

Obviously I believe that polity matters.  But I never thought the intention of the Southern Baptist Convention was to make certain that all of the churches held to a certain polity.  Puryear mentions 8 characteristics of being reformed and seems to say that only one is acceptable within the SBC.  I could be wrong but I just don’t think that historically these 8 things really matter as far as pooling together resources (except #6 of course). 

In my mind what the Great Commission Resurgence means is that we as a convention get back to what we original set out to do.  Find like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ, pool our resources, and take the gospel to the nations. 

And when the SBC becomes a bureaucracy or an agency to police tertiary doctrine/practice it is no wonder that young pastors are jumping ship.  Many aren’t leaving the historical SBC, they are just leaving what the SBC has become. 

But I’m probably missing something…


  1. I read the post and comments on Puryear's blog. As you know Mike, I see no conflict with being SBC and Reformed. My dilemma comes from seeing how he distinguished between Reformed and Calvinist. I've used the terms interchangeably. Now another layer of terminology has been added.

    Oh yeah, and I certainly don't concur with the 8 points he puts forth. For instance, the elder leadership I've read about in Baptist Churches maintains congregational polity, just in a format where every little thing isn't hashed and re-hashed in business meeting.

  2. That "Reformed" and "Calvinist" distinctive is actually something that has been an issue for a little bit with the Truly Reformed crowd.

    My first exposure was when R. Scott Clark said that we can't be Reformed b/c we are still Baptists.

    Now it appears that it has shifted and we can't be Baptists b/c we are Reformed.

    Much of it is just semantics I think. But at the end of the day I'm just not sure why in the world it matters. I'm just glad it's still okay that I'm a Christian.

  3. "The hope was for like-minded churches to pool their resources to be more effective in missions."

    I don't think this has as much to do with "pooling" the resources together as it does with "giving" the resources out.

    I think Les Puryear's question is more about: should NAMB funds be going to people who call themselves "reformed". Agree or not with his definitions, that's his concern.

    And determining who gets the money is a legitimate concern. The problem is defining who qualifies.

    Some say (and I think rightly) that the BF&M2000 should be the defining standard of doctrine and practice, it is the SBC statement of faith after all.

    But then... some don't see "eldership" as compatible w/ "each congregation operat[ing] under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes."

    Some people want to use views on alcohol as a litmus test, other's views on spiritual gifts, eschatology, etc. Though these things are at best only broadly defined in the BF&M to leave room for various opinions...

    That's where the issues/fights/opinions/confusions/etc. are coming from...imo


  4. Thank you for the better wording there..."pool their resources together for the sake of giving" is probably more accurate. The way I had it sounds like we are just sitting on the cash :-)

    And I also agree with your assessment of where the disagreements are coming from. I just wish you weren't right.

  5. Don't forget that ekklesia refers to just one kind of church, namely, a congregational church where all the members are equals. The ekklesia of Ephesis was the same as that of Athens, Corinth, and any other Greek city. The citizens of the town, men back then, were all members of the ekklesia and duty bound to participate in the deliberations. The Christian ekklesia is also a congregation of baptized believers who are seen as brothers and sisters and equals and participants in the congregational actions of the church. Elders are to lead by example - not as lords. Some Reformed stuff is more in line with the Presbyterian type of government where the elders do rule. Period. As to Sovereign Grace, that has been with us as long as there have been Baptists, especially Southern Baptists. Make no mistake about it, our form of church government according to the NT is "CONGREGATIONAL" with the "Elders as leaders by example, not Lords of Discipline and Control. And that comes from years and thousands of notes on the subject.

  6. Dr. Willingham,

    I agree with much of your assessment of NT churches. I am not so certain that it is as black and white as we would like it to be, but that is for another discussion.

    It is possible to be elder-led (even by a plurality of elders) and congregational at the same time. The question is not whether or not you can be Presbyterian and is whether you can be Reformed and Baptist. But again, all of this really just comes down to semantics.

    Thanks for the response, brother :-)



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