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Friday, December 15, 2006

Dockery calls for consensus on primary theological issues

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Southern Baptists need to build consensus and forge a united identity centered on the one true Gospel, David S. Dockery writes in a booklet entitled “One Gospel: Toward a Southern Baptist Consensus.”

In the booklet, Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., calls for the unity of the church and doctrinal integrity. Union trustees unanimously endorsed Dockery’s initiative at their Dec. 1 meeting.

“I think our historical amnesia creates theological and biblical problems, so I wanted to try to frame the discussion historically and then offer a theological exposition of the Gospel around which we can unite,” Dockery said. “I think there are growing anxieties about different emphases within the Gospel across Baptist life. Our goal at Union is to be agents of grace and agents of reconciliation.”

Dockery said Southern Baptists need to recognize that various perspectives regarding the doctrine of salvation have been present since the early days of the 17th century, long before the Southern Baptist Convention existed. He also said it’s unlikely, apart from God’s intervention, that Baptists are going to come to unanimity on some positions, which he thinks are secondary matters.

“What I wanted to do was to call us back to a primary focus on the Gospel itself and understand those areas where we have strong agreement about the sinfulness of humanity and their lostness apart from Christ, that our salvation is found in Christ alone,” Dockery said.

Though Southern Baptists probably won’t agree on every point of doctrine, Dockery wrote the booklet as a way to build unity around areas where Southern Baptists can agree and work together for the good of the Gospel. He also emphasized that Southern Baptists should be unified against certain heretical teachings, such as universalism.

In a chapel service at Union Nov. 17, Dockery encouraged the university community to take the lead in building consensus among Southern Baptists.

“I invite us to move from controversy and confusion to a new consensus and take a step back, not just to commit ourselves afresh to missions and evangelism, as important as that is, but to commit ourselves first and foremost to the Gospel, the message of missions and evangelism, the message that is found only in Jesus Christ and His atoning death for sinners,” Dockery said. “I trust that we can hold hands together for the good of the Gospel beginning here at Union University, which can bring a fresh breath, a fresh wind of God’s Spirit across Tennessee Baptist life and across the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Dockery traced his own experiences growing up as a Southern Baptist in the 1950s, when being Southern Baptist carried a cultural and programmatic identity no longer seen today. Instead, in recent years, Dockery said the Southern Baptist Convention has become a gathering of loosely-connected groups -- including fundamentalists, evangelicals, revivalists, purpose-driven churches, quasi-charismatics, culture warriors and Calvinists.

Dockery acknowledged that tension may exist between some of the groups just as tension exists in some basic Christian doctrines. But he said tension doesn’t have to lead to division.

“It is possible to hold hands with brothers and sisters who disagree on secondary and tertiary matters of theology and work together toward a common good to advance the Kingdom of God,” Dockery said. “But we need to be of like mind on first-order issues, issues such as the authority and truthfulness of the Bible, the deity and humanity of Christ, the Holy Trinity and the exclusivity of the Gospel.”

I posted this Tenn. (BP) article in its entirety because I feel so strongly that this is exactly the message that is needed from every seminary and seminary president affiliated with our convention! Amen brother Dockery!

In fact, I feel so adamant about the conduct of a certain Dean at Liberty University who has been doing just the opposite, and has with reckless abandon been sowing the seeds of division within the convention, that if any seminary our university is unwilling to indorse the spirit of Dockery’s booklet and is unwilling to police the conduct and comments of their own staff, then we as a convention should seriously consider if we can afford to continue a relationship with these men and these institutions.

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? (James 4:1)

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1Cor. 1:10)

Greg Alford

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Roots of Virulent Anti-Calvinism in the SBC

The trend towards a less “gentile” Southern Baptist Convention is unmistakable.

All one has to do is listen to some of the bitter and extremely provocative denunciations of Calvinism coming from a select group of former, and sometimes current leaders, within the SBC to realize that trouble is brewing. The Anti-Calvinists within the Convention are itching for an old fashion (bare knuckle – knock down – drag out – winner take all) fight.

The Conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention won the day behind the flag of inerrancy. However, as some of the original leaders of the resurgence are fading from the scene the future of the resurgence movement is uncertain. The growing influence of a new generation of young, energetic, evangelical, and yes often Calvinist, Pastors who were rocked in the cradle of inerrancy, and who fully embrace the Word of God as their finial authority and not the reason and traditions of men, have a number of the older resurgence leaders worried.

The truth is; they should be worried. This new generation of Southern Baptist Pastors does not think like the last generation. The last generation of Pastors, while decidedly conservative compared to the liberal leaders they replaced, went off to seminary in the 60’s and 70’s when liberal thought and ideals were at their highest within the Southern Baptist Convention. It can honestly be stated that they were, almost without exception, baptized in the decidedly liberal waters that were freely flowing in our seminaries at this time. Although they may have come away from their seminary years with what one would honestly call conservative convictions for their time, it must be noted that they were not unaffected by this experience.

“Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?”

In contrast, and ironically thanks to the work of many in the conservative resurgence who are now worried, the current generation of pastors has received what is probably the most conservative education for ministry, from what is undoubtedly the most conservative professors, that one could have received from any Southern Baptist seminary within the last one hundred years.

The difference between these two generations of Baptist Pastors is not how they answer most questions, for they do agree on a lot of things, but instead their difference is in how they arrive at their answers. Before one can answer any given question he must decide on just how he is going to approach his answer, and it is this approach to the answer that is often so different between the two groups, and what is so revealing about the core differences between them.

This difference was vividly demonstrated by the arguments for or against biblical doctrines and social issues on the convention floor this past spring of 2006. While both groups considered their conclusions to be the proper conservative positions, and they may even arrive at the same conclusion, they each take a very different route to get their. The “Old Conservatives”, who were educated and undoubtedly influence by far more liberal professors, are far more likely to site tradition and the opinions of “most Southern Baptist” to support their positions, while the “New Conservatives” (who were rocked in the cradle of inerrancy) almost always exclusively turn to the Word of God to defend their positions.

“Calvinism scares the Holy Ghost out of many of the Old Conservatives…”

Increasingly the Old Conservatives and the New Conservatives are at odds with one another. This is particularly true when it comes to the Doctrines of Grace or Calvinism. “Calvinism scares the Holy Ghost out of many of the Old Conservatives…”

The virulent Anti-Calvinism coming from many of the Old Conservatives as of late has a defiantly familiar ring to it… In “tone” and “substance” it sounds much like the virulent Anti-Calvinism of their Old Liberal Professors of the 60’s and 70’s.

The Old Conservatives of the SBC today use many of the same tactics as their Old Liberal Professors used in attacking all things Calvinism during their seminary days.

Here is just a sample:

(1) Building Calvinist straw-men by telling their audience that Calvinist believe things that no Calvinist ever believed and then burning these straw-men to the ground.

(2) Telling emotional illustrations about Calvinism sending babies to hell and keeping some who are seeking and serving God with all of their hearts from getting on the bus marked for Heaven.

(3) Elevating the doctrine of “free will” to the honored position of the most sacred doctrine among Baptist when it is not even mentioned in our own statement of faith, the BFM2000.

(4) Bashing, giving false definitions of, and even mocking the doctrine of Election even when it is clearly defined for all Baptist to read in our statement of faith, the BFM2000.

(5) Falsely proclaiming that Calvinism kills evangelism and that it always has, when Baptist History clearly teaches otherwise.

When it comes to discovering the roots of this virulent strand of Anti-Calvinism being preached by some of these Old Conservatives today, which is having the effect of causing needless division and hurt within the SBC, one need only to look at the teaching of their Old Liberal Professors. Because, when it comes to attacking Calvinism there is virtually no difference between the Old Conservatives and the Old Liberals.

In closing two proverbs come to mind:

(1) “You reap what you sow.”
(2) “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck… it’s a duck”.

Greg Alford

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Baptism & Church Membership?

In this brief article I will attempt to answer a question on Baptism that recently came to me by way of a pastor friend who was wrestling with how to properly deal with it in his own church. The question: “Is it proper for a church to baptize someone who has no interest in being a member of that church, or any church for that matter?”

First we need to answer the question of “Why do we baptize?” We baptize because Christ commanded us to do so; “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:” (Matt.28:19-20a).

In the command of Christ to baptize we have much that will help us to properly answer our question of the appropriateness of baptizing someone who is not interested in membership in a local congregation. It is abundantly clear from this passage that baptism is directly linked to discipleship. Jesus does not command us to go into all nations and baptize new converts only, but he also commands us to teach them to observe all things whatsoever he has commended. How are we to fulfill Christ’s command to the church to teach them if membership in the local congregation is optional?

In the same passage that Christ commands the church to baptize new believers, he also commands the church to disciple those it baptizes. For the church to baptize someone without any effort at all to see to their need for discipleship, much less to baptize someone who has made it clear that they have no interest in discipleship by the church, is a clear and direct violation of Christ’s commandment.

The unbiblical idea that new converts need not be members of a local congregation, that they are somehow capable of standing against the enemy all on their own, and that they are in no need of biblical instruction is nothing less than a stunning display of PRIDE.

Additional Biblical support for the local church to baptize only those who intend to be members of there own body, or in rare circumstances those who express their intentions to become members of another body, is the command of (Heb.10:25) for all believers to “Not forsake the assembling of yourselves together”. In light of this verse alone how can a church in good conscious baptize someone who openly expresses their intent to disobey God by disobedience of this direct command to all believers?

This issue also calls into question our understanding of Biblical church polity, discipline, and authority. Regardless if your church recognized the authority of a plurality of Elders, as the church I pastor does, or a single Elder known as the Senior Pastor, all believers are commanded in (Heb.13:17) to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

One can hardly be faithful to this commandment without being a member of a local church. To baptize someone who is in violation of this commandment by their unwillingness to obey and submit to the authority of the spiritual leadership God has appointed to watch over their souls is to be complicit in their sin of rebellion.

I am sure that I have not exhausted the biblical evidence against baptizing those who do not wish to become members of the local church, but I believe I have demonstrated from scripture the inappropriateness of any local church in doing so.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Great Grandfathers Baptist Church

A little while back my father and I had one of those rare moments between a father and son that one treasures for a lifetime…

My father has been into researching our family history for many years now and has collected quite a lot of old family information and mementoes. Mostly it is just names and the dates of birth of our ancestors, you know the extended family-tree kind of stuff, but every now and then he comes across something really interesting. Like the time he turned to me and said “You know son you are not the first preacher we have had in the family, around 1860 my great uncle, William Henry Alford, was the founding pastor of Limestone Baptist Church in Walton County Florida, of course this was before he picked up and moved his whole family to Texas.” I would latter discover that William Henry Alford would go on to pastor several early churches in the Walton and Holmes County area of the Florida Panhandle.

The next hour was spent with dad trying to find some of the old minutes from the church that he had saved from sure ruin when he found them in an old discarded trunk in the barn of a distant relative. Once dad found them the next few hours were spent just trying to read them, this turned out to be no easy task as everything was hand written in old English.

But boy was it worth it! The more I read the greater my appreciation became of the genuine faith of my forefathers. I mean, right there on old cracking paper were the records from one of the first Baptist Churches in West Florida. Everything from the tithe being given in eggs, to the discipline of one of my great, great uncles for drinking and disorderly behavior… to which he stood in front of the Church and repented of (Wow, Church Discipline that actually lead to repentance! You don’t find that in our Baptist Churches anymore), to the existence of Elders in the Church whose job it was to carry out the task of church discipline.

From these few simple church minutes written on old cracking paper I re-discovered the following truths about my Baptist forefathers:

1. These were a people of deeply held convictions – You just do not find people paying tithes in eggs, and sending an Elder to find out why someone has missed church, who are not deeply committed to their faith.

2. Church Discipline was practiced to the edification of all – It is particularly difficult to find a Baptist Church today that understands the importance of Church Discipline and it is almost impossible to find someone who is willing to stand in front of their fellow Christians and repent of even their sins that are known by all.

3. Baptist Churches had Elders! – With many SBC leaders coming out against Elders in Baptist Churches today it was refreshing to discover first hand that my Baptist forefathers were neither Hyper-Congregationalist nor Presbyterians, but Baptist who believed in the autonomy of the local church and the authority of Gods Word. And if Gods Word said to “ordained Elders in every local church” then that was good enough for them.

What an encouragement and blessing these discoveries have been to my faith! (more next time)