(EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see Ken Keathley's response to this column. Keathley is senior vice president of academic administration/dean of faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
Recently, I [spoke] with a pastor search committee about a pastor search they were conducting. When I mentioned that Calvinist candidates may not be forthcoming in regard to their true beliefs, they asked, “What is a Calvinist?”
I wasn’t surprised that a small rural church was not aware of the Calvinist plan to reform [Southern Baptist Convention] SBC churches.
What is a Calvinist? Calvinists believe in five specific doctrines regarding salvation which are framed in the acronym: TULIP. Here’s what TULIP stands for:
T = total depravity. Man is incapable of coming to Christ without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
U = unconditional election. Before time began, God predestined who He would save. Unless one is a part of this special group, known as the elect,” one will not be saved.
L = limited atonement. Jesus did not die for the whole world. He died for the elect.
I = irresistible grace. In the case of the elect, they will ultimately come to Christ because God will cause them to come through an irresistible pull from Him.
P – perseverance of the saints. The elect of God will persevere in their faith in Christ and will not fall away.
Now let me make a couple of points regarding this doctrine of salvation which Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says is our “future.”
Here are some of the logical conclusions to what Calvinists believe. If God chose who was going to be saved before time began, then nothing can change His sovereign decree. Thus, if you are not one of the elect, you will not come to Christ. You can hear the word of God preached but it will have no saving effect on you because you are totally depraved and cannot come to Christ unless God causes you to come to Christ. And if you are not one of the elect, God will not cause you to come to Christ. The flip side of this theology is that God does nothing to draw the non-elect to Himself, thus they will not come to Him through Christ.
The majority of these Southern Baptist Calvinist pastors are coming from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Ky.) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.). In North Carolina, small rural churches have been particularly vulnerable to Calvinist graduates from these seminaries because of their close proximity to churches in our state.
If Calvinist candidates, who are seeking pastoral positions in traditional Southern Baptist churches, would be honest about their beliefs, then I would see no problem. Our churches are autonomous and can choose to hire whom they please.
If a church wants to hire a Calvinist pastor, then God bless them. Unfortunately, many Calvinist pastoral candidates are not revealing their Calvinism during the pastor search process in order to secure a pastoral position. Many times after the Calvinist is called as the pastor of the church, they begin to teach Calvinism in order to “reform” the traditional Baptist church in ecclesiology, polity, and worship. In many of these churches, the result is either a church split or the church is traumatized by the process of firing the pastor.
Is there an issue with pastoral candidates not being truthful to search committees about their beliefs? Apparently it is an issue that Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, thought was worthy of comment. [In an article published on the Between the Times website] he wrote:
“Act with personal integrity in your ministry when it comes to this issue. Put your theological cards on the table in plain view for all to see, and do not go into a church under a cloak of deception or dishonesty. If you do, you will more than likely split a church, wound the Body of Christ, damage the ministry God has given you, and leave a bad taste in the mouth of everyone. …”
Is there a Calvinist agenda to reform traditional Southern Baptist churches? Absolutely.
Ernest Reisinger, the chief architect of Founders, a Calvinist ministry, describes in great detail [in an article on the Founders Ministries website] how to “reform” a traditional church. He even gives the agenda a name: “The Quiet Revolution.” Make no mistake, there is an intentional effort to “reform” traditional SBC churches into “reformed” (code word for Calvinist) churches.
Traditional SBC church leaders and their churches need to be informed about this Calvinist agenda. They need to be informed on how to ask the right questions to determine the true theological positions of their pastoral candidates. Not only would this process identify Calvinist candidates but other candidates who may not be a good fit for their church, such as candidates who speak in tongues, candidates who believe that one can lose their salvation, or candidates who believe that the Ten Commandments are no longer valid.
But the main difference between Calvinists and other nontraditional Baptist candidates is that only Calvinists are actively trying to change local SBC churches to their beliefs.
In response to the Calvinist efforts to reform non-Calvinist churches, a group of traditional Southern Baptist leaders and scholars wrote a “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” The list of signatures includes over 250 pastors (representing small, medium, and large churches in 29 states), six former SBC presidents, seven state Baptist convention executives, four members of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 committee, over 20 associational directors of missions, five Baptist seminary and college presidents, and hundreds of other evangelists, church staff members, and lay ministers. After the release of this statement, many Calvinists said they wanted unity in our convention.
Traditional Southern Baptists also desire unity, and I believe that unity is an attainable goal but only when Calvinists cease trying to reform traditional SBC churches to their views.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Les Puryear is pastor/church planter at Cornerstone Community Church in Lewisville.)