The “elephant in the room” in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the tension between “traditional” Southern Baptists and “Calvinists,” Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright said in his message to the SBC annual meeting June 19 in New Orleans.
Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., for over 30 years, said church planting was not “cool” back then and traditional worship was “the only game in town.”
“It was also the time when there was an intensity of conflict within our denomination over the inerrancy of the Word of God,” Wright said.
“Thankfully,” he continued, “Southern Baptist Christians led this convention to do something no other denomination had ever done before – return to biblical orthodoxy after there had been a wayward turn to the left. And for that we are still forever grateful and must be ever vigilant.”
Several decades ago a Pentecostal or charismatic movement also impacted many churches in the convention, Wright said.
That too, after some time, “eventually died away.”
Photo by Matt Miller
Bryant Wright Jr., pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, gives the president’s address June 19 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.
Then came the “worship wars” that continue to plague many churches, Wright said. “The fact is that all kinds of worship styles are very appropriate as long as they are Christ-centered and biblically based,” he said. “Today the tension has to do with Calvinism or Reformed theology. Months ago … the Holy Spirit convicted me that I needed to address this elephant in the room. Little did I know that it would be such a hot topic today.”
Wright said he is concerned that Christ-centered, Bible-believing Southern Baptists will be so engaged in correcting one another’s theological views when it comes to election and salvation that they will be detracted from their mission of rescuing captives who need to be liberated by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“These two views on election and salvation can co-exist as long as we stay Christ-centered and biblically based in our theology,” Wright said. “So a word to these two groups: To our Calvinist friends, a bit of humility would be most welcome. Anytime there is spiritual pride or intellectual pride or theological pride – it is always a sin. And an attitude of superiority … is never going to build up the church of Jesus Christ. A little humility would be appreciated.
“To those who call themselves traditional Southern Baptists, the time for being judgmental is over, because judgmentalism quickly moves into slander. And to lump all those who have a strong biblically based theology that is a more Reformed theology into hyper-Calvinism is not only misguided, but it ends up causing you to break the ninth commandment on false witness. It is time to show some respect to those who have differing views when it comes to election and when it comes to salvation.”
The central focus of the Old Testament and the New Testament, Wright said, is Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. Those who are more committed to their theological position than to Jesus Christ are guilty of “theological idolatry,” he said. The idolatry of materialism, technology, theology, denominationalism and family are major deterrents to Kingdom growth – reaching the neighborhoods and the nations of this world for Christ, Wright said in referencing this year’s convention theme.
In contrast, Wright said he is encouraged when he sees a passion for church planting among the 16,000 students enrolled in Southern Baptist seminaries.
“Many of them have a passion for going to a place where a church does not exist,” he said. “That is incredibly encouraging to see.”
Wright also noted that 1,300 churches have made a commitment to connect to an unreached people group somewhere in the world. Still, Southern Baptists will never reach their neighborhoods or the nations without the power of the Holy Spirit, he said, adding that nothing is more futile than doing the work of Christ in the flesh. “As we join with other Great Commission Christians all around the world we may have the privilege of being part of the final generation in completing the work of the church,” Wright said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)