A 19-member advisory committee on Calvinism has issued its report to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee President Frank Page, acknowledging tension and disagreement within the denomination on the issue while urging Southern Baptists to “grant one another liberty” and “stand together” for the Great Commission.
“We can talk like brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can work urgently and eagerly together,” the 3,200-word report reads.
“We have learned that we can have just this kind of conversation together, and we invite all Southern Baptists to join together in this worthy spirit of conversation. But let us not neglect the task we are assigned. The world desperately needs to hear the promise of the [g]ospel.”
The advisory team – not an official committee of the convention – was assembled by Page in August 2012 to advise him on developing “a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism.”
The committee was composed of Calvinists and non-Calvinists from different walks of life in the convention.
The report lists areas of theological agreement and acknowledges differences between the two camps, saying “we do indeed have some challenging but not insurmountable points of tension.”
The committee says its goal was to “speak truthfully, honestly, and respectfully” about the issue, and that disagreements over Calvinism should not “threaten our Great Commission cooperation.”
“We affirm that Southern Baptists stand together in a commitment to cooperate in Great Commission ministries,” the report says.
“We affirm that, from the very beginning of our denominational life, Calvinists and non-Calvinists have cooperated together. We affirm that these differences should not threaten our eager cooperation in Great Commission ministries.
“We deny that the issues now discussed among us should in any way undermine or hamper our work together if we grant one another liberty and extend to one another charity in these differences. Neither those insisting that Calvinism should dominate Southern Baptist identity nor those who call for its elimination should set the course for our life together.”
Southern Baptists, the report says, should “not only acknowledge but celebrate the distinctive contributions made by the multiple streams of our Southern Baptist heritage.”
“These streams include both Charleston and Sandy Creek, the Reformers and many of the advocates of the Radical Reformation, confessional evangelicalism and passionate revivalism,” it says. “These streams and their tributaries nourish us still.”
Both sides of the theological divide, the report says, have extremes that should be rejected.
“We must stand together in rejecting any form of hyper-Calvinism that denies the mandate to present the offer of the [g]ospel to all sinners or that denies the necessity of a human response to the [g]ospel that involves the human will. Similarly, we must reject any form of Arminianism that elevates the human will above the divine will or that denies that those who come to faith in Christ are kept by the power of God. How do we know that these positions are to be excluded from our midst? Each includes beliefs that directly deny what The Baptist Faith and Message expressly affirms.”
SBC leaders, entities, churches and even prospective ministers all have a role in ensuring that a debate over Calvinism does not divide the denomination, the report says.
“We should expect all leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention and all entities serving our denomination to affirm, to respect, and to represent all Southern Baptists of good faith and to serve the great unity of our Convention,” the report says. “No entity should be promoting Calvinism or non-Calvinism to the exclusion of the other. Our entities should be places where any Southern Baptist who stands within the boundaries of The Baptist Faith and Message should be welcomed and affirmed as they have opportunities to benefit from, participate in, and provide leadership for those entities.
“We must do all within our power to avoid the development of partisan divisions among Southern Baptists.”
Page will present a report from the advisory committee during the SBC’s annual meeting June 11-12 in Houston, Texas.
See the full report here.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – The Biblical Recorder has created a page on its website for SBC 2013. Visit here to get complete coverage before, during and after the annual meeting.)