|FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- In late 2007, I was asked by the editors of SBC Today to address the relationship between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention. The following article was the result and I repost it today as it represents my thoughts and hopes on the matter. While some have lugubrious prognostications as to the current discussion bringing about the demise of our Baptist Zion, I am actually encouraged by it and believe that most of the dialogue is helping to strengthen our theological understanding and shared commitment to reach the 7 billion people on the face of the globe with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of the better things that Karl Barth is sometimes credited with having said is, "God, deliver me from Barthians." If not apocryphal, Barth was simply recognizing what most professors acknowledge and that is that students always have a tendency to run to the edge of the cliff with the professor, but unlike the professor they tend never to stop at the edge. While Martin Luther was the Reformation's preacher-theologian, John Calvin was the towering figure of Reformation thought through his Institutes and through his commentaries, a monumental biblical interpreter. Calvin's contribution, like that of Luther and a myriad of others, are subjects for which Baptists should be eternally grateful.
This should not be interpreted to mean however that we agree with John Calvin on all points and still less with some of his followers, who may have tumbled past him off the edge of the cliff. For example, Baptists have disagreed with the Reformed tradition of John Calvin and others at the following substantive points.
-- First, Baptists disagree about the baptism of infants. Infants cannot have faith, and the first ordinance of the church is faith-witness baptism and hence only believers are the appropriate candidates.
-- Second, we disagree about the mode of baptism, insisting that only baptism by immersion expresses death, burial and resurrection.
-- Third, we have differed with Calvin and other Magisterial Reformers over the relationship of the church to the state. Magisterial Reformers, so called, because of linking their reformations to state support and protection are contrasted normally with the Radical Reformers who argued as Baptists always have, for separation of church and state. This should not be interpreted as meaning that the church is not free to address matters of moral concern in the state, but only that the state has no jurisprudence in matters of the church and that the two are separate realms altogether.
-- Fourth, Baptists have disagreed with the Reformed tradition regarding elder rule. Although it is not uncommon now to find Baptist churches advocating elder rule and while this has been the case among Baptists for generations, on the whole Baptists are Congregationalists -- recognizing as they do the problems latent in congregational rule, they nonetheless believe that the doctrine of the indwelling Spirit of God in each believer means, among other things, that the congregation as a whole should be consulted and indeed determinative in the major decisions of the local church. Part of this is tied to Baptist emphasis upon the autonomy of the local church.
On the other hand, there are matters about which almost all Baptists agree with the Reformed tradition.
-- Baptists have joined Calvin and other Reformers in insisting that salvation is by grace alone. Indeed it is arguable that the Radical Reformers were the only really consistent Reformers because they not only declared that salvation came by grace alone but also insisted that only those who had experienced that grace in regeneration were the proper subjects of baptism.
-- Second, Baptists join with Reformers in believing that election to salvation is a prerogative exercised by God who is both just and sovereign in His disposition of all things. While even the followers of Calvin disagree among themselves about various aspects of election (infralapsarian vs. supralapsarian perspectives), Baptists also disagree among themselves about exactly what election means and how it functions in the salvific process. Nonetheless, that the Bible teaches the doctrine of election and predestination means that Baptists fully endorse it.
-- Further, Baptists have almost unanimously joined with the Reformers in their belief of the permanence of salvation. Once a man has experienced regeneration and been permanently indwelled by the Holy Spirit, he cannot forfeit his salvation. Again, Baptists joined with Reformed theology in declaring the full sovereignty of God over all events. This includes the rejection of "open theism" which features an incredulous God when faced with certain unanticipated events.
-- Finally, Baptists are one with those of the Reformed faith and with Calvinists in emphasizing the overriding providences of God. The cosmos is simply not out of control. It is being guided by God to a designed climax over which He rules and reigns. Furthermore, God's providence extends to all events in the lives of God's children.
Baptists disagree among themselves over subjects such as what election means and how it should be interpreted. It is common to find disagreement over the so-called ordo salutis, that is, the order of salvation events. Most believe that repentance and faith occur simultaneously, along with regeneration, but some have held that regeneration occurs first and makes repentance and faith possible. Continued...