Joshua, Spurgeon and the SBC conservative resurgence
Don HinklePathway Editor
August 17, 2004
About 30 percent of the editorial content of this issue of The Pathway deals with one of the most significant events in the annals of Christianity and easily the most important in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
This year marks the 25th anniversary of what the late James Hefley called “The Conservative Resurgence.” That characterization, which some have rightly dubbed a “take back” more than a “resurgence,” has come to describe the movement that saved the SBC from the theological liberalism and secular humanism that now strangles mainline Protestant denominations. Unfortunately too many Missouri Baptists have little knowledge of what occurred in Southern Baptist life in the 20th century (especially between 1963-1999) and why. Theorized reasons for this “blind spot” range from some laity’s frequently espoused “it’s nothing but a preachers’ fight” to conservative’s accusatory finger pointed at a denominational press that withheld information and too often sided with more liberal influences. All this brings me to my justification for devoting so much space in this issue to this event.
The theological basis – which guides everything The Pathway does — can be found in Joshua 4; for it is there I believe our sovereign God demonstrates how important He views history. In this passage God reminds us that His works are worthy of remembrance and that our sinful hearts are prone to forget them. Our memories must be refreshed – for His glory and to our advantage and that of future generations.
Led by the great warrior general, Joshua, the Israelites cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. The waters part before the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant. God tells Joshua to instruct 12 men, one from each tribe, to each carry a stone from the spot where the priests stood in the dry river bed. The 12 men haul the stones to Gilgal where they are used to not only build a monument in honor of God’s great miracle, but also to help the Israelites and future generations remember the Lord’s power and faithfulness in this historic event.
Verse 21 states, “Then He spoke to the children of Israel, saying, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land for the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
It is the duty of God’s children – and particularly parents — to accurately communicate to younger generations the words and works of God that they may be trained up in the way they should go. In other words, God intends for man to record – and remember — history truthfully. I have often used Joshua 4 as a defense against post-modern deconstruction, political correctness and multiculturalism that seeks to rewrite America’s history – particularly the part about the role Christianity played in its founding. And I believe there is a principle Joshua 4 puts forth that applies when it comes to special events like what occurred in the SBC over the past quarter century.
Just as the Israelites marked the historic occasion of God parting the Jordan River with the monument at Gilgal, so we should also pause to remember and thank God for the miracle victory He gave those who were determined to stand firm on His inerrant, infallible Word. They did so in the ridiculing face of a growing theological liberalism that threatened the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. Southern and Missouri Baptists are called, as much as the Israelites, to remember our God, who has brought us through countless dangers and distresses. As Matthew Henry put it, “For hitherto the Lord hath helped us, as much as He did his saints of old. How great the stupidity and ingratitude of men, who perceive not His hand, and will not acknowledge his goodness, in their frequent deliverances!”
Yet as we recall, express our thanks, and even broaden our tent as SBC leaders have advised, let us also remain vigilant. Even today too often we hear voices calling for appeasement (“Can’t we all just get along?”) and expressing more concern over money than for truth. The SBC Conservative Resurgence was NOT about money. It was about God’s inerrant, infallible Word.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great 19th century expositor of God’s holy Word who graced the pulpit of the grand Metropolitan Tabernacle in Newington, England, for more than three decades, is revered by conservative Southern Baptists. After all, we have much in common. SBC conservatives, like Spurgeon, concluded that standing on God’s perfect, holy Word against the tidal waves of theological liberalism and secular humanism is a hill worthy upon which to die. Indeed the great “Prince of Preachers,” as Spurgeon is called, saw first-hand in the infamous “Downgrade” controversy what liberalism can do to orthodox Christianity. Spurgeon, in a magnificent sermon – based on Eph. 6:17 and titled “The Sword of the Spirit” delivered on Sunday morning April 19, 1891 — offered a somber reminder that Southern Baptists would do well to heed.
“It is clear from our text that our defense and our conquest must be obtained by sheer fighting. Many try compromise; but if you are a true Christian, you can never do this business well. The language of deceit fits not a holy tongue. The adversary is the father of lies, and those who are with him understand the art of equivocation; but saints abhor it. If we discuss terms of peace, and attempt to gain something by policy, we have entered upon a course from which we shall return in disgrace. We have no order from our Captain to patch up a truce and get as good terms as we can. We are not sent out to offer concessions. It is said that if we yield a little, perhaps the world will yield a little also, and good may come of it. If we are not too strict and narrow, perhaps sin will kindly consent to be more decent. Our association with it will prevent its being so barefaced and atrocious. If we are not narrow-minded, our broad doctrine will go down with the world, and those on the other side will not be so greedy of error as they now are. No such thing. Assuredly this is not the order which our Captain has issued. When peace is to be made, He will make it Himself, or He will tell us how to behave to that end; but at present our orders are very different.”
I am grateful to God for raising-up courageous men like Spurgeon, W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, Paige Patterson, Judge Paul Pressler, Roger Moran and many, many others. The events that have brought Southern Baptists to this 25th anniversary are worthy of remembrance. It is my prayer that you will read this issue of The Pathway carefully and after doing so pause and remember so that when your children ask, “What are these stones?” you may reply, “so that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”