Southern Baptist heritage: Cooperation
“Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. …. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people”
– The Baptist Faith and Message 2000).
There are two issues which divide us in spite of the call for unity and cooperation. There are those who emphasize limited atonement (historic Calvinism), and those who emphasize man’s free will (historic Arminianism).
Arminians believe men are born in sin but have the “capacity” to choose Christ of their own free will regardless of regeneration. Calvinists believe God regenerates a soul, giving a person the ability to believe. The Arminian believes therefore God regenerates him. Yet despite these differences there are many doctrines we can agree on. It is critical to our unity that we still work together for the Kingdom of God despite these differences. There is historical precedence among Baptists for just this attitude:
“We care far more for the central evangelical truths than we do for Calvinism as a system; but we believe that Calvinism has in it a conservative force which helps to hold me to the vital truth, and therefore we are sorry to see any quitting it who have once accepted it.” [Sword and Trowel, April 1887, p 196]
We can agree with Charles Spurgeon. In light of the Gospel, this difference matters not. We are after all organized to aid in spreading the Gospel around the world, not to police one another.
It is healthy for us to study the Scriptures and have debate, but we should not slander our brothers in Christ or in any way undermine other’s efforts. Our communications with each other should be redemptive and kind (Eph. 4:32). Maintaining doctrinal integrity within the historic beliefs of Baptists is critical, and the acknowledgement of Calvinist doctrine is warranted given that history.
Some definitions may prove helpful.
Hyper-Calvinism emphasizes divine sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility. The doctrine of hyper-Calvinism would tell us that there is no need for the believer to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others because God has determined whom He would save and He will save them without our help. The result of this error is a “sit and wait” mentality. It is to be rejected.
A Calvinist Baptist like Spurgeon understood the great responsibility to preach the Gospel and support missions. Other Calvinist Baptists that were not hyper in doctrine were Broadus and Manley, where we get our “Broadman Press,” William Carey, that great missionary, Adoniram Judson, John Bunyan, B. H. Carroll, Alvah Hovey, A. H. Strong, J. P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, Richard Fuller, Jonathan Edwards, Luther Rice, Andrew Fuller, George Whitfield, and Lottie Moon. All of these worked with other Baptists who differed with them, and they accepted each other in communion. We have historical precedence for difference of belief yet cooperation for the Kingdom of God. It is our Baptist heritage.
Easy-believism is the notion that salvation entails a mere assent to the facts of the Gospel message. It has been termed Decisional Regeneration or Decisionism for short. Decisionists believe that all that is needed for someone to be saved is to affirm the truths of the Gospel as presented. Decisionists exclude the sincere necessity for the conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit and the responsibility for man to repent and believe unto the saving of the soul.
The Invitation System: While many Baptists who hold invitations would never agree to the above definition of easy-believism, it is also easy to witness the actual methodology of those who do being practiced in some of our Baptist churches today. While most all degrees of Calvinists in our association would insist on a clear call for sinners to repent and believe and for believers to examine their lives, some would also insist that there are other ways to extend that call than to ask people to “come down the aisle.” We have no record of any form of the modern invitation being given in the church for 1800 years, but there has always been a clear invitation given for sinners to repent and trust Christ. We all should insist on a clear call for sinners to repent and believe and for believers to examine their lives. There may be some who would also insist that there are other ways to extend that call than to ask people to come down the aisle, but we should also recognize that there is historical precedence for not accepting the invitation to walk the aisle model as conversion proof.
The resurgence of Calvinism is populated by the same people who were either brought up in some type of easy-believism, or once practiced it themselves. Some have been tempted to classify Baptist ministers who adhere to neither a system of easy-believism or Calvinism as belonging in the easy-believism camp. This divisional language is not fit for the redemptive language that should be a part of our lives (I Cor. 3:3).
Many Baptist churches hold invitations, and are prayerful and careful in their counseling. There are times when souls are genuinely converted at the front of a church. The Holy Spirit is more than able to finish any work that He starts. The problem that needs to be addressed is when there is no apparent conviction, no desire to forsake sin and no real faith in the finished work of Christ, but simply a desire to escape hell, and by going through some simple predefined steps the sinner comes out on the other end more fit for hell than when he first started down the aisle.
Baptist Calvinists have legitimate concerns when it comes to the invitation system, but it is not a Calvinist concern. It is a Baptist concern. There are concerns enough for us all.
Hyper-calvinism is dangerous to our unity and should be rejected. The desire to defame, destroy or undermine Baptist brethren should also be rejected. Easy-believism should not be defined by whether you have an invitation or not, but by how the response is made to the Gospel. Any response other than genuine repentance and faith is to be rejected.
The habit of divisiveness if left unchecked becomes a necessity, and once a necessity our house will fall. The time has come for healthy dialogue. And from healthy dialogue let us move forward and urge all men everywhere to repent and trust our Wonderful Savior. (Bob Schembre is worship pastor of Rockport Baptist Church, Arnold.)