“Denominational Unity” in the SBC-“How Can Two Walk Together. . .?”

Amos asks an important question.  “How Can Two walk together unless they are agreed” (Amos 3:3)? [ Some translations read something like “unless they have made an appointment to do so?”] I have never understood how two people who are walking in opposite directions can think they are walking together, but this often seems to be the case with those folks who call themselves Southern Baptists.

I am often, perhaps usually, mystified as I observe Southern Baptists and their denominational life.  I confess that I view them from the position of an outsider and not as one who is a “cooperating” Southern Baptist [this is the SBC term for a church that financially supports the program.] A pastor can preach all the heresy he wishes as long as his church is “cooperating.” Supporting the “program” covers a multitude of sins.

I am not a complete outsider. In my formative years, I was part of a Southern Baptist church and I have pastored in the SBC. Additionally, since I am from a family filled with Southern Baptist pastors, I am not ignorant of the issues within the Convention.

I recently listened with great interest to a conversation between two leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention about the future of the Convention. One of these men, Dr. Al Mohler, would call himself a Calvinist and the other a “traditionalist” or “Trad” as they like to refer to themselves.  The “Trad’s” name is Eric Hankins, PhD. He was the primary writer of the “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” He also wrote a preamble to that statement. I would like to share several observations about both the conversation and the Preamble and the Trad. Statement before considering a few specific issues concerning the Baptist Faith and Message as it relates to the Trad. Statement.

  1. Hankins who holds a PhD. Degree in Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary stated that it was not until after he had finished his course of study that he began to consider where he stood on the issue of Arminianism and Calvinism. How does one earn a PhD. in Theology without arriving at certain conclusions about these doctrines?  One wonders what kind of Seminary Southwestern must be for such to be the case.
  2. Just a cursory reading of the Trad statement reveals that those [supposedly pastors, professors and leaders in the SBC] who composed the statement are profoundly ignorant of the issues that separate Calvinists and Arminians.
  3. Hankins wishes to relegate the issues that divide Calvinists and Arminians to a secondary status. He wrote, “For the most part, Southern Baptists have been glad to relegate disagreements over Calvinism to secondary status along with other important but “non-essential” theological matters.”  If the doctrines that regard God’s method of saving sinners are not of primary importance, then what is really important?” The apostles seemed to regard those matters as having supreme importance and wrote more about them than any other subject in the New Testament Scriptures.
  4. As I listened to Dr. Mohler and Dr. Hankins play nice with each other and talk about the importance of “denominational cooperation” in spite of their theological differences, I wanted to regurgitate. “After all”, they seemed to agree, “we both preach the same gospel.” We can still cooperate and plant churches together, blah, blah, blah. If that is true, then doctrine is not important after all. And if Dr. Mohler is preaching the same “gospel” as Dr. Hankins, then shame on him.

The gospel is not that God loves all sinners equally and in the same way, i.e., redemptively, and that Jesus has given himself to make it possible for everyone to be saved if only they will effectuate his work by adding their libertarian free will decision to his almost finished work. It is not that God has done all he can do and now it is all up to the sinner.  You will search the Scriptures in vain looking for such a presentation of God’s redeeming work. That is simply not the gospel.

If they wish to cooperate in helping storm victims or feeding people at soup kitchens, that is one thing.  Cooperating in gospel preaching and church planting is another matter altogether.

  1. Hankins wanted to emphasize how masterful a document is the Baptist Faith and Message. The reality is, the only thing masterful about it is that it is so vague and self-contradictory that it is difficult to understand what it really means.  Most anyone can pull out a statement here and there with which he agrees.  A Calvinist can find all five points in the statement if he ignores those statements dealing with the same doctrines that teach the exact opposite.  For example, consider the statement on Regeneration.


The first part of that statement would indicate that faith precedes regeneration.  “Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus.” If the framers of this statement had replaced the word “believers” with the word “sinners” or “unconverted” it would have agreed with the next part of the statement, but as it is, it directly contradicts what follows. It is not as “believers” that we are regenerated according to the next clause. Look what follows, “It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It should not require a great deal of grey matter to understand that if “the sinner RESPONDS” to regeneration in faith and repentance, regeneration must have preceded and been the cause of faith and repentance.  As it is, the statement stands as a monumental contradiction.

If I were a Southern Baptist, I would be embarrassed to think that the leaders of my denomination were so theologically dull as to allow such a statement to be published.

On Election

“Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.”

There is nothing about this statement about which any Calvinist would disagree even though it does not specifically identify what God chose. Did he graciously choose a plan from all the other plans he has chosen? Did he graciously choose to carry out a plan, or did he choose a people for himself? The statement simply doesn’t say.

On Salvation.

“Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.”

This is so poorly worded that one could deduce from it that only the elect or those who have believed “all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour” should be offered redemption.  Should we not offer redemption freely to all whether they are believers or every will be believers or not?

The last part of the statement is a clear statement of “particular redemption” with which no Arminian [Non-Calvinists] “Trad” should be able to agree.  Look at the statement—“Jesus Christ. . .who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.”  According to the Trads, did he OBTAIN redemption for every believer?  Compare this with the “Trad” statement, “We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.” They can’t have it both ways.  If Jesus is “the effective sacrifice for every person, and he obtained eternal redemption for those who believe, then he [listen to the language] must have obtained eternal redemption for all without exception whether they believe or not. This is universalism. Only the Calvinist believes Jesus’ redemptive work was, in itself, an accomplishment. All others must believe it was a mere provision to be effectuated by the sinner’s free will decision. As Calvinist, we believe Jesus died to redeem the guiltiest sinner who will believe, not that he died for every sinner whether he will believe or not [Though not a direct quotation, this statement is taken from Robert Haldane’s commentary on Romans five. I would urge you to read his entire statement.]

We do not preach to sinners a message that lets them cast the deciding ballot. The Trads do.

On Perseverance

The BF&M statement concerning perseverance is a good and clear statement of the fifth point of Calvinism, but it is not a statement that is believed and taught among many Southern Baptists. Many of them have taught and are continuing to teach the OSAS doctrine and the “Carnal Christian” doctrine which is not the same doctrine at all.

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

Of course, the foundational doctrine that will determine what we believe about the above issues  is the biblical teaching about the sinner’s fallenness.  It is instructive to see how the doctrinal integrity of Baptist confessional statements has decayed during the past couple of centuries. Consider the following chart compiled by Josh Breland


So the answer to the question, “How can two walk together unless they are agreed?” seems simple.  Just be inarticulate and ambiguous and mumble a lot and you should have no problem.

5 Responses to ““Denominational Unity” in the SBC-“How Can Two Walk Together. . .?””

  1. October 16, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    Well, at least the “pastor” at my church sees that he and I cannot walk together, because we do not agree on this issue – and that drives him nuts. By the grace of God I will not retreat nor compromise on this matter.

    • October 17, 2015 at 12:02 am

      I agree that it is better that at least he feels strongly enough about his views that he doesn’t just go along to get along. Even if he is wrong, it is admirable that he has a bit of backbone. And, I agree that you cannot retreat or compromise on this matter.

      • October 17, 2015 at 12:45 am

        When he came to my house to call me a heretic, he told me that he had been cordial to me because he’s people pleaser and God rebuked him for not being hostile to Calvinism. He had described the friend of his that occasionally preaches at Cornerstone as a Calvinist, but lately, when I asked him if that fella was also a heretic, told me he had only been joking when he called that man a Calvinist. There was no joking at the time – I think he is merely back peddling to his prior position of waging war on those who do not see man as having the freedom to choose salvation. I flat out find him difficult to trust.

      • October 17, 2015 at 12:59 am

        One of our difficulties is getting a clear definition pf human freedom. Most of them don’t even know what they mean by it. If he thinks, as many of them seem to believe, that we think sinners have no will and make no decisions, we should not be surprised that he thinks we are heretics. I think most of these guys are so insecure because they have never really studied the issues that they are afraid to even discuss the issues. I have seldom seen a free will believer who was willing to engage in an extended contextual, exegetical study of pertinent passages. They always retreat to a handful of proof texts that they think support their illegitimate presuppositions. Then they can hate us because “we just have a philosophy that has nothing to do with the Bible.

      • October 17, 2015 at 1:06 am

        You’re on target about getting a clear definition of human freedom. Free willers tend to think if a man has freedom to choose Chevy or Ford he can choose eternal life.

        I’ve known one free willer who was willing to discuss the issue, read Whitefield’s response to Wesley on the topic, and then tell me he no longer called himself a Wesleyan but agreed with Whitefield. He was a close friend and work colleague.

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