#4) Southern Baptists have a hopeful future if we can unite around and affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for building theological consensus that avoids the equally deadly extremes of liberalism on the left and sectarianism on the right. (1 Tim 6:3-4).
What do we as Southern Baptists agree on doctrinally and theologically? I believe the answer is quite a lot and I would like to pinpoint a number of these, 15 to be exact:
– We affirm the inerrancy, infallibility, authority and sufficiency of the Bible.
– We affirm the Triune God who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.
– We affirm God as Creator and reject naturalistic evolution as untrue.
– We affirm both the dignity and depravity of humanity.
– We affirm the full deity, perfect humanity and sinlessness of Jesus the Son of God.
– We affirm the penal substitutionary nature of the atonement as foundational for understanding the cross work of our Savior.
– We affirm the good news of the gospel as the exclusive and only means whereby any person is reconciled to God.
– We affirm the biblical nature of a regenerate church witnessed in believer’s baptism by immersion.
– We affirm salvation by grace alone thru faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.
– We affirm the reception of the Holy Spirit at the moment of regeneration/conversion and the blessing of spiritual gifts for the building up of the body of Christ.
– We affirm the literal, visible and historical return of Jesus Christ to this earth when He will manifest fully His kingdom.
– We affirm the reality of an eternal heaven and an eternal hell with Jesus as the only difference.
– We affirm a “sanctity of life” ethic from conception to natural death.
– We affirm the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, the goodness of sex in marriage and the gift of children, lots of them.
– We affirm the complementary nature of male/female relationships rejoicing in the divine ordering of them for the home and the church; and this list is not exhaustive.
Now, there are also some things we do not agree on doctrinally and theologically. For example:
– The exact nature of human depravity and transmission of the sin nature.
– The precise constitution of the human person.
– The issue of whether or not Christ could have sinned. (We all agree He didn’t!)
– The ordo salutis (“order of salvation”).
– The number of elders and the precise nature of congregational governance.
– The continuance of certain spiritual gifts and their nature.
– Does baptism require only right member (born again), right meaning (believer’s) and right mode (immersion) or does it also require the right administrator (ever how that is defined).
– The time of the rapture (pre, mid, post, partial rapture or pre-wrath rapture).
– The nature of the millennium (pre, amill or post)
– And, of course, we are not in full agreement about Calvinism and how many points one should affirm or redefine and then affirm!
Now, what are we to make of all this? Can we, and if so, how can we, move forward, work together and pursue the Great Commission as one united army of believers under the command of King Jesus?
No one has been more helpful in helping us think rightly and wisely in this area than Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In spite of some interesting and, in my judgment, inadequate criticisms of his model, I believe his paradigm of “theological triage” gets to the heart of how we can think well theologically. Furthermore, Paul, himself, affirms in 1 Cor 15:3 that there are theological matters of first importance, and in 1 Tim 6:4-5 that there are other issues that ought not drive us to engage in “word wars” that lead to “envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions and useless wrangling…”
First-order doctrines are those that are basic and essential to the Christian faith. These include doctrines such as the full deity and humanity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the atonement, and essentials such as justification by faith alone. Where such doctrines are compromised, the Christian faith falls.
Second-order doctrines are those that are essential to church life and necessary for the ordering of the local church but that, in themselves, do not define the gospel. Here theological differences make it difficult if not impossible to function together in the local congregation.
Third-order doctrines are those that may be the ground for fruitful theological discussion and debate but that do not threaten the fellowship of the local congregation or the denomination.
Now, let me make my position and convictions crystal clear at this point. Some things are worth fighting over and dying over. Some things are not. Some things are worth dividing over. Some things are not. At the “Building Bridges Conference” in November 2007, I put it like this, and I have not changed my mind: “Our agreement on The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is an asset, not a weakness. It is a plus and not a minus. If I were to pen my own confession it would not look exactly like the BF&M 2000. But then I do not want nor do I need people exactly like me in order to work together for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the building of His church. Our confession is a solid foundation for a sound theology that avoids the pitfalls and quicksand of a straightjacket theology.
Do we want or need a theology that rules out of bounds open theism, universalism and inclusivism, faulty perspectives on the atonement, gender-role confusion, works salvation, apostasy of true believers, infant baptism and non-congregational ecclesiology’s just to name a few? Yes, we do. These theological errors have never characterized who we are as Southern Baptists and they have no place in our denomination today. Inerrancy is not up for debate. The deity of Jesus and His sinless life are not up for debate. The triune nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not up for debate. The perfect atoning work of Christ as a penal substitute for sinners is not up for debate. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is not up for debate. A regenerate church is not up for debate.” I am convinced we have an adequate and healthy theological consensus for coming together for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission.