Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Calvinism, the SBC, and Evangelism

In the recent edition of Reminder (the newsletter of the First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, FL) Bobby Welch, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, raised the question as to the extent Calvinism has negatively influenced evangelism within the SBC. He cited Steve Lemke’s (Provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) article entitled, “The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals.”

It seems that the biggest concern of Welch is that Calvinist leaning churches have fewer baptisms than the “typical” Southern Baptist church. He cites Lemke’s research: “Their (Founder’s Friendly Calvinist churches) baptism to member ration was 1:62; it was 1:42 in the rest of the Southern Baptist Convention.” This statistic must be appalling for someone who is driving around in a bus seeking One Million Baptisms.

Just a few thoughts for now:

  1. Lemke, and therefore Welch, both confuse Hyper-Calvinism (Hard-Calvinism) with regular good old-fashioned Dortian Calvinism. It is all too common for anti-Calvinists to conflate and confuse Calvinism with Hyper-Calvinism. It must be stated unequivocally – hyper-Calvinism is heresy plain and simple. It distorts the gospel of grace and removes human responsibility from the picture of salvation. I will agree with them that hyper-Calvinism does destroy evangelism and missions. However, Calvinism (all five points) rightly understood provides the foundation, hope and basis for missions and evangelism (I hope to address this more in a later post). True, biblical Calvinism upholds both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in a tension of beautiful mystery.
  2. Welch and Lemke level their sights at Founder’s ministries – a ministry within the SBC calling churches back to the Reformed / Calvinist heritage. It is common historical knowledge that the founders of the SBC were Reformed Calvinists.
  3. With all statistics there is always interpretation and after reading Lemke I am left wondering how much interpreting of the numbers he has done. Lemke writes, “Founder’s Fellowship churches had considerably fewer baptisms, smaller congregations, more declining membership than the average Southern Baptist Church.”
  4. First, fewer baptisms – well there is a simple answer. Most Calvinists at the very least are nervous about Welch’s One Million Baptisms and more so are down right saddened by its unbiblical emphasis. Welch is focusing on baptism to the exclusion of discipleship. The two must go together. Maybe he should promote One Million Baptized Disciples. I personally would be happier with that approach. Calvinists weigh heavily and thoughtfully one’s decision to be baptized. All too often Southern Baptists churches line up their people in a dunking booth-assembly line fashion just to obtain their numbers. This is a sad blight upon the Convention.
  5. Smaller Congregations. Well, no wonder – how would you fare if the president of the Southern Baptist Convention personally attacked you with poor and confused information all the while arguing that you do not evangelize. Let’s face it Calvinism gets a bad rap. Is some of it justified? Maybe, but not to the extent Welch and Lemke want to take it. Plus we need to remember that Founder’s is a new resurgence within the SBC. Do you think they should have the most churches if they only started a few decades ago and have to penetrate the entire convention all the while being painted with false caricatures?
  6. Lastly, there is the statistic that 79% of Founder’s churches have plateaued or are declining. Unfortunately, there is just no information presented but a bare stat to back this claim up. I am curious to discover how they reached this percentage. Just one thought: maybe it is because Calvinist churches have sought to clean up their church membership rolls in order to seek after the biblical doctrine of regenerate church membership. Just a thought…

The thing that bothers me most about such ignorant claims is that the majority of people who read such confusion will believe it. I do believe, however, that the greater burden should be on Calvinists. We need to defend our doctrine with our lifestyle. Let us use this as a call to bring about a more God-centered evangelism, more Christ-focused missions and more Spirit-let churches.

I hope to deal with Lemke’s article in a future post. (HT: Thanks Scott)

1 comment:

Marty Duren said...

I like that picture of you to the right:^)

I'm not reformed (officially) but find myself agreeing with much of your concern, especially as it relates to baptizing folks before we/they are even certain about salvation.