Will Georgia Baptists be rescued by our 19th Century Calvinist predecessors?

See if you recognize any of these quotes or have read similar ones:

…a book that seeks to recover the Gospel heritage that has been vastly lost since the last century.

…look back at the first generation of Georgia Baptists, filtered through the biblical Gospel…

…our labors in this book have been to show the confessional faith of the first generation of Georgia Baptists as a whole.

…how our Baptist forbearers in Georgia came to these convictions biblically…

Many Baptists in the twenty-first century have lost their way.

…capitulated to…pragmatic notions and humanistic philosophies of Pelagius, Arminius, Amyrald, and Finney (not to mention…E. Y. Mullins)

We pray that what is called , “The Five Points of Calvinism,” would not appear as something alien, foreign, or cursed by Baptists – but only a nickname for what the Bible clearly teaches: “Salvation is of the Lord.”

These are quotes from the free book that has just been sent to all Georgia Baptist pastors. I noticed a copy on the desk of my successor who just arrived to pastor the church from which I retired. He was busy getting settled and loaned it to me.

The book is The Gospel Heritage of Georgia Baptists 1772-1830 by Brandon F. Smith and Kurt M. Smith, Introduction by Dr. Thomas J. Nettles and published by Solid Ground Christian Books located in Birmingham. I assume this is one of the Calvinist publishers. Apparently, some Calvinist churches donated the money to send the books to all GBMB churches.

I’ll not review the book (haven’t ploughed through all of it) but note that it is a Calvinist tract with emphasis on early figures like Daniel Marshal, Abraham Marshall, and Jesse Mercer. The classic five points of Calvinism each have a chapter.

The authors are pastors of Georgia churches, although I am unsure if these are GBMB churches, and there is an official Calvinist affinity group in my state, The Georgia Association of Confessional Baptists which lists seven member churches. I’ll let some historian assess the accuracy of the two authors’ (both lack graduate degrees) treatment of the historical figures in the book.

The authors  have a “how I came to Calvinism testimony,” always an interesting read in my opinion.

A few observations:

  1. Just when I begin to think that we have Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC and that we can generally co-exist with only a modicum of rancor, we get a mass mailing whose stated purpose is to “recover Gospel heritage,” an undisguised way of asserting that all but perhaps seven GBMB churches have lost something that needs to be recovered.
  2. I appreciate a free book and am not unappreciative that these guys are unafraid of reaction in a state that, denominationally, is generally unfriendly to their type of Calvinists.
  3. It looks pretty simple to me that if a search committee finds a candidate who is a member of the GACB they should politely move to the next resume, unless they want a crusading Calvinist pastor.
  4. No, I don’t think Jesse Mercer will save 21st century Georgia Baptists.

I don’t hear near as many stories of Calvinists blowing up churches while recovering Gospel heritage as I did ten or twenty years ago but I guess there are still brethren who would do so if given a chance.

My suggestion is that the Alabama publisher of this book get up funds to send it to all Alabama Baptist churches and let one land on Rick Patrick’s desk…it would probably burn a hole through it clear to the ground.

Ridgecrest…one more time

I’m at Ridgecrest Conference Center for the night. I’m not attending a conference but it is close to where I went today so I reserved a night. In earlier years some group from my church would go every year, mostly students in the summer, but I haven’t been here in a decade or so. Hmmm, it used to be Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center I think but I’m OK for broader marketing if that’s what is needed to keep our sole national conference center going. Glorieta, the other one, is alive only in the form of a Hail Mary lawsuit. It was closed years ago.

My state convention gave away one of our conference centers. I don’t miss it….only stayed there once, in a clean but very long-in-the-tooth room at a price of $200 for the night but that princely sum included breakfast and nighttime cookies. Shoulda complained.

Did I read that SC was selling their relatively new conference center? Things change. Markets change. Preferences and standards change.

There are new buildings here at Ridgecrest. Nice. My standard motel room is on par with what one might expect these days. Splendid. Workers have always been super here.

There’s a coffee shop, packed with kids and their chaperones. From the price list I see that I can not buy a $5 cup of coffee here just like at home.

Lots of kids here. All those years I came with a student group for a full week conference. I don’t think I ever got paid for those 168 hour work weeks…don’t miss ’em either.

Half the kids have cellphones in hand. Half don’t. Guess some Captain Bligh student leaders allow them and some don’t. There were always groups that ran wild here. “No you can’t do that and I don’t care what other pastors allow their groups to do.”

I lean on the balcony rail and watch small gaggles of teens walk around and try to look cool. They look young.

Ah, new buildings where the day care used to be. It was dated when our kids were little and we would drop them off. I’m a little nostalgic and sad. Nowhere were our children better cared for.

Same cafeteria. I’ll never forget sitting with a missionary from Panama 25 or so years ago who said, “If we’re going into the Darien we have to be self contained, take everything we need.”

There’s a flock of bright yellow goldfinches. Beautiful. Reminds me of the time up here when a common yellowthroat stunned himself by flying into our sliding glass door. I picked it up and waited a bit and he flew away. Closest look I ever had at that species. Kids,were unimpressed.

Keep up the good work, LifeWay.

I’m headed down to the Nibble Nook for an ice cream. Guess they still have that. I better not have to pay five bucks a scoop either.

 

Waning Cooperative Program shaming

Is it my own limited observation or is the old SBC stand-by, Cooperative Program guilting or shaming on the wane?

I don’t know who coined the phrase but I’d guess that most SBC pastors know what is meant by Cooperative Program shaming or guilting. Many have experienced it. I’ve seen it for decades.

Here’s my informal definition: Cooperative Program shaming is the implied or stated criticism of a church and/or its pastor and members for giving too little to the Cooperative Program. It is often measured either by an arbitrary percentage (commonly 10 percent often labeled the ‘denominational tithe’) or by the current average percentage of church CP gifts as a part of total undesignated giving ( now 5.16 percent). Shaming is almost always is done by percentage rather than dollars, thus a church can give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the CP and still be shamed.

Although I don’t recall the phrase being used in the early 1980s, I saw some CP shaming at my very first associational annual meeting when the statistics for the previous year were handed out on a mimeographed sheet. My church was at around ten percent but several were much lower. No pastor or church members had to stand in a corner for their low CP giving but it was in the atmosphere.

I have most often heard the term “shaming” used in this context from my younger pastor colleagues who seem to be less vulnerable to it. But, shaming can be effective. There were public stocks to shame offenders in earlier times. How about the scarlet letter? There may still be those who would lean towards having low CP church pastors wear a placard declaring their paltry CP support. I suspect that someone will offer a tiered plan for SBC participation based on CP percentages, a back door shaming plan.

Whatever the origin, Cooperative Program shaming is in the Southern Baptist vernacular but I think it is losing favor. Here are a few observations:

  1. I have never heard any staff in my own state convention employ it. In fact, when I had a meeting with a state staffer a few years ago, I made mention of my church’s low CP percentage. The brother replied that the state convention was the servant any SBC church regardless of their CP percentage. I greatly appreciated that. Neither have I heard convention leaders and officers employ CP shaming.
  2. CP shaming comes mostly from pastors who resent the fact that their church gives 8, 10, 15 percent to the CP, often at the expense of upgrading staff pay or maintaining church facilities, while others give 1 or 2 percent.
  3. The selection of ten percent as a CP standard and doing so on the basis that there is some relationship or equivalence between the Christian’s tithe and the church’s CP percentage is often used. This is a back door way of shaming (“How can a church expect members to give the tithe and not do the same for the CP?”). The concept is not even hinted at in Scripture and is a cheap way to try and shame or guilt a pastor and church into giving more. Hooey.
  4. It doesn’t work. Denominational leaders often ask for more to be given to the CP. That’s a perfectly legitimate though not terribly successful strategy when decoupled from vision and results.
  5. It is counterproductive. Let’s face it. Many SBC pastors are recalcitrant and contrarian. To try and guilt them into giving more works in reverse…seems to me.

Which brings me to the reason I resurrected this well-worn saga. Here’s a 2016 excerpt, a quote from Florida Baptist Convention president Tommy Green:

When it comes to CP giving, we do not guilt our churches. I have not initiated any individual conversations with pastors concerning their church’s commitment to CP. I fully believe that the local church decision must be valued and honored by our SBC. The percentage a church gives is not the litmus test for our involvement with that local church. As a former pastor of a local church, I fully understand the nuances of resources, commitments, and factors that impact a local church budget. The state convention exists for the church and not the church for the state convention. Our goal is to bring value and not guilt to the churches of Florida.

The future of state conventions, their churches, and the Cooperative Program probably looks a lot like what has happened in Florida over the past couple of years. The state convention has downsized, decentralized, and has cut their CP percentage to under fifty. At the recent SBC meeting in Phoenix, Green gave Frank Page a gaudy check for $3.1 million for the CP, 51% of the proceeds from the sale of their headquarters building. Other states have indicated a move towards selling underutilized assets as well as a plan to decrease their portion of CP revenues. The downward trend line for CP giving by the churches has long been established.

Imagine that, a state convention that has the goal of “bring[ing] value and not guilt to the churches.” Novel concept. From where I have pastored it often looked as if the state convention’s goal was to “serve churches” by building staff and buildings. Those days are gone. Good.

There’s a warning in all this to those who think there can be a groundswell of pastor and church support for returning to the halcyon CP days when churches gave over 10% to the CP and the state convention kept two-thirds of it. That’s not the direction things have been going. The typical promotion plan of merely asking for more money or guilting the churches into giving more is not effective.

The CP is essential to the SBC going forward, not mainly because of the hundreds of millions of dollars it generates but because it is the key to our cooperation. It works best when denominational organizations at every level show the churches what they intend to do to add value to the local church. Let them show a commitment to paring programs and assets that do not contribute to that goal. See if the churches respond positively.

Waning shaming…a positive development.

“Loyal opposition” and/or the opening shots of a new SBC war?

Our Southern Baptist pastor colleague Eric Hankins is the primary author of the kitchen table theological statement commonly known among us as the “Traditional Statement.” I call it “kitchen table” because it is a private product, mostly by Hankins but with consultation with a few others. As of this writing, the TS has to my knowledge not been adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in annual session, by any of the 42 Southern Baptist state conventions, by any of the 1,139 Southern Baptist associations, nor by any individual church (although I suspect there may be some who have done so, in which case I’d like to know so that I can correct my assertion). It has been cyber-signed by about one thousand people. If all signatories are SBC members that would amount to around 0.7 percent of all Southern Baptists. Numbers notwithstanding, the TS is an important item among us in regard to the Calvinist difficulties we have been having.

Hankins made an address before the counter-Calvinist, Connect 316 group at the organization’s banquet in Phoenix. The address, Loyal Opposition, is now accessible at the SBC Today site and is well worth reading. I appreciate his clarity on the subject. What I ask here presumes that one will take the time to read the address which is almost 5,000 words. It is helpful and well-written and covers important ground  both theologically and pragmatically.

Hankins says, “It’s time for Southern Baptist Calvinism to give straight answers to hard questions and a loyal and vocal engagement of these issues must be pressed.” We have been doing this in the SBC for some time, seems to me, but he calls for a couple of things that we have not seen until now. These two, if engaged, might trigger a new SBC war, a hot war not the tepid warm war that we have been seeing for some years.

Hankins,

I think it’s time we quit insisting on the inviolability of the B[aptist] F[aith and] M[essage] 2000. We need to take a look especially at the articles on Man and Salvation, which could benefit from some clearer language so that our conventional commitment to God’s love for every person, Christ’s death for the sins of every person, and the savability of every person is crystal clear.

The BFM can be amended by simple majority vote at the annual meeting, although the 1963 and 2000 revisions were preceded by deliberate and protracted protocols. If there is a move to make another revision I suspect it would trigger a good bit of rancor. Perhaps it is needed. Perhaps not. Regardless, if proposed it will be seen as either anti-Calvinistic or pro-TS and battle lines will be drawn accordingly. Alternatively, the principals could come to some agreement and it could be smooth and unifying. I’m too much of a realist to believe this is possible, but, who knows?

Hankins, again:

I believe that we need to call for the removal of the Abstract of Principles as the confessional statement of Southern and Southeastern.

The Abstract preceded the BFM by 67 years and is considered to be a Calvinistic confession. It is most commonly identified with Southern Seminary, although Southeastern also uses it, and faculty members of each must affirm both documents. Decoupling the Abstract from these two seminaries would start a hot war, since such cannot be done except by trustees. Unless seminary leadership persuaded current trustees to do so, and that is a possibility, the process would demand some years of trustee replacement as was the case for the Conservative Resurgence.

I suppose the SBC in session could vote that seminaries that affirm only the BFM would receive CP funds. Hankins does not propose this, although he says,

It has never made sense to me why entities that exist because of the CP have additional and alternative confessions to the Baptist Faith and Message. It is a source of confusion and disunity. Moreover, the Abstract functions at those schools to promote Calvinism and blunt Traditionalism. 

And again,

We want Southern Baptist leaders receiving CP dollars to stop both promoting Calvinist only conferences and ministries and giving school credit for students who attend Calvinist only conferences.

I like the idea of loyal opposition. There’s no question about the loyalty of Eric Hankins, Rick Patrick, SBCToday, Connect 316 to the SBC. I just don’t know where this can go if Hankins is serious but perhaps his address to the Connect 316 crowd was just red meat for hungry Trads. I hear in it, though, a lot of the same things I heard almost 40 years ago when the CR was getting cranked up. I’ve said before, I don’t have the thirst for another CR type of battle.

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Bloggers are at their worst when talking about themselves but, ahem, I’ve never identified with the rabid Calvinists and have fired more than a few salvos at them. The normal Cals are OK if not sometimes insufferable. I am not a signatory to the TS and consider it a political document at present. I do identify with most of it. I also like many of  the SBC Today authors including Eric Hankins, Ronnie Rogers, Leighton Flowers, Adam Harwood,  and some others.