Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Benefits of Symbiosis in the SBC (Part 5: Benefits of Cooperation)

The Benefits of Cooperation between General and Particular Baptists

            General and Particular Baptists working together in a mutually beneficial relationship allows Baptists to accomplish more together than they could apart. So then, Southern Baptists, dissimilar in soteriology, can accomplish more united than they can divided. The reason for this is at least twofold.
First, Baptists united have more resources and more focus than they would if they were divided. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest evangelical denomination in the United States.[1] The SBC is comprised of over 16 million members who worship in more than 42,000 churches in the United States.[2] On the national level, Southern Baptists operate the largest publishing house in the world, LifeWay Christian Resources, in Nashville.[3] LifeWay Christian Resources owns and operates the largest chain of religious bookstores in the nation.[4] Southern Baptists also operate two mission boards, the International Mission Board (IMB) for missions abroad and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) for missions in North America.[5] If this was not enough, the SBC operates six seminaries that are located across the country serving over 13,400 students.[6] The SBC funds these entities through its Cooperative Program (CP) that was established in 1925. The Cooperative Program allows these more than 42,000 churches to partner together as a missions team for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission.[7] 
Second, Baptists working together in a mutually beneficial relationship also have the benefit of giving a united witness to the world that Baptists belong to Christ.  This fulfills the words of Christ. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[8]
Southern Baptists, dissimilar in soteriology, also need each other to counteract unbiblical extremes into which either group is capable of degenerating. The history of General and Particular Baptists shows that they are both susceptible to doctrinal extremes that compromise both their ability and enthusiasm for evangelism and missions. However, with Baptists uniting in a mutual relationship for missions, the necessity for theological dialogue has arisen. As Bush and Nettles stated, “Differences between fellow Baptists call forth persuasive and logical arguments based on careful exegesis, while at the same time the fact that one’s opponent is also a Baptist serves to support if not demand Christian attitudes and Christian brotherhood.”[9] These discussions should help both sides maintain balance in their respective soteriological frameworks as long as destructive competition and monopolism are eliminated for the sake of symbiosis.
            While not all discussions between General and Particular Baptists in the Southern Baptist Convention are for the sake of symbiosis, some are. There are attempts to learn from each other and to encourage the good aspects of the other’s commitment to missions and service to the Lord. A few noteworthy examples should be mentioned.
First, the discussion about Calvinism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary between Frank Page, president of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary should be mentioned.[10]  Page and Mohler are on opposite ends of the soteriological spectrum. Page formed an advisory team to craft a plan to bring together parties on both sides of the Calvinism debate. He said, “My goal is to develop a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism.”[11] The discussion between the two was congenial and edifying.
Next, the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s conference, “Calvinism: Concerned, Confused, or Curious” should be mentioned. On August 4, 2012, a panel of four Southern Baptist leaders, Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee and Steve Lemke, director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (General Baptists); David Dockery, president of Union University and Hershael York, associate dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (Particular Baptists), “ talked honestly about the division within the convention over the issue of Calvinism while offering suggestions and maintaining that Southern Baptists should and can unite, despite differences.”[12] These kinds of discussions are the kinds necessary in maintaining a symbiotic relationship among Southern Baptists.


            The history of Baptists in general, and Southern Baptists in particular, shows that Baptists can accomplish more united than they can divided and that they need each other to counteract unbiblical extremes into which either group is capable of degenerating. The harmful effects of either competition or monopolism should be avoided by Southern Baptists. Instead, Southern Baptists should apply the principle of symbiosis.
            There is great value to Southern Baptists in knowing their heritage especially in the face of current controversies in the SBC. As Dockery said, "There is not just one theological stream from one theological tradition in Baptist life. There are several. . . . Baptists, as a whole, in the 21st century, don't know their heritage."[13] Included in that heritage are two mechanisms that allow the two theological streams of Southern Baptists to work together: (1) the Cooperative Program and (2) The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. York said, “There is nothing in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 that makes me or other Calvinists unable to believe what we believe.”[14]
            Southern Baptists would do well to remember that their history attests to the truth that they are a 

peculiar people made up of two groups dissimilar in soteriology but who united in a mutually beneficial 

relationship for the sake of missions.  After all, this just may be a match made in heaven.

[1] Dockery, Consensus and Renewal, 2.
[2] Sbcnet, “About Us – Meet Southern Baptists,” http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/default.asp (accessed April 13, 2011).
[3] Sbcnet, “About Us – LifeWay Christian Resources,” http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/lifeway.asp (accessed April 13, 2011).
[4] Fisher Humphreys, The Way We Were: How Southern Baptist Theology has Changed and What it Means to Us All, (New York: McCracken Press, 1994), vii.
[5] Sbcnet, “About Us – International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention,” http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/IMB.asp (accessed April 13, 2011); Sbcnet, “About Us – North American Mission Board,” http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/namb.asp (accessed April 13, 2011).
[6] Sbcnet, “About Us – Southern Baptist Seminaries,” http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/sem.asp (accessed April 13, 2011).
[7] Sbcnet, “About Us – CP Missions – The Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention,” http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/cpmissions.asp  (accessed April 13, 2011).
[8] John 13:34-35, NASB.
[9] Bush and Nettles, Baptists and the Bible, 18.
[10] Joshua Breland, “Video: Albert Mohler and Frank Page Discuss Current SBC Issues at SBTS Chapel,” in “Blog: The Daily Bleat: A Southern Baptist Theological Perspective” (August 21, 2012) http://thedailybleat.com/video-albert-mohler-and-frank-page-discuss-current-sbc-issues-at-sbts-chapel/#more-4223 (accessed August 21, 2012).
[11] Michael Foust, “Page Names Advisory Team on Calvinism,” in Baptist Press, (August 15, 2012), http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=38507 (Accessed September 9, 2012).
[12] Foust, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=38429 (accessed September 18, 2012).
[13] Foust, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=38429 (accessed September 18, 2012).
[14] Foust, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=38429 (accessed September 18, 2012).

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