Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Historical Disconnection Causes SBC Dichotomy

FBC Charleston in South Carolina was the first Baptist church in the south. It was thoroughly Calvinistic in its doctrine as were most early Baptist churches throughout the south and midwest.

In fact when the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845, the majority of Baptists in the south held to the doctrine of election. When time came for the convention to start a seminary it chose a Calvinist for its first President and a Calvinistic faculty. The first textbook in theology was written by Dr. John L. Dagg, a Calvinist. The Abstract of Principles of Southern Seminary written in 1858 came out of that commonly held doctrinal position among Southern Baptists.

Even some modern claims that the Sandy Creek strain of Baptists was not strongly Calvinistic conveniently overlook the Calvinistic confessional statements of that association. That the SBC was organized and comprised of men and churches thoroughly Calvinistic in theology is a fact that cannot be and has never been sufficiently explained away.

But to hear some in our beloved convention talk today one would get the distinct idea that none of what I just wrote is even remotely true. My generation, the war babies, suffer from a self- induced historical amnesia when it comes to two subjects, Slavery and Calvinism. We grew up behind the buckle of the Bible belt and you’ve got to understand that when Southerners are embarrassed by something – we just don’t talk about it.

That’s why we didn’t talk much about the immorality of segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. We were embarrassed by our history when it came to Slavery and we were embarrassed by the way some of our own Baptist deacons still treated the people of color who worked for them.

We didn’t talk about Calvinism either because we were in the eager process of shedding our country roots and our redneck ways. We just figured predestination was a holdover from that unenlightened portion of a heritage that had given us Slavery and we were eager to escape that embarrassing part of our history. The sad thing is our educators contributed to our ignorance by conveniently leaving any reference to our Calvinistic roots totally out of the syllabus.

Nobody taught us in Seminary that Jesse Mercer who founded the Baptist School in Georgia that still bears his name today was a 5 point Calvinist. Nobody taught us that Dr. P.H. Mell, the Chancellor of the University of Georgia was a 5 point Calvinist and was elected to 14 terms as President of the SBC after the Civil War. Nobody even taught us who John L. Dagg was or that he wrote the first theology textbook ever used in a convention seminary classroom from a thoroughly Calvinistic perspective.

The only Dr.’s that were always mentioned were Dr. Crawford H. Toy, the first "liberal" kicked out of Southern Seminary and Dr. E.Y. Mullins, the most enlightened Southern Baptist intellectual who ever lived to hear some of our professors talk about him. While they praised his progressive theology they didn’t dare tell us that Dr. Mullins took a three month vacation every summer from his pastorate for fear we’d develop similar bad habits incompatible with SBC pragmatism.

So when I hear my contemporaries saying “We must deal with Calvinisn in the SBC," I know they are being sincere. When they say, "Calvinists are wrong about the tenets of five point Calvinism," because "too much of the New Testament must be ignored or radically interpreted to embrace the five points of Calvinism,” I know they are speaking from a deficient educational background.

When they say things like “I think the problem of Calvinism in the SBC could be solved if we establish one ground rule. If a man wants to start a Calvinistic church, let him have at it. If a man wants to answer a call to a Calvinistic church he should have the freedom to do that, but that man should not answer a call to a church that is not Calvinistic, neglect to tell them his leanings, and then surreptitiously lead them to become a Calvinistic church,” I know they have never considered the fact that many if not all Southern Baptist Churches founded before 1870 has already experienced that kind of transformation at the hands of non-Calvinistic pastors.

Yes we do have a dichotomy in the SBC when it comes to Calvinism and at least part of it is caused by a historical disconnect.

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