And Elisha prayed,
O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.”
2 Kings 6:17
The conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention has been one of the most remarkable changes in theological direction in recent history. After decades of suffering liberalism and neo-orthodoxy in the seminaries and denominational agencies, the people in the pews and pulpits finally said “enough” and reclaimed the denominational infrastructure for orthodoxy. As a result, the Bible is now plainly established in Baptist life as the infallible and inerrant Word of God, truth, without mixture of error, inspired in whole and in all its parts. The question for many is: Where do we go from here?
Theologically, the inerrancy group now ascendant among Southern Baptists consists of a spicy blend of pragmatists, pietists, dispensationalists, Finneyite revivalists, charismatics, Arminians, Calvinists, and countless variants and combinations of each of these categories. So far at least, these divergent groups have managed to live relatively peaceably together because they share an overriding commitment to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture.
But what now? The authors of this book suggest that the crying need for Southern Baptists going forward is to apply Biblical precepts to our lives and practice. It is not enough to simply claim to be a “Bible man.” Too often, this assertion masks a hostility to theology and the systematic interpretation of Scripture. We must be ruthless in the application of all the precepts of Scripture to every aspect of our lives.
At one time in our history, this point was not open to debate. At the turn of the twentieth century, Richard M. Dudley wrote in Baptist Why and Why Not:
“The fundamental principle of the Baptists is their belief in the supreme authority and absolute sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures; and their separate existence is the practical and logical result of their attempt to apply this principle in all matters of religion…Gods Word is the supreme and infallible rule for our guidance. We must not go contrary to it in any article of belief or in any duty enjoined. It is no partial revelation. By it the man of God is thoroughly furnished unto all good works. This is the fundamental position of the Baptists, and every peculiarity which characterizes them is the practical outcome of their principle.”
Indeed, Baptists traditionally have been in the forefront of defending, not only the authority of the Bible, but also its sufficiency. This certainly was the view of the English Particular Baptists. Articles VII and VIII of the Baptist Confession of 1644 state:
The Rule of this Knowledge, Faith and Obedience, concerning the worship and service of God, and all other Christian duties, is not man’s inventions, opinions, devices, laws, constitutions, or traditions unwritten whatsoever, but only the word of God contained in the Canonical Scriptures.
In this written Word of God hath plainly revealed whatsoever he hath thought needful for us to know, believe, and acknowledge, touching the Nature and Office of Christ, in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen to the praise of God.
The Second London Confession of 1689 similarly states that “the Holy Scripture is the only sufficient…rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith and Obedience” and “those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people [dreams, visions, etc.] being now ceased.” It emphatically declares that the “whole Council of God concerning all things necessary for his own Glory, Man’s Salvation, Faith and Life is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new Revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” John Gill repeated this precept in his confession, which states that Scripture is “the only rule of faith and practice.” Scripture contains “the whole of God’s will and pleasure toward us.”
American Baptists also vigorously upheld the notion of the sufficiency of Scripture. The first American Baptist, Roger Williams, said that the Bible is the “square rule” that determines “all knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Nineteenth century Southern Baptist theologian John Broadus wrote:
- What authority has the Bible for us? The Bible is our only and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice…
An introductory statement to the 1925 Southern Baptist Faith and Message declared: “That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” We are gratified that the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message signals a return to the historic Baptist defense of the sufficiency of Scripture, replacing the sentence, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ,” with the sentence, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”
These affirmations of the sufficiency of Scripture, of course, flow directly from 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
How ironic it is that, despite the courageous stand of many in favor of the plenary, verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, our churches too often pay no more than lip service to the sufficiency of Scripture by essentially ignoring what the inspired and authoritative Bible says about life, godliness, faith and practice! One English Baptist put it something like this: “You American Baptists take the Bible literally, but you dont take it seriously.” What an indictment this is!
Examples of Biblical neglect abound.
Scripture clearly requires us to fulfill the Great Commission by going into all the world to make disciples (Mt. 28:18-20). Yet how many of our churches give more than lip service to evangelism to unreached people groups or to the impoverished in our own inner cities? Is our “world” so narrow that it encompasses only people “like us”?
Scripture clearly demands that local congregations engage in biblical formative and restorative church discipline of their members (Mt. 18:15-20). Yet how many Southern Baptist churches actually practice church discipline in the face of possible lawsuits by disgruntled members who have gone astray?
Scripture plainly commands ministers of the gospel to preach the Word in season and out of season no matter how unpopular Gods truth may be (2 Tim. 4:2). Yet how many Southern Baptist sermons contain precious little in the way of Biblical proclamation, but are chock full of shallow manipulation, therapeutical advice or calls for political activism? How many of our pastors are resigned to topical preaching because that is all the congregation can stand, rather than preaching exegetically, verse by verse, through a book on a regular basis?
Scripture plainly implies that prophecies and tongues and other “sign gifts” ceased at the close of the New Testament canon (Heb. 1:1-2; cf. 2 Cor. 12:12). Yet how many of our Southern Baptist churches are falling prey to dangerous charismatic influences that are unbiblical, not to mention foreign to the Baptist heritage?
These are only a few examples of how far Southern Baptists have come since 1900 when Dudley penned the words quoted above with respect to the sufficiency of Scripture. In much of our denomination, our churches have lost their biblical priority in favor of programs, marketing techniques and emotionalism. Perhaps, then, the battle for the Bible is not over. Perhaps we still have a long way to go. Could it be that we win the battle of Scriptures inerrancy only to lose the war of Scriptures sufficiency?
Yet, at the same time that many are losing their bearing amid the thickets of pragmatism, programs, and Pentecostalism, many others are finding their way back to the old paths upon which our denomination was founded. A quiet reformation is currently ongoing in Southern Baptist life.
Since the early 1970s, our denomination has seen an undeniable resurgence of interest in the theological system known as Calvinism and its attendant principles that we call the “doctrines of grace.” Calvinism is a much-maligned system by those who are ignorant of its teachings. In reality, Calvinism is nothing more than biblical Christianity. It lies in a profound apprehension that God is imminently majestic, holy, beautiful, and glorious, and that Gods creation is profoundly sinful and needful of redemption. Hence, it promotes an attitude of dependence on God through all the activities of life. It teaches that salvation comes only when the sinful person rests in humble, self-emptying trust in the most wonderful, amazing grace of God. These are the fundamental principles of Calvinism.
The doctrines of grace, commonly called the “Five Points of Calvinism,” flow from these basic tenets. These doctrines center on the fact that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). They consist of the biblical teachings that:
1. Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to believe the gospel (Rom. 3:10-18). The sinner is dead, blind and deaf to the things of God (2 Cor. 4:3-4; Eph. 2:1-2). His heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9). As the first writing Southern Baptist John Dagg said, “Depravity exists at the very fountain from which all human action flows. The depravity of man is total.” Calvinists call this “total depravity.”
2. As a consequence of mans depravity, it is only by the Holy Spirits special inward call that sinners can come to salvation (John 6:37, 44; 10:16; Rom. 8:29-30). The founder of the first Southern Baptist seminary, James P. Boyce, put it like this: The external call of the Gospel “meets with no success because of the willful sinfulness of man, although, in itself, it has all the elements which should secure its acceptance.” But God, knowing this is true even of those he has chosen to save, “gives to these such influences of the Spirit as will lead to their acceptance of the call.” Calvinists call this “effectual calling” or “efficacious grace.” The person does nothing to initiate the saving process (John 15:16). Indeed, faith itself is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9).
3. Moreover, Gods choice of individuals unto salvation occurred before the foundation of the world and rested solely in his sovereign will (Eph. 1:4-5, 11; Rom. 8:29-30; 9:6-26; 2 Thess. 2:13; Acts 13:48). Calvinists call this “unconditional election.” As Boyce carefully put it: “God…of his own purpose (in accordance with his will, and not from any obligation to man, nor because of any will of man), has from Eternity…determined to save…a definite number of mankind…as individuals… not for or because of any merit or work of theirs, nor of any value to him of them (not for their good works, nor their holiness, nor excellence, nor their faith, nor their spiritual sanctification . . . nor their value to him . . .); but of his own good pleasure (simply because he was pleased so to choose).”
4. In addition, Christs redeeming work was designed to save the elect, and it actually secured salvation for them. Christ came not to advise or urge or induce or assist the elect to save themselves. No! He came to actually save the ones he chose (John 10:15; Rom. 3:25; 5:10). Thus, in Boyces words, although the atonement of Christ “is abundantly sufficient to secure the salvation of all who will put their faith in him,” Christ died “in an especial sense for the Elect; because he procured for them not a possible, but an actual salvation.” Calvinists call this “particular redemption.”
5. Finally, all who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Holy Spirit are eternally saved (Rom. 8:38-39; John 6:39; John 10:28-29; Eph. 1:13-14). The truly redeemed cannot fall from grace. In Daggs words, “whatever struggles it may cost, and whatever temporary departures from the straight line of duty may mark their course, they are graciously preserved from total and final apostasy.” Indeed, grace in the heart is “incorruptible and abiding.” This is called the “preservation of the saints” and its flip side, the “perseverance of the saints.”
These doctrines are foundational to a God-centered theology. They are the heart of historical, orthodox Christianity. Salvation is sovereignly and graciously given by God to sinners, not on the basis of any merit of their own, but simply on the basis of Gods own purpose and pleasure. They are not an end unto themselves. They are the God-ordained means by which God glorifies and magnifies himself in the salvation of those he has chosen. We glorify him as well as we recognize and acknowledge that it is God who chose us to salvation; it is God who has redeemed us from wrath, and to him we owe our entire salvation and indeed our lives. To him be the glory forever and ever!
In these days God has raised up many Southern Baptists who have become convinced of these essential truths. Many Southern Baptists are also discovering (some to delight, others to shock) that our Baptist forefathers come from hearty Calvinistic stock. Our forebears held these doctrines of grace to be extremely precious. They zealously promulgated them. They earnestly defended them. The current rediscovery of these men and their doctrines is to our great benefit.
As more and more pastors and lay leaders in the Southern Baptist denomination are laying hold of the doctrines of grace, a fire of reformation is spreading throughout our Southern Baptist ranks, a burning zeal for Gods great glory, a heart cry for a return to our biblical, doctrinal roots, and a substantial interest in what one of our founders, John Broadus, called, “that exalted system of Pauline Theology, which is technically called Calvinism.”
It has been a tremendous joy for the authors of this book to come to love and embrace these truths (one of us almost fifty years ago; the other less than ten years ago). We rejoice that the Southern Baptist Convention began its existence as a Calvinistic, reformed denomination. Even more so, we yearn to see the day when our vision for reformation is shared by our contemporaries and the generations to follow.
Make no mistake about it. Southern Baptists are at a crossroads. We have a choice to make. The choice is between the deep-rooted, God-centered theology of evangelical Calvinism and the man-centered, unstable theology of the other perspectives present in the convention. As for us, we adhere to the doctrines of grace because we seek nothing more than to glorify God and enjoy him forever through true doctrine and true devotion and true worship and true witness. The way we see it, to be a Calvinist is to hold to a God-magnifying faith, proclaiming that salvation is granted by grace, received by faith, grounded in Christ and reflective of the glory of God. To be a Calvinist is to be comforted by these truths, trusting that the God of the Bible, who is infinitely holy and righteous and loving, will not only save us but also keep us until the day of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Calvinism is a biblical faith which lives and breathes Scripture as Gods infallible, inspired, inerrant Word, living and active, powerful, and sufficient for all of life. It is a stable faith, firmly entrenched within the historic orthodox tradition, flowing from Jesus and Paul through Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Bunyan, Edwards and Whitefield. It is a conserving faith, heartily resistant to the errors that plague other evangelical viewpoints.
Our Baptist Calvinist heritage is expressed most completely in the confessions of the early English Particular Baptists: the London Confession of 1644 and the Second London Confession of 1689. We embrace those confessions. We stand with that immortal dreamer, John Bunyan, whose writings are saturated with God-honoring, Calvinistic theology. We also join Baptist missionaries William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice and Lottie Moon, and Southern Baptist founders Basil Manly, Sr., W.B. Johnson, R.B.C. Howell, and P.H. Mell, and the “gentlemen theologians,” James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus and John L. Dagg. How we rejoice to know that our beloved Baptists fall within this historical stream of biblical Christianity! Its as simple as this: If those principles were true for the founders in their day, they must be true for us today. God has not changed; the Bible has not changed.
In sum, we agree with nineteenth century Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle, when he declared that he would stand by what he called simple, unadulterated, old-fashioned evangelical theology. Like him, we yearn to walk along the “old paths” in which the apostolic Christians, the reformers, and the historic Baptists have walked. From these paths we see no reason to depart. True, they are often sneered at and ridiculed as old-fashioned, out-of-touch, worn out and useless, in the twenty-first as in the nineteenth century. Be it so. None of these things move us. The way of the modern religionist is broad, inclusive, tolerant and devoid of any truth-claim at all. But we firmly maintain that the way of the school to which we belong is the more excellent way. The longer we live the more we are convinced that the world needs no new gospel, as many conservatives and liberals alike tend to think. We are thoroughly persuaded that the world needs nothing but a bold, full, unflinching return to the “old paths.” The same doctrines preached by Bunyan, Carey, Fuller, Judson, Rice, Moon, Dagg, Boyce, and Broadus these are the doctrines which, we find, wear well; and in the faith of the Bible that teaches them, we hope to live and die. In this view, we are gratified to know that we are not alone.
This book is designed to assist pastors and other church leaders who share our vision for a return to the “old paths” and who are serious about reformation in Southern Baptist life. Our goal is to arm those individuals involved in the trenches of reforming local churches with the information needed to accomplish their purpose. We seek to answer the following questions.
Why do we need a reformation? Where have we come from? This is the subject of Chapter 2. It describes the necessity of reformation. How did we in the Southern Baptist Convention get to where we are today, given our glorious Reformed heritage?
Where are we going in this process of reformation? That is the topic of Chapter 3. It describes the beginnings of reformation in Southern Baptist life through the work of Founders Ministries. How did the Founders Movement start? What problems has it faced? We emphasize that this chapter describes only the beginnings of reformation because, as of this writing, we are in the middle of this powerful move of God in Southern Baptist life. Who can tell in which direction or how far it will go? We are excited about what God has done so far, and we pray he will continue this movement of the Holy Spirit.
What challenges will I face in local church reformation and how do I avoid shipwreck? This is the subject of Chapter 4. It discusses the means of reformation. How does God go about reforming a local church? What kind of man does he use? Where does true reformation begin? What are the costs? These are practical questions that deserve much discussion. We hope this material provides a place for that discussion to start. Some of the material in this chapter has been previously published by Ernie Reisinger. However, that material has been reworked and revised for this publication. In addition, some of the material in chapters 2 and 3 will be published in another form in a forthcoming autobiography of Ernie Reisinger to be published by the Banner of Truth Trust. We offer this book now, however, in the present format, in the hope that it will meet the need of Southern Baptist reformers for both historical perspective and practical advice.
We have also included an appendix on the use of creeds, confessions and catechisms in our churches to address the question: What tools will I have to use as I seek reformation in my church? Sadly, these instruments of learning have been sorely neglected in the modern church, to our substantial detriment. The rediscovery of these tools of reformation and doctrinal training is much needed.
To sum up, we long for the day when the God-centered doctrines of grace, proclaimed by a great cloud of witnesses John Bunyan, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, James Boyce, Basil Manly, John Broadus, B. H. Carroll, William Carey, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice thunder through America again. An early English Baptist, Benjamin Keach, said long ago, “Reformation is a glorious work, and it is what we all long and breathe after.” Keach was right. Reformation is a glorious work. And it is a much-needed work. It is the next Southern Baptist challenge. May God be pleased to continue this quiet reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond! May he continue opening the eyes of others, even as he opened our own eyes!
Ernest C. Reisinger
D. Matthew Allen