Yesterday in Sunday school I walked with my class through Ephesians 4, which includes the following from Paul:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-6).
In our study of Ephesians we’ve talked about Paul’s emphasis on the unity of the body and specifically about the racial unity of the church. Paul is keen on showing how Gentiles have been grafted into the people of God and urges his readers to live as “one new man” in Christ (2:15). In this section we talked a bit about racial unity, but we also talked about what it means to be unified around God (one Spirit…one Lord…one God and Father of us all) and the gospel (one body…one hope…one faith, one baptism). Even though I didn’t use the language of “theological triage,” I think it’s a helpful way to think about cooperation among Christians and we talked about how a) all Christians around the globe are part of Christ’s one body but that b) denominations exist because we understand certain things differently, especially baptism and church polity, and that c) local congregations and even denominations should not let “tertiary” doctrines or practices divide us.
Therefore it was all the more disturbing, after having studied this passage, to learn of some different events in the last two weeks in churches around the SBC.
First, a friend of mine, who is not white, is being forced out of his church because of his skin color. Obviously, this is in direct contradiction to Paul’s point in Ephesians. This is actually the most disturbing one for me, but I don’t know many of the details and don’t want to share them anyway for his privacy’s sake so I’ll just leave it at that.
Second, another friend, one of my best friends, is being forced out of his church because of his theological stance on a certain issue (I’m sure it won’t take long for you to figure out what that stance is…but I’ll just leave it at that for now). This stance has never in the history of the Church been considered heretical or heterodox, and has strong roots in the history of the SBC. The situation is all the more disturbing because of how it has happened. Although I can’t share all the details, the relevant points are these:
- My friend never taught, preached on, or publicly or privately alluded to or mentioned his convictions on this issue;
- One church leader guessed at my friend’s convictions after a teaching series in which my friend used a prominent, non-SBC pastor’s book as a guide (the book had nothing to do with the issue at hand);
- The church leader had read pejorative articles about this famous pastor in Baptist newspapers, and especially about this pastor’s particular beliefs on this issue;
- This one leader forced the conflict after a long time of discussion on the issue with my friend. The church leadership decided that it just isn’t what the church believed, even though by their own admission they had never studied it.
Again, my friend was not forced out because he taught something contrary to Scripture, or to Baptist distinctives, or even because he taught anything at all on the issue. He was forced out for merely holding a particular theological stance on one particular issue, a theological stance that is well-grounded in biblical theology and the SBC’s history.
Third, an SBC pastor recently posted a letter on his church website in which he calls for designated giving around SBTS and SEBTS because of their “Calvinistic agenda.” First, I find it humorous that anyone would accuse SEBTS of having a Calvinistic agenda (I can’t speak for SBTS since I’ve never been there, but I seriously doubt their goal is to “make an ‘army’ of Calvinists,” which is what the pastor argues in the article). Second, here we have again dividing lines being drawn where they ought not to be drawn. Perhaps even more disturbing is another article by the same pastor, which argues against multiculturalism in the US. Again, dividing lines are being drawn in places where they shouldn’t be according to Scripture.
I’m writing this as a call to my SBC brothers and sisters: fight for unity. We are called to be unified as a body, and as a denomination when we divide over race and tertiary doctrinal issues, we are not testifying to Christ. We are testifying to our own sinful selfishness and divisiveness. Particularly, let’s fight for unity in two ways:
- Fight for racial unity. We are clearly not past racism in some of our churches, and that is beyond abhorrent.
- Fight for doctrinal unity, not on everything but especially on the “main” things, i.e. God and the gospel. Fight for doctrinal unity on Baptist distinctives (i.e. believer’s baptism, congregational polity, etc.). But don’t divide over tertiary issues. As has been stated numerous times by SBC leaders who are calling for unity, the BF&M 2000 is a big enough tent under which many diverse groups of Southern Baptists can unite for the sake of the gospel being proclaimed in all nations.
- Obviously we can fight for this by proactively promoting and teaching the unity of the body to our people. But we can also fight for it through loving confrontation of those who are obviously not for unity but division (cf. Titus 3:9-11).