The Southern Baptist Convention convenes for its annual meeting this week with some intriguing issues on the agenda:
• Delegates are expected to denounce the Boy Scouts of America's recent decision to permit openly gay Scouts, which has angered many evangelical church leaders.
• The convention will also vote on a resolution that the SBC can work with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and "all groups on issues of morality, social justice, and religious liberty while maintaining the understanding that the term 'evangelical' is reserved only for those who affirm the exclusivity of salvation alone, by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone, according to the scriptures alone."
The resolution singles out the LDS Church as having a "long history of affirming the sanctity of life," as does the SBC. But it also spells out differences that Southern Baptists have with Mormon theology while stressing that working with the LDS Church and others can't compromise those distinctions.
• Attracting most of the attention among SBC leaders and bloggers is whether the nation's largest Protestant denomination can survive the growth of Calvinism within the faith.
A report examining the differences between between Calvinist and non-Calvinist Baptists was released in May. The Associated Baptist Press reported the task force was put together by SBC executive committee head Frank Page "last year amid statistics showing that recent seminary graduates embraced a rigid Calvinism at percentages far higher than the people in Southern Baptist pews. Convention leaders worry that young pastors bringing those views into churches can be divisive, particularly if the congregation is unaware of the differences between the two views."
A story in Religion News Service on the upcoming convention explains several of those differences. Chief among them is the idea that Jesus died only for those whom God had elected to save.
"Calvinists call this the doctrine of 'predestination' — the idea that a person’s salvation already has been determined. More traditional Baptists say if Jesus died only for the elect, then Baptists’ trademark evangelism becomes pointless."
Blogger and religion scholar Mark Silk wrote that it makes sense a growing number of Southern Baptists would embrace Calvinism during a time of declining membership within the SBC.
"I’m not saying that the membership decline is a direct cause of growing Calvinism, or vice versa. But the two trends are mutually reinforcing — the one a manifestation of a darkening time, the other a worldview in which those who are not with us are beyond redemption."
Still, Southern Baptist leaders on both sides of the issue praise the report for articulating those differences, according to the Baptist Press.
"The wrong approach would be to act as if there were no differences," BP quoted from the blog of Adam Harwood, a non-Calvinist on the faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. "There are different theological views among Southern Baptists, some of which are significant. But, as (the report) rightly notes, Southern Baptists have always been comprised of both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. They hold differing views on certain doctrines. But since the organization of the SBC in 1845, we have agreed to disagree on those particular theological points. (The report) simply reaffirms our agreement to differ peaceably on those issues. As the document states, 'Southern Baptists who stand on either side of these issues should celebrate the freedom to hold their views with passion while granting others the freedom to do the same.'"
And Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote that the report confirms there is more that unites than divides Calvinists and non-Calvinists within the SBC, particularly on the issue of religious liberty.
"We all believe in God’s sovereignty and we all believe in human freedom, though we differ on the qualifications of both. But when the government tries to be the ultimate sovereign, or to coerce free consciences, we know to stand against that, and for another kingdom, together."