I copied the following four statements from SBC websites. The second and fourth are duplications of point number 5 and 14 of the Baptist Faith and Message. The third is a duplication of points 4 and 5 of the original charter of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, commonly called the Abstract of Principles. I include these foremost in order to show that what both sides of the issues need to understand is that there is historical precedence set for the stand each side is taking. From my point of view, the historical Calvinistic stand is the least understood, and has been relegated to a hyper-calvinistic view, when in fact it is not.
God's Purpose of Grace
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. …All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end.
God's Purpose of Grace
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.
Election is God's eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life -- not because of foreseen merit in them, but of his mere mercy in Christ -- in consequence of which choice they are called, justified and glorified.
Christ's people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ's Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.
It is not my intention in this article to debate the subject of Calvinism. For one thing, many of our church members today do not know what one means when they use the term "Calvinism". I prefer Augustinianism, if you must have an identifier, because Augustine first espoused what we now call Calvinism, in particular in his controversy with Pelagius. Pelagius made salvation a choice of the free will and did not favor as severe view of the fall as Augustine. (For us as Baptists, it might even be helpful to think in terms of “Spurgeon-ism”, since the much revered Charles Spurgeon held fast to these same truths)
Nowadays, most Baptists that I know hold to at least some of Augustines’ tenets, which are referred to as “The Doctrines of Grace”, or Calvinism.. They may call themselves 3, 4 or 5 point Calvinists if cornered, but normally prefer to simply be known as Baptist. The one point of Calvinism that most in the SBC adhere to is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, commonly called "eternal security". None of those who have studied modern church history can deny that for years now, there have been at least two major camps within Baptist circles regarding Calvinism: those who emphasize limited atonement, or other points of Calvinism, and those who emphasize man’s free will, or other points of Pelagianism, (or actually today, semi-Pelagianism*) commonly now called Arminianism, after, the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius. I would suggest a thorough study of both Calvinism and Arminianism, and most Baptists will come to the conclusion that, yes, indeed, they adhere to some of the points of Calvinism if not all. (I will deal with the question of hyper-calvinism, which is a different animal later.)
*Full blown Pelagianism emphasizes man’s will to such a degree, that atonement is not necessary. Men are not seen as born sinners. Instead it is thought that they are able to emulate Christ’s example and save themselves by their good works. Semi-Pelagianism, on the other hand, believes men are born in sin, but have the "capacity" to choose Christ of their own free will regardless of regeneration. Basically, in Calvinism, God regenerates a soul, giving him the ability to believe, and in semi-pelagianism, a sinner believes so that God can regenerate him. Can we not center our fellowship around the doctrine of justification by faith? Can we not focus on repentance and faith being the prerequisites for salvation, resulting in the forgiveness of sins and the imputed righteousness of Christ? These we all agree on. I am willing to uphold my integrity as to my belief in "how and why" faith comes, and yet allow the latitude for my brother to come to a conclusion in that area that is different than mine and still work together with the desire at hand, which is for as many as possible to come to faith. I agree with Spurgeon when he says that "we care far more for the central evangelical truths than we do for Calvinism as a system; but we believe that Calvinism has in it a conservative force which helps to hold me to the vital truth, and therefore we are sorry to see any quitting it who have once accepted it”. We are after all organized to aid in spreading the gospel around the world, not to police one another.
Again, my point is not to debate the subject at hand, but to merely suggest that we, at least we in the Jefferson Baptist Association, are probably not going to finalize a debate that has gone on for years, but that with mature, prayerful consideration of our responsibilities as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we can cooperate in order to spread the gospel around the world, and evangelize as many as possible in the short time that we have.
Friends, it is impossible for us to have the blessing of God upon our lives if we insist on tearing down our brothers. While it is always helpful for us to study the scriptures and have healthy and sometimes fiery debate, we cannot slander our brothers in Christ or in anyway attempt to undermine their efforts for Jesus Christ and think that God will wink at our actions. On both sides of this issue, I have heard good men cross the line when speaking of those who interpret the scriptures differently when it comes to these doctrines. According to the Baptist Faith and Message, we all agree on the doctrine of election. We simply disagree on how a person arrives at that election. And that is alright. Our main focus in our association should be in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in order that all may hear. It is our job to get the gospel out to the ends of the world. Wherever the banner of our Savior is not being flown, we should be fierce about going, or supporting someone who is going. Surely we understand that the complexity of baptist life would require us to yield to our brothers often, in many areas. We have seen this at the national level. As long as we maintain doctrinal integrity that is within the historic beliefs of baptists, there should be no problem
There are some positions on both sides of this issue that need to be pointed out. They should be defined and explained in laymen’s terms in order to facilitate our working together.
1. Hyper Calvinism – Hyper-Calvinism emphasizes divine sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility. The doctrine of hyper-calvinism would tell us that there is no need for the believer to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, because God has determined whom He would save and He will save them without our help. They would say, or at least imply that there is no reason for us to evangelize or send out missionaries. That we cannot sincerely make an offer of the gospel to everyone, because God has not chosen everyone to be saved. The result of this error is a “sit and wait” mentality. We’ll sit and wait until God gets around to saving his elect. But we will not do anything to call men to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
These all, we utterly reject.
A true Calvinist, like Spurgeon, or for that matter William Carey the father of modern missions, knows of the great responsibility we have to get the gospel out and to support missions. That hyper-calvinism is dangerous and unbiblical we would all agree. It is important to point this out. A Calvinist is not the same as a hyper-calvinist. As I said, from the Baptist Faith and Message, it is clear that we are all Calvinists to some degree. Broadus and Manley, where we get our "Broadman press", William Carey, that great missionary, Adoniram Judson, John Bunyan, B. H. Carroll, Alvah Hovey, A. H. Strong, J. P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, Richard Fuller and many others were all "Calvinists" of the five point type. It is by no means a new invention that Baptists are Calvinists.
Most Baptists would agree with the total depravity of man, yet would insist that man is responsible to repent and believe the gospel. Many Baptist would agree with unconditional election, that God is at least infallible in His foreknowledge, define it how you will. Most Baptists with a few exceptions believe “once saved always saved”. That is called the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, or the last part of point 5 in the Baptist Faith and Message. Most all of us disagree strongly with Hyper-Calvinism, and reject the notion that we are not responsible to preach the gospel, evangelize and do missions. The apostle Paul rejoiced when the gospel was preached, even if it was because of contention. So should we. And we should never be those who attempt to thwart the work or ministries of those who by preaching HIS GOSPEL are calling men to repentance and faith and are attempting to do so around the world.
2. Easy-believism – Easy-believism is the notion that salvation entails a mere assent the the facts of the gospel message. It has been termed decisional regeneration or decisionism for short. Those who promote the man-centered tactics of easy-believism would maintain that all that is needed for a man to be saved is for him to affirm the truths of the gospel as they presented to him. It excludes the necessity for the conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit and the responsibility for man to repent.
These, even Baptists who would not categorize themselves as Calvinists, would reject as not belonging to the way of salvation. This type of evangelism is to be rejected outright as being no more than an art of manipulation akin to convincing men to join a club because of its benefits. Baptists have historically required both a true repentance from sin, which is followed by a life of biblical fruit, and a sincere faith in the merit and work of Jesus Christ alone which benefits are applied to the believer upon his conversion.
What is interesting is that those who are either 3, 4 or 5 point Calvinists were among those who began to see errors of decisionism and the lack of fruit in our Baptist churches because of it, and after identifying it, began to categorize many who are not of a like Calvinistic mind as belonging to the those promoting decisionism. This general attack in the direction of any church which held an altar call was unwarranted, and only resulted historically in a return of fire from the other direction, both sides being the worse for it.
The Invitation System
While many Baptists who hold invitations would never agree to the above definition of easy-believism, it is also easy to witness the actual methodology of those who do being practiced in some of our Baptist churches today. While most all degree of Calvinists in our association would insist on a clear call for sinners to repent and believe and for believers to examine their lives, some would also insist that there are other ways to extend that call than to ask people to “come down the aisle.” We have no record of any form of the modern invitation being given in the church for 1800 years, but there has always been a clear invitation given for sinners to repent and trust Christ. Some churches have used a counseling room as a place to go to for counseling if someone has sensed an immediate urge to repent and trust in Christ. I know of no Calvinists even of the 5 point type who would refuse to counsel anyone in the gospel if they “came down the aisle” of their church in obvious spiritual need.
On the other hand, I have seen a number of people converted in their homes after having heard the gospel and brought under conviction by the Holy Spirit. We all know that there is no secret formula that must be prayed when a person is converted, but that it is a matter of the heart.
Unfortunately, many of those who have invitations and have seen the result of many coming down the aisle who nevertheless show no lasting fruit in their lives(thus revealing the truth that they were never truly converted), have failed to be more cautious when dealing with souls. Calvinists have watched the efforts of mass evangelism, and the promotion of numbers and baptisms result in a flood of unregenerated people filling our churches and scores who either struggle with the assurance of their salvation or depend on a time they went down an aisle or prayed a prayer, rather than continuing to trust in the Savior they claimed to be saved by.
Please let me reiterate that we all as Baptists demand that an invitation be given for sinners to repent and trust in Christ as their Saviour. We believe that invitation is given clearly every time we preach the gospel. When I am preaching on the streets, I am constantly giving an invitation. Sometimes people stop, and I personally call them to repentance. When I was a missionary in New York City, I preached on the streets there, went door to door, and from the pulpit, gave an invitation for sinners to come to Christ. We believe in invitations. We believe it is our responsibility to preach the gospel around the world and invite sinners to come to Christ. We do it every day. Is it so bad that our method of invitation is different. Where in the scripture does it spell out a need to have an “altar call” as so many do today? I have had altar calls and I have told people to think about and pray about what they just heard. It was just a few months ago that a sinner came to my home obviously distraught at his lost condition. He was under deep conviction by the Holy Spirit. It was obvious that God was doing a work in his soul. Could I have led him in a prayer at that time? Certainly. I have done it hundreds and hundreds of times. But our responsibility when we lead people to Christ is to be sensitive to where they truly are, and to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and to be spiritual surgeons who handle the Word of God like a scalpel. He was obviously struggling with some sin. After counseling in the gospel, I sent him home to pray. He went home and got alone with God and the sweet Holy Spirit showed the light on some sin of his and he cried out to God and was gloriously converted. What a bright light that young man is today. What hope has filled his family now that he is genuinely converted. We simply can’t get it down to a science and professionally lead people to pray a prayer, decide for Christ, or join a church. Our contention is that the call to come to Christ is entailed in the very gospel we preach, and it is up to the preacher of the gospel to both give that call and carefully and prayerfully deal with the souls that come under his counsel.
The modern resurgence of those who have gone back to the more ancient roots of Augustinianism is greatly populated by the very same people who were either brought up in some type of easy-believism, or once practiced it themselves. Some in this revolution, which those in it would term a “work of God”, have been tempted to classify even good Baptist ministries who adhere to neither a system of easy-believism, or Calvinism, as belonging in the easy-believism camp. This is wrong. I love my dear brothers who do not agree doctrinally with me, but are faithful in preaching the gospel and supporting world-wide missions, and name calling simply does not have a place in our baptist associations.
In my opinion, there is nothing inherently wrong with the invitation system per se. Many Baptist churches hold invitations, but are prayerful and careful in counseling with those who are being dealt with by the Holy Spirit. There is often time taken to pray, sometimes continuing on to an inquiry room, there is often scripture read, and there are times when souls are genuinely converted at the front of a church. The problem that many Calvinists see is when there is a mass of people who are led in a prayer, and then told that since they prayed that prayer they are going to heaven. I certainly don’t want to entertain any thoughts that would appear derogatory, but simply let me say that souls are worth spending time with. The Holy Spirit is more than able to finish any work that He starts. (Which does not mean that He does not use man in the process of evangelism, He certainly does.) The problem is when it is apparent that God is not working at all. There is no apparent conviction, no desire to forsake sin and no real faith in the finished work of Christ, but simply a desire to escape hell. I have many examples to site, but on the other hand, I could offer just as many examples where sinners were truly converted after the preaching of the gospel. They “came down the aisle” and were prayed with and God saved them. None of us doubt that! It is caution when dealing with souls that we demand, whether you deal with them during an invitation or during an appointment at a later time. It is entirely too common for those who deal with souls not to be familiar with the gospel and to attempt to convince an inquirer that, if they would simply “pray this prayer after me”, they would be converted. I don’t mind leading someone in a prayer, if I am convinced that they are praying from the heart. But if indeed The Holy Spirit has them under conviction and it is from the heart, and they have understood the gospel, would they not be saved regardless of whether they “prayed the right words” or not, if there was true repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?
Those are some of the concerns of Calvinists when it comes to the invitation system. The downside of all of this is that, many who don’t understand either the Calvinistic roots of our Baptist heritage and/or don’t understand biblical Calvinism (Augustinianism), are prone to identify the lack of an invitation or just the word Calvinist with Hyper-Calvinism. Even the most conservative of those adhering to an Augustinian position would have trouble with the positions they are often accused of having. Let me say loudly, “We are not hyper-calvinists.” I would like to hear just as loudly proclaimed on the other side; “we are not among those who promote easy-believism. We believe in the Baptist Faith and Message. We believe in the perseverance of the saints. We believe in the doctrine of election according to grace.” Let both sides loudly proclaim, we reject both easy-believism and hyper-calvinism, and we shall be on solid ground. At least solid enough to labor together to get the gospel out, and send the saints around the world in mission endeavors.
Both easy-believism and hyper-calvinism are dangerous positions which should be rejected by all gospel loving, mission-minded Baptists. It is also just as harmful to the cause of Christ, for those on either side to classify our brothers to the extreme side. The desire to defame, destroy or undermine our Baptist brethren does not help the cause of the gospel, but rather hinders it. Hyper-calvinism is not defined by whether you are a 3, 4 or 5 point Calvinist, but by your response to those truths in regards to missionary endeavors, evangelism, and the responsibility and duty of man. Easy-believism is not defined by whether you have an invitation or not, but by how you respond to the need for the gospel to be taken seriously by understanding that salvation is a work of God whereby the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin upon a sinner bringing him to repent and believe without doing any damage to his will. Understanding that salvation is a work of God will not only give the confidence needed to clearly preach the gospel, but will result in a reliance on the power of God in conversion rather than the ability of man. Not that persuasion and convincing is not a part of the art of preaching, but that we rely on the power of God in all of these things.
Human reasoning entering into the debate.
On both sides of this issue I have both heard and read men using human reasoning in order to justify what they believe. I don’t believe that is necessary or warranted. Do I believe the debate is necessary? Of course! Iron sharpens iron, and we as God’s men should be diligent about what we believe and why we believe it. But the debate does not have to degenerate. We can, like many of those in leadership of the Southern Baptist convention, have healthy dialogue, yet work together in preaching the gospel. I know of no preacher worth his salt who would preach either hyper-calvinism or easy-believism to a lost man. Yes, we can stand on our doctrine and even debate about it, yet we must be one in keeping our focus on getting the gospel out to the uttermost parts of the earth. That includes working together in our associational Camps in order to come to terms with one another’s differences in approach and methodology and seeking to find common ground where we can not only preach the gospel, but invite sinners to trust in Christ and counsel them to that end. We urge all men everywhere to repent and to trust in our Wonderful Savior.
I think the common ground we need to start on is that God is absolutely sovereign and man is absolutely responsible in the gracious work of salvation. Let us as Baptists make a resolution that in spite of our differences in doctrine and methodology, we are servants of the King and stand shoulder to shoulder with the banner of His gospel, His death, burial and resurrection, and the need for men to repent and trust in Christ as their Savior.
From there, let us send our missionaries out, stand on the streets and preach the gospel, pass out our gospel tracts, preach to our youth, preach to our congregations and give the clear call of the gospel, and advance the Kingdom of God.
Rev. Bob Schembre
Rockport Baptist Church