“There is No Time for That!” ~ Thoughts on the present Calvinism Conversation at Louisiana College and the Louisiana Baptist Convention
Written by Pastor Jim Law
I am writing this article days after the Louisiana College Board of Trustees called an emergency meeting to deal with a number of critical issues facing the college. I have full trust and confidence that the Lord will guide the trustees in the matters before them. We should pray fervently for our trustees and the administration as they walk through this difficult time.
One of the issues that has emerged from this crisis is another conversation about Calvinism. I have written on this subject among the Louisiana Baptist family here.
Let me hasten to say that with regard to our cooperative work, I would join my non-Calvinist friends against any agenda being pushed on students or the churches. However, it is totally appropriate for conversations about John Calvin, predestination, election, etc. to take place at a Christian college and/or a divinity school. My point is that because these issues are discussed it doesn’t mean an agenda is in place.
I fear that the “C” word has been sensationalized and exaggerated among us. The sensitivity on this subject is so great that even the mention of certain words is met with a paroxysm.
From my perspective, I believe Calvinism is not the issue of conflict in the Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC), but rather a smokescreen that is successfully derailing us off mission. I think we should weigh carefully anecdotal complaints over a reformed/Calvinistic agenda by asking, “What do you mean by that?”
“Are you upset because the subject came up in the course of studying the Bible or taking a class?”
“Has someone forced you or pressured you to embrace a reformed/Calvinistic position? Or, have they simply shared their conviction after wrestling with the biblical tensions of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility?”
The present situation in the LBC has given me pause to think through some concerns. Specifically, beyond the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, what parameters or litmus tests’ are we requiring for those who would serve in the LBC work?
For our convention to take a position that excludes those who hold to a reformed/Calvinistic soteriology from positions of service at the college, and on our boards and agencies, is to take a step away from our historical, theological roots. As Baptists, we have never been monolithic on this issue, and yet have chosen to work together in the task of obeying the Great Commission.
It has even been communicated to me recently that those who hold reformed/Calvinistic convictions are members of a cult. Such comments are less than sober and are an example of an historical amnesia with regard to the DNA of Baptist people.
To disqualify a brother or sister in Christ from serving in our convention because of reformed/Calvinistic convictions would be in defiance to our history. Furthermore, to exercise such action would eliminate a large number of influential and prominent Baptist family members from the past and in the present.
Dr. David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church of New Orleans, articulated my deepest concerns in a recent online post, “I think most Baptists are satisfied that we have drawn the lines sufficiently tight in defining our fellowship theologically. If we tighten them much more, we will surely throttle down the Cooperative Program even further, disaffect thousands of members in our churches and even churches themselves, and likely hang ourselves with our own rope.”
With a wringing of the hands by denominational leadership over Cooperative Program decline, one has only to point to issues like this to find at least one answer for the decline. When smokescreens are posited as mandates, it does not breed confidence in our cooperative work.
Furthermore, I would argue that our need is not another statement of faith written to combat reformed/Calvinistic influence. The Baptist Faith and Message has served us well in recognizing our theological diversity. Our need as a convention is not to systematically eradicate all the Calvinists. The need of the hour is to get down on our knees and cry out to God to have mercy upon us and grant to us His grace and power for the work of evangelism and missions.
Otherwise, we will find ourselves in the carnal camp of denominational warfare and the collateral damage is always catastrophic. Such conflict can fray the bonds of brotherly love, and if we are not careful we can resort to carnal strategies that do not honor the Lord as we set aside biblical initiatives for personal causes.
Michael Shaara in his classic work “The Killer Angels,” which is a popular chronicling of the Battle of Gettysburg, captures a tense exchange between General Robert E. Lee and Major General J.E.B Stuart who was in charge of the confederate calvary. Stuart had become separated from Lee and the entire army days prior to the battle of Gettysburg.
Needless to say, Lee was furious and when he was finally able to speak to Stuart he rebuked him severely. Stuart’s response was to turn in his sword and resign his post. Lee’s reaction to Stuart was emphatic, “I have told you there is no time for that. There is a fight tomorrow, and we need you. We need every man, God knows….the matter is concluded.”
I would say that message is for us right now as Baptists, “There is no time for that! There is another fight comin’ tomorrow,” but it should not be among ourselves.
In a culture that is jettisoning biblical foundations by the hour, there is no time for this! In a church fractured by disputes and misplaced devotions, there is no time for this! In a world where there are billions who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ, there is no time for this!
So, in a time when battle lines are drawn and love is frayed, let us remember the words of the Lord Jesus who said the world would know that we are followers of Him by our love one for another. If we don’t get that right, than our cooperative labor will be nothing more than a noisy gong.