Founders Journal


The Need for Definition

Tom Ascol

Baptist Press recently reported the gathering of SBC "moderate-conservative leaders" in Nashville in which was issued "A Call to State Conventions for the Preservation of Historic Southern Baptist Work and Witness." This call, which was adopted by the 85 participants, is obviously intended to warn state conventions not to follow the same path which the Southern Baptist Convention has traveled the last few years during the inerrancy controversy.

Interestingly, the statement adopted in Nashville has five points. There is not much in the published report with which most Bible-believing Southern Baptists would quarrel. In fact, these "five points of moderatism" contain some things that the Founders Journal has long been saying. For instance, the preamble states, "Now is the time for renewal and revival." Amen! What half-awake Southern Baptist (or evangelical) could deny this?

Further, the first point of moderatism says, "Let each state convention renew its commitment to historic Baptist principles, the authority of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers, . . . . " While there are obviously many different types of Baptists, it is reasonable to assume that the Southern Baptists who issued this call would have a particular concern for historic Southern Baptist principles. To this we again express a hearty "Amen!"

It is wonderful to hear others joining their voices to ours in calling the SBC to remember her heritage. Only the most naive, however, would assume that all those who are openly advocating a return to historic principles are in agreement as to the content of those principles. Denominational amnesia leads many to mistakenly assume that "historic" means "over the last 50-60 years." Consequently, the notion of "historic [Southern] Baptist principles" is erroneously conceived of as those ideas that have been popularized during that time frame.

Such historical reductionism has robbed the present generation of the help and guidance which our noble heritage has to offer. The biblical, theological, and spiritual convictions upon which this denomination was built have, at many points, been completely forgotten and forsaken.

We must not be satisfied simply to say to our fellow Southern Baptists, "Return to your historic principles." Rather, we must be willing to define, demonstrate, and articulate the content of those principles. Any description of our denominational heritage which fails to acknowledge the presence of Reformed views of salvation is at best woefully lacking and at worst dishonest. In the early years of our denomination widespread adherence to what James P. Boyce called "the fundamental doctrines of grace" is undeniable. As late as 1918, in a manual for Sunday School workers published by the Sunday School Board, we read that "nearly all Baptists believe what are usually termed the `doctrines of grace.'" One of the foremost historic Southern Baptist principles is the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation.

What did early SBC leaders believe? What did they understand the Bible to teach about the great issues of salvation, evangelism, missions, and church life? What principles motivated them and gave them vision for ministry?

These and related questions can and ought to be answered by examining original sources. Today there are many resources available to any pastor or layman who desires to make such an investigation. Books, (both old and new), tapes, journals and conferences can help anyone personally discover the rich spiritual heritage of the SBC. The upcoming Mission 150 will go a long way in helping to make this heritage known.

Thank the Lord that more and more people are becoming interested in the historic principles of the Southern Baptist Convention. We must not allow those principles to be ignored. Neither can we allow them to be misconstrued. For if what the founders believed and taught was true in their day, then it is still true in our day.