Some younger Southern Baptist ministers are asking the right question. Their question is not “What will work?” but rather “What is biblical?” Pragmatism is not unimportant, but it cannot be the foundation for our ministries and missions. What is practical can be chosen over what is biblical truth, but not without regrettable spiritual results.
International Mission Board president David Platt recently said, “The Bible is where the IMB must start in all of our missiology.” He went on to say that missionaries must reflect the life-change that “is wrought by the gospel.” So should every born-again person.
As our postmodern culture becomes increasingly more doubtful and even hostile to biblical truth, we can anticipate God’s people either compromising in order to get along and perhaps gather more people into our church buildings, or choosing to faithfully and uncompromisingly live our lives on biblical truth. In postmodern thought, nothing is certain, and if someone believes in absolutes, they are regarded as arrogant or ignorant. Biblical faith and postmodernism cannot coexist.
Charles Spurgeon withdrew from the Baptist Union of Great Britain in 1887 because he was convinced the group was moving deeper and deeper into liberalism. He believed that universalism and Unitarianism could grow in the absence of strong biblical doctrine. Thirty-one likeminded ministers, along with Spurgeon, reaffirmed the “inspiration, authority and sufficiency of Scripture” as they withdrew from the Baptist Union. He faced intense opposition for holding fast to his convictions.
Spurgeon, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, one of the largest congregations of its time with a weekly attendance of 6,000, did not believe big numbers in worship services necessarily meant true worship was taking place. For him, a large church did not always mean a biblically sound church. “It could mean that it is swollen,” he said. Spurgeon felt the churches of his time were like the church of Laodicea, as recorded in Revelation 3. Many contemporary pastors and Bible students have also embraced the concept that many of the churches of our age are like the church in Laodicea.
In Martin Luther’s time, the Catholic church had fallen into many unbiblical practices, such selling indulgences. He was convicted that salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Luther spoke out against the biblical errors of his church and became a major figure in the Protestant Reformation. When he was called to recant his writings by church officials, he stated, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God … I cannot and will not recant.” As a practical matter, he could have chosen to go along with those he knew were wrong and avoid the conflict that disagreeing brought. He did not. He chose to stand on the truth of God.
The Southern Baptist Convention went through the Conservative Resurgence in the 1970s-1990s, yet today we are still facing the temptation to exalt pragmatism over biblical doctrine. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote: “Our identity must be more theological than tribal. Will we demonstrate theological and moral courage in the face of stiffening cultural opposition?” That is a vital question that has only one right answer.
Over the past few years, we have been a denomination in decline. We are still one of the largest denominations in the country and, in my opinion, potentially one of the best to reach people worldwide. Yet the panic to get more people into the church gathering has tempted us to compromise basic biblical truth. Southern Baptists, who have been known as “people of the book” (the Bible), have in some cases relied on practicality at the expense of biblical doctrine.
Success has come to be defined in terms of cultural meaning rather than biblical truth. Too often we have encouraged people, in regard to Scripture, to ask, “What does that mean to me?” instead of “What does that mean?” Scripture is objective truth from God. How we feel about that truth is not as significant as the fact that it is truth.
Compromise is wise in some things, but it is counterproductive, and even destructive, when it comes to Bible doctrine. While we may disagree on points of interpretation, we must be rock-steady in our commitment that what we interpret comes from God’s infallible truth.
Whatever we do, we must do it from the foundation of God’s truth. Otherwise, we open ourselves to the uncertainty and instability of subjective reasoning.