Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Section V. 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.

- From the Baptist Faith and Message

I have often been asked, “Do you believe in election?” My response is always the same, “Yes, and so do you if you believe the Bible and the Baptist Faith and Message.” It is sad to me that so many Southern Baptists do not even know that the Bible uses the words “election” and “predestined.” They would be just as surprised to know that the BFM speaks explicitly to the biblical doctrine of election.

Notice that the BFM affirms that election is “the gracious purpose of God” which is contrary to what many Southern Baptists have always been taught: that election is according to the free will of man. In other words, most Southern Baptists have been taught that God “elects” those people whom He foresees will choose Him. In this scheme, election is contingent, that is, it is based entirely on what someone else will do. God acts in salvation retroactively and strictly in response to the sovereign actions of man. “Elected because I selected” is one unfortunate slogan that has come from this curious doctrine. Nowhere in Scripture is this idea affirmed.

Contrary to this “popular” view is the careful wording of the BFM: “Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners…It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness…” To call election “the gracious purpose of God” is to necessarily affirm that election is a purposeful act and not merely a contingency. Election (eklektos) is a strong word and is far from passive. It is not an “after the fact” declaration. It is active and purposeful, eternal and un-changable just as the Bible and the BFM affirm.

God is the author, initiator, sustainer, and finisher of salvation. This is why election “excludes boasting and promotes humility.” Any scheme of salvation that makes man the decisive factor in his salvation (“Elected because I selected”) would promote boasting and pride. If God’s people are responsible for their election by virtue of their good sense and spiritual insight then they deserve a great deal of the credit for their salvation.

Why did God choose Abram? Why did God choose Israel? Was it on the basis of anything they had done or would do in the future? Absolutely not! “The Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you…” (Deut. 7:6ff). Why did God choose Jacob over Esau? Paul tells us precisely why in Romans 9: “…though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – [Rebekah] was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’…So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy” (vv.11-13, 16).

A small sampling of New Testament texts effectively demonstrate that election is according to the gracious purpose of God just as the BFM states: John 6:35-40, 44; 17:6, 9, 24; Acts 14:48; Romans 8:28-9:26; Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 1:1-14; I Peter 1:3, 2:9; II Peter 1:10; I Thess 1:4-5, 5:9; II Thess 2:13; II Timothy 1:8-9. Please take the time to read these passages of Scripture. They are glorious!

How gracious is our God! Unfortunately, you will find that the above cited texts are contrary to what many Southern Baptists have been taught. If you are a lifelong Southern Baptist, as I am, it is quite possible that you have never heard a sermon on any of the texts listed. If you have, then it is likely the texts were mentioned only briefly or were preached in such a way as to assert that they do not mean what they so clearly say. I do not recall ever hearing a sermon on the doctrine of election even though it is a key biblical doctrine from Genesis to Revelation.

I was once told by a retired and very kind Southern Baptist pastor that I should avoid preaching on the above mentioned texts because, according to him, they would just “confuse people.” He went on to counsel me, “Just give them the milk. Just give them the milk.” I was shocked and saddened. But that moment was very instructive for me. It helped explain why generations of Southern Baptists, while nice and sincere, are overwhelmingly shallow in their understanding of the Scriptures.

Continuing on the issue of Calvinism and Southern Baptists, Morris Chapman writes:
“The Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The Baptist Faith and Message agrees that both the work of grace and the responsibility of man are necessary elements in the salvation experience. This phenomenon is called an antimony (an apparent contradiction between two equally valid principles). For instance, how can salvation be totally an act of God, independent of human means, and a human response to a divine initiative? The Baptist Faith and Message identifies and embraces the antimony of these two seemingly competing truths.”

Chapman is partly right but he makes an unfortunate error. He is right in saying that God’s total sovereignty and man’s responsibility seem to be contradictory to the mind of man. We wonder how man can be responsible for what he does if God truly controls all that he has made (something Scripture explicitly affirms). We wonder how our responses of repentance and faith can be meaningful if God sovereignly elects his people unto salvation. These are deep and valid questions that have been explored by theologians for millennia.

Where Chapman goes wrong is in his statement, “For instance, how can salvation be totally an act of God, independent of human means…” I suppose he is trying to illustrate the Reformed position on salvation – that it is independent of human means. But this is far from the Reformed position. I know of no advocate of sovereign election from Augustine to Luther to Calvin to Bunyan to Edwards to Whitfield to those in our own day who have ever advanced the idea that salvation is “independent of human means.” The Calvinists who originally drafted the BFM wrote that election is “consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end.” This is the Reformed position! The Bible teaches, and Calvinists fully affirm that God uses means to accomplish his sovereign plans. Among the means that God uses to accomplish his “purpose in election” is the repentance and faith of all those who are saved.

I know what it is to have my beliefs mischaracterized. The hurt is especially deep when treasured friends are responsible for the distortions. I have never broken fellowship with anyone because of a disagreement over whether election is based upon God’s gracious purpose or man’s decision. While I am not afraid to disagree on and debate this issue, it has not kept me from worshiping and serving with my brothers and sisters who take a view different from mine. But I have had precious friends break fellowship with me on these grounds.

Let us allow the wise council of Charles Simeon the great 18th & 19th century preacher and teacher be our standard. Himself a Calvinist, Simeon urged Christians to not divide over the doctrine of election. In a sermon on Romans 9 Simeon said:
“Many there are who cannot see these truths [the doctrines of God’s sovereignty], who yet are in a state truly pleasing to God; yea many, at whose feet the best of us may be glad to be found in heaven. It is a great evil, when these doctrines are made a ground of separation one from another, and when the advocates of different systems anathematize each other…In reference to truths which are involved in so much obscurity as those which relate to the sovereignty of God, mutual kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion.”

On these five things Calvinists and evangelical Arminians agree:
1. No one desires to be saved apart from a change of heart wrought by God.
2. There is no salvation apart from repentance from sin and faith in Christ.
3. All those who repent and believe in Christ will be saved.
4. No one who truly desires salvation in Jesus Christ will be turned away from God because they are not among “the elect.”
5. It is the responsibility of the church to declare the Gospel throughout the world because it is the power of God unto salvation for ALL who believe.

It seems to me that those are strong grounds for unity.

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

In the August issue of SBC Life Morris Chapman comments on the discussion concerning the Baptist Faith and Message at the 2007 Convention in San Antonio. He writes:

“Our forefathers had the foresight to determine the core beliefs about which they could agree in order that Southern Baptist churches could come together to send missionaries around the world and build seminaries to educate individuals who were to pastor, preach, teach, and minister in our churches.”

The Baptist Faith and Message is not an exhaustive statement of faith nor is it intended to be. Sometimes I lament this fact. I find myself wondering if our churches would be better served by a more comprehensive statement of faith. However, since there are certain important theological issues on which the BFM is either silent or speaks only in generalities it is important for Southern Baptists to extend charity to one another when there is disagreement over those issues. Sadly, this is often not the case. Both laymen and clergy within our denomination have drawn battle lines over doctrines not exhaustively explained or even addressed in the BFM.

Chapman continues:
“When we insist upon engaging each other in heated debates over doctrinal interpretations beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, our Convention shall sooner or later divide into even more factions and distract us from fulfilling the Great Commission…
“Discussing whether the Baptist Faith and Message is a ‘minimal’ statement or an ‘exhaustive’ statement misses its greatest attribute – that attribute is that it is a ‘consensus’ statement that defines Southern Baptist doctrine as believed by the greater whole of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon these doctrinal statements, we agree to agree. In doctrinal statements not included in the Baptist Faith and Message, we must learn to agree to disagree and debate the differences as Spirit-filled Christians who love Christ and one another.”

Chapman spends most of his article discussing three issues that, in recent years, have been at the center of often heated debates among Southern Baptists: 1) Calvinism, 2) Private Prayer Language, and 3) Water Baptism. When I was in college in the late 80’s the issue of private prayer languages (tongues) was a particularly hot topic. These days however it is Calvinism. Historically, Calvinism was the doctrinal position of most Baptists since the 17th century. In keeping with this trend, the Southern Baptist Convention was founded by men who were Calvinists. B.H. Carroll, the founder of Southwestern Seminary and J.P. Boyce, the founder of Southern Seminary were both Calvinists. The first Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, W.B. Johnson, R.B.C. Howell, and Richard Fuller were Calvinists. The great early Southern Baptist pastor/theologians like Basil Manly, Sr. & Jr., John Broadus, John Dagg, P.H. Mell, E.Y. Mullins, and L.R. Scarborough were Calvinists. What is more, the very first confession of faith adopted by Southern Baptists, The Abstract of Principles, is Calvinistic or Reformed in doctrine. It was the founding document of both Southern and Southeastern Baptist Theological seminaries. To this day, the teachers at those institutions must sign a copy of The Abstract of Principles signifying their agreement with its doctrine.

For whatever reason, as the 20th century progressed, Calvinist or Reformed doctrine was pushed aside by the majority of Southern Baptists in favor of a more Arminian understanding of salvation (I will write more about Arminianism in a future post). Along with this move came the encroachment of liberalism into the SBC. Efforts to adopt a more comprehensive statement of faith were strongly opposed by new Southern Baptist leadership. As the 20th century progressed, doctrine was de-emphasized in Southern Baptist life. The defining mark of Southern Baptist churches was no longer a common doctrinal confession but loyalty to the Cooperative Program. This is true, to a large degree, to this day.

However, Southern Baptists are witnessing a resurgence in the doctrines of their founders. Not surprisingly, the heat around the issue of Calvinism has increased dramatically. Fearing that Reformed doctrine is a threat, some of the SBC’s most well known mega-church pastors and denominational officials have said some very divisive things about Calvinists from their pulpits. In many cases, their statements about the doctrines on which they cast so much fury display an appalling ignorance. I do not know any Calvinists that believe the caricatures that are often called “Calvinism” by its opponents. These unfortunately common misrepresentations are either the result of ignorance or malice. Either way it is bad. Christians ought to carefully avoid misrepresenting the views of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Ironically, the statement on the doctrine of election in the Baptist Faith and Message would be fully affirmed by any Calvinist. Indeed, it is in this statement where the theological convictions of the SBC founders can be clearly seen. Of the doctrine of election the BFM states:

Section V. 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.

Posted on Monday, August 13, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Al Mohler has posted a thought provoking article (Dr. Mohler's Blog) on the connection between the health of the family and that of the church.

Posted on Monday, August 13, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

As many of you know I have almost completed my latest installment of sermons in the Luke series: chapters seven and eight. Beginning September 9th I am excited to launch a series of messages based upon the fresh purpose statement that was composed by the Strategic Ministry Planning Team. The series will follow the pattern of “7 Pillars” or core essentials of Metro East. The series will be titled “The Gospel-Centered Church.”

In November, before returning to the series on Genesis (begun December ’06), my plan is to preach some messages from the Psalms. Our last series in the Psalms was called “A Walk with Christ Through the Psalms.” This next group of messages will be an examination of prayer in the Psalms and will be called “Protest and Praise.” In preparation I have been reading John Goldingay’s two volume commentary on the Psalms. It is part of the new Baker Commentary on the Old Testament series. It is outstanding. Here is a sample from a section that Goldingay writes about “the Psalms as theology”:

“Theologically, the Psalms are the densest material in the entire Old Testament. There is a greater concentration of statements about God here than anywhere else. That reflects the fact that theology is the key both to worship and to pastoral care, and that worship and pastoral care generate theological insight.

“Doxology and theology are closely related. Doxology requires theology; glorifying God involves making many a statement about God. Conversely, theology finds one of its natural forms in doxology…The natural way to make statements that do justice to God’s nature is to make them in the form of praise. Dispassionate analytical statements about God deconstruct.

“Statements about God are also of key importance to pastoral care. First, the doxological statements to which I have just referred, the statements that are most at home in praise psalms, need to be statements that shape Israel’s worldview. Among other things, they may then issue in and support our living the right kind of life. Second, these are then the statements that Israel needs to keep in mind when trouble comes, when the temptation is to lose sight of or deliberately abandon the convictions about God that one affirmed when the going was not tough.”

Posted on Thursday, August 09, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

One of the issues I deal with most often in my role as a pastor is the reality of suffering. I am routinely confronted with questions that I cannot answer easily. Often times the answers to human suffering that are made plain in Scripture seem unsatisfactory to many people. But in moments when we are confronted with evil or suffering we do not need sentimentalism. We need the anchor of God's steady Word. We should not be surprised that sometimes the answers we find in Scripture are not entirely satisfying. After all, we are sinful people with fallen minds. God's ways are above our ways and his wisdom is beyond our full comprehension.

Desiring God has posted some challenging and comforting meditations concering suffering in light of the Minneapolis bridge collapse (Video from the Collapsed Bridge :: Desiring God).

Be blessed.

Posted on Thursday, August 09, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

“One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment – I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.’”

Charles Spurgeon

Posted on Wednesday, August 08, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Ray Van Neste offers some very helpful information on excellent Christian literature for children at this sight (The Children's Hour). If you are a parent I think you will find it very helpful.

Posted on Wednesday, August 08, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most well known atheist in the western world right now is getting a lot of press. It is very possible that at least one person you know has read or been influenced by his latest book "The God Delusion". Christian Thinker has some good thoughts on Dawkins' famous 747 argument against the existence of God (::: :::). Check it out!

Posted on Wednesday, August 08, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Not too long ago former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton made it known that they were interested in launching a new Baptist denomination that would serve as an alternative to the Southern Baptist Convention. Both men, members of Southern Baptist churches have been famously out of step with the conservative majority within the world’s largest Protestant denomination. Many Southern Baptists would be happy to show the former presidents the door. Their positions on homosexuality, abortion, and Mr. Carter’s appalling affection for dictators and the PLO having made them something along the lines of the crazy uncle who lives in the basement. They are, at best, a curiosity among Southern Baptists.

In this month’s issue of National Review two more famous Baptist politicians are referred to.

“Dick Gephardt started out pro-life but switched his position in time to run for president. Addressing an abortion-rights banquet, he blamed his past on the misfortune of having been raised in a ‘working class family of Baptist faith.’ John Edwards, today’s Democratic tribune of the working class, is using his religious background the same way: to protect his left flank. He says that same-sex marriage is the hardest issue he has to deal with. He is against it, he told George Stephanopoulos: ‘Because I’m 53 years old. I grew up in a small town in the rural South. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church and so I have a belief system that arises from that. It’s part of who I am. I can’t make it disappear…Do I believe they should have the right to marry? I’m just not there yet, me, I’m not there.’ Edwards has transcended parts of his past: He has said that he does not believe homosexuality is immoral. But nobody votes on that question, while same-sex marriage remains unpopular. We’re guessing that the operative word in his answer is ‘yet.’”

Posted on Tuesday, August 07, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

John Piper, who pastors in Minneapolis, has had some thought provoking meditations on the recent bridge collapse. This link (Desiring God) will take you to a response he offered to Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People". Kushner was recently interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio.