Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Southern Baptists and Calvinists: A Response to Elmer Towns (Part 2)

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 24, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Question 1

Towns begins by asking, “Should any Southern Baptist fly under a particular flag?”  He acknowledges that “there are many different types of flags flown over Southern Baptist churches.”  But when discussing the “Calvinist flag,” he states, “The problem is that most five point Calvinists don’t just point to their flag; many become exclusionary of any other view that will not salute their flag and fight for their flag in ecclesiastical battles.”  This is not something to which we should be amazed.  Everyone with solid convictions does this; Towns even does this.  In fact, he has basically said that much in his article.  If I can use his own words, he too is “exclusionary of any other view that will not salute [his] flag,” his flag being obviously that of a non-Calvinist.

The issue is: This “flag” (as Towns calls it) is not just concerning worship style, small groups, or missions; no, this “flag” deals with the very doctrines of man’s sinfulness, the atonement, and salvation.  These are subjects that are worthy of exclusivity!  When I read my Bible, I derive a theology from it that clearly declares man is sinful and can do no good before a holy God.  Since man can do nothing to commend himself to God, He cannot, by his own will and decision, bring about his salvation (which if he could, would not only be good, but it would be the greatest good).  Also, Christ’s death on the cross two thousand years ago had purpose and truly did accomplish something.  He actually atoned for sins and purged them and washed them away in His blood as He took the place of those sinners upon the cross.  He did not merely make sinners “savable;” He actually and really atoned for sin upon that cross.  This matter of redemption is not something that is left up to the sinner to decide.  And when the Word of God says things like “all that the Father gives Me shall come to Me” (Jn. 6:37) and “this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (Jn. 6:39), I see clearly that God will have His people by His own power.  He will regenerate them.  He will grant them repentance and faith.  And then, as a result, they will choose Christ with their wills, repent of their sins, and believe upon Him.  Scripture also makes clear that the same Holy Spirit that regenerated me and gave me spiritual life, resulting in my eyes being opened to the gospel of Christ so that I desired to use my will to choose Christ and repent of my sins and believe upon Him, is the same Holy Spirit who now will not allow me to use my will to turn away from and abandon Christ, thus I am eternally secure and persevere in the faith.

The answer to Towns’ question “should any Southern Baptist fly under a particular flag?” is “yes,” provided Scripture demands it.  If your church “flag” is social work or fellowships or small groups, those do not have an exclusionary nature.  But when it comes to these truths that stand as the Mt. Everest of biblical doctrine, should we not champion these?  If we cannot be “exclusionary of any other view” when it comes to the heart of the gospel, then what else is worthy of us taking a firm stand?  Being “exclusionary” does not mean being bitter, mean, nasty, and using pejorative terms when discussing those who disagree with you, but neither does it mean that we should not press others to take up their Bibles and see what it actually says concerning these grand truths.

Question 2[1]

In Towns’ second question, he asks, “Is Calvinism a diversion against the Great Commission and baptism?”  According to Towns’ own research, the answer seems to be “no.”  Town cites a study by LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer which indicates that Calvinistic churches are “conducting personal evangelism at a slightly higher rate than their non-Calvinistic peers.”  Also, Towns writes that Stetzer points out “although Calvinistic churches baptize fewer people each year, they have a ‘baptism rate’ virtually identical to that of non-Calvinist big churches.”  Even by the numbers, Calvinism is not shown to be “a diversion against the Great Commission and baptism.”  Further, Mohler writes:

If Calvinism is an enemy to missions and evangelism, it is an enemy to the Gospel itself.  The Great Commission and the task of evangelism are assigned to every congregation and every believer.  The charge that Calvinism is opposed to evangelism simply will not stick-it is a false argument.  The Doctrines of Grace are nothing less than a statement of the Gospel itself.  Through the substitutionary work of Christ, God saves sinners.  The great promise is that whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.[2]

In my experience, I have never seen someone discouraged to witness by their theology.  I have never met any Calvinist-be it young, old, enthused, mellow, etc.-who was passionately longing to bring the gospel to the lost, but instead said, “I must discipline myself and hold back because God has His own elect and He’ll save them.”  Now I understand that Towns is not saying this, but I’ve heard so many other Southern Baptists make the claim that Calvinism kills evangelism.[3] The fact of the matter is that some Calvinist Southern Baptists do not evangelize.  Some non-Calvinist Southern Baptists do not evangelize.  Some Calvinist Southern Baptists do evangelize.  Some non-Calvinist Southern Baptists do evangelize.  With those Calvinists and non-Calvinists who do not evangelize, there are, no doubt, a myriad of reasons given why they do not.  However, I would submit that probably none of these reasons would be theological or biblical.  True Calvinists could never give biblical reasons for a lack of evangelism because we believe the means of salvation (i.e., the preaching of the gospel) are just as predestined as the people.  So, the answer to Towns’ second question is “no.”

Van L. Loomis, Jr.
Pastor-Teacher
Redeeming Grace Baptist Church
Mathews, VA

[1] Towns asks another question in this section which veers away hard from the current subject under his heading “Question Two.”  He asks, “Are all Calvinistic churches committed to indoctrinating five point Calvinism?”  He answers, “Probably not.”  But then Towns goes through a bit of church history in order to assert that “in his early life John Calvin espoused extreme positions on predestination” and that “later in life Calvin seemed to mellow his view of predestination as he studied the Scriptures more thoroughly by writing commentaries on every book of the Bible.”  Since this is off topic from Town’s main question with which he is addressing, I will simply refer the reader to Richard A. Muller, Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins (Durham, NC: Labyrinth Press, 1986), 22-27; François Wendel, Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought (New York: Harper and Row, 1950), 263-84; and William J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 172-76; for refutations of Towns’ assertion.

[2] Ibid., Mohler (emphasis mine).

[3] If this were not such a repeated accusation from non-Calvinists, Towns would not have to utilize the space to even bring up the question.

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