Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The SBC: Calvinism, Arminianism, and the Sinner's Prayer

A Facebook friend of mine asked me to comment on the SBC resolution on the Sinner's Prayer. I really don't have a dog in the fight and for the most part it's just silly but I guess I'll respond anyhow. The majority of churches in the SBC follow the typical Baptist understanding of salvation. They typically don't think theology is really all that important and embrace those doctrines that they like the most or that they think are most helpful for evangelism. They embrace a hodge podge of Calvinist and Arminian doctrines. They don't like total depravity, election, the limited atonement, or irresistible grace, but they do like once saved always saved. (This is different from the Lutheran position which isn't Calvinist or Arminian either but just lets the paradoxes hang there. Lutheran theology is not theologically lazy and isn't taking its positions based on pragmatic reasons. Lutherans take the positions that they do because they believe the Scriptures are all about Jesus and trust the Scriptures more than human reason.) On the other hand, there has been a growing number of Calvinists in the SBC. They claim that the SBC has been Calvinistic historically. From my own studies it seems more likely that there has always been people with a variety of soteriological positions within the SBC. The Calvinists may have predominated at the beginning but they weren't the only ones there and there was never a move to adopt a Calvinist confessional document that was binding in any sense. The Baptist Faith and Message doesn't take any real position on the issue and even that isn't really binding in any real sense. From its beginnings the SBC has been more concerned with sending missionaries than it has been concerned with what those missionaries believe. The SBC was founded in 1845 after disputes with the Northern Baptist Churches over slavery. The American Baptist Home Missionary Society would not appoint slave owners as missionaries and this in part led to the formation of the SBC. Over time of course the SBC has abandoned the pro-slavery position, but the only things that really seem to unite the SBC are not-baptizing babies, not recognizing and form of baptism other than immersion as being valid, and being very pro-missionary.

But anyhow, you have basically two groups. You have the Calminian Baptists who are still in the majority but  who fear the rise of the Calvinist baptists. So recently they have chosen to respond by trying to pass meaningless resolutions. The passing of meaningless resolutions is certainly not unique to the SBC, it seems like all reasonably large denominations feel the need to do so. But I think it might be interesting to look at the resolution and the Scriptural references offered. You can read it in its entirety here. But I'll address each section in order.

WHEREAS, God desires for every person to be saved and has made salvation available for any person who hears the Gospel (John 3:16; Romans 10:14-17; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2); and
The idea that "God desires for every person to be saved" is adequately demonstrated by the Scriptural passages provided. The idea that God "has made salvation available for any person who hears the Gospel" is not or at least it's not clear as to what it means to make salvation available. Christ has won salvation for every person, even those who never hear the Gospel. Paul says that the job of the pastor is to be a minister of reconciliation who says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Salvation is received through faith. I suppose there is a sense in which you can say it is "available" but at best the language is sloppy.
WHEREAS, A free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel is both possible and necessary in order for anyone to be born again (John 3:1-16; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:11-13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13); and
None of the proof texts listed prove the statement. None of them say that we are born again by responding positively to the drawing of the Holy Spirit. John 3 says we are born again/from above by being born of water and Spirit which is a pretty clear reference to baptism even though neither parties like that idea. Acts 16:30-31 says "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" but it doesn't say that we are born again by believing. Romans 10:11-13 says that all who believe in Jesus will be saved. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says that the Word of God is at work in believers. It doesn't say that belief is what causes God's Word to work. There are a couple of different problems that I think are hidden beneath some of the language used in the resolution. The Calminians tend to think of being saved and being born again as being completely synonymous. Most of the time they will only speak of salvation in terms of what happens when someone believes the Gospel at a particular time when someone makes a decision for Christ or something. But the Scriptures have a much richer understanding of salvation. In Romans 5 the Scriptures say that all who died in Adam were justified in Christ (this won't make the Calvinists happy either). So if someone asks me, "When did you get saved?" I can say, "On April 3, 33 AD." The Scriptures also speak of salvation as tied to God's Word in baptism ("baptism now saves you," "baptism for the remission of sins," etc.). So I can say that I got saved on the date of my baptism. Of the proof texts listed the John 3:1-16 passage would fall under this category. However, the Scriptures also speak of our salvation as future. And if you look at the verb tenses that's what's going on in the Acts, Romans, and 1 Thessalonians passages that are listed. The Scriptures point us to our salvation as a future event that happens when Christ returns and our bodies are resurrected. We are not just spirits trapped inside an evil body. For the Calvinist in the debate (and here Lutherans would agree) they would point to the fact that in the Scriptures regeneration produces faith, it's not the result of faith.
WHEREAS, Prayer is God’s gracious means through which any person can communicate with Him and is everywhere in Scripture commanded and commended for every matter and every person (2 Chronicles 7:14; Matthew 7:7-11; Mark 11:17; Philippians 4:6); and
God does not hear the prayer of the unbeliever and this is part of the problem with the sinner's prayer. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins you are already a believer and it is certainly a good thing to thank God for this salvation He has given you but sinner's prayer makes it seem like your act of saying the prayer is what makes you a believer or Christian. For practical purposes the altar call and sinner's prayer end up replacing the gifts that God has given to us. The Scriptures speak of both baptism and the Lord's Supper as being for the forgiveness of sins and saving us. The Baptist doesn't believe this and so he replaces the sacraments with the sinner's prayer.
WHEREAS, Praying to God to express repentance for sins, to acknowledge Christ as Lord, and to ask for forgiveness and salvation is modeled in the Bible (Acts 2:37-38; Romans 10:9-10); and
In Acts 2 Peter says to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Peter doesn't say "Repent and say the sinner's prayer." He doesn't even say, "Repent and pray." Romans 10:9-10 says that those who confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord as an expression of their belief that God raised Jesus from the dead they will be saved. But it doesn't say that their salvation is a result of this action. In the book of Acts the calling on the name of the Lord is associated with baptism where the baptismal candidate would call on the name of the Lord and be baptized.
WHEREAS, While there is no one uniform wording found in Scripture or in the churches for a “Sinner’s Prayer,” the prayer of repentance and faith, acknowledging salvation through Christ alone and expressing complete surrender to His Lordship, is the biblical means by which any person can turn from sin and self, place his faith in Christ, and find forgiveness and eternal life (Luke 18:9-14, 23:39-43); and
Both the publican/tax collector and the thief on the cross cry out for mercy based upon their belief that God is merciful. They do not express complete surrender or anything like that (I think people are fooling themselves if they think they have completely surrendered themselves anyhow.). Instead they both essentially just cry out, "Lord, have mercy!" This is our continual cry based on our belief in who God is in Christ. This is not something we do to make ourselves born again but a confession of who we really are and who God really is. We sin daily and daily we receive God's forgiveness.
WHEREAS, It is biblically appropriate to help a sinner in calling on the Lord for salvation and to speak of Christ’s response to such a prayer as “entering a sinner’s heart and life” (John 14:23; Acts 2:37-40; 16:29-30; Romans 10:11-17; Ephesians 3:17); and
John 14:23 speaks of the Triune God entering into the believer. This is a promise given by Christ. The Triune God will abide in the believer. Jesus is not saying, "Say this sinner's prayer and then I will come and live in your heart." Acts 2:37-40 says to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 16:29-30 simply has the question from the jailer as to what he must do to be saved. I'm not sure what this has to do with anything. Romans 10:11-17 speaks of the salvation of all who believe and speaks of the believer expressing himself by calling on the name of the Lord (which was ordinarily done at baptism). Verse 14 also makes clear that Christ speaks through the pastor. But there's nothing about asking Jesus into your heart. In Ephesians 3:17, Paul prays that Christ would dwell in the hearts of those who are already believers in Ephesus. This isn't a prayer given to them to say to become Christians. Rather it is Paul's prayer for their daily spiritual needs.
WHEREAS, A “Sinner’s Prayer” is not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation and should never be manipulatively employed or utilized apart from a clear articulation of the Gospel (Matthew 6:7, 15:7-9; 28:18-20); now, therefore, be it
This is strange. In the Scriptures we don't really find altar calls and sinner's prayers but now we are fishing around for guidelines on how to use or not use the sinner's prayer. Matthew 6:7 warns against mindless babbling as found in pagan prayers. Matthew 15:7-9 warns against teaching that doctrines and practices that men come up with be taught as commandments from God. But it would seem that trying to pass a resolution promoting the "Sinner's Prayer" is just that. Matthew 28:18-20 says to make disciples by baptizing people not by having them say a sinner's prayer.
RESOLVED, That the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in New Orleans, LA, June 19-20, 2012, commend the use of a “Sinner’s Prayer” as a biblically sound and spiritually significant component of the evangelistic task of the church; and be it further
So says the commandments of men...
RESOLVED, That we encourage all Christians to enthusiastically and intentionally proclaim the Gospel to sinners everywhere, being prepared to give them the reason for the hope we have in Christ (I Peter 3:15), and being prepared to lead them to confess faith in Christ (Romans 10:9), including praying to receive Him as Savior and Lord (John 1:12).
Are you enthusiastic enough? That sounds like a commandment from men too. 1 Peter 3:15 says we should be ready to give an answer when people ask us about the hope that is in us. It doesn't say that every Christian is responsible to go proclaim the Gospel everywhere. If the guy who wrote these resolutions really believed that he wouldn't have time to write these resolutions. How do I know if I'm intentional enough? Romans 10:9 should give comfort to every believer. It's not a checklist to make other people do. God's Word does what it says. It doesn't need your help. John 1:12 isn't a command either. It's a description of what actually happens. The "Sinner's Prayer," just like the altar call, is a man-made tradition that finds its roots in 18th Century revivalism. The people who came up with it knew full well that this tradition was not found in the Scriptures. But for pragmatic reasons they thought it was a good idea. Then they went hunting for Biblical passages to support what they had already decided to do. And now it's reached the point that people wouldn't even know how to bring other people the Gospel without using it. The Gospel is not the "Sinner's Prayer." The Gospel is Christ-crucified. God has not promised to work through the "Sinner's Prayer." God has promised to work through His Word both in the preaching of the Word and in His Word in baptism.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Baptists vote to keep the Sinner's Prayer...again

Preuters News Agency

Meeting today in London, a convention of the world's Baptists narrowly endorsed the continued use of the Sinner's Prayer as the hallmark act of Christian conversion. Here is the final draft of the convention's statement on this issue:

"Baptists today again affirm the Sinner's Prayer as the act by which a sinner is justified before God. To be clear, it is not the recitation of the prayer itself that saves, nor is it necessary to endorse a set order of the words to be prayed, nor must the prayer be verbalized to others. What is necessary for salvation is this: A genuine, heartfelt prayer that 1.) acknowledges one's sinfulness and hopeless state of perdition before God 2.) cries out to God with true repentance of one's sins 3.) petitions God for his free gift of salvation 4.) asks Christ to indwell his heart/soul 5.) commits to abandoning his prior sinful lifestyle and promises to follow Christ and his righteousness."

Controversy over this statement simmered for the entire three days of the convention. A group of younger Baptists from the developing world pushed for the removal of the Sinner's Prayer from the Baptist Statement of Faith, declaring that it was unscriptural and lacked any evidence of use in the Early Church. These young people read statements from the Early Church Fathers from the convention podium, noting that requiring a prayer (spoken or thought) for salvation was unheard of in the Early Church. This assertion created quite a stir as many of the older convention attendees were not accustomed to hearing appeals to the "catholic" Church Fathers as a source of authority for Baptist doctrine.

The younger group put forward a new, brash, proposal as the new official Baptist Act of Christian Conversion:

"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins."

This proposal prompted outrage from the majority of convention attendees. One prominent Baptist pastor from the United States summed up the majority's sentiments by this statement:

"Too Lutheran."