Thursday, September 13, 2007

Southern (Baptist) Gentlemen

Tom Ascol said, Paige Patterson once told him:

"I have learned what I would never have imagined to be true--that so many Southern Baptist pastors are cowards." He went on to explain that a common refrain he was hearing went like this: "I am with you, brother. I believe in inerrancy and think we need to take a stand, but because of my position, I am not able to come out and speak on this openly."

I'd like to add something to Dr. Ascol's statement here.

I find it rather ironic, if not frankly hypocritical, that those who would agree to these statements then would do something else now when talking about Calvinism in the SBC. In the standard anti-Calvinist sermon or "white paper" that we hear or read seemingly every few months, we inevitably hear about "certain seminaries," "professors," "young men and women," "some churches," and other like comments. No names are mentioned. Jack Graham did this in sermon a couple of years ago as I recall. I think Nelson Price has made similar comments in recent months.

I've said this before - I come from the generation that was told frequently from the pulpit that we shouldn't be afraid to point out error and name names. However, when we do so we are told we are wearing our Calvinism on our sleeves or are not acting like "gentlemen" by naming names.

This leads me to a few more thoughts.


1. As a matter of principle, should we always avoid a harsh, judgmental tone?

2. Assuming an affirmative answer to (1), are there times when (1) is inappropriate.

I'd answer both in the affirmative.

My problem is with the imposition of an unscriptural speech code (eg. 1), as if Christians should always use the same tone with everyone, and that tone should always be sweet and buttery.

To insist on such a speech code is unscriptural legalism—trying to be more pious than the Bible. We've been over this many times on this blog. Being a Christian or calling yourself a Christian does not mean we use a sweet buttery tone or language. Likewise, if you are a chronic liar - and this is demonstrable, it is not out of bounds to refer to you as a chronic liar. There's a purpose there - not to denigrate you - but get your attention. Implicitly, it's a call for you to correct your misrepresentations and/or repent of your behavior.

Second, to the matter of "gentlemanly" speech. What I think this most often means isn't so much, as Steve (Yankee that he is ... sorrry Steve, it's just a fact), the effeminization of Christian behavior, rather, in the South, it's the way modern Southerners express themselves. Let's face it, in the South, we say, "Bless your heart, "and we really mean, "Go to hell." We say one thing and do another, often to maintain a certain appearance of decorum. Southern English can the language of ignorance, like Gomer Pyle, or the language of seduction, like Gone With the Wind, all in the same breath.

However, is this the way our ancestor Southern Baptists acted? No.

Allow me to recount a couple of stories from Baptist history to illustrate.

R.B.C. Howell was one of the greatest leaders of the early SBC. Howell helped found the Convention. He founded The Baptist, today known as The Tennessee Baptist and Reflector, Tennessee’s state Baptist newspaper. He was SBC President from 1851 – 1859, serving also as president of the FMB, the Bible Board, and the First Sunday School Board. He was, like the other Founders, a “Five-Point” Calvinist, affirming simple worship, the providence of God, church discipline, and the universal preaching of the gospel. Howell also believed the unity of the Convention was necessary if it was going to survive. In 1857, after pastoring in Virginia, First Baptist Nashville urged Howell to return.

Howell had first come to First Baptist Nashiville after the church had been ravaged by the Campbellites. Under his leadership, they rebuilt their church and even found a new building, for the old one had been lost. When Howell returned, he and J.R. Graves butted heads almost immediately. This time, the controversy was over the Southern Baptist Publication Society.

Graves had been using his own company, the rival Southern Baptist Sunday School Union to compete with the Publication Society. Howell openly opposed Graves efforts. This led to high drama, for the two men were in the same church!

On September 28, 1858, two members of First Baptist Nashville called for Graves to be tried in a church court for slandering the pastor, for sowing division, for libeling Southern Baptist leaders in his newspaper, and for uttering falsehoods in nine different specifications. On October 12, Graves demanded the charges be dropped. The church voted 91 to 48 to proceed with the trial. In nine meetings in which Graves was not present and not represented, he was found guilty and excluded from the church.

Graves refused the discipline of his local church (contrary to his own ecclesiology) and 46 of his followers declared that First Baptist Nashville was not a valid church and they were the one true First Baptist Church. Later, they took the name State Street Baptist. Graves then proceeded to use his influence in Tennessee Convention to exclude First Baptist Nashville from having its messengers seated. His bid was successful. He further called a meeting of Concord Association in March 1858 to overthrow the actions of First Baptist Nashville. In so doing, he violated his own ecclesiology which affirmed absolute local church autonomy.

Now obviously quite proud of himself, he decided he would repeat his victories at the next Southern Baptist Convention in Richmond. He also decided he would confront Howell.

The Richmond Convention of 1859, however, had different ideas. They seated the messengers of Graves’ church and those from First Baptist Nashville. The Convention messengers then elected Howell SBC President on the first ballot. Furthermore, after a full day of debate over whether or not to close the FMB, in which Graves spoke at length, the Convention refused to close it. Graves attempted to take the power to choose, appoint, direct, support, and examine missionaries from the FMB based on the notion that only churches or associations should engage in these activities. The Convention’s vote was unanimous.

They did agree to help those churches wishing to appoint their own missionaries. Howell resigned the presidency in order to promote unity. This would set a pattern, for, when Landmarkists intersected with the Convention in matters of missions, they were refused. This also set another precedent. Since that time, churches may affiliate themselves with any level of the denomination. Churches not members of their own state conventions may be members of the SBC and vice versa. Notice that names were named, but nobody objected to it. The objections were rather consistently the libelous nature of what was said. It's fine to name them, just don't lie about it in the process.

Before the Howell-Graves controversy, while Waller and Graves were arguing at each other in their respective newspapers, what started out as a conflict of personalities in Georgia took on a theological dimension. The personalities involved read like a “Who’s Who” of Baptist history. They were Patrick Hues Mell, John L. Dagg, and Nathan Crawford at Mercer. This conflict had both immediate and long term effects on Landmarkism. On the one hand the discussion highlighted the growing conflict over Landmark ecclesiology; on the other, in the midst of this, Dr. Dagg would refine his ecclesiology and refute Landmarkism quite soundly in his Manual of Theology.

In 1854, Dr. Dagg resigned from the presidency of Mercer at the age of sixty, because he believed the work had become burdensome. The trustees acceded to his request but asked him to stay on as Professor of Theology. The trustee’s public statement explained Dr. Dagg’s resignation was due to his failing health.

This was the day when Southern men considered such a claim, if untrue, to be akin to questioning one’s manhood or honor. Moreover, Dr. Dagg’s eyes failed in 1824. He was functionally blind with respect to his ability to write, having to rely on an amanuensis or avail himself of a board he had invented for himself and the help of his wife, who dotted “i’s” and crossed “t’s” for him. He fully admitted that he regarded his infirmities the chief trial from the Lord, although inscribed with love from Him. Dr. Dagg had not cited health reasons for his resignation, so Dr. Dagg protested, and the ensuing disagreement caused division between the faculty and the board. Dr. Dagg requested the faculty testify to the board in his favor. All of them except Nathan Crawford complied with his request. The board then decided to select a new president. Their candidates were P.H. Mell and Crawford.

The faculty opposed Crawford, but Crawford was elected to the presidency. Mell and Crawford’s relationship soured to the point that the two men, who lived across they way from one another, did not speak. Friction between the faculty and trustees continued to grow.

In 1855, Professors Dagg, Hilyer, Mell, and Crawford all left Mercer. They were eventually persuaded to return, unitl Crawford resigned again and charged Mell with the vague charge of acting with hostility toward the president. After meeting in October, the board voted to remove Mell. Dr. Dagg left in 1856, as did Hilyer, and, in a supreme twist of irony, Crawford left to Mississippi.

One could easily write off these events as foreshadowing the high drama of the 20th century prime time soap operas, little more than a conflict of personalities. However, these men are regarded as “Baptist Fathers,” regarded by Southern Baptists very like the Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers to whom the Roman Catholic Church appeals. For this reason alone, one should take a second look. The conflict between these men went deeper than personalities and offended honor, for they differed over ecclesiology.

Crawford was a Landmarkist. In Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects, Mell asserted that believers in other denominations were Christians and their ministers were validly recognized as ministers of the gospel. Landmarkists believed only local churches, naturally Baptist churches, could validly ordain ministers. Ergo, only Baptist ministers were valid ministers in their view.

Landmarkists like Graves and Pendleton, and now Crawford, insisted that the New Testament uses the word “ecclesia” in only one sense, with reference to local congregations.

Pendleton wrote:

If Pedobaptist societies are not churches of Christ, whence do their ministers derive their authority to preach? Is there any scriptural authority to preach which does not come through a church of Christ? And if Pedobaptist ministers are not in Christian churches, have they any right to preach? That is to say, have they any authority according to the gospel? They are doubtless authorized by the forms and regulations of their respective societies. But do they act under evangelical authority? It is perfectly evident to the writer that they do not. It would be strange indeed for them to act under a commission, some of the injunctions of which they utterly disregard. The ordinance of baptism in its action and subject they pervert. They change the order of the ascending Savior’s last commission, and administer what they call baptism to infants who give no proof of discipleship, and who are naturally incapable of going through the process of discipleship. Are we at liberty to bid those men "God speed" and aid them in deceiving the world, by acknowledging their societies as churches, and themselves as veritable gospel ministers, who invert the order established by the Head of the church?

Would Pedobaptists recognize as a minister of Christ a good man whom they consider unbaptized, and consequently disconnected from what they would term every "branch of the church?" They would not. They would say to such a man, "We would not judge your heart—we do not deny your piety, etc., but we cannot countenance you as a preacher as long as you remain unbaptized and sustain no ecclesiastical relation." This is in substance what they would say, and I ask if Baptists should not look on Pedobaptist ministers just as the latter would look on unbaptized men who might choose to go forth and preach? If Pedobaptists are unwilling to recognize as ministers of the gospel men who, in their judgment, have never been baptized, why should Baptists be expected to do so? Consistency, so far from requiring it, requires the very opposite. Pedobaptists cannot reasonably complain of us, for in this we act on the principle which their practice sanctions. Believing their preachers unbaptized, we cannot with the shadow of propriety recognize them as gospel ministers. If Jesus Christ intended that his ministers should be the servants of the church—and have the sanction of the church in their work—who can be a minister of Christ, according to the gospel, without belonging to the church? No one will say that a church can send forth a man to preach who does not belong to her body, and over whom she has no jurisdiction. The writer does not say there are not pious, devoted men in the Pedobaptist ministry, but he denies that they have scriptural authority to preach. He denies in reference to them just what they would deny in reference to a pious Quaker minister. The so-called baptism of a Pedobaptist preacher is no more authority for preaching than the no-baptism of a Quaker. The former is as evidently out of the church as the latter. It is as well to discard an ordinance altogether as to pervert and caricature it. Neither Pedobaptists nor Quakers have baptism among them, and "where there is no baptism there are no visible churches."

Now, if Pedobaptist preachers do not belong to the church of Christ, they ought not to be recognized as ministers of Christ. But they are so recognized wherever Baptist ministers invite them to preach or exchange pulpits with them. As to calling on them to pray, it is a different matter; for men ought to pray whether they are in the church or not. But they ought not to preach unless they have membership in the church of Christ. To this all will agree, who have scriptural baptism, as well as those who substitute it for that which is no baptism.

Mell insisted that the New Testament traded on the use in two senses, essentially accusing the Landmarkists of committing the fallacies of semantic inflation and semantic anachronism. Mell said that the New Testament refers to the church as the whole body of believers in heaven and earth at any point in history and as a local assembly. In his volume Corrective Church Discipline: With Development of the Scriptural Principles Upon Which It is Based (1846), Mell again refuted the Landmark tenets on the same grounds.

Crawford responded in his review of Corrective Church Discipline by A.S. Worrell. Crawford seems to have taken Mell’s work personally, as he says in his introduction that Mell’s work motivated his review of Worrelll’s book. Crawford attacked Mell’s definition of the church, insisting it refers only to the local assembly. Mell had also insisted that the actions of one Baptist church were binding on another. Crawford insisted on local church autonomy. In his own Manual of Theology, published in 1858, Dr. Dagg disagreed with Crawford and generally agreed with Mell’s definition of the church, but he further agreed with Crawford and disagreed with Mell on the autonomy of the local church, but denies that local churches are completely independent of each other. He views that as an ideal if all men are sanctified and living rightly, but, unless the churches are connected in some manner, there is no way to adjudicate division. There are cases, because we live in a fallen world, that outside help must be sought. This does not, however, mean that the actions of one church are binding upon another. For elsewhere, he argues that, in matters in which two local churches disagree, as in the case of baptisms, no one church may impose its answer to a difficult case on another, regardless of the position each church takes, as long as that position is based on reasonable evidence and appropriate argumentation. Dagg’s work would have long lasting influence, for it became a standard reference for those opposed to Landmarkism.

Even after Mell’s dismissal, the controversy engulfed the Georgia State Convention. Perhaps foreshadowing the rise of blogs in the 21st century as a means to present “the other side of the story” Mell wrote An Exposition of Recent Events In Mercer University, which he made available to all, in which he accused the trustees of having unjustly removed him without giving him an opportunity to defend his actions. He also detailed what he perceived as a personal conflict with Crawford going back as far as 1855. Mell further questioned the board’s actions, stating that barely a quorum was present and the charge of hostility to the president was vague and non-specific. Absent specific charges, Mell refused to believe he had been discharged with just cause. He further insisted that there could be only one basis for his dismissal, Crawford’s resignation. He complained he had not been allowed to face his accuser. Mell charged the board with conducting an unethical caucus among themselves in an effort to decide their verdict beforehand, without giving him a reasonable, impartial hearing.

Mell stated his pamphlet was intended as a public record of these events. As a result, the Georgia Convention was forced to intervene. They appointed a committee to investigate the matter in 1856. Later, they concluded the trustees decision should stand, but not in a manner that would impugn Mell’s good character. Mell went on to be offered the presidencies of Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi and Cherokee Baptist College in Cassville, Georgia. He declined both offers in order to serve the churches. Later, he taught languages at the University of Georgia, where he later served as president. He remained there for the rest of his life, despite repeated attempts by other colleges and universities to get him to teach or preside over their institutions. He was also a staunch defender of the faith, especially against those who attacked the doctrines of grace and made it their goal to exterminate Calvinism from the earth. When discussing Russell Reneau, who made it his business to exterminate Calvinism from the earth, Mell regarded such individuals as both arrogant and vain. Reneau was the perennial anti-Calvinist. Referring to Reneau (and one would say foreshadowing every anti-Calvinist who has spoken in recent history), Mell wrote in Predestination and the Saints' Perseverance, “"Calvinism has never heard of him before, and if its advocates ever think of him hereafter it will never be in a connection flattering to his vanity."

We could on and on. One need only read a standard theological work, newspaper article, or pamphlet of that era to know they named names and documented their charges. If an assertion was "libelous" it was exposed. This isn't simply a "Baptist thing" either. The theologians of the High Orthodox era in the previous centuries named names too. The Presbyterians of the 19th century did so as well. Granted they often named representative theologians - but they still named names, and that's the point.

As Tom Ascol once said, on the one hand we are excoriated for wearing our Calvinism on our sleeves. On the other, if we don't come right out and say it, we're told we are being deceptive. We were told we should not be cowards, but if we name names, we are "sowing division" or "being disrespectful." Such accusations say more about the accusers than they do us. The younger leaders in the SBC (and even in the Independent churches), not just Calvinists, but in general are feeling the same way about many things these days. We were told to take the Bible seriously. We were told to stick to the Bible. We were told to name names and not be cowardly. However, when we speak out about our theological conclusions and they are different than those of the older generations, as in the case of the doctrines of grace, and we reply that we believe as we do because of what we have found in the Scriptures - the way Luther, Bucer, Zwingli, et. al. once did - we are excoriated from pulpits. Our names are not named by men who told us to name names, but then when we do so ourselves - as we were told to do when we were younger - we are accused of sowing division. This is sad; we should be able to comport ourselves in a "gentlemanly" fashion as did our forefathers in all of these matters.


  1. "very like the Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers to whom the Roman Catholic Church appeals."

    This made me laugh. Who does not appeal to the church fathers? Calvin did. Barth did. The SBC does. Everyone who recites the Nicene Creed does.

    However I think in some senses this article is very true. The ones in power do not want to give up any to the new young leaders who oppose them. That is true. The problem is many cannot get behind leaders like Ben Cole or others like him. They do not mind him naming names but do not like his vendetta against Patterson nor his methods. There is a difference between naming names and telling the truth vs. being like the Corinthian church by being quick to speak,slow to listen and having a sharp tongue.

    I also do not think one should be judging one's behavior based on what early Baptists did. I know I would not want to base the way I relate to someone on the early Baptists or Calvin.


  2. I also do not think one should be judging one's behavior based on what early Baptists did. I know I would not want to base the way I relate to someone on the early Baptists or Calvin.

    The point, Edwin, is that those who are frequently the most guilty of this inconsistency are the ones who frequently appeal to "Baptist tradition" to ground their argumentation. Take a look @ some of the ecclesiological arguments about the IMB's baptism policy, for example. "Baptist tradition" was trotted out quite a bit, and not as an ancillary argument.

  3. SBCer's reference the early church fathers? Where?


    Good points, Gene. One of the other things relating to some of your points is that if you blog and/or name names of the anti-calvinists and their material you're a divider, etc.

    And how should we think of those SBC leaders who've written, preached and published anti-calvinist material yet now want to act as if they've been the peacemakers?


  4. Calvin said that he did not appeal to the fathers, he did mention them, not as precedence, but to show that the thoughts and postitions he had taken were not novel. The churchmen and academics were constantly citing the fathers as authoritative for their traditions. Calvin, like Luther before him in his contest with Erasmus, was only finding parity, what's good for the goose is gravy for the gander. They both made it clear that the final appeal had to be Scripture, not the fathers.

    If we cite them and what they say is truth, then the citation is worth every syllable.

    That sidesteps the issues, however. Name calling and innuendo, slander should have no place. If charges are made, sign the document and stand with hammer in hand not denying it was anothers thesis that was nailed to the doors.

    The "war" will get bloody. Those who detonate IED's, need to stand take responsiblity for them. It cannot be laid at the foot of the innocent that their blood is shed. Bridges cannot be built when the SBC operates as political opponents meeting is smoke-filled rooms deciding the fate of the SBC in secret. Unfortunately, Land's ethics seem to overlook the necessity to demand disclosure and establishing means to resolve the tensions that exist. The office he holds has become empty of meaning without a mechanism in place where accusations can be presented and challenged.

    Others among the SBC leadership should know that if they do not form some kind of courts of appeal to hear cases of slander, that they alone will bear the weight of the demise of the SBC.

    Should we base our behavior on Calvin? You do know his character, right? He was pastor, church planter and as described by those who knew him, the most humble of men. Quite different was Luther, called the master of scatology, quick tempered and not very in control of his mouth. Kinda like David whose impetuous character was both self-destructive and convicting.

    The problem becomes the cure. We have created an pseudo-world where everyone must assemble dressed with masks that portray the same comic character. It is proposed that if we just march in lock step, everything will be okay. Patching over rotted walls never works. It is only time before the structure becomes so unstable it collapses in ruin. Though the prophet might dig in the wall to show it to the people, he is often met with complaints that he has damaged the wall.

    How do we sustain a belief in liberty of conscience without the freedom to express truth? When the biblical means of discovery is to expose all things to the light of God's word, how will it help if the accusing parties refuse to establish all things in the mouths of two or three witnesses, and that made manifest in the congregation?

    Cowards set IED's, they terrorize from the shadows so that their evil is not exposed. To mention Corinthians, are we not competent to judge between ourselves what is truth?

  5. "The point, Edwin, is that those who are frequently the most guilty of this inconsistency are the ones who frequently appeal to "Baptist tradition" to ground their argumentation. Take a look @ some of the ecclesiological arguments about the IMB's baptism policy, for example. "Baptist tradition" was trotted out quite a bit, and not as an ancillary argument."

    Okay I have no problem with that which I stated in my reply.


  6. "SBCer's reference the early church fathers? Where?"

    have you been to a Southern Baptist seminary lately? Have you spoken to scholars sho are SBC? And again they appeal to the Fathers when they accept the nicene version of the Trinity. (at least to some extent they do and so did Calvin and Luther.)


  7. "Calvin said that he did not appeal to the fathers, he did mention them, not as precedence, but to show that the thoughts and postitions he had taken were not novel. The churchmen and academics were constantly citing the fathers as authoritative for their traditions. Calvin, like Luther before him in his contest with Erasmus, was only finding parity, what's good for the goose is gravy for the gander. They both made it clear that the final appeal had to be Scripture, not the fathers."

    Firs i did not say they anyone made the fathers their final appeal. That is not the point. But what dos it mean to say that Calvin did not appeal to the fathers but just used them to state that what he argued for was not novel? He obviously appealed to them when he was saying that what he was saying was not novel.

    Also Calvin did appeal to them. It has been argued pretty succesflly that what many of the reformers were not against traditon or the Fathers but believed that the Roman Catholic church had strayed away frm the true faith.

    "Should we base our behavior on Calvin? You do know his character, right?"

    Yes I know a too well. He took church discipline too far. You do know about his history with some of the people he disagreed with right? Take a look at his life and I think you will find why I think that we should not emulate him in regards to ecclesiastical methods. But i am not too hard on Calvin because many of his time were like him. Heck Zwingli was the first one to martyr another protestant.

    And my point about the Corinthians was that there is a place for naming names but one should always act like a christian when doing it.


  8. You, Sir, are no gentleman...