TAYLORS, S.C. (BP)–The issue of Calvinism has been at the forefront of many articles and discussions in our convention.
A conference on Calvinism recently was held at Ridgecrest in North Carolina, co-sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries. Though I was unable to attend the conference, except for a very brief time of greeting, it is my understanding that the conference was a wonderful event where solid, healthy discussion took place.
This conference came on the heels of a major research study which was released almost simultaneously by LifeWay Research. I find the results to be quite fascinating.
The research portrays what many have imagined to be true. While around 10 percent of rank-and-file Southern Baptist pastors would consider themselves to be five-point Calvinists, a sizeable portion (29 percent) of recent seminary graduates would identify themselves in that particular way. In fact, over 60 percent of graduates of one of our seminaries identify themselves as five-point Calvinists.
The study concluded the following. First, Calvinist-led churches are in the minority, though the number is increasing. Second, Calvinism is on the rise among recent seminary graduates. If present trends continue, Calvinism will continue to grow as an influence in our convention. Third, Calvinist-led churches are generally smaller in worship attendance and annual baptisms than non-Calvinist churches. Fourth, church growth statistics in terms of annual baptism rates indicates there is little difference between Calvinist and non-Calvinist led churches.
Where does all this take us in the Southern Baptist Convention?
Most everyone who knows me knows that I am not a Calvinist. However, I have made it clear that I would be fair to those who are Calvinists in appointments in our convention. I have been true to my word. I believe that the issue of Calvinism is one that can be discussed within the family of Southern Baptists. I believe we need to have honest, open dialogue.
I also want to ask our seminarians, our churches and current pastors to be quite honest with their congregations. In fact, former SBC President Paige Patterson made perhaps the most practical of all suggestions in this regard. When seminarians are dealing with pastor search committees, he said, they need to be very honest about where they stand theologically in this and in every area. When pastor search committees approach pastors and seminary graduates about possible positions, they need to be very honest with these individuals about what they will allow regarding teaching in this area.
This requires Southern Baptists to be quite aware concerning the issues in Calvinism and non-Calvinism. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all Southern Baptists that we study the Word of God clearly to see what it says about the salvation given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us be peaceful, Christ-like in our discussions, but let us be diligent in our study.
Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.