Patterson, Pressler caution Baptists against detractions from evangelism

by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, posted Monday, November 15, 1999 (19 years ago)

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (BP)--The two men most often associated with the Southern Baptist Convention's conservative resurgence, speaking in Arkansas, urged caution toward any view that might detract the convention from its evangelistic mission.

Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson and retired Texas appellate court Judge Paul Pressler were among pastors' conference speakers Nov. 8 preceding the Arkansas Baptist State Convention's annual meeting at First Baptist Church, Springdale.

Patterson and Pressler met in 1967 to discuss concerns about the effect of liberalism on the proclamation of the gospel in the Southern Baptist Convention. They successfully led an effort within the SBC to reaffirm Scripture's authority by electing presidential candidates who would appoint individuals committed to biblical inerrancy.

Patterson, in fielding questions during a forum with pastors, expressed concern that pastors continue to invite people to receive Christ, while Pressler, speaking to a separate session, warned against embracing the charge that Southern Baptists exercise religious intolerance when they pray for the salvation of those who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior.

After dealing with the issues of church discipline, expository preaching and spiritual awakening, Patterson was asked about the influence of Calvinism within the SBC. Having dealt with the topic in his sermon to the SBC annual meeting last June, Patterson said that by "opening that can of worms you alienate a third of the audience no matter what you do."

Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, said he views John Calvin as a great theologian whose "Institutes of the Christian Religion" serve as "a marvelous systematic theology." Patterson took issue, however, with the reformer's habit of baptizing babies. "He even said they were automatically in the kingdom," Patterson recounted, describing such a practice as contrary to the Reformation position of salvation by grace through faith alone.

Having close friends who are five-point Calvinists, Patterson said he respects their commitment to the Bible as the Word of God and their belief in the reality of sin. Patterson identified "two streams that feed into the Southern Baptist river," describing the stream which grew out of Charleston, S.C., as very Calvinistic and Reformed in its thinking, emphasizing divine election. "It reminds us of something that is absolutely true -- that God is sovereign and nobody is ever saved by anything they do, but totally by an act of God."

He described the stream emerging from Sandy Creek, N.C., as very revivalistic, further clarifying that it is "not Arminian, but certainly not five-point Calvinistic." Pouring into that same river an emphasis on human responsibility, Patterson explained, "It says everybody is responsible to God for repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ."

Patterson appealed to his audience to hear each other carefully and avoid fighting over the distinctions. Pressed by another listener as to whether those who hold to Calvinism, often called "the doctrines of grace," are to be accepted as part of the convention, Patterson reiterated that the Baptist Faith and Message is the SBC's agreed-upon, adopted statement of faith.

"There's plenty of room under the umbrella for anyone who is anything from a one- to five-point Calvinist," Patterson said, stipulating that any Southern Baptist would have to agree upon the perseverance of the saints to keep from being an Arminian.

"There's room for a two- or three-pointer like me, provided he can explain what is meant by two and three. There's room for four- and five-pointers whom I believe lack scriptural justification for that, but I'm certainly not in favor of running them out."

Patterson described Southern Baptists as a people who believe the Bible to be the Word of God as their final authority, that salvation is by grace through faith alone and that adult-like faith witnessed by believer's baptism provides a testimony to a watching world. "If we believe those things all fall within the purview of the Baptist faith, then there's plenty of room for all of us in these various emphases that we bring. I think they're all very helpful."

Patterson said his only caution to Calvinistic brethren lies in their expression of evangelism and missions. "Any person who holds to five-point Calvinism will never be in any danger in this convention as long as he does not allow it to lead him to unscriptural conclusions -- such as we ought not to give invitations and things like that. When he gets to that point, either implicitly or explicitly, it has now become a hindrance to evangelism and missions."

Patterson encouraged five-point Calvinists to follow Spurgeon's example, quoting the famous preacher as having prayed, "God save all the elect, and then elect some more."

Patterson added that he found no scriptural support for the doctrines of irresistible grace or limited atonement as espoused by Calvinists. "I'm easy to convince. I stand under the Word. Bring me the Bible and show me where it says grace is irresistible and if you're the elect God's going to pursue you like the hound of hell."

He argued that the Bible advocates "the exact opposite" of a belief in limited atonement. "It says he died not only for our sins, but also the sins of the whole world. That is an unlimited atonement if I've ever read anything at all," Patterson maintained.

In a separate session, Pressler, a member of First Baptist Church of Houston and author of the recently published "A Hill on Which to Die" account of his involvement in the conservative resurgence, spoke to pastors about a new battle that Southern Baptists will face outside of SBC life.

Having battled secular humanism, Pressler said today's fight challenges religious humanism, describing a philosophy "that says it doesn't make any difference what you believe because truth is one and the paths are many."

Illustrating his concern by reading from that day's Houston Chronicle, Pressler related coverage of a demonstration by Hindus and Jews outside Houston's Second Baptist Church. More than 100 people decried "religious intolerance" in response to a booklet published by Southern Baptists which calls for the conversion of Hindus. One of the demonstrators was quoted as saying that "truth is one and the paths are many," Pressler said, adding, "In other words, there are many ways to God."

The article also quoted a Jewish protester who said, "'This is absurd to say that Jesus is the only way,'" calling such a conviction "Middle Ages stuff."

Pressler said the report coincided with protests in India against Pope John Paul II over his appeal for conversion within that country to Catholicism.

Rejecting the charge of intolerance, Pressler responded, "The intolerance comes when you tell somebody else that he does not have a right to believe what he wants to believe. To have these people say we are not going to allow the conversion of individuals in India to Christianity means they are so intolerant that they deny the freedom of these people to listen to the marketplace of ideas and choose what they want to choose."

Pressler spoke of earlier coverage in the newspaper's religion section concerning one man's promotion of Buddhism, the building of a Mormon church, a feature on a fringe sect and attempts to redefine the Christian doctrine of salvation.

Southern Baptists were described in the latter article as "the ones who will not cooperate with others because Southern Baptists say there's only one way to heaven," Pressler recounted.

"This was said in derision," Pressler said, "but I take it as one of the greatest compliments that could possibly be said of Southern Baptists."

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