7/28/97 'Limited atonement' among themes amplified in annual conference
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--Calvinistic doctrines have a firm foundation in Scripture and a strong tradition in Baptist history, said speakers at the 15th annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Founders Conference, July 22-25 at Samford University, Birmingham, Ala.
"It needs to be said very plainly that the primary founders and leaders of American Baptists and Southern Baptists for the first 50 years of this convention believed these doctrines of grace," said Fred Malone, pastor of First Baptist Church, Clinton, La.
Malone defended the Calvinistic doctrine widely known as "limited atonement," which teaches that Christ died only for those whom God predestined for salvation. Malone said he prefers to call the doctrine "definite atonement" or "particular redemption."
"Our Lord died particularly for the sins of his elect people, accomplishing their salvation from beginning to end -- and for no one else," Malone said. "There is no one moment of suffering, not one drop of Jesus' blood that was wasted. His atonement actually accomplished the redemption for those whom he represented."
Malone cited several passages of Scripture to support the doctrine, such as Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (NIV).
"A husband loves his wife; he chooses her above all women," Malone said. "He is not to love all women the same. The Lord Jesus Christ loved the church, the given ones, and gave himself up for her."
Malone acknowledged several biblical passages seem to deny that Christ died only for the elect.
"No one denies that these passages are in the Bible," Malone said. "We have wrestled over these passages. We have studied. We have prayed. We have wept, some of us, (and) made life decisions that affected our family and our entire future, based upon our conscience held bound to the Word of God as we understand it.
"We do not claim to have all the answers on all of these passages, but neither can we cut out ... a multitude of other passages in the Bible," which teach limited atonement, such as Matthew 1:21, John 10, Romans 5 or Acts 20:28, Malone stated.
He noted some passages -- such as John 4:42, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:14 -- indicate Christ is the Savior of the world.
"But it is fitting with the rest of the Scripture that 'the whole world' means Jew and Gentile -- from every tongue and tribe and nation and people for whom Jesus died," Malone explained.
Malone suggested preachers should proclaim the gospel to all people as God's chosen way to call the elect to salvation.
Charles H. Spurgeon, a 19th-century Baptist Calvinist, "was accused of being promiscuous with the gospel offer. I hope we are so accused," Malone said.
Bill Ascol, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, Shreveport, La., stressed the importance of proclaiming and believing in God's sovereignty, which is a common Calvinist theme.
"This generation needs a revival of the sovereignty of God: an all-God gospel, God-centered ministries, preachers who preach utterly dependent upon God," Ascol said.
The Bible strongly teaches God is sovereign, and Christians need to be careful not to "make God over in our image," said Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington.
Dever spoke of his recent experience in chairing a doctoral seminar at an evangelical seminary. "One of the students in that seminar waxed eloquent for about 10 minutes about what he liked to think of God like."
When the student finished talking, Dever told him, "Thank you for telling us so much about yourself."
Dever cautioned a Christian should never be arrogant about being chosen by God for salvation. "A proud Calvinist should be an oxymoron, every bit as much as a carnal Christian."
Other speakers declared God is not unfair to choose some people for salvation while others will remain lost.
"The marvel should not be that some men receive their due judgment, but the marvel should be that anyone receives mercy," said Richard Belcher, a professor at Columbia International University, Columbia, S.C. "God only punishes the wicked for their sins while he extends grace to the elect. No injustice is done to the wicked if God saves one out from that mass of humanity."
Phil Newton, pastor of South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn., said Christians should see God as both righteous and just -- even when considering that God has predestined only particular people for salvation.
"We are to rejoice in the fact that when God saves a sinner, he does it out of his righteousness and justice," Newton said. "When God damns a sinner for eternity, he does it in his righteousness and his justice. We are to rejoice in this Lord. ... In salvation and in damnation, our God reigns in righteousness and justice."
Belcher cautioned against rejecting Calvinistic doctrines simply because one cannot understand them.
"If you wait to believe sovereign grace and sovereign election until you understand everything about it, you'll never believe it," Belcher warned, adding other Christian doctrines -- such as the Trinity -- are believed though not fully understood.
When Christians truly recognize God has chosen them for salvation, the result will be life-changing, Belcher said.
"If the doctrine of sovereign grace has not broken you and melted you and brought you to place that you are a sacrificial servant, then you've never understood the sovereign grace of God that saved you," Belcher said. "The deeper you go in sovereign grace, the greater will be your spirit of servanthood."
The Founders Conference is a loose-knit network of Southern Baptists Calvinists who say their doctrine was the theology of most early leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention during the 19th century.