The BF&M 2000 and Calvinism Revisited!

The relevance of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is garnering a lot of attention today. Its popularity has soared in the last few years as the revival of Calvinism has found fertile ground in the entities of the SBC. A lot of attention has been focused on the diversity that is contained in the BF&M 2000 and the relevance of Calvinist leanings in the document. In fact, depending on who one talks to today, there are a growing number of references to the BF&M 2000 as being a Reformed document simply because Al Mohler was one of the fifteen members of a committee charged with the mission of re-writing the newer document. Someone recently made a comment to me personally that the committee relied heavily on Dr. Mohler “to work out the specific wording of the revisions from the BF&M 1963.” His take was basically Dr. Mohler’s presence on the committee completely overshadowed the other members and his obvious qualifications and expertise were relied on for the re-write. This individual concluded that this ought not to come as a shock to anyone.

At question is the reference to regeneration in Section 4 on Salvation. Calvinists begin with what they call total depravity or total inability which says that man is dead in his sin and he is enslaved to a sin nature that he has inherited from Adam. Not only does man inherit a sin nature which the BF&M 2000 acknowledges, Calvinists maintain that man inherits Adam’s guilt and is therefore guilty of Adam’s sin as well as his own and in order for him to even respond to the gospel, he must be given a new nature, a new heart or he must be born again so that he can then repent and exercise believing or saving faith. Consider the following quotes:

“A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved.” (Lorainne Boetner) “We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again that we may believe.” (John Piper) “Faith is the evidence of the new birth, not the cause of it.” (RC Sproul) “the revived [regenerated] heart repents and trusts Christ in saving faith as the only source of justification.” (ESV Study Bible, 2531.) [for a complete reference to the quotes above, see Dr. David Allen’s comments from his presentation at the John 3:16 Conference in Atlanta by clicking here. http://sbctoday.com/2013/05/15/dr-david-l-allen-2013-john-316-presentation-part-13/

As seen in the statements referenced above, Calvinists for the most part see faith as the evidence of the new birth; we are born again to believe and the most egregious statement, A man is not saved because he believes in Christ, he believes in Christ because he is saved! For most Calvinists, regeneration takes place and is initiated by God and by Him alone giving a lost man his salvation, period. It is God and God alone that decides who will and will not be saved; it is God and God alone who decides who will go to heaven and by default is solely responsible for determining who will die and spend eternity in hell. Here is the most amazing part of this discussion. These Calvinists are saying that this theology is consistent with the BF&M 2000 and because that is the adopted position of the SBC these guys deserve to teach in the seminaries of the SBC and serve in the entities of the SBC and they are actively seeking to grab hold of every ounce of influence their positions will allow and then some.

How does the BF&M 2000 justify being called a Reformed document? Where in the BF&M 2000 is this notion that men do not believe to be save but are saved to believe?

Section IV of the BF&M 2000 says the following about Salvation:

“Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.”

Consider the first sentence, “Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.” Salvation is “offered freely to all who accept Christ as Lord and Savior.” When an average person reads this statement, he sees God offering salvation to all and while one can read this sentence correctly that way, it can also be read with the emphasis on “all who believe.” Calvinists believe that those who believe are those who have been regenerated or effectually called to salvation and once that takes place, repentance and believing or saving faith automatically follow. So it is fair to say that this statement can “swing both ways.”

Look at the next phrase: “who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.” This statement is Calvinist leaning but in a way that someone not familiar with the nuances of the specific issues would not notice. Basically Calvinists will point to this statement saying “Jesus’ death on the cross obtained eternal redemption for the elect, who are those who believe.” The BF&M 2000 does definitely allow for that interpretation. Look at the next statement: “In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.” The 1963 statement leaves out “justification.” It read, “In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, sanctification, and glorification.” In the 63 statement, regeneration and justification were seen as basically the same thing; regeneration being “born-again” which is what justification accomplishes. So by adding justification, a distinction was made in the 2000 document and the Calvinists point to this distinction to say that regeneration precedes justification in the BF&M 2000, which is perhaps the most distinguishing mark of Calvinism.

Move on down to Section A: Regeneration. The wording of this section is unchanged with the exception of the final statement in the 63 version dealing with justification is now a separate Section B of its own, with no change in the language.

“Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus.” No problem right? Well maybe and maybe not. A work of God’s grace sounds so sweet to the Baptist ear that loves Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound. I have heard this hymn affectionately referred to as the National Anthem of Baptists. So being born again is a work of God’s grace. Amen. Calvinists and their Doctrines of Grace love it as well. Regeneration is a work of God’s grace where believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. This has tremendous implications where Calvinism is concerned. Through regeneration the lost person becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus. It is a work of God’s grace and not of man’s doing at all. It is amazing how words can be written that seem to say one thing to someone who is not familiar with the unique nuances of a particular theology and then as the theology is explained those nuances jump out in full view.

Here is perhaps the most detrimental statement in the confession. “It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Calvinists read this verse and say, “regeneration is a change of heart brought about by the Holy Spirit to which the sinner THEN responds in repentance and faith in Jesus and is justified or converted.” The non-Calvinist will read the statement in this way: “regeneration or being born again is a change of heart brought about by the Holy Spirit through the conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus and is saved.” The non-Calvinist sees “to which the sinner responds in repentance” referring to the work of the Holy Spirit that convicts men of sin while the Calvinist sees “to which the sinner responds in repentance” referring directly to regeneration that is a “change of heart” and they gloss over the convicting of sins because regeneration will automatically cause one to see his sin as God see it and he will naturally as a new creature repent.

At this point, the Calvinists have more than a leg to stand on in this debate that the BF&M 2000 leaves room for both the Calvinist and the non-Calvinist to both work together and to vie for leadership positions in the entities of the convention and to seek to influence the theological tenets for the future of the SBC.

There is a statement in the BF&M 2000 dealing with this issue of regeneration the Calvinists are overlooking. It is found in Section 2 C “God the Holy Spirit.”

Here is what this statement says:

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the
Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ.”

Note the following statement: “He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration.” Ok this is an interesting statement. Since there seems to be a good deal of confusion about just what regeneration means in the later section, perhaps this earlier statement will clear up the ambiguity in the later statement.

Here is the most damaging statement for the Calvinist position in the whole of the BF&M 2000: “At the moment of regeneration He (The Holy Spirit) baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” There is no ambiguity in this statement. Here regeneration is clearly identified as conversion and justification. Regeneration is not the cause and effect of repentance and believing and saving faith; regeneration is the result of repentance and saving faith because at regeneration the Holy Spirit baptizes first of all, “every believer” and then “every believer into the Body of Christ.” This statement is as clear as one can be. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit takes place at regeneration and the unregenerate becomes a “believer.” Repentance and believing faith have already taken place because they are essential to becoming a believer, which is what this statement says. Second, the indwelling Spirit baptizes the believer into the body of Christ.

Here is the final keg in the coffin for the SBC Calvinist . This sentence, “At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ” was added to the BF&M 2000 statement! It is not part of the 63 statement. So while Calvinists attempt to argue that the BF&M 2000 is a move back to historic Calvinism, this addition by itself negates the more ambiguous statements dealing with the timing of regeneration in the salvific process as presented in section IV on Salvation.

Perhaps it is time for trustees of the various entities to revisit the adherence to the BF&M 2000 that has been trumpeted as the fix all for the Calvinist revival in the SBC and see how they stand on “At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” Perhaps this is the statement that may hold the most hope for a renewed perspective on the BF&M 2000 and its relevance for the 21st century.

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