A Vote for Apostasy

The Southern Baptist Convention, numbering almost twelve million members, is the largest Protestant denomination in North America. Until recent times it has had the reputation of being one of the most orthodox of the larger church bodies. Evangelical Christians everywhere may well note with regret the ominous direction the denomination is now taking by a vote of its convention early this Summer. Christianity Today (June 23, pp. 29, 36) reporting on the decision called it “a watershed.”

Since January of 1970, there has been controversy among the Southern Baptists regarding the twelve-volume Broadman Bible Commentary being published by their Sunday School Board. At that time the publication of the first volume dealing with Genesis and Exodus aroused so much criticism because of the liberal viewpoints it expressed that the 1970 Convention decided that it should be withdrawn and rewritten along more conservative lines. That motion was adopted by a vote of 5,394 to 2,170—reflecting something of the strength of the churches’ conviction at that time that they must remain faithful in their commitment to the Bible.

Last year it was reported to the convention that the decision had not been carried out and it was decided that the author be replaced by another who was to carry out the 1970 decision. The vote, in this case, was weaker than the previous year 2,672 to 2,298. In the meantime more volumes of the commentary have been coming out expressing such opinions, according to Christianity Today as: the documentary hypothesis regarding the Pentateuch, that the book of Esther may be fiction, that Daniel was written much later than the events it records, that the Messianic psalms do not refer to Christ. that there were two Isaiahs, that Jesus did not walk on the water. and that the gospel of John was not written by the Apostle.

Despite this increasing evidence of the commentaries’ higher critical attacks on the Bible, this year’s convention meeting in Philadelphia reversed the position taken by the previous conventions, giving the Board, as Christianity Today‘s editor expressed it, “the green light to publish differing viewpoints, which in the plainest English means de facto endorsement and promotion of destructive higher critical views within the denomination.” The editor’s concluding comment also seems appropriate: “The pages of church history abound with examples of what happens when the full fruit of such a viewpoint is harvested -theologically liberal seminaries. defective churches, a declining interest in evangelism, and at last apostasy. This will ultimately be the unhappy course of the Southern Baptist Convention if the present action is not in turn reversed at the next convention.”

It is illuminating to read of the way in which the convention decision against recalling the liberal commentary had evidently been influenced by the stance of its president in his presidential address in which he made a plea for freedom and peace: “Our churches, have steadfastly refused to forfeit one whit of their freedom to interpret the Holy Scriptures for themselves in exchange for any creed or creed-like statement devised thus far.”

Minimizing the “battle of Genesis” he asked: “How can we justify fighting one another in order to preserve little zones of personal stability for ourselves when the vast majority of the world’s peoples have no hope of salvation, much less a philosophy of creation and inspiration?” That is the way the devil wins his victories in the church.

Peter De Jong is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Dutton, Michigan.