My class on the Reformation wrapped up today with a look at the Baptist denomination, which arose from within the Puritanism of 17th century England. Near the end of the class we peeked ahead to the GARBC split from the Northern Baptists in 1932. As I prepared for the class, I was struck again by the similarities between the liberalism/fundamentalism controversy of the early 20th century and what seems to be happening today.
Only 1% of the Northern Baptists were considered liberal, but they were able to gain control of the denomination because the majority of Northern Baptists just wanted everyone to get along. The conservatives pressed for clear doctrinal positions, but they were voted down by the majority as intolerant and divisive.
Most thought that the conservative call for clarity was unloving. Why couldn’t they be content with vague generalities? Didn’t they care that clear statements of faith were bound to divide brothers and sisters who realized in the bright light of clarity that perhaps they disagreed in some important areas? Better to wink and get along than to be clear and risk breaking the bond of unity.
Isn’t this similar to what is happening today? Conservatives increasingly are asking key Christian leaders to clearly say what they believe: must you believe something to be saved? Is hell for real and forever? Is the Bible a revelation from God? Does Scripture teach that homosexual practice is sin?
Many leaders duck these questions, often answering with another question, saying that these are the wrong questions to ask, or questioning the motive of the person who asked it.
Here is my question: which person in this scenario does not love his neighbor? Many assume it is the one raising the question, for she appears to be the aggressor, putting the leader on the spot. I propose it is the obfuscating leader, for muddying the waters on purpose demonstrates disrespect for the listener. Teachers who love their students, pastors who love their people, and authors who love their readers take care to nourish their faith with truth. Those who conceal their actual beliefs (or bury them in the endnotes) likely care more about their own careers than the followers who depend on them for guidance.
It is not unloving to ask these leaders to clearly spell out what they believe. Considering the stakes involved, it would be unloving—both to them and to their followers—not to.