By Chris Turner
Director of communications, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
The Commissioners for the Presbyterian Church in America recently voted to leave the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which the PCA had been connected to since the denomination’s founding in 1973.
The reasons for leaving were many, but at the heart of the split was disagreement over the direction the NAE has moved related to several social issues.
The NAE is an ecumenical organization that speaks on behalf of member evangelical denominations and churches. Most of the PCA’s commissioners felt the NAE’s position on politics, climate change, gay rights and statements of cooperation made with Muslims and Mormons had wandered in a direction incompatible with the denomination’s core tenets. Since its decision to leave two weeks ago, the PCA has taken criticism for being too narrow-minded.
It is important to note what is taking place in the PCA because Southern Baptists have received criticism for similar positions on the same issues.
Views on the doctrines of baptism, predestination and election aside, PCA churches and SBC churches actually have much in common, namely an unwavering commitment to the inerrant Word of God. And both denominations have similar takes on many of today’s social issues when filtered through a shared biblical worldview.
Both embrace the exclusivity of Christ, an understanding of humanity’s sinfulness, the need for repentance in salvation, a commitment to discipleship, and both have strong Great Commission commitments to missions in North America and around the world.
Still, many prognosticators predict both denominations will die if they continue, as they see it, being rigid, legalistic, narrow-minded and “exclusive.”
Being criticized for being legalistically dogmatic is one thing but being criticized for refusing to compromise Scripture to become more palatable to ever-shifting cultural trends is quite another.
Pundits interpret the denominations’ actions as the former. They don’t really get the latter. They don’t get that when culture and commitment clash, people of faith must stick with commitment.
It is possible to stand firm on the unchanging Word of God yet not be a Pharisee or cower to culture. Christians must exercise individual and collective humility, grace and love in communicating the gospel to others, seasoned with the wisdom to know which issues are of primary concerns — and therefore uncompromisable — and those that are secondary and of personal preference.
Within our respective denominations, we must know the difference between primary and secondary concerns.
Why? Because our ability to gracefully stand firm on the unchanging Word of God and communicate with humility, grace and love depends upon unifying around the primary tenets of faith that unite us rather than wasting inordinate amounts of time dividing over secondary issues.
Here’s where Southern Baptists tend to get lost in the weeds these days. We’ve got to get a handle on this. Nothing less than the hope found in our gospel witness is at stake.
A commitment to Christ, love for Scripture and love for one another is an unstoppable force in the proclamation of unadulterated Truth that can weather the world’s criticism. This is where we must stand. God commands it. We have no other options. Consider, if the Bible accommodates contemporary culture, then its contents are simply guidance from another relativistic religious system that has no authoritative governance over humanity.
If there be any hope of salvation and sanctification in the life of any human on planet earth, then all of humanity MUST conform to the standard established by a Holy God in His Holy Word, revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and received by grace alone through faith alone.
Anything less guts the gospel of its transforming power and relegates Christianity to “moralistic therapeutic Deism,” as sociologist Christian Smith has labeled it. The very thing at stake is “Christianity” as defined by culture or Christianity defined by Jesus Christ.
Overly dramatic? Yes, yes, it is. Critically so. B&R