“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” 1 Cor 15:3
I grew up in an environment that was very much black and white. You were either in or you were out, you were right or you were wrong, you toed the line or you stirred up strife. There was very little freedom to ask questions and if you did, you were given the standard, rote answers. There was no freedom to think through doctrinal positions, nor did categories exist for our theology. This spirit can be soul-crushing and ultimately it rots a church from the inside out. Contending for the faith (Jude 1) does not mean being contentious.
Unfortunately, the Southern Baptist Convention is desperately in need of a reminder that some things are of “first importance” while other things are best left alone. Debates over critical race theory, intersectionality, the role of women in ministry, and social justice dominate the discourse. I am not so naive as to think that I have the solution to these problems. However, at our little church, we can control the conversation. At Antioch, we emphasize and preach the doctrines of grace. Grace is easy to receive, but sometimes hard to give. Grace means that we walk in patience with one another. Grace means that we forbear one another in love. Grace means we don’t force people to see everything exactly as we do. Grace means we give people time to understand the complexities of Biblical doctrine. While we don’t shy away from a robust, reformed, biblical theology, we must also recognize that embedded within this theology is a willingness to slowly walk with our brothers and sisters in patience, love, and yes, grace. Grace is not only vertical, but it is also horizontal. Discipleship is a process and we’re all in different places.
So how are we to react when confronted with a different doctrinal or social perspective? Listen. Is it a matter of first, second, or third importance? Is it a “foolish controversy” that is best avoided (cf. Titus 3:9)? Is the individual a new believer? Is he or she new to reformed theology? Is the position detrimental to the covenant community? Are you willing to search the Scriptures with the individual together? Is this something best addressed with the elders? In short, what is happening within the convention is a shame. Common courtesy has gone right out the window. But, I’m convinced that Antioch stands as a grace-filled community of believers. This is special, and rare in this day and age. This is worth protecting. Our children and grandchildren will thank us. As Augustine said so many centuries ago, “In essentials, unity; In non-essentials, liberty; In all things, charity.”
For His Glory,