News stories from the Western Recorder, Associated Baptist Press, and Baptist Press recently reported that the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association (DMBA) in Kentucky denied membership to Pleasant Valley Community Church (PVCC) at least in part, apparently because of the strong Calvinism affirmed by PVCC. Baptist bloggers and denominational leaders quickly voiced their views about the association’s decision. Below are not only my own thoughts on the decision, but also on the way the decision was framed by some of the respondents >>>
The news journals gave little to no real help in understanding DMBA’s decision. Baptist Press merely republished the Western Recorder piece by Todd Deaton who appeared to show little interest except to gather a few quotes and string a story together. For example, nothing was mentioned about the non-baptistic history of PVCC as a non-denominational church. Nor that PVCC affirms no Southern Baptist confession of faith. Deaton did make sure readers knew that PVCC was a member of both the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC), two autonomous conventions neither of which requires a church to support a Southern Baptist confession. Many associations do including the DMBA1. The one issue which kept being pounded was Calvinism.
More confusing was Deaton’s quotation of Pleasant Valley’s pastor, Jamus Edwards, who claimed no identity with Calvinism because people frequently misunderstood it as he claimed DMBA did. Deaton writes:
Edwards disagreed, however, with the Calvinist label placed on the church, saying the congregation does not identify itself as such primarily because it is not “helpful in most contexts, but actually distracting and largely misunderstood, precisely like it was in this situation with the DMBA”
However, from the church’s confession, one can hardly deny the strong Calvinistic determinism explicitly stated. Nor is there much room to misunderstand. The PVCC confession states:
From before the foundation of the world, in order to display His glory, God freely and unchangeably ordained all things that would come to pass. From the casting of the lot, to the bird falling from the sky, to the activities of the nations, to the plans of politicians, to the secret acts of individuals, to what will happen to us tomorrow, to scheduling the very day that we will die, God has written our stories and the stories of the entire universe (p.21-22, PVCC Confession)
Leaving no room whatsoever for contingencies of any degree, PVCC makes a clear statement implying double predestination, decidedly the strongest form of High Calvinism, a form of High Calvinism every Southern Baptist confession of faith intentionally left behind. Indeed not even Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Abstract of Principles (AP) sports such a lofty, polemical view of God’s sovereign providence:
God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures
Noticeably absent from PVCC’s confession but explicit in the AP is an affirmation of humankind’s free moral agency. In fact, while PVCC can speak of human “responsibility” it explicitly denies what most Southern Baptists confessionally affirm—moral free will. The PVCC confession continues:
It is important to note that God has not made these determinations based upon any conditions that He foresaw in us or decisions that we would make of our own accord. Instead, God has decreed all things by the perfect and holy counsel of His will alone… . God’s choice of His elect was in no way affected, or conditioned by, some merit or deed that He foresaw these individuals would possess. Neither (as many argue) did God make His choice based upon those whom He foresaw “would” have chosen Him of their own will and accord (pp.22-23, emphasis added)
If God “decreed all things” which would be, then it follows He decreed sin (including the Fall) and throws Edwards’ denial of strong Calvinism to the wind. Furthermore, the PVCC confession rules out a priori an explanation of tension between the biblical teachings of God’s sovereignty and free moral agency which many, many Southern Baptists find satisfying, an explanation based, in part, on God’s foreknowledge2. Understand: PVCC is welcome to be as strongly Calvinistic as they wish. However, when the Pastor claims it does not wish to be identified with strong Calvinism but the church’s confession is clearly and undeniably High Calvinism—at least in its view of sovereignty—then the Western Recorder failed to give the public a true picture of the church’s theological stance.
Therefore, from my perspective, Deaton’s piece in the Western Recorder was much too sympathetic with the church’s position. DMBA observed proper protocol, and the Credentials Committee cited more reasons than Calvinism why they felt the church would not fit in with the association’s goals. If the Recorder wanted to offer a well-balanced piece, why it didn’t cite the church’s non-Baptist past, including no “mothering” from any Southern Baptist congregation along with PVCC’s explicitly formulated High Calvinism remains confusing.
More problematic than the Deaton story are some of the blog responses to the DMBA decision. Predictably, Founders Ministries came out swinging. Tom Ascol, Director of Founders Ministries, even accused the association of slander in his opening discharge, calling on both the SBC and KBC to respond to the “slanderous accusations of the DMBA and make their own public judgments about Pleasant Valley” (//link). And, just what would the SBC and KBC use as a measure to gauge their “public judgments” about PVCC? A check stub for “missions” monies and a letter received from PVCC that they would like to be in “friendly cooperation” with the respective conventions? Ascol knows better than this. And only those ignorant of the difference between general criteria for associational membership and state/national conventions would fall for his rhetorical nonsense.
Ascol goes on quoting from what he dubs the “the official report of the credentials committee--the one requested by and sent to Pleasant Valley Community Church” as if it is what was actually given to the association. It was not. Ascol quotes from what a member of the Credentials Committee sent to PVCC as some of its findings. It was a “working report,” an incomplete report, if you will. Apparently Pastor Edwards sent the document to Ascol. From my understanding, upon request, the “working report” was sent to Edwards as a courtesy before the final report was actually written. And, what does Ascol do? He quotes from an unfinished report. Supposing Ascol was on a committee and a person asked for a copy of their report in progress, I think I know how he’d react if someone began publishing snippets from the report as if it were the official report.
A more reliable commentary is Dr. Steve Lemke’s two part series (found here and here). Why Southern seminary professor and Kentucky pastor, Dr. Hershael York, showed up on Lemke's post to log what can only be viewed as a smartaleck remark remains curious. To Lemke's careful, judicious, and qualified reasoning about the DMBA, with a bit of snarkiness York writes, "Well, you certainly proved the wisdom of the dictums you ignored" (//link).
Perhaps York was only following through with his prejudicial opinion since the morning after the DMBA vote (and, if the timestamps are correct, even before the Western Recorder posted its piece), York was already tweeting his disappointment:
York makes it sound like the sole reason for non-acceptance was because they were "reformed", a term not even mentioned in any of the communications from the association or Western Recorder. The term "reformed," however, spoke volumes to hundreds of Southern seminary students--"ground zero" for the "young, restless, and reformed"--students many of whom undoubtedly follow York on Twitter. From the wording of this tweet, how could one conclude it was apparently not specifically worded to spark contention toward the association's decision? Nor does it apparently matter to York that his sister association followed the same protocol his own association follows for receiving new members. This is the kind of knee-jerk nonsense that stirs the dregs rather than calms the waters. It is also why respect from grassroots Southern Baptists toward many in leadership positions around the denomination continues to plummet downwards.
The truth is, Dr. Lemke cautiously guides us through looking at the issue through different lens. He rightly but gently chastises the DMBA for its sloppy language on Election. After citing the poor language the association used in describing its contention with “a confession that’s “Calvinistic in nature,” one that “affirms the doctrine of election and grace” denying that being such in itself is not “heresy,” Lemke correctly writes:
Clearly, this alone would not make the doctrine of Pleasant Valley Community Church unbaptistic. Article V of the Baptist Faith and Message is entitled “God’s Purpose of Grace,” and begins with the words, “Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which God regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end.” So belief in election and grace would make a church’s doctrine baptistic, not unbaptistic. The association would have to go into much greater detail than their statement does (at least, the part of it quoted in published reports) to clarify what they found problematic in PVCC’s doctrine. It would have been especially helpful to us outside observers had the association been more specific about the doctrinal issue involved (//link)
Unlike Ascol’s mocking response that DMBA rejected “a wonderful Southern Baptist church” because of its “fear and rejection and misunderstanding of doctrinal beliefs that are embedded in the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message”—a response hard to take seriously given what we know about the careful process pursued by the association—DMBA’s fault, it seems to me, lies more in poor communication than in ignorance of SBC doctrine. Even so, it must also be remembered that the report was not a report to the entire convention. The Credentials Committee was reporting to the association and to no one else. And, apparently the association was satisfied because there were few dissenters (104-9 to accept the report).
What do I personally think? Should a Baptist association disallow a church simply because of its Calvinistic leanings? The answer is, I don’t know actually. There exist far too many variables to say what an association ought to do, not the least variable of which is the democratic form of participation we employ as a standard. In other words, since an association is autonomous and democratic, I suppose it could be argued that the association ought to do what it deems best for the association. How is that determined? By voting.
Now, what I can say with a fair amount of authority is how I’d personally respond as to whether a Calvinistic church would get my vote for membership into an association with which I cooperate. My answer is simple: Yes. Calvinistic leaning in and of itself would not bar a church from participation. Would a full-5point Calvinist church make the grade for me? With a couple of deep swallows, yes it would (smile).
The real question, however, is would PVCC make the grade for me? Sadly, no—at least not yet. Why? a) no Southern Baptist confession; b) not only no Southern Baptist roots, no Baptist roots period; c) if the DMBA Credentials Committee is correct, the church displayed—perhaps unintentionally—a non-cooperative spirit; d) PVCC's bold affiliation with Acts29, an exclusively "Reformed" network which supports only "Reformed" church plants possessing exclusively "elder-ruled" leadership models...a network where 90%+ of all SBC churches would not be welcomed.
Could PVCC redeem itself for future participation in an association in which I participated? Yes. It would assist them if they adopted at least one version of a Southern Baptist confession.3 The church could also request an associational mentoring team be assigned to them or a sponsoring church to assist them in developing better communication about their heart and soul to the association. Apparently, they came across as cocky, arrogant, and non-helpful. With old Dale Carnegie I suggest that’s no way to win friends and influence people even in Baptist associations.
With that, I am…
1DMBA has as its official BFM the 1963 BF&M. Baptist blogger and Tennessee pastor, Jon Akin, attempted but failed to make this into a significant objection, calling into question DMBA’s non-adherence to the BFM2K
2or in Dr. Ken Keathley’s case, God’s “middle” knowledge
3it wouldn’t hurt to dump that 60 page white elephant they call their confession with its eternal rabbit chasing and post a simple confession or copy one from more nuanced, experienced writers