April 20, 2009

Southwestern Seminary Does Not Affirm Ecumenical "Tomfoolery"

The Union Movement does not go out with the idea of allegiance to doctrine and loyalty to the teachings of Jesus Christ. It goes on a spiritual camouflage of these doctrines. It asks the people to lay down their convictions of the truth. They propose for [...] all to lay down their former convictions and go into a church of scrambled religion. The church they would organize would sprinkle, pour and immerse. You would not have to claim any experience of grace to become a member. If you were opposed to baptism in any form or mode you could get in. You would neither have to have religious conviction nor moral character to be a member. You would have no distinctive doctrine to bind you. You would have to be led solely by a desire to get together in some form of worship so that you would save money in church buildings and local expenses, and be more efficient, as they think. All this sort of molly-coddle talk is tomfoolery. It is against the strength of character produced by conviction and allegiance to the truth of God. I am for Unionism as far as men can unite on a conviction and a loyalty to the Word of God and Jesus Christ. I am not for a patched up, convictionless Unionism. Unless there is unity in faith, doctrine and practice there can be no union and successful effort following. Christ laid down a program for uniting all people. It was that they should all repent of their sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and by open and public confession of their faith in Him, by a baptism which was an immersion in water, and by a union with His regularly constituted church, followed by a life of loyalty to Him and His truth as laid down in the New Testament, and of heartful and spiritual service for the winning of the world to the Savior and the building up of His glorious kingdom. Any union of religion based on any other program is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and cannot hold and will not hold together. If men cannot agree on the doctrines of the Word of God they should not unite in a church through which they propose to worship and serve God. But they can and should co-operate as far as their convictions of the truth will allow them, for the general good and uplift of humanity.
L.R. Scarborough, Editor-in-Chief, or C.B. Williams, Managing Editor, The Southwestern Journal of Theology, 3.1 (1919): 5-6


  1. Anonymous4:39 PM

    Dr. Yarnell,
    Is this post directed at anything particular or did you simply find this quote to be edifying?

    In Christ,
    Matt Emerson

  2. Excellent quote... hits on the probnlem we are having here where our distinctives are being redefined to the Lowest Common Denominator!
    thank you Malcolm!

  3. This is a serious of my own and should be of every Southern Baptist whose doctrine of faith is biblically founded. Independence from sound biblical faith is nothing more than sinking sand.

  4. Matt, edifying truth is always particular in relevance. Steve, we too have found lowest-common denominator Christianity dangerous. Barklatex, glad to help.

  5. Anonymous10:21 PM

    I'm struggling to make sense of this. Scarborough seems to be holding up SBC ecclesiology as THE biblical model for doing church by pointing out the shortcomings of other denominations. The problem, as I see it, is that much of this same critique can be leveled against most SBC churches.

    Who decides what the lowest common denominator is? If a church admits members who hold to differing, mutually exclusive eschatological views, then doesn't Scarborough's critique come against this body, which "would have no distinctive doctrine to bind" members? Why baptism and not eschatology?

    There are good reasons why baptism should be a matter of exclusion and eschatology shouldn't. The point is this: everyone, and all Christian churches (even Southern Baptist churches) practice some form of theological triage. We cannot continue to critique the "ecumenically minded" by pretending that we don't practice the same ecumenicism, albeit with the lines drawn in different places over different issues.

    After all, if we are to love God with all our mind, doesn't right eschatology belong just as much to the Lordship of Christ as baptism?

    If there is another way to interpret these things, I would really like to know what that might be.

  6. Anonymous,

    Typically, I don't care for anonymity, but you seem to be genuinely searching for the correct answer. Let me answer your questions in several steps.

    First, one shift of emphasis. Scarborough would doubtless lift up not SBC ecclesiology but New Testament ecclesiology. SBC ecclesiology would be correct insofar as the SBC-affiliated churches are faithful to the paradigm established by the Lord for His churches.

    Second, you ask, "Who decides what the lowest common denominator is?" The answer there would be twofold. Above all, Jesus Christ decides the standards for His churches. He has revealed those standards in His Word and we may not deviate from His Word without deviating from His Lordship. With that understanding, it is the churches themselves who, under the Lordship of Christ, discern the membership requirements of the church from the Word of God. The church is then responsible for maintaining those standards. You imply that SBC churches are not perfect. Indeed, but I believe the genius of the Baptists and free churches historically is that they recognize their imperfection but do not allow that to keep them from trying to be more faithful to Christ.

    Third, you introduce eschatology, noting that there are often variant views on this issue, as the Southern Baptist Texan recently reported at length. Recognize that there is more agreement than might be implied by a cursory view of the churches and the seminaries which they authorize to teach. On the basics of eschatology, the churches and their theologians are typically in full agreement. These include (1) that Jesus Christ is truly the eschatos, the last, the omega, the end towards which all of creation is pointed; (2) that it is appointed to human beings to die; (3) that after death, God has provided for a resurrection and that resurrection is bodily; (4) that Jesus Christ will come again in the flesh to reign; (5) that there will be a great day of Judgment in which all will appear to give an account before the throne of God; (6) that the wicked will go to eternal condemnation, that is, hell; and (7) that the redeemed will experience eternal glory in the presence of God, that is, heaven. These are the basics on which most faithful churches deem it necessary that their members believe. The disagreements come with regard to the interpretation especially of Revelations 20, which teaches of the millennium and the related issue of the timing of the second coming with the tribulation. Although the millennium and the tribulation are important to get correct, the weight of agreement on the first seven essential issues allows for some measure of interpretative discussion on the latter two issues.

    Fourth, ecumenism typically desires the breaking down of barriers in order to manifest unity in Christ. Scarborough's complaint, and the Southwestern faculty as a whole, and Baptist theologians in their sum, in this period, is that the barriers that the ecumenists or "Unionists" wish to break down are the ordinances that Christ established for His churches. J.B. Gambrell, whose article on this subject will reappear soon in the Southwestern Journal of Theology, and Scarborough argued that unity is our goal but unity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and according to His doctrine.

    Fifth, yes, a right eschatology does belong to the Lordship of Christ just as much as baptism. Indeed, Scarborough's one major critique of Mullins's systematic theology was that the Southern Seminary president did not properly treat eschatology! And yet, in spite of Mullins's failure, Scarborough still maintained fellowship. So, in light of that example, let us work together to get our eschatology correct, in spite of the failures of our forefathers. Of course, this has to do with the proper formation of Christian doctrine, about which I wrote in a recent book, "The Formation of Christian Doctrine." I won't repeat myself but refer you thence.

    Sixth, with regard to theological triage, which has been taken out of its original context and treated much too glibly of late, let me repeat, as I have said elsewhere, including in the aforementioned book, theological discrimination is a necessary but dangerous exercise. And it may never be used to dissect the Lordship of Christ over His church.

    Seventh, ecumenism is fine and necessary, as Scarborough concluded, but only under the Word. When we wrench the standards of communion away from the Word and establish our own standards, we deny His Lordship. Where the Word is clear, we must be clear. Where it is not clear to us, we must pray for clarity. Humble convictions properly formed from Scripture may not be violated in the name of Christian unity.

    In Christ,


Edifying comments always appreciated!