By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
With the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting kicking off today in Houston, Texas, local pastors anticipate a full docket.
Key topics to be addressed include the prevalence of Calvinist theology in the SBC and the convention’s declining membership.
The Rev. Lloyd Sweatt of Meadowood Baptist Church in Amory said the convention will present a report compiled over the past year assessing pastors’ views on various Calvinist principles.
“Calvinism adheres to five principles and I agree with about three of them. Most Baptists and Baptist churches I know are like that,” he said. “But there are lots of problems with hyper-Calvinism.”
Sweatt said the Calvinist principles of “unconditional election” and “limited atonement” essentially mean God chooses who will be granted salvation, and Jesus died for only the elect chosen by God to be saved.
“Obviously, this conflicts with the evangelical aspect of the SBC,” he said.
The Rev. David Eldridge of Calvary Baptist Church in Tupelo said the SBC is capable of accommodating both “traditional” Baptist and Calvinists.
“There has always been a presence of Reform theology in the SBC, but I think it’s become more popular with pastors like John Piper and Mark Driscoll,” he said. “I think the report will be more than a document, that it will be an expression of what goes on in local churches across the country.”
Sweatt said the SBC’s decision on the issue would have only minimal bearing on individual autonomous churches. However, he said internal squabbling over Calvinism may be a contributor to another issue for the SBC: Its sixth year of declining membership.
“Plenty of churches are splitting off, keeping their Southern Baptist foundation and calling themselves nondenominational,” Sweatt said. “They are tired of the arguments, and wonder why, instead of reaching a lost world for Christ, we are arguing about this.”
Eldridge attributed membership decline to a cultural shift, unseating the church as the primary cultural institution of society.
“In the past, attending church was a must to gain good standing in a community. It was a social outlet, a recreational outlet, but that kind of cultural Christianity is waning,” he said. “Engaging in evangelism and ministering to those not looking for a church home and to those not raised in the church is an ongoing challenge for the SBC and all Christian denominations.”
In addition, Eldridge said he expected a conversation and some kind of resolution regarding the Boy Scout policy change allowing gay Scouts. Neither pastor ventured to speculate what such a resolution may entail.