Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 9: Cooperation Among Baptist Churches

Other Posts in this Series:

Calvinism provides a strong theology of inter-church cooperation. Its doctrines of remaining sin and error in the hearts of believers and churches along with God's meticulous sovereign providence ground biblical cooperation among local Baptist churches.

Which churches may cooperate biblically?

The basic biblical principle of cooperation is found in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?” This verse appears in the context of the local church covenant (2 Cor 6:16-18). Local churches, therefore, that have and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ may faithfully join together in cooperative efforts in both structured and unstructured ways.

But when it comes to full cooperation, including the work of missions (the goal of which in the book of Acts is always church planting), then practically speaking, churches need to agree on local church polity. Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, for example, don't agree on the nature and structure of the church; so, they would never be able to cooperate in mission work, even if they might gladly cooperate on a host of other issues. So, local Baptist churches may only cooperate with other local Baptist churches in the work of missions and church planting.

How are Calvinistic Baptist churches well-suited to cooperate with other Baptist churches, while disagreeing on some important issues, including Calvinism?

First, Calvinism holds that churches will never be rid of all theological sin on this side of heaven (see the churches of the NT). Like individuals, local churches cannot simply make free will choices to overcome their corporate theological errors, nor can they be coerced to think differently than they do. This should make true local Baptist churches lavishly patient with one another. It should also humble us (1) by keeping us from thinking we can change each other by political power or by the strength of our arguments and (2) by reminding us that we might have theological errors that need correction.

Second, the permanence of remaining theological sin does not mean that there can be no theological progress. Calvinism teaches that the human will can be and is influenced by God's appointed means, including the Word of God, prayer, the sacraments, and godly fellowship when blessed by the Spirit. Therefore, the cooperating churches ought to discuss their theological differences openly, but also with brotherly love, grace, and patience (Eph 2:15). The fact that we can influence one another with the Word of God and godly lives should give us a great sense of responsibility to articulate the whole counsel of God clearly, even on issues on which we disagree.

Third, Calvinists believe that in His sovereign and meticulous providence, God in Christ will certainly advance His kingdom. Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). Christ built His church by using grossly imperfect and sinful men. Proud Peter, doubting Thomas, and timid Timothy were all Christ's instruments in building the church. Christ also built His kingdom through grossly imperfect New Testament churches. The advancement of the kingdom does not depend on all the churches agreeing on every issue. It does not depend on our political power or strength of scholarship. It depends on God's promise to save men from every tribe and nation. This should make us hopeful and keep us from all despondency and discouragement, no matter what anyone says or does.

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