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Reforming A Local Church

By Ernest C Reisinger

      Strengthen The Things That Remain

      Rev. 3:2 "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die..."

      Rev. 3:4 "Yet you have a few people...who have not soiled their clothing."


      In recent years God has been pleased to raise up many among Southern Baptists who have returned, and others who are seeking to return to the historical, biblical and doctrinal roots that our first seminary was founded upon.   These doctrines are expressed in the Abstract of Principles found in the Fundamental Law of the seminary written into its charter April 30, 1858:   "9.      Every Professor of the Institution shall be a member of a regular Baptist Church; and all persons accepting Professorships in this Seminary, shall be considered by such acceptance, as engaging to teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles hereinafter laid down."   (Mueller:   History of Southern Seminary; BROADMAN PRESS p.238).   A more comprehensive expression can be found in Dr. James P. Boyce's Systematic Theology.   (This can be secured from the author of this pamphlet, Ernest C. Reisinger, 521 Wildwood Parkway, Cape Coral, Florida 33904.)   This doctrinal position can also be found in the writings of Dr. John L. Dagg, the first writing Southern Baptist Theologian.   I want to point out that if these founding fathers had true biblical doctrine then it is still true because God has not changed and the Bible has not changed.   Truth does not change!

      Let me further underscore the fact that a real reformation is taking place by quoting one of the most respected Southern Baptist Theologians, Dr. James Leo Garrett, who teaches at Southwestern Theological Seminary.      Dr. Garrett was addressing young men who were preparing for the ministry.   He introduced the session by stating his purpose:

      "to introduce some sub-types of Southern Baptist Theology.   There are some movements that seem to be on the horizon.   I am getting out into even more thin ice, some of you may think, but I don't think we can ignore what happens today.   It is important to know what John Smith and John Gill, and Andrew Fuller taught, but it is also important to know what is happening in 1982:      that in some sense, these are minority movements, or they are sub-categories, they are movements or they are teachings that have surfaced in Southern Baptist life enough that you can see them and detect them, but you may not know where they are going from here.   I don't make any predictions this afternoon.   I am not trying to predict so much as I am to report.   Now, it's in that sense that I want to deal with this.      I hope you understand the framework of which I am going to speak this afternoon.      It is very important that you get the framework.   These, I think are, perhaps, identifiable trends, theologically, within the Southern Baptist life, and can in some sense be called movements or you might say sub-types, sub-categories.   This means that each one of them has to be looked at on its own, and that is what I want to do in these few moments."

      Dr. Garrett mentioned five movements within the convention.   First he mentioned The Charismatic Movement; second, Dispensationalism; third, The Biblical Inerrancy Movement; fourth, The Keswick Movement.

      The fifth movement he mentions is The Calvinistic Movement.   He refers to it as neo-Calvinism.   I feel that he would have been more accurate to refer to it as "paleo" meaning the old Calvinsim.

      I wish to state just how honestly and accurately Dr. Garrett stated the truth about our Calvinistic roots:

      "Now, this is a movement that asserts the truth and viability of the strong Calvinism; it is an affirmation of strong Calvinism that we can find in our Southern Baptist past and our English Baptist past.   It is in a sense an effort to recapture the Calvinism that has been lost in the last three quarters of the century, or so, and to cover this involves a new emphasis on the writings of John L. Dagg and James P. Boyce and of the 1644 and 1689 Particular Baptist Confessions of Faith.      Now, I would like to say that there is one difference that I can see between the neo-Calvinist movement and the other four.   You may want to disagree with this, and that's all right.   I believe that it differs from the other four in that it can more widely claim to be endemic to the Baptist past, the Baptist heritage and teaching of the past, than can the other four.   What I am saying is that whether we want to be Calvinist or not today any serious study of our Baptist past must acknowledge that Baptists have been Calvinists.   To distort this is to distort the records, it seems to me.   So what I am saying is that it seems to me that the neo-Calvinist movement is able to say, 'we are recovering part of our Baptist past' in a way that the charismatic movement cannot say, because the charismatic movement represents something that is not endemic to the Baptist past, that has not been a common practice in Baptist churches through the years, and not been a teaching that has prevailed.   It's not to say, this is not to deal with the question whether tongues exist, or, is just saying it is not a part of the Baptist past the way the Calvinistic doctrine is.   So I think I can draw that one distinction and be relatively fair in that assessment, and that Dispensationalism as well is not endemic to the Baptist past in the same way that this new Reformed or Calvinistic theology in endemic.   I don't mean to suggest by that, that therefore it is valid and the other four not, in some kind of sweeping statement.   I am simply making that observation."

      Dr. Garrett is correct--There is a real live and healthy interesting reformation of our historical doctrinal roots which means a real interest in what one of our esteemed leaders, Dr. John A. Broadus, called, "that exalted system of Pauline Theology which is technically called Calvinism."

      Neither the conservative leaders nor the moderate leaders embrace these roots. In fact, same have made some ignorant and foolish statements against Calvinism. Some confuse it with hyper-Calvinism which we should all loathe with a passion. However, whatever the conservative or moderate leaders may say, or think, they have not come to grips with the real doctrinal content of our founding fathers.

      There are many who long for, and pray for, a doctrinal and biblical reformation; there are at least four Calvinistic Southern Baptist conferences in different geographical locations in the United States. They are all seeking real biblical, historical and doctrinal substance that will produce biblical worship, biblical witness and biblical churches.

      In any Reformation of the past there have been many, many mistakes by the Reformers, but more by those zealous followers of the Reformers who sometimes had more zeal than understanding, patience, charity and compassion.

      Many who have sought to bring about reformation in their local churches have not gone about it in the right way. Sometimes their timing was wrong. Sometimes their methods have been wrong. Sometimes they needed the wisdom from above described in the Epistle of James: "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere" James 3:17 (NIV).

      Some have made unnecessary divisions over secondary matters. Some have not understood the biblical doctrine of accommodation. We all need more of the application of the words of our best mentor, the great Apostle Paul, "And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" II Tim. 2:24-26 (NKJ).

      It is my sincere desire to encourage the reformation now going on, and hopefully spare some unnecessary shipwrecks in local churches. It is with this desire and motive that I wish to share some, what I hope will be, helpful thoughts on the following topics:

      1. The need and necessity of reformation.
      2. The means God uses in reforming a church, namely the kind of men God uses.
      3. Where true reformation begins.
      4. The cost of reformation.

      These are real questions and I hope to suggest some helpful answers, not as an authority on the subject, but from many years of experience in reforming situations. The years of experience also include many mistakes.

      This movement is not political and we do not think every Christian must be a Calvinist, but we know it is a viable historical and biblical position, and therefore, we plead for tolerance. The motive and purpose is best expressed in the following statement that was adopted at the first planning meeting for the Founders' Conference held on November 13, 1982 in Euless, Texas.


      God has re-ignited among Southern Baptists an interest in what has been historically denominated the Doctrines of Grace. Those so interested desire fellowship. The energy generated by this renewal should be conserved and guided.


      To glorify God, honor His gospel, and strengthen His churches by providing encouragement to Southern Baptists in historical, biblical, theological, practical, and ecumenical studies.


      To be a balanced conference in respect to doctrine and devotion- expressed in the Doctrines of Grace and their experimental application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness.

      This is to be accomplished through engaging a variety of speakers to present formal papers, sermons, expositions, and devotions, and through the recommendation and distribution of literature consistent with the nature of the conferences.

      Subject and Procedure

      The theological foundation of the conference will be the Doctrines of Grace (election, depravity, atonement, effectual calling, and perseverance) and specifically related truths. These subjects will be presented doctrinally, expositionally, homiletically, and historically. Each conference will concentrate on the experimental and pastoral application of the respective doctrines.

      I long to see the doctrines taught by John Bunyan, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles H. Spurgeon, James P. Boyce, Basil Manly, John A. Broadus, B. H. Carroll, William Carey, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice thunder through America again.

      Is Calvinism a deviant position for a Southern Baptist to hold? This is a proper question and I hope this essay will help to answer it. Over the last decade I have witnessed more slurs and misrepresentation of historical Calvinism than I have the heart or ability to count. Z said, against historical Calvinism, possibly, I should have said, against a misrepresentation of Calvinism. I am thinking here only of the remarks made by men in positions of high leadership-pastors, evangelists, officers in the convention, instructors at the seminary level--respected men all across the denomination--men who bear great accountability since they lead Christ's sheep as pastors and teachers. This breaks my heart. It is difficult enough for us to gain a hearing in the unbelieving world because of its hostility to the Lord of Glory. This pain is multiplied many times when leaders in the Christian church are unwilling to treat good historical and biblical opinions without careful accuracy and Christian charity. It demonstrates the lack of historical, theological and biblical understanding and integrity.

      It is regrettable that at a time in history when the Christian faith is commanding such little influence in the nation, the church herself should be engaged in so many issues about herself, rather than the life of the masses of the people. Questions about the Priesthood of all believers, women in the ministry, and many, many more issues, yes, they are real and deserve serious consideration, but not one of them get to the foundation. A real reformation of the church would result in solving some of the lesser issues and would be the means of true biblical, God-centered evangelism.

      True reformation is a humbling process, but it also creates a new desire to please God and keep His Word (Psa. 119:67), it delivers us from an inordinate desire to defend traditions for which there is no scriptural warrant, and therefore, enables us to approach church issues which have divided us in a new way and with a new concern to be united with all those who love the truth. A common attachment to the scriptures as to what they say, what they mean and how they apply.

      I submit the following thoughts to every sincere seeker after truth and to the only One who can efficaciously apply truth to the heart--"He will guide you into all truth." Thank God, we still have "a few who have not soiled their garments."   

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