Liberalism and pragmatism aren’t the same thing, but they often lead to the same destination. Liberalism guts the authority of Scripture by assaulting the Bible’s integrity. Pragmatism guts the authority of scripture by pitting “what works” against “what’s true.” The latter approach is on full display in a recent mass email that Rick Warren has sent to as many Southern Baptist pastors as he could find. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here.
There are a number of howlers in this thing, but the gist of Warren’s message is that Southern Baptists have to make a choice between following a confession or doing the Great Commission. If Southern Baptists choose to exclude churches like Saddleback that disagree with the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M), then that will show that the SBC doesn’t really care about the Great Commission and will continue to decline. Indeed—I kid you not—Warren argues that Southern Baptists must vote to restore Saddleback if they want to save the SBC from dying.
Warren is trying to tempt Southern Baptists to believe that staying unified in sound doctrine somehow inhibits our cooperative efforts together. He actually believes that we will be more unified if we lay aside the BF&M as our doctrinal basis for cooperation. He writes:
From the start, our unity has always been based on a common mission, not a common confession…
We reject the idea that Southern Baptists who disagree are an existential threat to our convention, and not true Baptists. We want to cooperate on the Great Commission. All we’re asking is that Southern Baptists ACT like Southern Baptists, as we have for 178 years, and continue to be a fellowship of independent churches who agree to disagree on many things in order to AGREE to fulfill our mission together!
Warren’s understanding of SBC history is seriously flawed. Moreover, Warren’s logic is seriously flawed. His argument suggests that truth is the enemy of unity and mission. Contrast Warren’s perspective with that of Jesus and the apostles. The latter argue in the New Testament that truth is the foundation of our unity and mission. You take away a common confession of the truth, and the result is fracture and schism. Jesus says it this way:
John 17:17-21, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Does that sound like truth is the enemy of unity and mission? Of course it doesn’t. Jesus clearly says that our sanctification in the truth and our unity in the truth are what make the world able to see who Jesus really is.
Warren’s insistence on pragmatic unity over confessional unity is only going to exacerbate division rather than healing it. What makes his gambit so destructive is that he is actively and openly campaigning against our unity in the BF&M. Instead of humbly and quietly walking away from the SBC with as little rancor as possible, he’s publicly and actively trying to convince others to follow in his error. He has created an entire website in order to sow this division and error among Southern Baptists. I have never seen anything so brazen before, but there it is.
I’m not sure what else there is to say. Warren has made very plain to everyone that he and Saddleback are at open war with the BF&M as the basis for Southern Baptist cooperation. I take no joy in removing a church from the SBC. I would much rather see us all walking together in the truth (3 John 1:4). But if a church is going to behave this way, what else are we to do? I suspect Southern Baptists will know exactly what to do when we meet next month.