JACKSON, Tenn. – June 11, 2008 – Southern Baptists must embrace both convictional confessionalism and collaborative cooperation if they are to preserve the gospel and effectively spread it around the world, according to Union University President David S. Dockery.
Dockery spoke June 10 to messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis and used 3 John 4 (“I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth”) to challenge them to walk in the truth that is revealed in Scripture.
Such a walk, Dockery argued, will include both a rigorous commitment to confessional beliefs and a spirit of cooperation with other Southern Baptists.
“Those who emphasize cooperation are prone to compromise,” Dockery said. “Those who emphasize conviction are prone to be cantankerous. So choosing between compromising beliefs or a cantankerous spirit is not an inviting option.”
But Dockery said John’s words provide an example of how to maintain both conviction and cooperation.
“Let us live in truth, let us be faithful to the truth, let us walk in the truth and let us serve and relate together as coworkers in the proclamation of the truth,” Dockery said.
Dockery said a commitment to confessional beliefs is necessary for the SBC to stay faithful to Scripture, which proclaims that Jesus Christ is the truth, that the Bible reveals the truth and that the Holy Spirit illuminates the truth.
“Truth is at the essence of Christian faith,” Dockery said. “Truth is at the essence of Christian living. With our minds, we learn God’s truth from His Word. With our hearts, we love God’s truth made known in His son. With our wills, we live God’s truth, as we are led and enabled by God’s Spirit.”
Southern Baptists can celebrate that they have received this truth and recognize that they must pass on that truth to the next generation, Dockery contended.
“We now find ourselves in a culture which often fails to recognize that there is an identifiable body of truth – a body of truth which is the Christian faith,” Dockery said. “One of the reasons that we now need to ask hard questions about a regenerate church membership is that people have confused the Christian faith with substitute concepts.
“The Christian faith is not mere moralism,” he continued. “It is not faith in faith. It is not some subjective amorphous feeling. It is not some self-help theory, but it is the manifestation of God’s truth revealed in His son and made known to us today in His Word.”
Southern Baptists need a renewed commitment to confess and teach the truth in their congregations, academic institutions and agencies across the convention and around the world, Dockery said.
He acknowledged that some in Southern Baptist life are hesitant to recognize the place of doctrinal confessions, “for fear of it resulting in creedalism.”
But that fear is fueled by a misplaced emphasis on individualism and soul competency that has produced a false dichotomy between a living faith and a confessional faith, Dockery argued.
“While we would never want to put any confession on the level with Scripture itself, or confuse a doctrinal statement about Jesus with a dynamic trust in Jesus, it is certainly a misunderstanding of our Baptist heritage to deny the importance of a confessional faith,” Dockery said. “We need a living faith that we confess and a confessional faith that we live and proclaim.”
While expressing gratitude for the conservative resurgence in the SBC, Dockery said the need of the hour is for the SBC to regain a spirit of collaborative cooperation. Though the SBC contains a tremendous amount of diversity, he said Southern Baptists can cooperate because they trust the same Savior, have received the same Spirit, have been given the same gift of grace and forgiveness and belong to the same Father.
“And so we ultimately find our shared hope in the gospel itself,” Dockery said.
That gospel, Dockery continued, finds it source in God, is revealed in and authenticated by the Bible, is focused on Christ and his substitutionary and atoning death for sins, is received by grace through faith and is for all the nations.
“We need to recognize that the Christian faith stands or falls on this glorious gospel and the ultimate issues that bind us together – and these bedrock, first-order matters are under assault today both in our secular culture and in some sectors of the church,” Dockery said.
Among such issues, Dockery listed the divine nature and authority of Scripture, the deity and humanity of Christ, the trinity and the exclusive nature of the gospel.
“We can trust God to bring a fresh wind of His Spirit to bring renewal all across Southern Baptist life, resulting in a Great Commission resurgence to the glory of our great God,” Dockery said.