During a wide-ranging interview with Willy Rice, senior pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater, I asked him about the most divisive issue facing Southern Baptists right now.
He lamented what he describes as the underlying “tribalism, division” that seems to occur. At another point, he called those divisions “camps.”
I asked him if one of those camps is the division caused by the issue of Calvinism, and he reluctantly acknowledged that there is a lot of surface tension surrounding the topic.
“When people ask me: ‘Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian? I’m a Baptist.’ That’s been my answer,” Pastor Willy said. “I’m not trying to be smart-alecky there. It’s just that there are some labels in both of those camps, and those labels mean things that I can’t fully embrace.
“Today, some of the greatest church growers, church planters, church leaders, greatest preachers, greatest writers are clearly—they have to describe themselves—but if they aren’t completely Reformed they lean into that camp. And I have gotten to know some of them well; they are friends. Dr. Al Mohler is someone I consider a friend—he’s one of my heroes. He’s preached in our church. He’s welcome to preach in our church. If he wants to show up Sunday I’ll get out of the way. That’s how highly I regard Dr. Mohler as well as others.”
The solution, Pastor Willy says, is to get past the labels and focus on what people believe and live by.
“I’ve always said this—show me a guy who is a Calvinist but he is committed to missions, he is committed to evangelism, he wants to get the Gospel to everybody in the world—let’s work together,” he said. “It’s like: We’ll have to talk for a while to find out what we disagree on. If you get to the point where you’re passionate about growing, winning people, evangelism, soul winning, missions—the differences to me then kind of pale in comparison. We’re on the same page missionally; let’s work together. Let’s not shoot at one another. Let’s not fight.”
Right now, that’s not happening.
“I know many non-Calvinists who have become angry, who have become suspicious. They see a conspiracy behind every move. This has happened to me personally when I was president of the [SBC] Pastor’s Conference. I just invited the people that God put on our heart to invite. I didn’t sit here and go, well, here’s one who’s Reformed, you’ve got one for that camp. I wanted a cross-representation of our Convention. But I got accused—there were people who wrote blogs about us putting on a Calvinist conference. I just laughed about it. The president of the Conference was not a Calvinist. None of my officers were Calvinists.
“I say that to say: I think there are some people who have allowed such suspicion, such anger, that they have a bad attitude and they attack some of our Calvinist family—some of our Reformed brothers—in ways that are completely unfair.”
Pastor Willy’s suggestion?
“Why don’t you talk to them instead of saying, ‘Well, they don’t believe you should take the Gospel to everybody.’ The guys I know wouldn’t say that. ‘Well, they don’t believe anybody can be saved.’ A lot of the guys I’m talking to, they wouldn’t say that. I’ll let them explain how they get there, but if you get a person who believes we ought to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, that anyone who believes on the Lord can be saved, then let’s work together. That’s my thinking."
Here’s how Pastor Willy would sum up the situation.
“I don’t think Calvinism is divisive; I think some Calvinists can be divisive. I don’t think non-Calvinism divides. I think some non-Calvinists divide. It’s arrogance that divides us. It’s strife that divides us—mostly arrogance. It’s trying to be first and not think highly of my brother in Christ—that’s what ends up dividing us—whether it comes in a Calvinist uniform or a non-Calvinist uniform. If we could live out Philippians 2 a little bit more, and esteem others more highly than we esteem ourselves, and have the attitude of Christ and respect one another and listen to one another, I think it would go a long way to solving some of those ‘theological’ problems.”
I will have much more to share from my interview with Pastor Willy on our website in the coming days. I posted a blog about how he is leading Calvary through what he calls the “multiplication” method of church expansion on Feb. 2. The link is here: http://gofbw.com/blog?id=1481
A video of our conversation will appear on goFBW.com later this month, and an edited version of our conversation will appear as the “Behind the Pulpit” feature in the March print edition of the Florida Baptist Witness, which will be mailed on Feb. 23th.
For full-length videos of other Behind the Pulpit interviews, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGeuDJTCKQk&t=4s for our interview with Mac Brunson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkNqtJ9fW0s&list=LLSg_Uju4UknAFccaOa2VF7w for our interview with Ken Whitten, senior pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in the Tampa suburb of Lutz.
Kevin Bumgarner is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness. He can be reached via email at kbumgarner@goFBW.com, and followed on Twitter @FBW_editor