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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Harrell's "Grounding Rule"

Before I break into my post, let me mention a couple of things. It looks like the scarlet “C” t-shirt is in the works. Both Centuri0n and Stephen are making one. You know it might be a good idea to come up with a scarlet “C” t-shirt contest, with each shirt having a caption that follows. You know, “We wear it on our sleeves,” or “Christianity that is more than skin deep” or even have one with a tie painted below the collar. Anyhoo, just a few thoughts. Since my last post, Marty Duren and Tom Ascol have responded to Mr. Harrell’s comments, particularly with his grounding rule. What I didn’t know is that Mr. Harrell has been around for quite some time in the Conservative Resurgence, so it makes sense the charges people are making about “turning back the clock,” narrowing the parameters, and calling for uniformity. Let me go back to his article and provide the quote again about his “grounding rule.” He says:

Harrell further explained, “I think the problem of Calvinism in the SBC could be solved if we establish one ground rule. If a man wants to start a Calvinistic church, let him have at it. If a man wants to answer a call to a Calvinistic church he should have the freedom to do that, but that man should not answer a call to a church that is not Calvinistic, neglect to tell them his leanings, and then surreptitiously lead them to become a Calvinistic church. That is not to suggest that all of our Calvinistic friends do that, but when it is done it is divisive and hurtful. “The same thing should be true of a contemporary church,” Harrell added. “Don’t try to transform a raditional church into a contemporary mindset just because it is the popular thing to do.”

Tom Ascol, responding to this quote, asks a very good question:

I wonder what Harrell would say about a church that was established by Calvinists as a confessionally reformed church but was led away from that confession by pastors who came in and preached contrary to it? In other words, does his "one ground rule" go both ways? Should a man who is not Calvinistic go to a church that was established on Calvinistic theology? Should a man who thinks that Calvinism is wrong serve as pastor of a church that was founded by Calvinists with a clearly Calvinistic commitment?

There is a reason why Ascol asks this question, and it is precisely because the church that Harrell pastors was founded in a tradition that was clearly Calvinistic! The article indicates that Abilene Baptist Church was founded in 1774 as the Reed Creek Church whose founding pastor was Abraham Marshall (the son of Daniel Marshall, the founder of the Sandy Creek Baptist Church in NC). While Abraham founded the 3rd oldest Baptist church in Georgia (Reed Creek), his father, Daniel Marshall, founded the oldest continuing church in Georgia at Kiokee in 1772. Abraham later came to pastor Kiokee after his father from 1784-1819, a church whose founding documents says the following:

"According to God's appointment in His Word, we do hereby in His name and strength covenant and promise to keep up and defend all the articles of faith, according to God's Word, such as the great doctrine of election, effectual calling, particular redemption, justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, sanctification by the spirit of God, believers' baptism by immersion, the saints' absolute final perseverance in grace, the resurrection of the dead, future rewards and punishments, etc., all according to Scripture which we take as the rule of our faith and practice, with some other doctrines herein not mentioned, as are commanded and supported by that blessed Book: denying the Arian, Socinian, and Arminian errors, and every other principle contrary to the Word of God. Now yet since we are exhorted to prove all things, orderly ministers of any denomination may when invited, preach in our meeting house" (emphasis added).

Now isn’t this an interesting historical tidbit. Mr. Harrell pastors a church whose founding pastor was a Calvinist, and while the founding documents are not available at this time, if Reed Creek’s founding pastor was a Calvinist and the founding documents verified that indeed the church was Reformed from the beginning, is Harrell not in violation of his own “grounding rule”? At least he says the congregation ‘still sings from the hymnbook.”


Blogger peter lumpkins said...

Hey Timmy,

Good post, my Brother. However, your question at the end wrongly assumes--at least in my view--that Churches ought never break away from their original rootedness. I do not know if one can consistently hold such an assumption.

In addtion, affirming that one should apparently stay the course of one's historic heritage flies in the face of reformation philospphy which seeks to overturn "tradition" no matter how old, how deep or how loved.

Have a great day. With that, I am...


11/02/2006 09:27:00 AM

Blogger Bart Barber said...

It seems to me that the words "neglect" and "surreptitiously" are important ones in Harrell's quote. In order for Harrell to be in violation of his own rule, wouldn't one need to demonstrate that (a) Harrell was responsible for the change in the church's theology, (b) Harrell left the church unaware of his soteriological convictions when they called him, and (c) Harrell had a hidden agenda to change the church's theology that the church would not have embraced knowingly and that Harrell nonetheless pursued successfully?

11/02/2006 10:36:00 AM

Blogger Timmy said...


My post is only good because it is basically the cliff notes of Tom's previous post. :)

I am not sure what Reformation philosophy you are talking about (the Founders' reform maybe?), but I do not think anyone is saying that we should overturn tradition without warrant or qualification. In other words, reformation is not for the sake of reformation but for the sake of the Church.

I am not saying that churches should never break away from their rootedness, but I am saying that we should be consistent if this "grounding rule" is to apply to Calvinists in the SBC.

This mantra that Mr. Harrell is expounding is not new as you know, and in all probability, I believe that it is one of the main avenues the SBC is going to take to keep Calvinists from reforming churches today. With all the Calvinists coming out of the seminaries and its recent uprising, old SBC stalwarts who don't want this younger generation to pastor churches with Reformed convictions are implicitly saying, "not here - go somewhere else if you are going to teach that."

11/02/2006 11:39:00 AM

Blogger Timmy said...


You make good points, but the difficulty there is trying to adjudicate a person's motives after the fact, which in my opinion would be an exercise of mere conjecture. I don't know Harrell knew and when he knew it; only he does.

It is clear that many leaders in the SBC are attempting to make new "rules" for Reformed pastors. I am hearing this all over the place, from Akin to Patterson to now Harrell. These men realize that there are a large number of Calvinists in this younger generation, and as they recognize they will be soon leaving the landscape of the SBC, they want to make sure that the Conservative Resurgence they worked so far for does not (in their mind) become a Reformed dominance.

There is reason to believe that one the battle for inerrancy was over and the Resurgence was in full effect, those who are used to "battles" and don't have one will create one. This makes perfect sense, especially given the latest sermons series by Dr. Jerry Vines, who calls his series "Baptist Battles." After inerrancy, the next "battle" they want to take on and win is Calvinism.

In a pre-mature sense, this battle began several years back, but the battleplan and strategy is being carried out even as we blog. From the pulpits of popular preachers to white papers to convention messages, it does not take much vision to see that indeed this is the case.

So going back to your questions and Harrell's grounding rule, I do not think that Calvinists should have a "hidden agenda" by any means. I do believe Calvinist pastors should be clear about their theology and convictions when asked but should not feel that whenever they meet another fellow Christian or in a conversation with a search committee that they should provide exposition of the 2nd London Confession either (I say that in hyperbole of course).

I think one of the major ways Calvinists in the SBC will respond to these tactics is to simply plant new churches. The overwhelming majority of my friends who have graduated seminary are either planting churches overseas or here in the states. I think churches should be reformed when necessary and wanted, but I do not think that a pastor should go into a church situation and attempt to its theology or government when it does not want to. The sad reality is that most churches do not have an identifiable theology or government in place.

Anyway, this is way more than you were probably looking for, but I say this because it is important to piece these articles, sermons, papers, etc. within the bigger picture of the SBC. I think when the shakedown comes, there will be many Calvinists who will be totally content to leave the SBC having become disillusioned and frustrated with its corruption and politics, and others will hang in there and work on the local church level, not the denominational level. They realize that change takes place on the turf, not on the convention floor.

11/02/2006 11:57:00 AM

Blogger Tony K. said...

has a t-shirt with the BF&M statement on election

11/02/2006 12:44:00 PM

Blogger peter lumpkins said...


Thank you, my brother, for your very poignant repsonse. You've created in me a few addtional thoughts.

First, I did not realize my words implied that in implementing reformation, "we should overturn tradition without warrant or qualification." To the contrary, that reformation must possess warrant should be assumed by all. However, the question I would raise, Timmy, is who gets to determine what the proper warrant is?

Easy it would be to say "the Bible". But you know as well as I, that that only raises a further question; Who gets to determine the Scriptural evidence for reformation? Etc., Etc...

I do think you suggest in your reply to our bart barber one interesting criteria for an appropriate reformation. You write: "I think churches should be reformed when necessary and wanted, but I do not think that a pastor should go into a church situation and attempt to [reform?] its theology or government when it does not want to."

I firmly agree, Timmy. Interestingly, that is the very point Pastor Harrell made. He said: "I think the problem of Calvinism in the SBC could be solved if we establish one ground rule. If a man wants to start a Calvinistic church, let him have at it. If a man wants to answer a call to a Calvinistic church he should have the freedom to do that, but that man should not answer a call to a church that is not Calvinistic, neglect to tell them his leanings, and then surreptitiously lead them to become a Calvinistic church."

From my reading, he was saying precisely the same thing as you, Timmy, when you spoke of reservations about a reformation taking place without it being needed and WANTED. No unilaternal reformations--whether Calvinist, Arminian, Charismatic, Contemporary--allowed. Could you agree to that?

One last comment and I'm thru (promise:). You suggest that most Churches have no identifible theology nor government in place. Timmy, I simply challenge that. First, I don't know how you would know that without studying 43,000+ SBC Churches. Secondly, we do have an identfible theological consensus as recorded in th Y2KBFM.

Thirdly, even in the most ridiculously backward hill church in TN (my home state), there is Church government in place. Perhaps unwritten, perhaps gleaned only from a series of Business meetings. Yet a governnmet is in place nevertheless. It stands fully identifible to the leaders if not to the general membership and/or outsiders.

Peace. With that, I am...


11/02/2006 01:38:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


I would beg to differ regarding my convictions versus Mr. Harrell's. Mr. Harrell does not speak to the matters I addressed hereunto except to say that Calvinists should be up front with their Calvinism. He does not say whether Southern Baptist churches actually want reform or are interested in Reformed teaching. Maybe this is to be assumed to the contrary, but given the current status of our declining convention, methinks that eyes are being opened to bad theology which in turn produces bad methodology.

I believe the warrant, as you said, should be Scripture alone. We should not have church government, for example, modeled after corporate America or other management and organizations. We get our church government from the Word of God alone. This also relates to soteriology as well. The doctrines of grace are simply the unfolding (exposition) of Scripture. To say that Calvinism neglects or contorts the Scriptures comes from someone who is either entirely uniformed or dishonest, and you this to be true.

Furthermore, I do believe historical precedent and Baptist tradition and distinction does provide warrant as well, though it must be subjugated to the authority of Scripture. In other words, tradition cannot and should not be given the same level of prominence or authority in Scripture. Yet it does carry some weight, lest we adopt an a-historical and anti-foundational approach to ecclesiology (which no one would dare to do). Ergo, I see where there is a proper place for warrant from both a biblical and historical perspective.

With that said and given our baptist identity, Southern Baptist founders were clearly Calvinistic and believed in a church government that is different from popular structures today. When I said that most churches have no identifiable theology or church government, I say that in a functional sense. Byt that I mean that most Southern Baptists, I presume, should they make the BF&M2000 their confessional statement, could not articulate this theology nor could they explain why their church goverment is the way it is. If you could show me otherwise, then I would be happy to retract my statement. At this point, however, I am convinced otherwise.

Finally, when you spoke of whether I agree that no "unilateral reformations" should take place in the SBC, I think the answer to that question is found in a priori criteria - e.g. the assumptions of the pastor and the church, the interview process, etc. No, I do not agree with anyone regardless of their theological stripe having a hidden agenda, and I do believe however, that before that conversation takes place, there needs to be a clear understanding of what Calvinism (for example) is and what they believe. If Calvinism got a fair presentation without the rhetoric and anti-Reformed bias, then I think more people would be open to having reform both theologically and ecclesiologically. So long as SBC leaders can paint it in a negative light (light the mainstream media does the war for example), then those responding will subconsciously be influenced before the matter is given a fair shake. The leaders in the SBC know that if they can control the attitude, perception, and information the public receives about Calvinism, they can keep reform from happening. In other words, they will reject it because _________ said so, not because they have a biblical or historical reason for doing so.

- Which takes me back to the matter of warrant. If there is a necessary and sufficient warrant for reform, should there not also be an equally necessary and sufficient reason for there NOT to be reform taking place in the church? If you ask me, it is not there for most churches in the SBC. If the only reason why you tell me you don't want Calvinism is because Johnny Hunt of Jerry Vines says so, I am sorry, but that is not warrant.

11/02/2006 04:32:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

Hey Tony, I see that you have used "the font of God" for the t-shirt.

See http://purgatorio1.com/?p=187.

Marc satirically writes:

"The computer font [papyrus] has been officially declared “God’s Font” by a large ecumenical council of evangelical churches. This statement was released from the council’s meeting headquarters in Baltimore, MD USA: “We are pleased to anounce that Papyrus is now THE only “Authorized” font for use in church bulletins, newsletters and flyers, chrisitan blogs and websites, and for the emerging church, tattoos and homebrewed beer labels. There should be no real change for those of you who have been already using Papyrus, but those using un-authorized font families have six months to come into compliance with God’s Will or be considered for church discipline.”

It's good thing you won't have to be undergoing any church discipline. :)

11/02/2006 05:10:00 PM

Blogger Nicholas Kennicott said...

I think even more disturbing are Harrell's comments on his church's website. I've commented on it at my blog and have provided a link to the article of which I speak. His desire for worldwide conformity seems to reach beyond the church. It's sad to know that we still have to argue for the beauty in and profit of multiculturalism.


11/02/2006 06:12:00 PM

Blogger peter lumpkins said...


Thanks again for your very thorough reply. Unfortunately hardly any of it was helpful to my question, at least as I could tell.

And, for the record, I do not recall bringing up warrant for Reformation. Rather you did, Timmy. Even so, we agree about the fact that, in your words, "I do not think that a pastor should go into a church situation and attempt to its theology or government when it does not want to." (That's the portion I alluded to being virtually identical to Bill Harrell, BTW). How that squares with the additional criteria you bring in your present reply, I 'll allow others to unravel.

For me, it stands non-helpful at best to argue that if more SBs could just know the truth about Calvinism and if so many preachers would not misrepresent the Doctrines of Grace, perhaps more SBs would desire reformation. I hope I am not placing words in your mouth but that is what I thought you said.

Unhappily for Calvinists, there are many non-Calvinists--surely the ones I know--who neither possess a desire to skew Calvinism nor ban it from SBC life. Rather they simply see it for what it is--at least from their perspective--an inadequate salvific vision which cannot constitute the best interpretation of God's Revelation in Jesus Christ.

Hope for you the best this evening, Timmy. With that, I am...


11/02/2006 07:03:00 PM

Blogger Bart Barber said...


Thanks for a pleasant first-time commenting experience here in your house. As you suggested, your response wanders far afield from my point. I was interested in speaking merely to your accusation that Harrell was being inconsistent—that he himself was in violation of his own rule. I think, assuming the validity of my observations, that such an accusation is untenable.

So, Harrell is consistent. Whether he is consistently right or consistently wrong is another discussion, and one that is getting plenty of attention right now without needing any help from me. But, I did respond to another commentor at my blog on my recent post about ecclesiology. I mention my response merely because I wish to refrain from further comment here without seeming evasive. If you are interested in my views regarding Calvinism in the SBC, you will find them there (again, in the comment log of a post on ecclesiology, not on Calvinism). If you are not interested, then I've saved you from having to read them. :-)

But to end where I started, my point was particularly about the accusation of inconsistency, which I think is unfounded. And I am thankful for the warm reception.

In Christ,

11/02/2006 10:55:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


I am sorry that you do not see my comments helpful to you. I still would like for you to answer my last question however.

Also, could you explain to me why Calvinism ("for what it is") is an inadequate salvific vision which cannot constitute the best interpretation of God's Revelation in Jesus Christ?

11/03/2006 03:46:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


I am glad that you feel welcome here. I hope you always do (and if you don't, please communicate that to me as well if you don't mind).

It looks like that my comments have been unsatisfactory with you as well as Peter. Concerning my comments,I do not see that I made an "accusation" regarding Mr. Harrell's grounding rule. I ask whether or not the rule should go both ways, and if indeed, the church which he pastors was founded by a Calvinist and has its founding documents rooted in Calvinism, would it not be inconsistent for him to advocate a rule which he appears to himself violate?

After thinking about it further, I do see that a more generous rendering of his comments could argue that he is not saying that one should not necessarily seek to reform churches but rather not to reform churches with a hidden agenda or deceptive motives. If that is the case, then I agree with Mr. Harrell and retract my comments.

But be that as it may, I still am convinced that the leaders in the SBC do not want a rise in Calvinistic churches in the SBC, and as I mentioned earlier on the previous post, I am finding out that they are also not wanting missionaries that are Calvinists either.

It has been argued by some that the narrowing of cooperation *may* lead to the exclusion of Calvinists in the future. I sincerely hope this is not the case. I believe the BF&M should be the standard in which we come together as confessing baptists and should not exclude anyone who aligns themself under its umbrella of Baptist doctrine and identity. In the battle of baptist identity, I have reason to believe that there are leaders who either deny the Calvinistic heritage of the SBC or worse want to act as revisionists (take Sandy Creek for example).

I say all this (which may look off topic) for a reason. There is more to Harrell's comments and grounding rule. We also need to understand those comments in the big picture, in the context of the current ethos of the SBC. So while it may appear that I am wandering far off afield with regards to Harrells rule, it may just be that I am just plowing a little deeper.

Anyway, thanks for the interaction. Should you choose to continue to visit and comment, I hope you consider yourself welcome here. :) Have a blessed weekend.

11/03/2006 04:00:00 PM

Blogger Bart Barber said...


Dear brother, I did not mean to imply that you had wandered far afield from current events. I was merely clarifying that my comment, in particular, was of a more tightly defined scope. Certainly the questions that you are addressing, whatever position one might hold regarding them, are timely and relevant.

In Christ,

11/05/2006 07:01:00 PM


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