SBC’s New Calvinism & Patriotic Worship: Part 1

Should Southern Baptist churches discourage expressions of patriotism in their corporate worship services on national holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day?According to Professor Carl “Chip” Stam and some younger Southern Baptist pastors represented by Baptist21, the answer is apparently yes.  Well, maybe not yes in so many words, but unwise and unhelpful to be sure.  While perusing the B21 website to watch an interview with Nathan Akin (which I still have not been able to watch), I happened across a March 31 post that had previously escaped my attention. 

The guest post was essentially a copy of a letter written by Professor Stam — Minister of Music and Worship for Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville and also the Director of the Institute for Christian Worship at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — which he sent to “several thousand church musicians.”  The version of the letter was said to be “current as of April 5, 2007.”  I don’t know whether the letter was originally sent out in 2007 and re-sent this year, but apparently the folks at Baptist21 believe it is relevant for the 2011 “patriotic” season of Memorial Day and Independence Day this summer.

In Part 2 of this post on Friday, I will address Professor Stam’s three main arguments against patriotic worship.  However, we must first lay a foundation before proceeding directly to a rebuttal of Professor Stam’s proposal and reasoning.

As part of that foundation, let me first deal with the authority behind the letter.  Stam not only signed this letter as a Music Minister of an autonomous Southern Baptist church, but he in fact signed first and foremost in his capacity as the Director of the Institute for Christian Worship at SBTS ( a position he has held since 2000), the SBC’s flagship seminary.  According to a page on Southern’s website, the Institute, part of Southern’s School of Church Ministries (which combined the Schools of Church Music and Christian Education):

serves students, faculty, and local churches by providing lectures, workshops, guest speakers, and other materials that focus on the biblical and historical foundations of Christian worship.

All of the aforementioned is conducted “under the direction of Professor Carl Stam.”  Therefore, at least three questions come to mind immediately:

  1. Did Professor Stam write and send this letter in his official seminary capacity?  If not, then why did he include his official seminary title prominently in the letter?
  2. If Professor Stam wrote in his capacity as Director of the Institute, did his letter reflect current seminary thinking or policy (formal or informal) — as instituted by President Mohler and/or the Board of Trustees — regarding so-called “patriotic” worship?
  3. Is the letter yet another indication of the theological/ecclesiological divide within the greater SBC?

If Dr. Stam wrote this letter solely in his capacity as Minister of Music and Worship at Clifton, then the above questions would be moot.  However, the letter itself, posted last week at B21, seems to answer Question #1 quite clearly:

Respectfully submitted,

Carl Stam

Director, Institute for Christian Worship

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Minister of Music & Worship

Clifton Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky

I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I were to sign a letter in my official capacity — Senior Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Alamogordo, NM — that should reasonably indicate to the reader that I was speaking and acting on behalf of Bethel.  Likewise, one could reasonably conclude that Professor Stam is/was speaking on behalf of Southern Seminary in his official capacity as Director of the Institute for Christian Worship.  One could also reasonably conclude that writing in his position as Director would add some authority or gravitas to his letter dealing with patriotic expressions in corporate worship.  Lastly, we might conclude that Baptist21 posted this letter, not because of Stam’s position as Music and Worship Pastor at a local Southern Baptist church, but rather because of his position as Director of the INSTITUTE FOR CHRISTIAN WORSHIP at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary!

While many grassroots Southern Baptists (especially pastors and ministers) are aware of the Calvinist leanings at Southern, I would venture to say that many of those same folks — including alumni of SBTS like myself — were unaware of just how strong an influence the new Calvinism has on the SBC’s oldest seminary.  (As a convictional cooperating Southern Baptist first and a Spurgeon Calvinist second, I find myself somewhat surprised at the headway that the new Calvinism has made at Southern and within the Convention since I graduated in 1997.) 

Foundational Questions #2 & #3 can probably be answered by not just reading the philosophy of Southern’s Institute for Christian Worship, but also the biography of Professor Carl Stam:

He has conducted numerous all-state choirs and festival choruses and has served on the advisory council for Reformed Worship magazine and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. (full biography page here)

I think that it would be safe to conclude that Professor Stam comes from a Reformed/Calvinistic background (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  As such, this would surely influence how he teaches and how he leads as the Director of the Institute for Christian Worship.  This would also affect how students are being trained in the areas of music/worship ministry.  I can’t help but think that the teaching and training that these seminary students are receiving — which will be used in serving primarily Southern Baptist churches — has a decidedly Reformed/Calvinistic bent. 

As most established Southern Baptist churches do not subscribe to the new Calvinism on the ascendancy within the SBC, it would be incumbent upon search committees receiving candidates’ resumes when filling vacant senior pastor positions (strike that, most will be church planters), music/worship, student/youth, and Christian Education positions to know and be keenly aware of the prevailing theology/methodology/ecclesiology that students at Southern are being taught. 

I say that, not to cast aspersions on those teaching in the School of Church Ministries — particularly the Institute for Christian Worship — but rather to prevent churches from being blindsided by aggressive, new Calvinistic pastors and ministers who may not be as forthcoming with their theological leanings as one would hope and expect in the interview process.  I’m sure that has never happened to any of our Southern Baptist churches in the recent past.

Why is it important to know if pastoral candidates — either Senior Pastor or Music and Worship Pastor — lean in a new Calvinist direction?  Because there have been numerous churches that have been ripped apart by aggressive, new Calvinist pastors and ministers.  Some (perhaps many) new Calvinists are not content to patiently teach and lead change over a period of years.  Many could be described as young, restless, and reformed.  For the record, I don’t have a problem with either young or reformed as much as I do the restless and often times reckless way that a reformed theology is arrogantly and ham-handedly forced upon a congregation that is simply not prepared.

This ultimately gets to the heart of Question #3.  The divide within SBC life is not primarily about old vs. young, coat/tie vs. jeans/t-shirt, hymns vs. contemporary p & w, pulpits vs. stools or even non-Calvinists vs. Calvinists.  Oh, these are all symptoms of a much bigger problem, but raising these issues is simply a way of trying to reframe the debate about what truly divides.

What truly divides us is how we choose to identify and cooperate together.  I choose to identify first and foremost as a cooperating Southern Baptist who is proud of my heritage (warts and all) and who enthusiastically partners with others through the Cooperative Program, starting at the local and state levels.  I am also a convictional Calvinist in the mode of Charles Spurgeon.  However, I am neither mad about my Calvinistic theology nor am I consistent enough in practice to be described as truly Reformed.  That’s why I can cooperate with folks within the Convention who are not as Calvinistic as I am, but who nevertheless love cooperating together for missions and ministries.

There are others who are “more independent, less cooperative,” whom I have described as nominal Southern Baptists and who Dr. Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has more recently described as having a “low to moderate Baptist identity.”  When one begins to identify more with Calvin than with Spurgeon, more with non-Southern Baptists as opposed to Southern Baptists, then I believe we will continue to watch as the divide in the SBC continues to grow.  Check back on Friday to read my rebuttal to Professor Stam’s argument and rationale discouraging expressions of patriotism in corporate worship.

31 comments for “SBC’s New Calvinism & Patriotic Worship: Part 1

  1. Bart Barber
    April 6, 2011 at 6:34 AM

    Dear Howell:

    I’m afraid that I have to correct one error in your essay: the phrase “the SBC’s flagship seminary.” I’m writing from the deck of the flagship right now, and I’m west of the Mississippi.

    Yours in Christ,
    Bart Barber

    • April 6, 2011 at 7:36 AM

      Bart,

      If that is the only error, then I can rest at ease 🙂 although I have a feeling that there will be others who will not be as charitable in trying to point out other errors. I suppose I should have referred to Southern as the “mother ship,” knowing where the real flagship seminary was located. I am in a neighboring state, after all. My bad. Thanks for reading. Hope you have a great day. God bless,

      Howell

  2. Luke
    April 6, 2011 at 6:51 AM

    You stated:

    “Why is it important to know if pastoral candidates — either Senior Pastor or Music and Worship Pastor — lean in a new Calvinist direction? Because there have been numerous churches that have been ripped apart by aggressive, new Calvinist pastors and ministers. Some (perhaps many) new Calvinists are not content to patiently teach and lead change over a period of years. Many could be described as young, restless, and reformed. For the record, I don’t have a problem with either young or reformed as much as I do the restless and often times reckless way that a reformed theology is arrogantly and ham-handedly forced upon a congregation that is simply not prepared.”

    My questionsin response to this paragraph would be the following:
    1) How many churches do you know of, specifically, that have been ripped apart by Calvinist pastors and ministers? Several bloggers keep throwing around terms such as “numerous,” “many,” etc.; however, I would care to know how many that you personally know of that were ripped apart because of Calvinism. I know that of a recent study in the South Carolina Baptist Convention (http://www.baptistcourier.com/4320.article) where doctrine was the reason given for only 2 out of the 57 forced pastor terminations in 2009. I think if we were to actually look at the numbers, we would see that sexual misconduct, poor leadership, and a church’s resistance to change are actually greater threats to the local church.

    • April 6, 2011 at 8:47 AM

      Luke,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. As to your question, I don’t personally (as in first-hand) know of any church ripped apart by “aggressive, new Calvinist pastors and ministers,” although I would point out that my lack of first-hand knowledge does not negate the fact. I have read and heard the stories of such and, based on my own personal experiences with some of these new Calvinists when I was at Southern, I have no reason to doubt that there are numerous churches that have been negatively affected by the new Calvinism.

      As I tried to point out (albeit perhaps not as clearly as I could), my problem does not necessarily lie with Reformed theology or young seminary graduates. But, if my experience is any indication, there is a certain arrogance among some (many?) Calvinists when they discover the Doctrines of Grace. This arrogance lends itself to a more aggressive stance toward others. While that may not be as problematic in a seminary environment, any type of aggressive arrogance — based on the belief that you now know the truth and must convey that to everyone else as rapidly as possible — can be extremely problematic and divisive within a local church setting. This ultimately goes back to the restless part of the YR&R. As to the survey, the poor leadership and/or church’s resistance to change may indeed also be related to doctrine on some level, even if it was not stated. Thanks again and God bless,

      Howell

      • Milton Robins
        April 8, 2011 at 3:48 PM

        “But, if my experience is any indication, there is a certain arrogance among some (many?) Calvinists when they discover the Doctrines of Grace. This arrogance lends itself to a more aggressive stance toward others. While that may not be as problematic in a seminary environment, any type of aggressive arrogance — based on the belief that you now know the truth and must convey that to everyone else as rapidly as possible — can be extremely problematic and divisive within a local church setting.”

        I used to moderate a Christian theology forum, and unfortunately I’ve seen this type of behavior from some of the Reformed brethren. Arrogance–whether you’re a Calvinist or not–shouldn’t even be named among believers.

        • April 8, 2011 at 5:05 PM

          Milton,

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts on how you have run into this on certain theology forums. It has been my experience that I have been able to have much more civil (Christian) dialogue with folks who are more moderate in their theology than folks who are much more conservative. I don’t know whether it is the Calvinism that makes some arrogant or if the arrogance pre-existed the Calvinism, but I have personally experienced that aggresiveness. You are exactly right though, in that any pride or arrogance — Calvinist or otherwise — is not proper for believers. Have a great weekend! God bless,

          Howell

  3. April 6, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    Hey, bro.

    Great post and enlightening–I linked it! I look forward to your follow-up.

    There are moments I’ve had reserved feelings sitting in some services with a patriotic theme I must admit. Indeed I think some carry it way out of proportion. On the other hand, those like you’re addressing in these twin-posts make an elementary mistake: being overly patriotic does not and should not prohibit being properly and even biblically patriotic.

    I find it odd that those who argue about being relevant to culture have a hard stance against observing cultural emphasis embedded within our society.

    Even more, I find it incredibly duplicitous coming from strict Calvinists that patriotism is off-limits in worship services. Patriotism is, in its essence, nothing more or less than being thankful for the good graces God has given us–common graces to all people and special graces to elect people. We are celebrating God’s giftedness to us. We are celebrating the society over which He Himself sits as Sovereign. What under God’s blue sky is the problem? The Psalms are filled with praises for what God does in society. Yet, we are told we must not recognize in our worship the most relevant aspect of God’s creation economy to our lives each and every day–the civicus?

    With that, I am…
    Peter

    • April 6, 2011 at 8:54 AM

      Peter,

      Thanks for reading and for the link. I was going to try to do this post as one part, but it proved too much, especially when I began to look at the background story about the author of the letter and his connection to Southern. I would agree that the lines between civic religion and true Gospel religion can be blurred. However, the reasons that Professor Stam gives for avoided expressions of patriotism in worship were not supported by Scripture and were, in their reasoning, problematic (at least for most Southern Baptists). One of the reasons given is quite troubling, particularly his reference to wanting believers to be ONE IN CHRIST (he capitalized it) regardless of our views on “social programs and public policies.” He did not specifiy what social programs or public policies, but I will be supplying some examples. Hope you have a great day in GA. God bless,

      Howell

  4. Max
    April 6, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    Howell-

    Darn it! Must they change everything?! It’s bad enough that these folks are out and about to alter Southern Baptist theology/identity … now they are messing with our Christian patriotism!

    However, it’s one thing to change worship formats on Memorial Day and Independence Day … but, it’s quite another to change the Easter message! I attended Easter services at a “New Calvinism” church last year (without knowing that was its brand at the time). I left there burdened that there had been no mention of Jesus, no proclamation of His death, burial and resurrection, no communion, no altar call (on a day when even lost folks go to church). Instead, the young reformed pastor simply continued his sermon series in Ephesians, with a mumbo-jumbo message to support his theology. These are strange days in Southern Baptist life, indeed. I feel like crying now.

    Thank you Howell for your informative blogs on the characteristics of “New Calvinism” and associated developments that should trouble us all.

    -Max

    • April 6, 2011 at 2:32 PM

      Max,

      As concerned about the patriotic worship services as I might be, it simply unfathomable that any Southern Baptist church — old Calvinist, new Calvinist, non-Calvinist, or whatever — would not take the opportunity on an Easter Sunday to preach about Jesus and Him risen. If I have one time all year to preach to folks that only come on Easter, I will preach on Christ crucified and the Resurrection. I will try to do it in a winsome way, but I always understand that the Gospel message is rock of offense and foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe. And, it is not my job to determine who is who — that’s God’s job. Thanks for the comments and God bless,

      Howell

      • Ron Hale
        April 9, 2011 at 6:22 AM

        Jared,
        How have you honored Mom’s on Mother’s Day?

  5. April 7, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    Howell, doesn’t the fact that our worship services should be about worshipping God, prove that we shouldn’t seek to honor our nation during a time set aside for God? I was against patriotic worship services before I became a Calvinist. This literally has nothing to do with Calvinism; but, has everything to do with being an inerrantist. If Sunday is the “Lord’s Day,” then shouldn’t our gathered worship be about the Lord… not our nation, or those that serve in it?

    I do believer however that we should pray for our nation, our leaders, and our service men; but, to chalk up being against “Patriotic worship services” as some “Calvinist” agenda is ridiculous. I don’t want to mingle the worship of our God with the honoring of men, women, children, or nations. Worship should be about Him; not us. When we mingle the worship of our God with the honoring of nations and servicemen, we commit the sin of odolatry.

    • April 7, 2011 at 2:00 PM

      Jared,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I’ll have more to say on this my follow-up post tomorrow, but I did want to say that I do not think “honoring” military personnel or those who have died in service to our country during a Sunday morning worship service is to automatically not be honoring or worshipping God. To the extent that your view — even though you held it prior to becoming a Calvinist — is prevalent within Reformed/Calvinist theology seems to be the case, although I cannot state with certainty the percentages.

      I do believe that your final statement, “When we mingle the worship of God with the honoring of nations and servicement, we commit the sin of idolotry,” is rather strong. Is it your contention that if we honor (i.e., show respect or offer commendation) anyone in worship service (such as Mothers on Mother’s Day or Father’s on Father’s Day) that we are committing the sin of idolotry? I would obviously repsectfully disagree with your initial statement, but I look forward to any clarifications you might want to make. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

      • April 7, 2011 at 5:05 PM

        Howell, yes, I believe that giving anyone the honor that God deserves during the time we call worship is indeed idolatry. Now, I will say that if we are intentional, say, honoring mothers or courntrymen before we start worship, or after worship is over, then it can be done. However, I have a huge problem with honoring anyone other than God during the time specifically set aside to honor God alone.

        • April 7, 2011 at 7:39 PM

          Jared,

          Thanks for the reply. I would say that one should not honor anyone but God in the sense of worship or ultimate honor. I would disagree that it is idolotry to give honor (i.e., respect or recognition) to those whom it is due, even in times of corporate worship. I simply do not see the two as mutually exclusive during a Sunday morning time period that we choose to designate as worship. I shall have more to say in my follow-up post on Friday, but I appreciate your clarifications. Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

  6. April 7, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    I reckon I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but in an assembly where gather to worship God Almighty, worship the crucified and risen Christ, I will not celebrate anything but that. I have made my feelings known at the church which I attend, which is all I see as my personal requirement.

    When the congregation rises on that Sunday morning to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or to sing a song about our nation, I simply will not recite or sing. Not in that place, at that time. Were a believer from another country in our midst, there should be absolutely no man-made separation, and I just won’t contribute to that.

    Gather some other time to celebrate the USA? I’ll be there waving flags and shouting. But not while we’re there to worship God.

    Some might think I’m under-valuing patriotism, but I prefer to think they may be under-valuing what we’re there for. Worship.

    Or not. What do I know?

    • April 7, 2011 at 2:05 PM

      Bob,

      I respect you opinion on this issue even though I have a different outlook. If you have come to the conviction that it is inappropriate for you to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing a song about our nation (“God Bless America”?), do you believe, as Jared seems to, that the pastor, other leaders, and members of the congregation are committing the sin of idolotry by so doing? What I will be addressing in my follow-up post tomorrow will be the reasons given for not having patriotic expressions in a worship service, but also the implication that this should be prescriptive for all churches, particularly all SB churches. Thanks and have a great day,

      Howell

      • April 8, 2011 at 9:59 AM

        Howell .. what you describe as an implication is more likely an inference. Note my generous use of the word “I”.

        That’s also why I said I’d made my feelings known. I’m not on the Purity of Worship Commission, so my responsibility .. as I see it .. ends with that.

  7. April 7, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    Brother Howell,

    Should we remove the flags from the worship center? What about placing drums and guitars on the stage? It might be that we have some old rockers from the Woodstock days get up and stand next to the stage because they certainly worshiped the squeal of the electric guitar. What about pipe organs, should we remove them. It may be we have internationals visiting from Rome and they may get confused and believe the organ is what saves them.

    Yes I am being facetious. However, as you have so clearly pointed out in the foundation you have laid, much of this is a personal preference and the last I looked at the constitution we were free to worship as we saw fit. The most boring and man centered worship service I have ever sat through was a Roman Catholic worship service. However, I would never have the arrogance or audacity to suggest they were not in worship with our Heavenly Father.

    Blessings,
    Tim

    • April 7, 2011 at 2:14 PM

      Bro. Tim,

      Thanks for questions. I’ll address this more in depth tomorrow, but there is a disconnect that seems to be evident on this issue. I was going to ask about flags in the sanctuary already, but you have given me a few more ideas to ask about in my follow-up post. Is it somehow wrong or a sin to have full military honors (which is what it is called) for a member of the church who was a veteran or, like us recently, the son of our interim music pastor who was killed in Afghanistan? Sometimes we need to be facetious in order to combat things that just do not make any sense. Have a great day and God bless,

      Howell

    • April 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM

      Tim: I agree 100% (***gasp***).

  8. Milton Robins
    April 9, 2011 at 1:50 PM
  9. May 2, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    I just received an email from Southern that Prof. Stam passed away yesterday. “The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary mourns the loss of Carl “Chip” L. Stam, one of her most beloved and influential professors, who passed away May 1. Stam battled an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma since Spring 2007. Born March 10, 1953, he died at age 58.” So sad. Remember his family in your prayers. He’s in heaven with the King of kings! So, we rejoice for him, as his family misses him being with them.

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