A few days ago, I was thinking about our one-year (May 2014-June 2015), increasingly troubling stay at a small Southern Baptist church in town and I thought I’d write a short post about the experience.
I’ve referred many times to my very long prodigal “season” away from the Lord after I had become exasperated with the teaching at our first Bible-preaching church. However, the Lord kept calling me back to Him and when we became reconnected with some old Christian friends and they invited us to their evangelical Free Methodist church, I finally returned to the Lord.
However, we were prevented from continuing at our friends’ church because of differences involving some important secondary belief issues, so after some searching, we finally settled on a small Southern Baptist church (photo above) about four miles from our house. Our first Sunday in attendance was also the first service for the newly hired pastor; a young guy (35), fresh out of seminary, with lots of enthusiasm for the Lord. I very much appreciated that, in his sermons, he emphasized God’s grace. That was a balm to my soul in comparison to the heavy guilt-trips that were regularly laid upon the members at our first church. Sign me up!
Everything was going fine initially, but then the pastor began to reveal a disturbing fondness for Catholic theology. Here’s some specific examples I can remember:
- In casual conversation, the pastor said that he desired to set up a men’s discussion group that would bandy about theological topics in the same tradition as English intellectuals, Anglican C.S. Lewis and Roman Catholic G.K. Chesterton. Well, Chesterton was actually of the generation preceding Lewis’s, but his books had a profound effect on Lewis’s openness to ecumenism. The pastor’s penchant for Lewis and, especially, Chesterton, was troubling.
- A men’s group was subsequently started and the pastor chose “The End of Christendom” (1980) written by Malcolm Muggeridge as our first study material. Muggeridge was a British journalist and a convert to Catholicism who was largely responsible for turning Mother Teresa into an international celebrity. After finishing the Muggeridge book, the pastor began showing segments of Francis Schaeffer’s film series, “How Should We Then Live.” Both materials were inappropriate for a casual, non-academic men’s church group, especially Muggeridge’s book for its Catholic connections. I inquired of the pastor about Muggeridge’s Catholic affiliation, but was brushed off.
- During one of the men’s get-togethers, the pastor referenced Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) as his “favorite theologian.” Huh? Aquinas is venerated as Catholicism’s premier theologian and his “Scholasticism” (a system of theology and philosophy based on the syncretism of Aristotelian logic and the writings of the early church fathers) was the dominant theological viewpoint of the Catholic church for seven-hundred years. I questioned the pastor on how he could admire Aquinas when the theologian propagated all of the major doctrines of Catholicism (e.g., the priesthood, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, purgatory, the papacy, indulgences, salvific merit, auricular confession, etc., etc.). Again, I was brushed off.
- The pastor was also a strong admirer of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and frequently referenced his “Pensées.” Pascal was a Catholic, but also a member of the heretical (according to the popes of that era) Jansenist movement.
I liked the pastor personally and I appreciated most of his sermon messages, but all of these accommodations and positive references to Roman Catholicism increasingly troubled me and I began to seriously contemplate leaving the church.
- The last straw came when, from the pulpit, the pastor cited Peter Kreeft as his “favorite philosopher.” Kreeft is a convert to Catholicism and, as one of that church’s most popular apologists, has written many books promoting the Catholic gospel of sacramental grace and merit. I knew at the moment the pastor recommended Kreeft to the congregation that I had to find a new church home for my wife and I.
We stayed at that church for a year, but, looking back, we should have left sooner than we did. The pastor was so enamored with and so deferential to Roman Catholicism, he would have been more consistent in his beliefs had he just padlocked the doors of his SBC church and told the 30-some adults in the congregation to transfer to the RC Church of the Transfiguration just a half-mile down the road.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a wide umbrella and certainly not all SBC pastors are enmeshed in ecumenical compromise and betrayal of the Gospel the way this young pastor was. Some Southern Baptist pastors and para-church leaders shun unity with Rome, but others, like the names that follow, are not only open to ecumenism with Rome, they even pursue it: Ronnie Floyd, Timothy George, Franklin Graham, Richard Land, Beth Moore, and Rick Warren.
See my previous post here about how the pastor and his deacon friend inadvertently motivated me to begin this blog.