Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary has announced the new format and the speakers for their February conference. The announcement has already generated some discussion and met with some complaints. That’s probably a good thing. Although I intend to ignore the lunatic fringe, I do think that there is some profit in examining some of the issues a conference like this might raise. First up, for me, is the question of how I made the decision to participate in it. There are probably several facets to my answer, but let me start with a somewhat mechanical one. Back in 2001 I did a workshop for the Mid-America Conference on Preaching entitled “Where the Rubber Meets the Road: The Application of Ecclesiastical Separation” (UPDATE: I remembered that I also did this for an AACCS meeting in 2005 and they posted in online, so here it is if you want to see the outline) and in that session I laid out a series of questions that govern my decisions. Here they are:
- At what level is this relationship? (e.g., personal, educational, ecclesiastical)
- What variables are involved?
- Are they fundamental in doctrine? If no, then it is a dead issue. If yes, then…
- Are they separatist in commitment and practice (i.e., they call themselves that and actually implement it)? If no, then the relationship is stalled. If yes, then…
- Are they compatible with our theological distinctives?
- Are they consistent with our philosophical direction?
- Is this a matter of immediate significance to our church?
So, let me apply to this to the conference in Lansdale:
- At what level is this relationship? Since this is a conference connected to Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, I take it to be mainly an educational/academic setting, but that is a point open to debate since it is closely connected to Calvary Baptist Church.
- What are the variables involved?
- Are they fundamental in doctrine? Yes, CBTS and all speakers involved are.
- Are they separatist in commitment and practice? Yes, CBTS and all speakers involved openly state their belief in separatist principles and have implemented them. Granted, there is not complete agreement among the speakers with regard to some applications, but none disagree with what I consider to be the sine qua non of separatist commitments. Positive answers to these two questions means that some level of cooperation is permissible.
- Are they compatible with our theological distinctives? There is enough compatibility for a conference context. IOW, the differences between DBTS and Calvary are not such that would compromise our distinctives. The differences between the other speakers and DBTS or myself are not the kind that would compromise our distinctives, particularly since we are in very close agreement regarding the specific conference theme.
- Are they compatible with our philosophical direction? In terms of the conference theme, I believe the answer is yes. In terms of ministry philosophy, Mark Dever and I are very compatible on this point.
- Is this a matter of immediate significance to our church? Nope. It’s a conference in Philly that most of the folks in our church will be unaware of unless I happen to mention it in a request for prayer support. It does not commit our church to anything or involve it in any ecclesiastical relationship.
I would imagine that some take exception with my answer to the separatist question, especially as it relates to Mark Dever. On that point I would simply say: (1) Mark has personally affirmed to me his agreement with what I believe to be the three essential points regarding biblical separatism; (2) Mark and Capitol Hill have actually applied these principles in real life; and (3) Mark and CHBC do some things and have some relationships that I wouldn’t feel at liberty to do and have, but then again so do a whole lot of other people along side of whom I’ve spoken in conferences.
There are other factors that go into most decisions, but what I’ve tried to outline here is what I consider some non-negotiable (fundamental doctrine, separatist convictions and practice) as well as practical matters (consistency regarding important beliefs and practices). Other prudential and personal matters have their proper place, but this is the basic grid from which I operate.