In Myth: Baptists Believe in Doctrinal Uniformity, Robert N. Nash wrote, "Baptists love controversy...Sometimes we are a bit like a pair of siblings who fight each other tooth and nail until somone else comes along and joins the fray. Sometimes we forget our differences and battle the common enemy. Without an enemy, though, we are perfectly content to pound on family members." Yes, we resemble that remark! Sometimes we may think of other Baptists more like red-headed step-cousins than real family, but I think we can get the point. We do love controversy.
In 1972, Walter B. Shurden wrote a book entitled Not a Silent People: Controversies that have shaped Southern Baptists. In it he discusses various controversies that took place within the context of the Southern Baptist Convention (or if predating it nevertheless affecting it). After presenting the controversies, he concludes with "lessons from Baptist controversies." Here are 4 lessons he thinks we learn from Baptist controversies.
1. "Controversy is inevitable among Baptists." Shurden pointed out the Baptist ideas of freedom and democratic congregational government are bound to make room for controversy. Also with this freedom comes diversity, and with diversity controversy.
2. "Controversy is painful but profitable." Shurden pointed to English Baptist John Clifford belief that the evils of controversy are temporary and the benefits permanent. We learn learn from it [sometimes I wonder! :-D ]
3. "Controversy is often embodied in powerful personalities." For better or worse, we know this to be true. Many Baptist controversies are named after a central figure -- e.g. "Whitsitt controversy", "Norris controversy", "Hayden controversy" -- or at least have one or more prominent names associated with it -- e.g. Spurgeon and the "Downgrade controversy"; Graves and "Landmarkism"; Parker, Fuller, Taylor, et al. and the missions controversy.
4. "Controversy is never finally and absolutely settled among Baptists." Baptists are a priesthood of believers and congregations who head is Christ -- there is NO central authority and NO final word from such an authority.
What have you learned from a Baptist controversy?