THE MYTH OF SANDY CREEK
Some things about Southern Baptist life drive me crazy. One is this new claim to be a “Sandy Creek Baptist”. This claim comes as a counter-point to the resurgence of Calvinism in the convention. Those who oppose it like to call themselves Sandy Creekers.
The leading anti-Calvinist of the day seems to be Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Theological Seminary here in Fort Worth. You may have heard his discussion with Al Mohler at the convention, where he tells why he is not a Calvinist.
Patterson likes to claim that he is a “Sandy Creeker”. He contrasts the Sandy Creek tradition with the so called Charleston tradition, saying that Charleston was Calvinistic, but not Sandy Creek. Patterson also refuses to be identified as an Arminian, so you would have to find another word to describe the position attributed to the church.
For example, when Sandy Creek Baptist Church celebrated its 250th anniversary, articles in various Baptist publications said the church and association was known for fostering one of the two key tributaries to modern Southern Baptist life. The church invited Patterson to speak, I guess because he is a “Sandy Creeker”. He is a Sandy Creeker in the same way John Kennedy was a Berliner. Or, maybe in the same way Hillary Clinton claimed part of the heritage of Selma, Alabama, in a recent speech.
Patterson trotted out the idea of Sandy Creek vs. Charleston. He spoke of the “Southern Baptist river as flowing from two tributaries, one having its beginning in Charleston, S.C., the more Reformed tradition of Baptist life, and the other at Sandy Creek.”
Patterson went on to say “I am a Sandy Creeker. If I could manage to have honorary church membership in any church in the Southern Baptist Convention, it would be Sandy Creek.” “We Sandy Creekers still believe we are in the era of evangelism, missions and great revival.”
The problem is, the Sandy Creek association was no Arminian stronghold, or anti-Calvinist or Reformed. They had a confession, and it sounds Calvinistic. Here it is.
PRINCIPLES OF FAITH
I. We believe that there is only one true and living God; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, equal in essence, power and glory; yet there are not three Gods but one God.
II. That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, and only rule of faith and practice.
III. That Adam fell from his original state of purity, and that his sin is imputed to his posterity; that human nature is corrupt, and that man, of his own free will and ability, is impotent to regain the state in which he was primarily placed
IV. We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost.
V. We believe that there will be a resurrection from the dead, and a general or universal! judgment, and that the happiness of the righteous and punishment of the wicked will be eternal.
VI. That the visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful persons, who have obtained fellowship with each other, and have given themselves up to the Lord and one another; having agreed to keep up a godly discipline, according to the rules of the Gospel.
VII. That Jesus Christ is the great head of the church, and that the government thereof is with the body.
VIII. That baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances of the Lord, and to be continued by his church until his second coming.
IX. That true believers are the only fit subjects of baptism, and that immersion is the only mode.
X. That the church has no right to admit any but regular baptized church members to communion at the Lord's table.
As you can see, Article III states belief in “original sin” and total depravity, the “T” in TULIP. Article IV refers to effectual calling, imputed righteousness by justification, and perseverance of the saints. The only one of the five points of Calvinism not specifically mentioned is limited atonement. However, you can hardly have election without limited atonement.
Patterson either has not read the confession or is misstating the beliefs of these early Baptists. Neither is a particularly attractive position for a seminary president.
Gregory Wills, a Baptist historian, says the Sandy Creek-Charleston analogy “is pretty well suited to mislead as much as to illuminate.” He was referring more to Dwight McKissic’s use of the analogy to promote tolerance of tongue speaking, but the shoe fits.
Wills also said the Sandy Creek and Charleston traditions were not very different and that both groups were Calvinist in their understanding of Scripture teaching.