Many know the story of Charles Spurgon and the Downgrade Controversy in England. Mr. Spurgeon, pastor of the largest evangelical Baptist church in London in the 1800's, voiced his opposition to a denial of the fundamentals of the faith by his fellow Baptists. He vigrously opposed 'the modernists.' Spurgeon pointed out that in the pulpit ministries of these modernists "the Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection into a myth." Spurgeon did not hesitate to separate from those Baptists, and others, who rejected the plenary inspiration of the scriptures and the substitutionary atonement.
On the other hand, Spurgeon never let his opposition to classical liberalism stir him up to castigate any of his fellow evangelicals who disagreed with him on secondary or tertiary issues. While he opposed encroaching liberalism in the Baptist Union of England, an act for which he was eventually expelled from the Union, Spurgeon always insisted that there must be unity among all evangelicals who held to the fundamentals of the faith.
Spurgeon said "We are not to be always going about the world searching out heresies, like terrier dogs sniffing for rats, and to be always so confident of our own infallibility that we erect ecclesiastical stakes at which to [figuratively] roast all who differ from us." (From the "Forward," to An All-Around Ministry, page 55.)
Greg Wills, associate professor of church history at Southern Seminary, goes so far as to call Spurgeon "a poor sectarian and a weak fundamentalist," (a phrase I would view as a compliment) because of Sprugeon's views on the church and evangelical cooperation.
Wills says, "Spurgeon's view of the church encouraged his emphasis on evangelical unity. He held that there was only one church and it comprised all believers" (emphasis mine). The universal church was both visible and invisible. Dr. Wills continues expounding on Spurgeon's views of the church by explaining, "The invisible (church) referred to the regenerating work of the Spirit hidden from human eyes. The visible church referred to the work of the Spirit as made visible by the profession and deportment of believers. Since the church comprised all believers, ecclesiological differences had little importance. There were many denominations, but only one church. ("The Ecclesiology of Charles Spurgeon: Unity, Orthodox, and Denominational Identity" by Gregory Wills).
Spurgeon based his commitment to open communion on this broad ecclesiology, or generous definition of the church as composed of all believers. It is perhaps the best known of Spurgeon's ecclesiological principles. He held that the only proper qualification for participating in the Lord's Supper was conversion. Hence he invited all who believed in Jesus to receive the bread and wine. Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, whether immersed on a profession of faith or sprinkled as infants, were all welcome if only they were born again.
We Southern Baptist pastors could learn a great deal from the ministry modeled by Mr. Spurgeon. While cherishing the fundementals of the faith, may God keep us Southern Baptist pastors from becoming terrier dogs searching for rats.
In His Grace,