What does strong church look like?


Some churches are stronger than others. They have a feel about them. They feel strong, mature, developed. Now a lot of what makes a churches strong is intangible. I don’t think it’d be possible to measure the spiritual vitality of a community of believers. But I do think that there are a couple of things that can be externally observed which serve as a litmus for where a church is. Here’s my thinking:

In the Baptist Union there are four types of churches: A-type, B-type, C-type and D-type churches. The designations are make believe, but it kinda helps us categorise who’s who in the zoo.

A-type churches are Self-governing, Self-supporting and Self-propagating. They are generally large, vibrant communities which have a long history.

B-type churches are Self-governing and Self-supporting. They are generally medium in size.

C-type churches are Self-governing. There are often smaller communities.

D-type churches are unconstituted or failed communities.

By saying Self-governing I mean autonomous, properly constituted churches.

By saying Self-supporting I mean that the church in question has called a fulltime shepherd who they are able to adequately compensate.

By saying Self-propagating I mean that the community is actively engaged in creating a community of like-minded believers in another properly constituted church.

Comments?

How do churches, associations and unions relate?


Since the Baptist Union of Southern Africa’s 2013 Assembly I’ve been giving some thought to the inter-relation of churches, associations and unions; and how to transfer that thinking to my congregation. This is where I’m at so far and I’d love to hear where you’re at.

What is a Baptist Church?

A Baptist church is a gathered community of Protestant believers which accepts the supreme and final authority of Holy Scripture in all matters of faith and practice. Baptist churches observes two ordinances, that of Believers’ Baptism by Immersion and the Lord’s Supper. Baptist churches ascribe to the principles detailed above, although the implementation of them may differ from church to church.

Churches

What is a Baptist Association?

A Baptist association is made up of a number of autonomous local churches. All local churches in an association would prescribe to Christian tenants of belief and Baptist distinctives. Local churches would hold voluntarily membership with an association.

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa has 7 geographic associations affiliated to it. But not every Baptist association is a member of the Baptist Union of Southern Africa; for example Sola 5 and Isaiah 58 which are theological associations are unaffiliated to other bodies.

Associations

What is the Baptist Union?

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa was founded in 1877 by four English-speaking churches and one German-speaking church in the Eastern Cape. Today it comprises of many hundreds of churches spread throughout Southern Africa. It is a voluntary organisation comprised of a number of associations which prescribe to Christian tenants of belief and Baptist distinctives.

Unions

How do they inter-related?

So here I want to detail what the specified functions of associations and unions are and then briefly layout what each group ought to do.

The associations are to 1.) promote and provide opportunities for Christian fellowship and unity among the churches, the pastors and all the Baptists in the area; 2.) provide the opportunity and possibility for the churches, pastors and people to perform together ministries and services which they would not easily be able to do alone; 3.) to seek to provide resources to assist the churches, the pastors and the members to serve the Lord more effectively; 4.) to provide care, guidance, challenge and vision to the churches, pastors and members; 5.) to seek to establish, assist and nurture Baptist churches and fellowships in the area; 6.) to encourage evangelistic outreach and missionary activity among churches, fellowships and individual Baptists; 7.) to assume such functions and responsibilities on behalf of the union as may be mutually agreed upon; 8.) to disseminate Baptist Principles and to advocate religious liberty for all.

I’d sum the above up by saying that the associations are to provide facilitation between churches.

The union is to 1.) collect information respecting the history, organisation and work of Member Churches and Associations; 2.) co-ordinate and combine the efforts of Member Churches in all matters affecting the general welfare of the Union, and its Members; 3.) engage in medical, educational, relief and other benevolent work and to confer and co-operate as occasion may require with Member Churches and other christian communities and philanthropic societies; 4.) make provision for retiring and relief allowances for its staff, Ministers, Missionaries and their wives or widows; 5.) provide for theological education and for training for service in the churches; 6.) control admission to and deletion from the Union’s lists of accredited ministers; 7.) provide for the supply of church and mission requisites; 8.) give services of advice or arbitration in cases of difference or dispute, with the consent of the parties concerned; 9.) receive, purchase, hold, hypothecate, sell, donate, lease, exchange and partition movable and immovable property; 10.) act as Trustee for any Church or Association whether established or to be established; 11.) invest funds of the Union in such manner as may be prescribed by By-Law; 12.) To confer and co-operate as occasion may require with Member Churches and Ministers in connection with ministerial settlement and the like; 13.) tender advice to Member Churches and Ministers on all matters appertaining to ministerial settlements and the like; 14.) borrow money with or without security for the purposes of the Union, and Associations, in such manner at such times and on such conditions as the Executive may determine; 15.) appoint and dismiss staff; 16.) make or amend such By-Laws as it may deem necessary for the proper administration of its business.

I’d sum the above up by saying that the union is to provide administration services to churches.

Inter-relation

Who are the Baptists in South Africa?


I created a little content for an interested party a month back or so and I thought I’d test it out on open platform. Please, take a look, make a comment. Agree? Disagree? Make sense? Confusing? I’d like your feedback.

Who are South Africa’s Baptists?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

The Baptist Union

The South African census of 2001 recorded that out of a population of 44,819,774 citizens 691,235 people identified themselves as Baptists in South Africa.

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa in 2010, held in association 524 churches with 43431 members.

I’m a member (ok, I’m the pastor) of a church which is in the Baptist Union of Southern Africa and I think it’s fair to say that even as I look to the interests of my own local church I also desire to see the Union of churches as a whole strengthened. I’m not a passive bystander.

Theological identifications within the Baptist Union

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

Theological identifications within the Baptist Union

Two main theological camps have begun to emerge in the last 10 years within the Baptist Union.

Sola 5 Is a grouping of Reformed Baptists who are unified by their Soteriology (Reformed). They are a very well mobilised, cohesive group.

Isaiah 58 Is a grouping of Baptists who are unified primarily by their adoption of church growth strategies and – in lesser part – by their Pneumatology (Charismatic). It’s been pointed out to me that some in Isaiah 58 would see themselves as Reformed Charismatics, others Liberal Charismatics, still others not Charismatic at all.

The majority of the Union is not aligned to either of these camps but in our postmodern world, where truth is a grey substance that no one wants to be caught holding when the music stops, it is very interesting to me that groups are beginning to form which stand for anything. The church which supports me as a missionary is a member of Sola 5 and I actively foster relationships with churches in this group. Over time it seems inevitable that our church would seek dual membership with the Baptist Union and Sola 5.

Who’s networking with who?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

the networks are far more complex than this, but this should get a conversation rolling?

Sola 5 churches have, and are developing, good relationships with paedo-Baptists. You can see these developing relationships in efforts like the Rezolution Conference and fraternal gatherings, like the recent visit by David Carmichael.

I’m a little far removed from Isaiah 58, however, I understand that they are developing relationships and holding joint conferences with a wide range of Charismatics. I hope I haven’t misrepresented them (anyone reading that can fill in the blanks?).

The Baptist Union ties two important Baptist groups together namely the Baptist Convention (former black union of churches) and the Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke (Afrikaans association of churches).

Who’s training who?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

The picture roughly demonstrates who feeds Our colleges and who they service

There are four colleges producing pastors for the Baptist Union in South Africa.

Christ Seminary produces candidates for churches like mine, Conservative Evangelical (although one could go further and say they groom Dispensational graduates – anyone want to contend?). Cape Town Baptist Seminary and the Baptist Theological College provide graduates to a far wider Baptist pool of churches. The Bible Institute of South Africa services a Reformed base of churches and the Afrikaanse Baptiste Seminarium addresses the Afrikaans constituency.

SATS and UNISA as distance learning institutions are all things to all men and I guess pick up the rest, but play an important role in post-graduate studies.

The Reformed camp, which is notoriously untrusting of local institutions, sends a number of their most promising candidates overseas for university education (Master’s Seminary, London Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary… – is this a fair statement?).

It’s my opinion that the ratio of graduates to established churches in South Africa is mismatched.

That, in a nutshell, is how I see the lay of the land. Too simple? Too complex? Too pointless? Comment below.

Baptist Assembly: Day 1


So the 2012 Baptist Assembly starts today and I’m kinda excited. I’m really looking forward to seeing some friends (especially the guys that don’t stay in Johannesburg like Malcolm and Rocky). I’m also looking forward to some great discussion, there are sound thinkers in the Union and I love to spend time getting sharpened by them. I’m looking forward to the morning devotionals (which were a highlight for me last year) and the keynote addresses (last year there were some outstanding expository sermons, especially Trent and ilk). Oh, and Gideon Mpeni is going with me and I’m really looking forward to introducing him to all that is good about being connected.

I’m a bit miffed that the Assembly is over a weekend, a Sunday away from the flock. I’m sure that the conference could (and maybe should) run from Tuesday to Friday. But the joy is that while I’m away our congregation will, for the next two weeks, receive teaching from two preachers from amongst our own number for the very first time, Charles and Gideon. Also while I’m on the Westrand I get to preach away from home this week which is always exciting.

Basically I’m going into the Assembly on a high note; which is much better than last year when I went in on an apprehensive note. I’ll check in regularly and hopefully take some good pics this year :).

Going Dotty (Part 7)


<— Click here for Part 6

And so this is it, Christo Beetge’s* last installment.

In four previous editions we have been asking, and progressively answering, this very practical question, “What does it mean to be a ‘Baptist’?” We come now to the concluding article in this five-part series conceived to help us as a church.

family communicate more effectively and intentionally when we use technical designations such as ‘Baptist’. We have lamented the fact that increasingly it seems to be the case today that people who call themselves “Baptists” or “Methodists” or “Presbyterians” are unable to define what they mean when using such specific terminology. Yes, admittedly we live in a day where we increasingly shy away from being specific because it is not “politically correct” to make distinctions based on “privately held convictions”, since the philosophy of our age denies that there is any absolute truth. Such thinking is very much part of life today, but, in my experience it is not so much that people are unwilling to define their terminology, but more likely that they are unable to do so with any confidence. The reason why people are unable to articulate the distinctions between religious groups is that our post-modern world has successfully discouraged us from being aware of such potentially divisive issues. I am persuaded that ignorance is actually the problem – ignorance regarding church history and regarding Bible doctrine. It is to help bring some clarity then to the term “Baptist” that this series of articles has been written. These articles have sought simply to answer the very reasonable question, “What freight is implied by the term ‘Baptist’?”

Thus far nine issues have been raised. We have argued historically that Baptists are a peculiar group of believers who hold in common a commitment to a bouquet of convictions called ‘Baptist Principles’. To this point we have mentioned and briefly discussed the following:

  • The Direct Lordship of Jesus Christ – every believer must by definition have a direct relationship with God the Father mediated only through the Person and work of God the Son;
  • The Priesthood of all Believers – every believer is a priest unto God;
  • The Congregational Life – because every individual believer has this direct access to God through Christ and is enabled by the indwelling Spirit to be a priest unto God, such members have the right and the responsibility to participate constructively and definitively in the life of the local congregation;
  • The Authority and Sufficiency of the Bible – all matters of Faith and practise must be regulated and shaped by direct reference to the written Word which God has inspired, and preserved in written form for our eternal good;
  • The Priority of Verbal Proclamation in worship and service – since saving faith comes from hearing the Word of God, our activities in mission, evangelism and discipleship must be heavily centered upon verbal proclamation and application of all of Scripture;
  • Regenerate Church Membership – only those who are willing to make a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ and who engage in good works may be considered as members of a local church;
  • Separation of Church and State – the authority of civil authorities is limited to civil matters, and must not encroach upon the authority of parents in the home nor on the authority of believers in the local church;
  • The Two Ordinances – only two ceremonies were ordered by the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, namely baptism of confessors in Christ by immersion in water, and the eating of the Lord’s Supper as an act of remembrance in which Christ Jesus is present.
  • The Autonomy of the Local Church – each local church with its formally recognised members and biblically qualified leaders, operating in obedience to the Scriptures and in the power of the Holy Spirit is not subservient to the authority of any other ecclesiastical body. There is no “Head Office” wielding authority and control over “branches”. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, is the Head of the Church. He mediates His authority by means of the Word and the Spirit directly into the local church and its members. The Church Universal is made up of local bodies, churches, that operate in obedience to God’s written revelation. Such practical operation and ministry happens without any additional level of authority being inserted between Jesus Christ and such local church families. Whilst local churches, in recognition of their inter-dependence upon one another, may associate and co-operate together for the benefit of the Kingdom of Christ, such association and co-operation does not explicitly or implicitly constitute another level of superior authority over the local church. In this respect Baptists are very different to Methodists, Anglicans, NG churches, etc.

Incidentally, just recently a very helpful practical example of this ninth principle, the issue of authority, appeared in the South African media. The Roman Catholic young lady, Francesca Zackey from Benoni, who claimed to be receiving “visitations and messages from the Virgin Mary” was instructed by “Head Office”, namely some ecclesiastical individual not directly associated with the local church to which she belonged, to cease from seeing people and speaking to the press about her “supernatural experiences”. As Baptists, we would say that the only people with any ecclesiastical authority in Francesca’s life are the Elders of, and the fellow-believers who belong to, that church.

So, whilst we are sceptical about what Francesca is doing, and are certainly critical of her alleged advice to a particular lady to look into the sun in order to catch a glimpse of the Virgin Mary, we would argue that the only people with relevant ecclesiastical authority in her life to admonish her would be the leadership within her own local church – not some “higher authority” in the church hierarchy. I trust the point regarding authority in the life of the individual believer and local group of believers is clear?

Related to this point in some sense is the final Baptist Principle known as “Freedom of Conscience“. Because Baptists believe as we do in the direct Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authoritative role of the Scriptures in the life of a believer who is actively dependent upon the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we want to defend the right of each individual to operate, within the law of the land, according to their own conscience before God. God alone is Lord of the conscience. James 4:12 and 1 Cor 4:3-4 establish this principle for us. We acknowledge that all people will give an account of themselves to Christ on the Day of Judgment. We have no right in the local church to demand an “absolute and blind obedience” in a manner that equates differing from the church with differing from God. This Baptist principle is best appreciated in the light of Church history and what can best be described as “Ecclesiastical Totalitarianism”.

For this reason, we Baptists want to defend what we believe to be the inalienable right of people to live according to the dictates of their own conscience. So, for instance, as a result of this tenth Principle, we will be willing to debate with local Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance. We believe they are mistaken in their convictions, and will seek to persuade them regarding the truth of Scripture. We will also obey Eph 5:11 and seek to expose such error. But, we will defend their right to continue in propagating their error if they so desire.

We would be opposed to their being restricted by civil authorities to live according to these (erroneous) convictions they have. We would be opposed to the civil authorities taking action against them on the basis of their error. Because we value the freedom we claim to have to live according to our consciences, we want to fight for the right of all people, likewise, to be allowed to live according to their consciences, even if we believe them to be wrong. Vengeance and coercion belong ultimately to God. As long as people are not in contravention of the law of the land, we will not call for punishment or coercion to be applied.

In the context of the local church, we see the importance of defining and recording up-front our convictions in a Statement of Faith. People then join us on the basis of their agreement with this Statement of Faith. In situations of conviction that are not dealt with by our Statement of Faith, we would simply seek to persuade people from the Scriptures, but we would not otherwise seek to bind their consciences. We would refrain from such action precisely because of our commitment to this tenth principle. Maybe it must be stated emphatically that this principle does not imply that we believe everybody to be right in whatever their convictions are. We will certainly not on the basis of this principle defend a “free for all” in terms of error being taught in the local church, or Biblically indefensible positions being held in the name of freedom of conscience. No, Baptists have simply believed historically by this principle that we do not have the authority before God to use manipulative “force” (emotional or physical) to bring about compliance. People must be left to stand or fall before the Lord – provided of course that their freedom is not intentionally undermining unity in the local church body.

As Baptists, we want to apply Zechariah’s prophecy recorded in Luke 1:74-75, and nurture people who will serve God “without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all [their] days”. We must be reminded that, for over 1000 years, amidst the mentality of the so-called “royal prerogative of kings” in the life and death for their subjects, this freedom of conscience did not exist! Baptists have fought for this freedom, and we must cherish it!

So, we have arrived at the place then, where we can peruse these ten principles and meaningfully answer the question for ourselves and for others, “Am I a ‘Baptist’ by conviction or simply through force of circumstance?” Here is the challenge then: The next time someone asks you, “What do Baptists believe?“, will you be willing and able to speak about more than simply the amount of water used in baptism? Will you be able, in an amiable and persuasive way, to mention and expand upon issues such as:

  • The direct Lordship of Christ?
  • The Priesthood of all believers?
  • Congregational life?
  • The Authority and Sufficiency of the Bible?
  • The priority of Verbal Proclamation in worship and service?
  • Regenerate church membership?
  • Separation of church and State?
  • The two Ordinances?
  • The Autonomy of the local church?
  • Freedom of Conscience?
Christo Beetge Brackenhurst Baptist Church

* An article, written by Christo Beetge, and published in 5 parts in the Brackenhurst Baptist Church’s monthly in-house publication entitled Pastors’ Pen. This publication is produced by the Elders, with a view to stimulate congregational discussion and debate and to promote rigorous Christian discipline in reading and thinking.

<— Click here for Part 6

Going Dotty (Part 6)


<— Click here for Part 5

Thanks to all the flesh and blood people who’ve phoned, emailed and chatted to me in the last few weeks regarding my “slow slide off the face of the earth”. I’ve taken a bit of a “blogging sabbatical” brought on by a decision faced by my wife and I regarding our involvement in the establishment of God’s kingdom. Truthfully I’ve been a bit too introspective to produce anything of any literary value of late. Thanks for your patience. God willing I’ll be back soon. Until then: this article was written by Christo Beetge*. There’s only one more installment to go!

More and more it seems to be the case today that people who call themselves “Baptists” or “Methodists” or “Presbyterians” are unable to define what they mean when using such specific terminology. This confusion and historical ignorance reveals itself further in the fact that people seem to be unclear as to the differences between these various ecclesiastical groupings. This means that if I were to say in conversation that my roots lie in the “Brethren Church” or the “Church of the Nazarene” (for example), it is unlikely that I would actually have communicated anything meaningful by saying so.

More and more people are keen to believe that being a “Christian” is all that matters, and that we should not bother to define our terms. A moment’s thought would reveal the folly of such simplicity. Even the word “Christian” is a technical term, laden with some freight. If you want to communicate something by using the term then you need to answer the question, “But what do you mean by calling yourself a… (Christian, Baptist, Methodist, etc)”. It is to help bring some clarity to the term “Baptist” that this series of articles has been written. These articles have sought then to answer the very reasonable question, “What freight is implied by the term ‘Baptist’?”

Thus far eight issues have been raised. I have argued historically that Baptists are a peculiar group of believers who hold in common a commitment to a bouquet of convictions called ‘Baptist Principles’. To this point we have mentioned and briefly discussed the following:

  • The Direct Lordship of Jesus Christ – every believer must by definition have a direct and unmediated relationship with God the Father by means of the Person and work of God the Son;
  • The Priesthood of all Believers – every believer is a priest unto God;
  • The Congregational Life – because every individual believer has this direct access to God through Christ and is enabled by the indwelling Spirit to be a priest unto God, such members have the right and the responsibility to participate constructively and definitively in the life of the local congregation;
  • The Authority and Sufficiency of the Bible – all matters of Faith and practise must be regulated and shaped by direct reference to the written Word which God has inspired, inscripturated and preserved for our eternal good;
  • The Priority of Verbal Proclamation in worship and service – since saving faith comes from hearing the Word of God, our activities in mission, evangelism and discipleship must be heavily centered upon verbal proclamation and application of all of Scripture;
  • Regenerate Church Membership – only those who are willing to make a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ and who engage in good works may be considered as members of a local church;
  • Separation of Church and State – the authority of civil authorities is limited to civil matters, and must not encroach upon the authority of parents in the home nor on the authority of believers in the local church;
  • The Two Ordinances – only two ceremonies were ordered by the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, namely baptism of confessors in Christ by immersion in water, and the eating of the Lord’s Supper as an act of remembrance in which Christ Jesus is present.

Before we mention one further Baptist Principle here (leaving a final one for the fifth and concluding article in this series), let it be stated again plainly, that all Christians, by definition, will hold to a selection of the above convictions. None of these principles is unique to those who use the name “Baptist”. But what is unique is that Baptists, by definition, hold to all ten of these principles, and these convictions shape local Baptist churches and flavour their ethos and approach.

Furthermore, let it also be stated again, that the word “Baptist” is not a political or denominational designation. It is possible to be authentically ‘baptistic’ without actually using the word “Baptist” in your churches name. Too many people seem to think that you can only be a “Baptist” church if you belong to some formal grouping like the Baptist Union, or some grouping of that kind.

Well, now to the ninth Baptist Principle. Although baptistic churches, emphasising as they do the significance of the local church, have emphasized inter-dependence and sought not to be isolationist or sectarian in their independence, we none the less want to remain committed to the idea of autonomy. By the notion designated by the phrase, “the autonomy of the local church”, Baptists certainly do not want to suggest that one local church has absolutely no need of other like-minded Baptist churches.

In fact, this inter-dependence is the very reality that lies behind co-operative associations like the Sola 5 family. It is simply a logical fact of economy and limited resources that means that in order to be productively engaged in world missions and theological education, each local church will need to pool its limited resources with those of other like-minded congregations. But, (and here’s the point), this associating of ourselves together for the purpose of greater strategic involvement in missions and training, must not be allowed to develop into some ecclesiastical structure that will ultimately supersede the local church in authority.

To put it plainly: There is no “Head Office” to which the local “branch” like BBC is accountable. Or to state it slightly differently: When BBC gathers as an assembly of formal members and God is present by His Spirit, then there exists no higher ecclesiastical authority on earth! The pope of Rome is only head of the Roman Catholic Church – He has absolutely no authority outside of the his ecclesiastical structure.

Thoughtful readers will immediately see the significance of the issue discussed last time, under the heading “Separation of Church and State”. No one has the right, according to the baptistic understanding of God’s delegated authority to the local church and her office-bearers, to interfere in our local church affairs. The reason for this is that we simply do not see anywhere in Scripture that there is another strata of authority under which the local church falls.

Two Scripture issues immediately bear mentioning. The first is the fact that the seven letters in Revelation 2-3 were addressed not to the organization but to seven individual local churches. These local churches were recognised by God the Spirit as separate entities. They had specific strengths and weaknesses and needed individual attention by their ever-present Lord and Master. They were “the seven churches in Asia”, not “the church in Asia”.

The second Scripture issue is the church Council convened at Jerusalem in Acts 15. Many local churches in the various regions to which the gospel had spread were facing a common threat from Judaizers (i.e. those believers of Jewish origin who wanted to impose certain Jewish practices upon new converts to Christ). This matter was referred back to the gathered apostles in Jerusalem. The question then, is this: “Does Acts 15 not run counter to our baptistic conviction regarding autonomy?”

Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian synods, for instance, would argue against Baptists on this matter, suggesting that there is indeed a layer of authority that supersedes the local church. Baptists would hold rather that the Jerusalem Council is an example of co-operation for the sake of clarity, involving a unique group of Apostles. Today, we have the completed canon of Scripture (rather than the authoritative office of “apostle”). Whilst a gathering of spiritually mature representatives from various local congregations (such as their Elders) may benefit each local church by applying their collective wisdom to a matter, they may not impose their will on any local congregation. Rather than hierarchical structures, Baptists delight in the promise of the Lord Jesus that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20).

Baptists feel very strongly that the emphasis should be kept at the level of the local church acting as a body with the unmediated wisdom and direction of the Holy Spirit. Christ is the Head of the Church and will direct affairs in local churches by means of the Spirit through the agency of the written Word. (I trust that increasingly it is becoming clearer how inter-woven the logical connection is between these various Principles?)

Having raised these issues of conviction then, again the question must be asked: “Are you a Baptist? Or do you just happen to worship at a church with that name?

Christo Beetge Brackenhurst Baptist Church

* An article, written by Christo Beetge, and published in 5 parts in the Brackenhurst Baptist Church’s monthly in-house publication entitled Pastors’ Pen. This publication is produced by the Elders, with a view to stimulate congregational discussion and debate and to promote rigorous Christian discipline in reading and thinking.

<— Click here for Part 5

Going Dotty (Part 5)


<— Click here for Part 4 Click here for Part 6 —>

Figure 1: The Great Big Blue Dot. Click here to link to Part 1.

So I’ve started to think seriously about what it means to me being a Baptist. While I was unpacking some concepts in my mind I came across this article by Christo Beetge*. If you’re coming in late I’d suggest you back up to the first post and start at the beginning.

Parenthood is a shocking revelation of self – especially when it comes to being the parent of a “teenager”! Every honest adult can recall that season in life when you “needed to find yourself”, when you needed to see just where you fit in. So you experimented for a while with your hairstyle (on your head and on your face, if you’re male!) and your dress-code, until you felt comfortable with your “image”. Parents of children in their teens can be patient then, knowing that self-understanding, being able to describe yourself and appreciate how you arrived at where you are, is certainly an important component of settledness and contentment. The same is true of your doctrinal identity. Part of Christian maturity is knowing what you believe, why you believe it and how you came to those convictions.

So far in the previous [articles] in this series we have sought to appreciate Baptist identity in terms of certain convictions that are held in common with other believers. To this point we have concluded that most Christians generally are committed to notions such as: salvation being a direct relationship with God through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ; the priesthood of all believers; congregational involvement in the life of the local church; the authority and sufficiency of Scripture; and, the vital necessity of the verbal proclamation of truth (in the form of preaching, personal evangelism and discipleship) in the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom.

We have been at pains to point out that the word ‘Baptist’ is not primarily a denominational word, nor a sectarian label, but rather a theological and historical designation given to those believers who uniquely hold to all of these convictions mentioned thus far. How easy it is to lose sight of the tragic reality that each of these convictions have been hammered out on the anvil of persecution and ecclesiastical debate, and that many of those who wore the name ‘Baptist’ before us, or who preferred some other designation whilst holding to these ‘baptistic’ convictions, did so at great cost to themselves, even to the point of shedding their own blood! How helpful the reading of Church history is in reminding us that, outwardly, from a human vantage point, the visible Church is not a homogenous group! We need to know where we fit and how we came to be there, so that we can appreciate true unity when we experience it.

In addition to the five issues mentioned thus far, let’s add three more: the importance of a regenerate church; the relationship between the Church and the State; and, the ordinances. When the question is asked, “Who ought rightly to belong to the church?”, not all believers will give the same answer. Roman Catholics will say, “All those who are baptised as infants belong to the church”. Those from a Lutheran or other Episcopal tradition will argue that the issue is essentially geographical – “All people who live in a certain area belong to a certain local church.” But to this question, Baptists shy away from an institutional view of the church, favouring an understanding of the local church as an organic body or a family.

Baptists are persuaded that the Bible forces us to view the church from God’s perspective, saying that the local church consists only of those who have a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptists appreciate the biblical image of a vine in which the sap nourishes all the individual branches. Someone is part of the visible church because he or she has been translated miraculously by God from being in the kingdom of darkness into being part of the kingdom of light.

Baptists are realistic enough though, to realise that for now, despite our best efforts at discernment of spiritual identity, the flock of God will consist of both sheep and goats; or to change the metaphor, the field of God will contain both wheat and tares. But precisely because of the practical outworking of convictions mentioned in parts 1 and 2 of this series of articles, Baptists are Christians who are persuaded that when it comes to membership of the local church, humble spiritual discernment is called for. Not everyone who applies may rightly be admitted to membership of the local church. The issue must be decided upon from God’s perspective, as far as that is humanly possible. To put it simply: Baptists are willing to ask applicants for church membership, “Are you converted? Have you been born again? Are you a new creation in Christ?” Spiritual business must be conducted only by spiritual people.

Regarding our second issue, we can say that Baptists are people who acknowledge that God has ordained the exercise of His delegated authority in three distinct spheres in the world: the family, the local church and the State. Clearly, these three spheres of authority must all be appreciated with a view towards God’s glory.

The family involves marriage, parenthood and the rearing of children, all to the glory of God. The church involves the formal worship of God and the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry. The State is responsible for the ordered management of society according to the dictates of civil law. Baptists are Christians who believe that these three spheres of authority should not interfere with each other. Whilst the first two, the family unit (or the home) and the local church, obviously have a large degree of overlap and inter-dependence, they have unique areas of responsibility.

Historically, Baptists have wanted to defend the local church from interference in her affairs from the civil government, precisely because we do not see a similar degree of overlap or inter-dependence between the local church and the State. We give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and we give to God what belongs to God. It is simply not the prerogative of the State, therefore to regulate and organise matters that clearly lie within the realm of the local church. So, for instance, some Baptists ministers have refused to be marriage officers, precisely because they do not want, simultaneously, to be operating in the realm of the church and that of the State at a wedding ceremony.

Historically, Baptists have reacted against Lutherans and Roman Catholics who have apparently been happy to belong to a “state-sponsored church”.

Thirdly, Baptists have wanted to distance themselves from the Roman Catholic position regarding the ceremonies that Christ has instituted. Roman Catholics, and Anglicans and others, believe that Christ instituted as many as seven ‘sacraments’, or ceremonial transactions.

Whilst not all Baptists are necessarily opposed to the word ‘sacrament’, all Baptists are certainly (and even passionately) clear on the notion that Christ only commanded two specific ceremonies within general worship activity, namely the immersion of believers (or those confessing that they are believers) in water (known as ‘baptism’), and the Lord’s Supper (also referred to as ‘Communion’ or ‘the breaking of bread’ in some circles). Baptists often prefer to refer to these two ceremonies as ‘ordinances’, highlighting their institution by direct and explicit command of Christ.

It is not surprising that in the minds of almost all people calling themselves Christians, this issue of baptism (often erroneously referred to with the adjective ‘adult baptism’) has been the distinctive Baptistic conviction. Interestingly though, the point must be made that many believers who choose not to use the label ‘Baptist’ do none the less perform this ceremony of immersing confessing believers, whatever their age, in a pool of water. Here again the central point behind this series of articles must be re-iterated, namely that ‘Baptists’ are passionate and convinced about far more than simply the amount of water to be used in the baptism ceremony!

So, in summary, Baptists participate in only two prescribed ceremonies (Communion and Baptism); Baptists call for a credible profession of faith (and even water baptism) before admitting an applicant to membership; and, Baptists insist that the local church is not the realm where the State ought to exercise any direct authority.

Having raised these issues of conviction then, again the question must be asked: “Are you a Baptist? Or do you just happen to worship at a church with that name?”

Christo Beetge Brackenhurst Baptist Church

* An article, written by Christo Beetge, and published in 5 parts in the Brackenhurst Baptist Church’s monthly in-house publication entitled Pastors’ Pen. This publication is produced by the Elders, with a view to stimulate congregational discussion and debate and to promote rigorous Christian discipline in reading and thinking.

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