The Great Big Blue Dot (Part 4)

<— Click here for Part 3 Click here for Part 5 —>

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

I’m a Baptist, Independant, but Baptist non the less. While considering what that means I came across Christo’s article and have been most edified by it. Below is the third installment. I’d suggest you begin where all good things start. Have you read Part 1? If not click here.

I’m sure we have all had those moments when we have been confronted by someone in such a way and in such a moment of volatility, that we seriously wanted to “punch their lights out” (or take some equally drastic punitive measure!). I remember one such experience. I was a seminary student, and a friend from a rival “theological camp” (anyone who has been to seminary knows that such “camps” indeed exist!) came up to me and asked me in a seemingly innocent tone of voice, “Christo, are you Reformed?” Of course, it was a set-up and I walked right into the trap. I said, “Yes, I am”. To which this guy replied, “Well, how do you do – I’m a Christian“. What was infuriating in the extreme was the implied accusation that some people are so “doctrinally sensitive” that their Christianity is supposedly concealed behind whatever particular banner they are waving. It is this kind of implication that lies behind the claim, made by some believers, that they need “no creed but the Bible”. They are suggesting that they are so balanced and mature in the Faith that they need no supplementary summary of doctrinal truth in addition to the Scriptures. It is these very issues that come up when we begin to discuss and define theological terms such as “Baptist”. Some people immediately want to respond by saying, “Don’t confuse me with such terminology – I’m just a plain Christian”, as if anyone wanting to discuss terms such as “Baptist” is just being obscurantist and sectarian.

In the previous [post], we examined the first part of this discussion regarding convictions that are peculiarly Baptistic. We made the point, and probably need to keep reiterating it, that such a discussion is not in the realm of “denominational politics”. The term ‘Baptist’, as we are using it in this series of articles, is first and foremost a theological term, as is the word ‘Christian’. In the same way that using the word ‘Christian’ implies a certain set of intellectual facts, so too, the use of the word ‘Baptist’ implies certain things, historically. In this series of articles we are simply seeking to be informed believers who understand what particular content lies behind the historical label given to some Christians.

Not all believers are the same in their values and practises. Methodists differ in material ways from Presbyterians or Anglicans. It is vital therefore, that if we feel convinced about certain truths, and these are associated historically with a certain group, that we must then understand and appreciate that freight. Not that we need to be strident or aggressive in this endeavour. We certainly don’t want to breed a sectarian spirit. We want a Christ-like humility to be the very fibre from which our theological garments are woven. But none the less, as a church family we do wear a Baptistic uniform, as opposed to the strip of any other religious group, and we need to be informed. Ignorance is seldom a virtue!

Thus far we have examined the conviction that the Bible speaks of salvation as involving the direct personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Each word in this previous sentence is vital and necessary, because not all people who use the word “Christian” believe in such a direct or personal relationship. We went further and explained the issue that is commonly known as “the priesthood of all believers”. This conviction too, whilst shared by many “Christians”, is certainly not applicable to all. Roman Catholics for instance, believe in the vital necessity of a class of designated, vocational go-betweens, called ‘priests’. Related to this topic, we looked in the third place at the issue of congregational involvement in the decision-making and life of the local church. I trust that we all appreciate the vitally important implied connection between and inter-relatedness of these three convictions? Those who themselves enjoy a direct personal relationship with God through the mediating work of Jesus Christ, want to be intimately involved as priests in the work of the Kingdom, and want to take direct responsibility and be held accountable by fellow-priests who likewise enjoy this direct relationship with God.

In this second article, to the “direct Lordship”, the “priesthood of all believers”, and the “congregational involvement”, let us add now the following two additional Baptistic convictions: the Authority (and sufficiency) of Scripture; and, our commitment to the Proclamation of truth in the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom.

If we assumed that all people who are willing to wear the name “Christian” are as committed as we are to the notion that God’s written Word in its 66 books is authoritative and sufficient for all matters of faith and practise – then we would be woefully mistaken! Ideas regarding additional fresh revelation, cultural adaption and the need for contemporary relevance have infected large swathes of Protestantism. Even people who would call themselves ‘Evangelical’ have taken on board to some degree these notions that suggest or openly teach that the Bible is an outmoded book.

Baptists want to insist, however, that God has spoken, and that this self-revelation is encapsulated in written form in what we have today as the Bible, comprising 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. Jesus Christ, is revealed by the Spirit, and saving faith in Him is created in us by the Spirit, only as this written word is proclaimed with authority in the hearing of people. Baptists want to insist that all of this written revelation is both authoritative and sufficient to impart to us all that God intends for us to know about salvation and a relationship with Him. Baptists are therefore not interested in dreams and revelations and so-called “fresh light” which various people apparently receive by dramatic means and want to impress us with. Baptists are people of the book! This means that our motivation for everything in life – in society, in the home and in the local church – is governed and shaped by reference to this Book. The Bible is our final court of appeal. Our public worship is dominated by our proclamation of this written Word, as well as our singing of the Word, our reading of the Word and our praying of the Word.

Baptists are happy to be ridiculed by others who feel that there ought to be more innovation, more variety, more originality than they see in our public and private worship. We realise that if God had not revealed Himself, we would be hopelessly lost creatures. Our need is so dire, and God’s grace so remedial, that we must stick closely to God’s Word, the Bible. Baptists are therefore happy to debate issues regarding the interpretation of this written Word, and are happy to commit time to reading and memorization of Scripture.

Closely allied to this issue is the fact that Baptists focus their energy and hope in worship and in mission on the verbal proclamation of this written revelation. Baptist pastors are first and foremost preachers and teachers of God’s Word. These pastors feel keenly the weight of responsibility to faithfully expound (open up, unpack and apply) the Bible. Visit a selection of ten different churches in any community, and the chances are that in the vast majority of those churches the person leading the service will not give primary attention to the Word. Other activities will dominate. And where monologue proclamation happens, the subject will not clearly and obviously be the Sacred Text. Sadly, this issue is not prevalent in all churches that call themselves ‘Baptist’. Even these have fallen prey to the need for some notion of “contemporary relevance”.

Churches that are self-consciously Baptistic, are organised around the Bible. Youth activities, Sunday school, Lord’s Day worship, discipleship, fellowship – these activities are all governed and dominated by the content of the Bible.

Baptists pastors view themselves as “physicians of souls” (to use a Puritan phrase), but they see the proclamation of the Word as the central element of this ministry. Issues of institutional and organisational involvement, companionship and helpfulness are viewed by Baptists as secondary responsibilities of the Pastor. Indeed, Baptist pastors take seriously their responsibility from Eph 4 to be involved in prayer and the ministry of the Word so as to prepare God’s people rather for works of service.

Baptists would go even further and say that whilst the local church ought to “get its hand dirty” in social involvement and the meeting of practical needs, our greatest contribution to people and our greatest expression of love for people, is the impartation of divinely revealed truth – truth that centers on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Because of these convictions, Baptists are willing to contend for such revealed truth, and protect it. This is done partly by means of the formulation of Creeds and Confessions. These historic documents are designed and intended to stand not between us and the Bible, but between us and the world.

True Baptists are committed to the Bible and the shaping, life-imparting truth that is enscripturated between its covers!

Again the question must be asked: “Are you a Baptist?”

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 3 Click here for Part 5 —>

The Great Big Blue Dot (Part 3)

<— Click here for Part 2 Click here for Part 4 —>

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

Have you read Part 1? If not click here.

Baptists are amongst those who would be so brazen (some opponents would unfairly say “opinionated” or “arrogant”) as to say, “If you understood the Bible the way we understand it, then you too would be a Baptist”. We would like to utter such sentiments with genuine humility – we do not think we have arrived. The reality simply is that whilst we are happy to have fellowship with Christians of another stripe, we ought to be Baptists by conviction. Yes I know – in post-modern ears that phrase does not sit well. We live in an age where all “convictions” are at more accurately understood to be “temporary persuasions”. The reality is, that even if you were oblivious to this fact up to this point, be well aware of it now – the word [“Baptist”], carries some freight – it has some weighty practical significance.

Of course, for some Christians, and even for some Baptists, the term “Baptist” causes some irritation and rankle. Maybe it would help if we gave the assurance that our purpose in even discussing the term and its meaning is with a desire precisely to cut us loose from the misunderstanding that the word Baptist is a denominational word. No! The term ‘Baptist’ is first and foremost a theological designation – and for that reason we submit to every educational endeavour that will enable us to understand this word and appreciate its use.

[allow me lay out some of the angles]. Let me briefly explain some of these distinctive Baptistic convictions – see where you stand on the issues raised.

Baptists are a unique group of believers in that historically they alone have held, and continue to hold, to a cluster of ten defining convictions. Many other believers share some or many of these convictions with us, but only Baptists hold to all ten. In this and the [following articles], we plan to examine these convictions, and in the final article will attempt to demonstrate how these various convictions strengthen and under-gird each other.

The first and most significant Baptist conviction is that the New Testament teaches the necessity of a direct relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ. Repeatedly Jesus is given the title “Lord”. This is appropriate because He alone is our Master. We can only be reconciled to the Father, and we can only receive the Spirit, if Jesus Christ alone is trusted and embraced as our Advocate, our only Mediator, our Substitute, our elder Brother, our Friend. And this faith-relationship is a direct one. In other words, the Lordship and authority of Christ is not mediated to us, or exercised in our lives through an intermediary, such as our parents, or a human priest-figure. Between us and the Father stands one Man, Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5-6; Heb 9:15). Jesus Christ is the One sent by the Father to be our ultimate truth-revealing Prophet, and our ultimate self-sacrificing Priest, and our ultimate King who rules over us with justice. Baptists make no clergy-laity distinction. Together, both Pastors and non-pastors benefit from the direct Lordship of Jesus Christ as they relate to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is because of this conviction that Baptists make much of words and phrases such as “conversion”, “the new birth”, “born again” – because without such an experience this direct relationship with God the Father through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is not possible!

Closely related to this conviction is the persuasion that as believers in Jesus Christ, we are all priests unto God. The New Testament images of the church, such as “the body of Christ” (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12:12-31), affirm identity of status, though differentiation of function, for all believers. The “Great Commission” is addressed to all believers. Paul envisages all of God’s people being prepared for works of service in Eph 4:12. All believers are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, and so Peter can be emphatic in saying, “But you (plural!) are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Pet 2:9). All converted sinners, whose hope for eternity is centered in Christ alone, have a certain dignity of status and a significance of function – we are all priests serving God!

This directness of relationship and this status and significance before God lead naturally to a third conviction, namely that we all have a constructive, God-given role to play in the household of Faith. Although there are traces of other forms of church government (called ‘polity’ in theological discussion) in the New Testament, Baptists believe that the principle of congregational life emerges strongly and is most consistent with these aforementioned convictions. God has designated and equipped some to perform the role, and fill the office of Elder in the congregation. This role carries with it tremendous responsibilities of authority and leadership. But such responsibilities are performed and exercised in an atmosphere of mutual submission between people who all stand before God. We see this dynamic in action in Acts 6:5-6, where the apostles initiated a strategy which was enforced by a decision taken by the whole church. So too, we see that the New Testament epistles are addressed to the whole church, not simply to its leaders. So, for example, church membership, disciple-making and discipline are all congregational affairs (Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 5:2-5; 2 Cor 2:4-6). Baptists are convinced from Scripture that the local church is a ‘theocracy’ (as opposed to a democracy on the one hand or dictatorship on the other) in which men designated to exercise authority are held accountable to the Word by the congregation before God. (Thoughtful Baptists cringe at the suggestion that this conviction is fairly referred to by the popular ecclesiastical phrase “congregational rule”. Christ rules the local congregation, by means of designated officers who are accountable to the gathered family) [editor: I’m cringing. Being an “elder rule” proponent I’m busy digesting this.]. So, Baptists believe that the whole congregation is responsible for determining and implementing the will of Christ.

Here then are the first three convictions which Baptists are persuaded by. Yes, we need to say it again: There are obviously other Christians who do not use the name “Baptist”, but who none the less also hold to and live by, to a greater or lesser extent – the direct Lordship of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, and congregational accountability. But, what will become clearer as we examine further Baptistic convictions in subsequent articles, is that we are unique in being persuaded about all of these inter-linked convictions, as a package-deal!

But what does all this mean practically? It means, that Baptists are involved people. Baptists are not passive “church-attenders”, simply coming in and going out as clinically as possible. No, Baptists are thinkers, students of the Word, prepared to administer truth to each other and to unbelievers. Baptists care passionately about the local church and its witness in the community.

What’s the verdict then – are you a Baptist? Or do you simply happen to worship God at a “Baptist” church?

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 2 Click here for Part 4 —>

The Great Big Blue Dot (Part 2)

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

Have you read Part 1? If not click here.

I’ve been speaking to a whole lot of Baptists lately and things are starting to solidify in my mind but I’m not in the place where I’m willing to commit my thoughts to the written word. So what do I do when in I’m in doubt? Get a guest to kick things off of course :). The next number of blog posts are adapted from a series written by Christo Beetge* entitled What does it mean to be a Baptist?.

Have you ever wondered what [being a Baptist]** actually means?

Sometimes we need to state the obvious! So here goes: Christians aren’t churned out of the proverbial “sausage machine”. In a world where, on the one hand, differences between people are clearly apparent, and where on the other hand, there is much pressure to either disregard these distinctives or smooth over them, many Christians wonder to themselves, “What makes us, as believers, different to the Methodists or Presby’s (for instance)?” . Unless an informed answer can be given to such legitimate questions, we can inadvertently find ourselves thinking some erroneous thoughts, and thus heading in some harmful directions. One such erroneous thought that I have heard expressed pretty often, comes in this form, “Well, we’re all the same deep down, anyway”. (Sometimes this sentiment is dressed up as follows: “All roads lead to Rome”; “We’re all climbing the same hill, but from different directions”; “All people who call themselves Christians are essentially after the same thing”).

The thinking behind such expressions is that whilst we might all be playing in different coloured jerseys, grouped into different teams, and operating according to a slightly different game-plan, at least we’re all playing rugby (if you’re keeping up with the metaphor!). It would be bad enough if non-believers waved the discussion aside believing that all Christian denominations are essentially the same, but when believers themselves, through ignorance, cave in to such thinking, then we are really in trouble! So, the question, “What makes someone specifically a Baptist?” is a worthwhile question to be able to answer confidently. After all, the sign out front does read, Baptist Church], does it not? So, in effect, we are asking, “What is loaded into this word ‘Baptist’ then? Could we not equally meaningfully have called ourselves [a Community Church, or a Family Church]?”. What is with this word “Baptist”?

Before we go ahead and answer the question, let’s take a moment to do two things: Firstly, let’s admit that we are not so naïve as to think that everyone who worships at a Baptist church is there because the convictions they hold dear are necessarily Baptistic convictions. No, we recognize that some people, maybe even many people, in any particular Baptist church are there because they just happen to have come and stayed and put down their religious and relational roots there. When they were “church shopping”, XYZ Baptist church simply happened to be the closest church, or the most friendly of those that they tried out, etc. Maybe their friends/family attend and invited them to come along. Maybe they came to hear a particular preacher. Maybe they liked the music and “the feel” of the service. But in reality, many people who worship at a church with the name “Baptist”, could just as easily be at a church without that 7-letter word in its name.

Then secondly, let’s be persuaded that the question is really worth answering. It is only when we define our terminology that we gain some insight. Why use the word “Baptist” if it has no meaning, or if we don’t care about its meaning? If we insist on using it, let us at least be clear what we are intending to say by doing so. We don’t simply want to sit with a mouth full of teeth when people ask us, “Why do you attend the Baptist church?” But, equally, we don’t simply want to puff out our chests with bravado and “own a particular name”, and identify ourselves with a particular brand or franchise, in the way that some families teach their children, “My boy, never forget that you are a Kennedy! You can wear that name with your head held high”. No! We want to be motivated by the knowledge that as ‘Baptists’ we stand in a long line of people who have held to a certain bouquet of distinctive convictions, for which they have been prepared to shed their own blood. Let us be acutely aware that many of our Baptist forbears have literally died for insisting that they hold to certain convictions not necessarily shared by all fellow Christians! This willingness to pay a price has arisen from the persuasion that the Bible forces us into a certain mould.

Call this an intro. Tomorrow I’ll post the remainer of the first section which begins to answer the question, “are you a Baptist? Or do you simply happen to worship God at a “Baptist” church?”

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.

** Wherever you see [ ] I’ve edited the original text to contextualise the content for a broader audience.

<— Click here for Part 1 Click here for Part 3 —>

The Great Big Blue Dot (Part 1)

Click here for Part 2 —>

Figure 1: The Great Big Blue Dot. Click image to enlarge.

Liezl, the kids and I attend a small church, Midrand Chapel, in the North of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Midrand Chapel isn’t exactly a descriptive label is it? Midrand covers a wide geographical area and comprises of many neighborhoods and the word Chapel conjures up images of some wishy-washy-anything-goes-pseudo-Christian wedding venue on the outskirts of town.

If you dug a bit deeper and took a squizz through our church constitution you’d discover we were formally called Midrand Baptist Church and we describe ourselves in the document as an Independent Baptist church.

What’s unique about Baptists anyway? Christo Beetge* from Brackenhurst Baptist Church sums it up quite nicely into 10 bite sized distinctives: The Direct Lordship of Christ, The Priesthood of All Believers, Congregational Accountability, 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 and Freedom of Conscience.

Bottom-line, Baptists world over share a common set of identifiable doctrinal distinctives. Because of this most congregants attending Baptist‘ish [sic] churches think of themselves as belonging to The Great Big Blue Dot (see Figure 1). Metaphorically, anything inside the circle is Baptist, anything outside is not and the solid blue fill represents our unified doctrine. Simple.

The Great Big Shaded Dot. Click image to enlarge.

Actually it’s not so simple. Those identifying themselves as Baptists today, although agreeing on some central points of doctrine, differ widely from one another on many other matters of faith. Differences in Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Soteriology and Pneumatology for starters make us a fairly heterogenous bunch.

The image on top isn’t completely inaccurate but instead of one shade of blue Baptistdom in South Africa is more like The Great Big Shaded Dot (Figure 2) which acknowledges a broad’ish** range of Theological diversity which is how churches which cling to traditional Baptist tenants such as Rosebank Union, Honeyridge Baptist Church, Brackenhurst Baptist Church, Constantia Park Baptist Church, Antioch Bible Church, Grace Christian Church, New Covenant Baptist Church and even little old Midrand Chapel can co-exist in unified tension; held together but pushed apart; a mixed bag of fruit.

** While there is a plethora of diversity within the Union and beyond it is worth mentioning that the differences are nothing like the swath of division faced by other mainline denominations such as the Anglicans.

Christo Beetge Brackenhurst Baptist Church

* The ariticle referenced in this post was written by Christo Beetge, formerly pastor of Springs Baptist Church, handles much of the counselling at the church. Christo also oversees the Young Adults ministry of the church. He is married to Maureen and has two children: Anton and Gillian.

Click here for Part 2 —>