Exemplify the truth

Click here for Part 2 —>

Spiritual immaturity manifesting as moral ambivalence in South African Christian churches leaves very little visible difference between us and the world. If we were to be honest with ourselves the situation isn’t much different within Baptist circles. Why might that be? One reason is that our shepherds, those who ought to walk before the flock by example, are no longer held accountable nor expected to epitomise Christian virtue. Where leaders flounder the flock falters and falls, our witness withers and our moral authority wanes.

“Where leaders flounder the flock falters and falls, our witness withers and our moral authority wanes … Once we were characterised as the People of the Book now we’re nothing more than a Fad Driven Church.”

In addition the church is suffering from an acute case of schizophrenia . Out of a desire to be culturally relevant we’ve grown increasingly tolerant of doctrinal diversity to the point that even within the Baptist Union of Southern Africa we have a fragmented multiplicity of identities. Collectively we no longer pursue God’s objective truth as earnestly nor love it as dearly as we once did and so our churches flip flop, blown hither and thither by every wind of doctrine. Once we were characterised as the People of the Book now we’re nothing more than a Fad Driven Church.

Paul gives much sound advice to Timothy and Titus concerning their ministerial responsibilities. Two principals shine through: Christian leaders are to exemplify the truth of God’s Word and be pursues of that truth.

20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. 22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes (2 Ti 2:20 – 23, Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New International Version).

Want to hear the verse in context? 2 Timothy 2:20 – 23
What is this about?

A cup of coffee and the morning newspaper is all one needs to discern that not all is hunky-dory with the church and its leadership. “Zelda and Ray McCauley to divorce” (South African Press Association 2010), “Corruption rocks Anglican diocese in SA” (Eggington 2010), “Pastor held over rape” (Mkhulisi 2010).

John MacArthur (1939), in the forward of his book on this subject, wrote, “As the leaders go, so go the people.” Countering the apparent downward spiral of many leaders from virtue to vice Paul offers the following sage counsel: the great privilege of being God’s instruments, used to His glory and participating in His work hinges off our continual suitability to that task. We’re to be vessels of honour, sanctified and prepared, exemplifying God’s truth in our daily lives.

Charles Ryrie (1999:481 – 483) highlights four qualifications by which every Christian leader must continually be measured:

Personal character: In the broadest sense elders should be,

2 blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Ti 3:2 – 7)

Want to hear the verse in context? 1 Timothy 3:2 – 7
What is this about?

Family life: Because the family serves as a testing ground elders must rule their households well and their children should be seen to be dignified and faithful (1 Ti 3:5).

Spiritual maturity: An elder should not be a new convert (1 Ti 3:6).

Community life: His public testimony, that daily walk before others, must be exemplary (1 Ti 3:2).

A leader’s character and conduct is his testimony. For this reason Paul writes, 22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure” (1 Ti 5:22). The process of recognising an elder should include close vetting of all aspects of his life and ministry prior to ordination. It is not likely that one so tested would fall away however if he does he must be held to account. 20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Ti 5:20).

As elders we’re to walk before our flock with integrity of character as we’ve “promised the Lord, the congregation, and each other to be faithful in: Continuing to exhibit the character qualities, stipulated in 1 Timothy 3:1 – 7 and Titus 1:5 – 9, that are still required of each man as he continues to serve as an elder” (Swartley 2005:74).

This two part series considers the following statement, “Christian leaders must be both exemplifiers of truth and pursuers of truth.” Did this resonate with you? If so go and check out the series African Leadership Pitfalls.

Click here for Part 2 —>

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.

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

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)

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

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 —>

Tradition. Part 2 of 5

I really love the coast. Click any image to enlarge.

This morning (ah, this was written last night) the girls woke up at the crack of dawn. Because they have neither an off switch nor volume control it wasn’t long until Liezl and I were up too. Soon after breakfast we headed to the mouth of the vlei where we spent a few hours exploring the caves along the seashore, picking up flat pebbles and playing hop scotch (ok, the hop scotch was mainly played by the kids). In the afternoon we hit the paddle boats and sought high adventure upon open waters after which we feasted on fresh feesh and slap chips (R10 a meal! Yum Yums in Sedgefield, it’s not high cuisine but it’s reel food and it tasted reel good).

I love holidays.

Maybe you remember yesterday’s post (click here)? I was out collecting churches and chatting about tradition and Scripture and all? Anyway we visited St George’s church in Knysna. It’s actually quite amusing, there’s three little churches all lined up in a row, a light brown stone chapel close to the road, a pink plastered blemish on the other side of the street and St George’s nestled in between. The contrast between the colors and styles of these churches made them each stick out like a sore thumb.

Left: The old brown monument. Center: St George’s, the chocolate church of fun. Right: The church of the pink unicorn (for all I know they’re probably a bunch of perfectly nice Baptists. But PINK! Come on folks, who was on the paint selection committee?).

St George’s is a gorgeous dark chocolate stoned beauty. I’m thinking it must be about 83 years old because the cap stone was laid by the Bishop of George, a Right Reverend Henry Bindley Sidwell on September the 12th 1926.

Walking into the church caught me a bit by surprise, the stained glass (something I have always had an interest in) is quite, unusual. Walking in you get what you’d expect, a typical one hundred yearish looking glass but as you look around the church you’re struck by something new, something entirely unexpected, the rest of the glass is quite contemporary, even modern looking. Liezl wasn’t nuts about it but I thought it was quite appropriate, the traditional and the new, merged together into something beautiful.

The top most arched window has the familiar A and Ω Greek characters which call to mind Revelation 1:8 and the deity of Jesus Christ. I was interested in the design of the Alpha character itself and spent some time poking around to see if there was additional meaning associated with it but pulled a blank other than this picture which has the pope in the background (click here) and this image of the burial of Christ (click here).
If there was a circle in it I’d have said that the cross was a Presbyterian device, however I think it’d be more technical to call it a Patonce Cross. In heraldry, the three petals would represent faith, wisdom and chivalry however in the Christian context it more likely that they represent the Trinity. Under the cross two winged and haloed angels (with a pin prick white dot above them) bear a banner, on the left reading, “Let us sing” and on the right reading “unto the Lord”. Psalm 95 triumphantly opens with the chorus, “O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.”
Below the upper arches are the two main bodies of the stained glass. On the left a woman plays a pipe organ with an angel above her looking down. The caption below reads, “To the glory of God and in undying remembrance of my beloved wife Helen Edien Fox 1974-1949 Endued with the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit (1 Peter 4)”. On the right hand side a two angels listen intently. There is a sheet of music lying on the ground. The caption below reads, “My soul doth magnify the LORD and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour This window was given by her husband”. Click image to enlarge.

As I walked up to the sanctuary… maybe I’ll leave that for tonight’s post.

Wanna find St George’s:

Do you enjoy beautiful churches? Why do some churches look one way and others another? Is it all just down to taste or are there other differences? I’ve got some thoughts on this… in tonight’s post.