Going Dotty (Part 5)

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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 4)

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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 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 —>