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?”
* 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.