my last SBC rant (for a while anyways)
5/08/2006 02:21:00 PM
The Baptist started as a denomination or sect of Christianity as the Reformation was just beginning to gain momentum in Europe. The Baptist where just a wave in the tide that was the reformation, so their influence in the reformation was nominal, but they did mange to maintain a unique and formative identity. The question is and what has been, "What does it mean to be Baptist?" There have been a number of attempts to answer this question historically and spiritually, and it has caused a number of debates and schism in the past because so many people have struggled with this question. Some claim that the Baptists have always existed. These guys usually trace the Baptist through a succession of churches that go all the way back to the first century. This sucessionist views say that the Baptist church has always existed in the form it does today, or at least a form similar to the Baptist today. The problem with these views is that they are hard to prove or disprove either way. A more academic approach is to look at the succession of churches that has happened and how these groups, Baptist or not, have influenced the Baptist church. This approach deals primarily with historical facts. Because of the nature if this essay, it would hard to do justice, considering that multiple volumes most in excess of 500 pages that have been dedicated to this subject. To narrow the focus and put constraints on the work, This essay will look at select confessions that were produced by some of the groups, and try and deduce from these documents what it is that Baptist hold near and dear. There are many Baptist confessions out there, but here are six both long a short that played a significant role in the development of the Baptist church. These confessions were select based on their influence, use, and time period. The confessions are Standard Confession (1660), Second Philadelphia Confession (1742), Sandy Creek Confession (1758), New Hampshire Confession (1833), Baptist Faith and Message (1925), and Baptist Faith and Message (2000).

Trying to discern what it means to be Baptist based on a set of confessions can be a daunting task, because each confession is written with certain presumptions and in a cultural context. Some of the earlier confessions didn't have to deal with modernism for instance, while the later ones did. Certain confessions are highly defined, such as the Second Philadelphia Confession, and others are rather pithy, such as the Sandy Creek Confession. The objective of this exercise was to gather a cross section of confessions that have been important to Baptists sense the 17th century and find the common threads through all of them. After reading the confessions, six areas came to mind. Each area will be discussed more in detail, but briefly, the areas are the inspiration of Scripture, the authority of scripture, a Trinitarian view of God, Substitutionary Atonement view of salvation (salvation by grace through faith), believers baptism, and local church autonomy. These six categories were placed vertically on a grid, and the each confession was placed horizontally across the top. Then excerpts or summaries from each confession were placed in the cells. The purpose was to give an overview of these 6 areas based on the confessions.
The first area reviewed was the inspiration of Scripture. Earlier confessions didn't really have much on the inspiration of Scripture. This to them went without question. The Standard Confession of 1660 didn't include anything about the inspiration of Scripture. The later confessions Such as the New Hampshire Confession and both Baptist Faith and Message documents did include a definition of inspiration. They all include the statement, "written by men divinely inspired." The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message adds to this saying that it is "God's revelation of himself to man." These statements on inspiration were probably included because the rise of high criticism that called into question inerrancy and inspiration of scripture. For Baptists, it is important to recognize all of Scripture as divinely inspired because it is seen as the authority. Authority will be discussed next, but if Scripture is not the literal word of God in that he inspired it, then it merely a religious document crafted by man, and is no more important than the confessions themselves.

The second common thread in all the confessions is the Authority of Scripture. The earlier confessions were writing primarily diminish an authority outside of te Scriptures themselves. When discussing local church, the Philadelphia Confession, which was based heavily on the Second London Confession, speaks against any authority other than Christ, and say the Scriptures should be the authority and believed because they are the Word of God. The Baptists in England had come out of the Anglican church which had a top down form of government and used things other than Scripture as the authority. The Baptist opposed this and were radically dedicated to doing church according to Scripture only. The later Baptist had a different battle, and as mentioned dealt with the rise of modernism, which is reflected in the latter Baptist faith and messages. The 1925 Baptist faith and message includes and entire article on science and religion primarily addressing evolution, but the overriding implication concerns the supernatural versus the natural. This 2000 Baptist Faith and Message excludes this statement. Many modernists saw Science, not the Bible, as the arbiter of truth. The conflict is still no different in that it is a human source of authoritative truth as opposed to divine. All the creeds agree that the Scriptures are the standard for faith and practice. They each differ on how they saw it, but the manifestation is still one in the same: Scripture is the regulator of doctrine and practice.

The last four areas really are a manifestation of the first two sense Baptist takes the Bible seriously. The Trinitarian view of God had been the orthodox view of God since the council of Nicea in 325 where Unitarian views of God were rejected. The battle wasn't settled at Nicea because Unitarian views of still exist in sects of Christendom such as the Jehovah Witnesses and the Unitarian Church. Baptists have traditionally held this view in order to maintain orthodox views of Christianity, and include it their confessions. The Baptist did deal with it at points in their history, particularly in England where some seemingly Baptist groups rejected the deity of Christ (cite notes). In modern times, the Baptist separate themselves from Unitarian Universalist groups and ecumenical groups that will not endorse a view of God such as this.

The fourth area where all the confessions will agree is on the substitutionary atonement view of salvation. This view says that became a man and died on the cross in the place of men in order to atone for their sin so they might live eternally if they just believe. Each confession expresses the view using slightly different terminology, but in essence all are saying that it was Christ work on the cross that paid for sin. The Standard Confession seems to allude to a ransom view of salvation, but also mentions propitiation, which would imply some form of substitution, in that Christ died in order to pay a debt owed by someone else. The act of Christ was an act of grace. There is no other way nor is any additional grace needed in order for salvation to be complete. There haven't been many battles fought over this view of salvation mainly because it was a product of the Reformation, where the Reformers rejected the notion of additional grace being imbued by the church. The concept of "Sola Fida" (faith alone) was established by Martin Luther, which the Baptists adopted in their confessions. The Campbellites in America rejected faith alone as being enough to save a person when they said that salvation is needed in order to receive remission from sin. This adds to faith being just enough. Baptist don't view baptism as a sacrament, but merely a symbol of what is happening in the spiritual life of an individual.

The namesake doctrine of the Baptist is believers' baptism, which is the one doctrine that separates Baptist from other groups that would agree on all other points of doctrine except this one. All six confessions referenced say baptism is believers only in water without a question. The Standard confession qualifies "Baptize" saying it is the English word "to dip", which strongly implies immersion. Immersion is mentioned explicitly on all of the other cited confessions, and in water in the last three. The Philadelphia Confession and the Standard Confession go to great lengths to debunk infant baptism, and even goes as far as to say it is unscriptural. The church, as they note is made only of baptized believers and nothing else. To say otherwise would be doing an injustice to the Bible. Baptists have always been somewhat at odds against most mainline denominations concerning baptism. For the most part, Baptists are the only denomination that exercises believer's baptism where it is merely a symbol and not done done on infants. Two major controversies come to mind concerning baptism and the Baptist. The first was with sucessionism, in that every Baptist had to be baptized by a Baptist. Any other baptism outside the Baptist church was unacceptable (class notes). The other controversy with the (as fore-mentioned) Campbellites who insist that baptism is necessary for the remission of sin. This is not the view held by Baptist, who believe it an outward symbol of an inward change.

The last of the 6 areas gleaned from the confession concerns local church autonomy. The earliest confessions don't explicitly call local church, "local church" but if one reads these confessions, he or she can see that the form of church polity these churches are suggesting is local church autonomy. They draw a line between the "invisible" and "visible" church, and reject any form of church headship other than Christ. The invisible church is all those who believe, and the visible church are those who meet together to fulfill the functions of a church. The Standard Confession and Philadelphia Confession strongly reject church hierarchies because both these documents were written by churches that spawned from the Anglican church, which has a visible head and many strata of authority. The Baptists have always gone to great lengths to insure that local churches remain autonomous. The later confessions had to deal with Landmarkism, which was an over emphasis on local church. They made local church so strict that any form of cooperation, such as in missions societies and conventions was strictly forbidden, and lashed out against such groups.

These six pillars are a very high level view of what Baptist hold near and dear, and each confession reflects each period's struggle to maintain these six areas. These areas are by no means definitive, but these represent the major distinctions that make a Baptist church a Baptist church.

Ever since the demise of the Baptist in England and the Baptist in the American in the North, the premiere Baptist group has been the Southern Baptist Convention. Two of the selected Confessions were crafted specifically to serve as confessions for the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention in the Uinited States is comprised of thousands of churches representing millions of Baptists. The Convention was organized in 1845 with the stated purpose of doing missions, and the first two boards that were organized were mission boards to manage missions in American and abroad. The first confession didn't come until 1925 at the same time the Southern Baptist Convention established the Cooperative Program, which is a cooperative effort in the Southern Baptist Convention to fund missions locally and around the world. Ever since it's organization, the Southern Baptist Convention has seen growth and has taken on a corporate structure with multiple braches and large, bureaucratic entities. These entities thrive in a modernist frame of mind that likes structure, however, there are winds of change blowing right now.

Perhaps the primary issue for Baptist in the future will be regarding politics. More and more people are gaining a distrust for political machinery. There has been a lot political manipulation that has gone on in the Southern Baptist Convention and some of it has been less then wholesome. Some see politics standing in the way of missions. It is probably not possible without authoritarian rule to have a system that does not have politics, but the challenge will be is to figure out how to minimize politics so that it doesn't stand in the way of reaching people for Christ. Many churches want to abandon the Southern Baptist Convention because of the ongoing bickering matches. Wade Burleson feels that the Southern Baptist Convention is worth saving and is a great mechanism for doing missions. The solution may lie in Steve McCoy's suggestion from a bottom up approach to influence. Rick Warren, who carries great clout in Southern Baptist Circles now change the minds of a number of peoples not by campaigning, but by fulfilling the Great Commission in Lake Forest, California. His influence has change the way a number of people do church now. This may be the way to invoke change without political manipulation.

The second issue for Baptists is going to be surrounding authenticity and experience. Postmodern thinkers are often willing to abandon pluralism for something they feel is authentic, with the emphasis on feeling, not head knowledge. They want transformation, not just intellectual ascent. This usually comes through experience, not through didactic lesions or formal training. Structured learning has been the norm in churches from at least the past two or three hundred years. Many postmodernist though want to learn from experience that is not artificial and want to belong to a community that is honestly seeking truth. Churches have to learn to communicate and probably emphasize the love Christ has for people and show that through lives radically devoted to God because of what he did for men on the Cross. Baptism will be not something that is done lightly, but should carry the significant spiritual weight of its implications. Those who call themselves Christians can no longer be good Christians by checking off lists, but rather by being devoted to Christ in ever aspect of life. This isn't that far removed from what drives Baptists separate from the churches they came from. The challenge to Baptists is going to be how they address this issue through restructuring church ministries not for the sake of restructuring, but for the sake of authentic transformation that teaches good doctrine and promotes radical commitment to God and the Scriptures.

A third challenge for Baptist is going to be pressures over denominational loyalty and local church autonomy. This is already being seen in issues surrounding Wade Burleson and the like who feel the denomination is handing down doctrine to the local church by the entities, not the churches, defining what is acceptable baptism. The issue could mushroom into a much larger one. Many feel that the Southern Baptist Convention has become exactly what it was trying to prevent itself from becoming, and that is a hierarchal denomination. Many church leaders came up in Southern Baptist Churches, were educated in Southern Baptist Seminaries, and have worked in Southern Baptist Entities for years. They have a strong sense of denominational loyalty because of this. If a church were to feel that it was time to cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention as many are feeling, yet the staff are devoted loyal to the convention, this will create tension between where allegiances lie: the denomination for the local church. If the pastor is truly loyal to Baptist teachings, then he would have to side with the church, and not split the church over denominational loyalty. Joe Thorn is already dealing with this issue as he addressed it on his blog.

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