What We Believe- Article XV, The Christian and the Social Order

After weeks of anticipation (at least on my side) we are finally getting to the article in the practical theology portion of the Baptist Faith & Message that really goes for the jugular– the Christian and the Social Order.  Because of its length I will break it down it the three smaller pieces: the general command, the specific command, and the means of influence.

First the general command:

XV. The Christian and the Social Order

All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The first portion begins with the general command for every Christian to be motivated by and for the supremacy of Christ.  This is a perfect sentiment, drawing straight out of the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ words to be salt and light (Matthew 5.13-16).  Even better is the statement that no “truly and permanently helpful” change can occur outside of “the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus.”  I love and totally embrace this statement.  I pray that all others do as well, but in observing how so many Christians attempt to “influence” the world through “Christian determinism” outside of grace I’m afraid that isn’t so.  We will return to the means of influence later, but it is important above all else to start with the fundamental understanding that outside of a saving relationship with Christ, all earthly change and control is nothing more than pagan moralism.

From the general command we move into specifics:

In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.

This is a very interesting section.  When comparing it to the wording of this same article in the 1963 version of the BF&M we see a lot more in the way of specifics have been added.  In 1963 the only specific commands in the “Christians should oppose . . . ” sentence were “every form of greed, selfishness, and vice.”  Now, under the 2000 writing we see this expand to also include “racism” and “all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.”  This is not an extrabiblical extension (I believe it is perfectly inline with what Scripture reveals), nor is this a sign that society is more depraved now than in 1963 (it’s not and I have argued extensively on this site to that effect), it is simply telling of the ways in which the culture has become more open with and the Christian church has become more accepting of various forms of sin which in 1963 were almost unmentionable and clearly not what God sought in his children.  Now 40 years later we just assume God has changed or theologians were ignorant or some combination of the two and so we try and rationalize our sins.  Despite the fact that fundamentalists are prone to abuses in seeking to fulfill these oppositions, I am thankful that our denomination has enough integrity to say “This is what we believe, even if it’s not cool, and we’re not afraid to put it in writing.”

Finally, we see how they prescribe for us to influence the culture towards these standards:

In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

Exodus 20:3-17; Leviticus 6:2-5; Deuteronomy 10:12; 27:17; Psalm 101:5; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 8:16; Matthew 5:13-16,43-48; 22:36-40; 25:35; Mark 1:29-34; 2:3ff.; 10:21; Luke 4:18-21; 10:27-37; 20:25; John 15:12; 17:15; Romans 12-14; 1 Corinthians 5:9-10; 6:1-7; 7:20-24; 10:23-11:1; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Philemon; James 1:27; 2:8.

This command harkens back to the cooperation article prior to it, but also goes further.  We should be willing to work both through interdenominational means and secular means with any person or group who is of “good will.”  Of course, like many things in the BF&M, this phrase is up for interpretation, but at least it leaves the door open for cooperation with those outside of the body of Christ.  There is a growing movement which says that Christians should not do this, that they should not work with those outside the church to reach God’s ends.  

Actually, there are several strains saying this, from radically different perspectives.  There are those who are saying to not work with the education system because it is secular and will contaminate our kids (sorry, that didn’t sound unbiased, did it?).  There are also those who say we should not work with the government because the only proper government is the one where God (or Pat Robertson) is ruler.  And finally there are those who say we shouldn’t work with those outside the faith to promote biblical ends because, well, who’s to say that we’re right, and if we try and influence people towards our beliefs we are being intolerant (sounds like a president I know of).  All of these seek to isolate the church and its beliefs from the realm of public ideas for one reason or another, but none that are particularly biblical.  Instead, we should really try embracing the last part of this sentence which instructs us to influence the culture while “always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising [our] loyalty to Christ and His truth.”  We say it and affirm it, but so few actually practice it.  It’s not a problem with our belief; it’s a problem with our follow through that makes us into hypocrites and legalists and bullies.

Overall, this is a fairly decent article and if we could apply it properly without being too weak or too strong in the execution we would probably be in a pretty good place.  But alas, sin!

5 Responses to “What We Believe- Article XV, The Christian and the Social Order”

  1. Keith Walters Says:

    Todd,
    In all honesty I think section XV is a total farce. In summary it reads, “As those redeemed by the sovereign Christ we are obligated to bring all under His rule by proclaiming the gospel. However, in spite of this great truth we should pour countless man-hours and billions of dollars into legislating a finite ‘Christian Theocracy.’ Good luck finding a way to maintain your love of Christ and love of Caesar and remember to play nice with others.”

    This is SBC parochialism at its finest. I would be in complete agreement if this section stated that such a society should exist within the church as it serves as an already witness to the not yet Kingdom of God. However, I find it nauseatingly pharisaical to require those outside of this covenant community to behave as though they were within of it. Furthermore this section completely ignores the reality of worldviews; it requires an individual to act according to a biblical worldview while holding fundamentally contradictory presuppositions. I could continue this discussion, or discuss this in terms of the bondage of the will, or even in terms of total depravity; at any rate their argument it fundamentally flawed and this mindset is proving to be the undoing of evangelicalism.

  2. Todd Burus Says:

    Keith,
    I feel your sentiments. In the popular application of these things I agree completely with what you are saying. The way most Southern Baptists practice this comes off more as advocating a Christian theocracy than it does simply advancing a Christian worldview. But in theory I wanted to give the writers the benefit of the doubt. No, I don’t think we must see the world look like the ideal Christian society, but I do think that we are called to, within our means, reflect the values of God in our culture and work to see those upheld. I think of the various ways in which Paul used his Roman citizenship to his advantage in evangelism and his command to slaves in 1 Corinthians 7.21 about obtaining their freedom. The thought of using Christian thought in the culture to effect change as a means of evangelism seems biblical enough for me.

    I particularly appreciated the statement about regeneration. Again, this is something that I don’t think we really do in practice and actually tend towards legalism here, but in theory this seems to be inline with Scripture. This is just another example of how little “holding to the BF&M” really means.

    I also appreciated that they laid out some specific sins that we oppose. Of course they can’t enumerate every one of them and so run the risk of singling some people out while leaving loopholes for others, but these are pressing issues which we needed to have clear articulation of the Southern Baptist stance on, so it seems acceptable to me.

  3. Keith Walters Says:

    So having read your comments I think we agree at the heart of the issue. However, if, as you say, “the way most Southern Baptists practice this comes off more as advocating a Christian theocracy than it does simply advancing a Christian worldview” and “this is something that I don’t think we really do in practice and actually tend towards legalism here.” Then I do not think you can afford to give your readers “the benefit of the doubt.” If these are the ways in which this section is applied in most of Baptist life then it deserves a more critical reading. I know you can think of a pastor in your past who vehemently lambasted expanded gambling, Sunday alcohol sales, gay marriage, etcetera with far more intensity and passion than he did the sins besetting his congregation. I think we can take that as indicative of the prevailing attitude in most SBC churches. It is far easier to castigate proponents of gay marriage than it is to sharply rebuke your congregation for their failure to befriend homosexuals and share the gospel with them. It is far easier to call your congregation to vote against expanded gambling than it is to address the greed and materialism which captivates the hearts of your congregants.

    Paul did use his Roman citizenship as a means for evangelism but I do not hear that from our pulpits. I hear pastors calling upon their congregations to use their American citizenship as a means towards political dominion. If pastors were to use their pulpits to commend Paul’s use of his citizenship then more pastors would be encouraging their congregations to use their freedom of speech to freely proclaim the gospel; instead we hear them encouraging their congregations to use their freedom of speech to protest gay marriage or some other issue.

    I think that listening to Russell Moore’s series on the temptation of Christ, particularly the last one, will be much help on this issue. Here is a link: http://keithwalters.org/2009/04/15/the-temptations-of-christ/

  4. Todd Burus Says:

    Keith,
    I am pretty much in total agreement with what you’ve just said. It was the writers, not the readers, that I was wanting to give the benefit of the doubt to, hoping that they were saying these things with the appropriate moderation, expecting such moderation from their congregations.

  5. Keith Walters Says:

    Yeah I am dumb and totally missed that!

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