What We Believe- Article XI, Evangelism and Missions

April 3, 2009

This week we are starting to head into articles dealing with more practical matters for the church and how it operates and views the world.  The first of these articles is article XI concerning evangelism and missions:

XI. Evangelism and Missions

It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.

Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 6:1-8; Matthew 9:37-38; 10:5-15; 13:18-30, 37-43; 16:19; 22:9-10; 24:14; 28:18-20; Luke 10:1-18; 24:46-53; John 14:11-12; 15:7-8,16; 17:15; 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2; 8:26-40; 10:42-48; 13:2-3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 3:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 2:1-3; 11:39-12:2; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 22:17.

Given that the major emphasis in most (all?) Southern Baptist churches is on missions and evangelism, one would expect this to be a very solid article.  And reading it over, it doesn’t seem to disappoint.  The one thing that we have to be careful of is checking to see if they actually say too much and overreach on what the Scriptures actuallt call us to in sharing the message of the gospel.

The opening statement is very bold: “It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations.”  Many will dispute this and say that Jesus’ commands in Matthew 28.18-20 and Acts 1.8 were directed only to the apostles, but this fails to account for why many who weren’t there, say like Timothy or Titus or Apollos, felt inclined to fulfill it as well.  Instead we see that everywhere the apostles go they not only preach the word of God but that also encourage others to do it as well.  So, unless they missed the interpretation of Jesus’ commands right from the start I think it is safe to say that the Great Commission(s) is meant for all believers.  

The statement that it is a privilege echoes Peter’s sentiments that we are a chosen people that now “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2.9).

After making such a strong declaration of our calling to do evangelism and missions, I am very impressed by the way that the BF&M then proceeds to say, in so many words, “But still, evangelism and missions is not to be done out of plain obedience.”  This is important.  A lot of people, even a lot of great theologians (RC Sproul comes to mind right away) will argue that the reason why we do missions is because Christ commands us to.  That is a good reason, but I think it falls short of what the Bible actually says.  Now, I know that RC comes from this angle because he is arguing for why we should do evangelism and missions if God has already set out to save all and only the elect who have been chosen unconditionally from before time, but hear me out: if our gospel witness comes just from pure obedience then we are missing the point.  When we are regenerated we are adopted into God’s family.  This then should produce a love in us for the family and thus a desire to see all of the members of the family (i.e. the elect) brought home and reconciled with the Father.  So, we have this longing and the Scriptures tell us that the only way to see it happen, to see them reconciled, is through their hearing and receiving the message of the gospel (cf. Acts 4.12, Romans 10.9ff).  Viewing our participation in evangelism and missions as simply fulfilling an obligation sets it up as an item on a checklist that we can cross off eventually without having completely sold ourselves out to doing it, which of course is the breeding grounds of legalism.  Viewing it as our internal desire to see the whole family reconciled makes it a lot more personal and more accurately conveys the spirit of him who called us (cf. Galatians 4.1-7).

Finally, we are hit with the question of how we should go about doing evangelism and missions.  This again is a place where I think the BF&M gets it just right.  It says that we are to try and ”win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ. ”  Of course, I am not a huge fan of the language of us “winning people to Christ” since I think this puts too high a value on our actually abilities, but the principle expressed is absolutely correct.  Our first weapon is a verbal witness, for “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10.14b), and then this is to be followed up with a consistent Christian lifestyle and all other means of witness which do not contradict the commands of Scripture.  I think we have all been guilty at one time or another of witnessing only through “lifestyle evangelism,” whether we meant to or not, and I like the fact that the BF&M takes a clear stance that this is not the proper type of biblical witness.  Of course, we shouldn’t expect all of the people in the church to be George Whitefield, especially right out of the gates, but that is why the SBC has invested so much through LifeWay into evangelism training courses and through NAMB and IMB for missionary training.  This is far and away one of the biggest advantages of being in the SBC.

So, going in there was a concern that maybe the BF&M would go too far in its assessment of the Scriptural writings on evangelism and missions, but honestly, I think they did an excellent job in staying true to the word here; and even though this is not a popular way to live– I know I struggle with placing enough focus on evangelism myself– we would all do better at fulfilling God’s call on our lives if we truly embraced what this article says.


What We Believe- Article X, Last Things

March 25, 2009

Finally we have reached the place in the Baptist Faith & Message where we discuss the end times.  Here is what it has to say:

X. Last Things

God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.

Isaiah 2:4; 11:9; Matthew 16:27; 18:8-9; 19:28; 24:27,30,36,44; 25:31-46; 26:64; Mark 8:38; 9:43-48; Luke 12:40,48; 16:19-26; 17:22-37; 21:27-28; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 17:31; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 15:24-28,35-58; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 1:5; 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 5:1ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:7ff.; 2; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1,8; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:27-28; James 5:8; 2 Peter 3:7ff.; 1 John 2:28; 3:2; Jude 14; Revelation 1:18; 3:11; 20:1-22:13.

I will be honest right out the gate.  There is an extent to which I like studying eschatology, and then there is a level at which I have almost absolutely no interest in going (at least at this point in my life).  I don’t know if this is a personal reaction to the madness in our lifetimes surrounding the Left Behind series, or if it is more deeply theological in that most people who obsess over the end times seem to accompany it with a biblical interpretation of God’s plan that I mostly reject (i.e. Dispensationalism), but whatever it is, if the discussion gets too far into specifics of time, place, seals, and signs, I usually bow out.

That said, I am pretty happy with where the BF&M goes here.  It presents the level of biblical surety which I embrace, and actually enjoy for what it reveals of God, while avoiding the speculative sign-watching that I see many Christians using to perpetuate their pessimism about the depravity of the world.  (As a side note, I think it’s funny that most people who watch for signs of the end times get so fixated on the depravity that they see as foretelling it, and yet soteriologically they often reject the fact that mankind is totally depraved.)

Let’s look at what is said:

  • “God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end.” 

I completely agree.  I think the Old and the New Testaments are clear that there looms a great day of either judgment or salvation (cf. Joel 2.1-11, 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11, 2 Peter 3.10), a day that the New Testament reveals will be the consumation of all things, the end of the natural order (cf. Matthew 24.3-14, Romans 8.18-25, Revelation 21.1-2).

  • “According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness.”

Christ is fairly adamant that at the end he will return himself to reign over mankind, either as judge or saviour-king (cf. Matthew 24-25, John 5.25-29), and the New Testament authors speak frequently of the resurrection and judgment (cf. 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, 2 Thessalonians 1.5-12, 2 Peter 3.10, Revelation 20).  Their is great controversy over when exactly in history the rapture and resurrection of the dead will take place, and yet mostly I think this debate is for naught.  What is important is that it will occur and, as Mark Driscoll says, if people are going early then I’ll go, if not then I won’t.  Whether the rapture is prior to a tribulation, after a tribulation, or whatever, that doesn’t change how we’re supposed to respond in the here and now, and what has become many people’s inordinate fixation on “leaving this world” is most certainly not the focus of the New Testament teachings here.

  • “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.”

Let’s not overlook this.  So many today want to pretend like this isn’t the case, but as long as 2 Thessalonians 1.9 is in the Bible, it will be hard to make that reasoning stick: “[Those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”  Whether we try to minimalize it with nihilist theories, or go all out and claim that God is secretly planning universal salvation, these can only hope to fall flat as “comforts” in light of genuine New Testament Scripture.

  • “The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”

This is the only place I jump off a little from the BF&M.  I fully believe that the righteous (i.e. believers) will receive glorified bodies in the end and will dwell forever with the Lord, but the language of “reward” and our dwelling in “Heaven” are places where I think we sometimes fudge what is actually said.  

To begin with, I think there is way too much emphasis on “reward” and “treasure,” when I believe it is har to read the New Testament and see that we are fully indebted to God’s mercy for salvation and that the point of this salvation is that we may live to glorify for him and not to build up treasure for ourselves.  Yet most Baptist churches have a much more developed theology of reward and what I’m earning for myself than they do a theology of grace and mercy.

Secondly, the evangelical, pie-in-the-sky, ethereal realm of Heaven is a constant frustration to me.  We must define what “Heaven” is and take an honest look at where it says we’ll be.  I mean, the BF&M even states that we will have “resurrected and glorified bodies,” but why would we need those to go float around on the fluffy clouds of heaven with our wings and harps and such?  The answer is, we don’t.  But, if we realize that we are not going to some heavenly place in the sky, but that some heavenly place is coming down to us on earth, then the need for bodies there makes perfect sense (cf. Revelation 21.1-4).  We will be made to live in the New Jerusalem, a place on the new earth, an city prepared in heaven (Hebrews 11.13-16, 13.14), in which God shall dwell with us forever.

In closing, I do think it is important to look towards the closing bell.  In fact, one of my favorite rabbits to chase in Scripture is the preparation of God’s people and their unending pursuit of the Promised Land, a pursuit which started in Genesis 15 and is not completely fulfilled until the coming of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21.  However, to go further than this and spend undue time in mapping out specific events through speculation and Christian mythology misses the point of what we are to be doing, which is glorifying God and fulfilling the Great Commission.  Amen.


What We Believe- Article IX, The Kingdom

March 19, 2009

(Note: If you like what you have read on this blog, please go here and vote for it in the 2009 Blog Madness competition. I am listed as the 15th ranked blog in the West Division. Thank you for your support.)

After a weeks hiatus we are trucking along with our journey through the Baptist Faith & Message.  This week we are in the ninth article, focusing on what Scripture tells us and we confess as Southern Baptists in regards to the Kingdom (of God):

IX. The Kingdom

The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God’s will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age.

Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Matthew 3:2; 4:8-10,23; 12:25-28; 13:1-52; 25:31-46; 26:29; Mark 1:14-15; 9:1; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 9:2; 12:31-32; 17:20-21; 23:42; John 3:3; 18:36; Acts 1:6-7; 17:22-31; Romans 5:17; 8:19; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 11:10,16; 12:28; 1 Peter 2:4-10; 4:13; Revelation 1:6,9; 5:10; 11:15; 21-22.

I will be honest, this is an awkward article to me.  As I look back at the confessions which I would say have a Baptist flavor to them I am unable to find any that pay particular attention to the idea of the Kingdom of God the way that the BF&M does.  Even the forebearer of the BF&M, the New Hampshire confession, makes no separate article for discussing the Kingdom.  Yet, all the way back in the first BF&M there it is, though I am baffled as to why?

Now, I say that it began in the first BF&M, but really, if you read that version you will find that it is quite dissimilar from the article on the tabel today (see here for a comparison).  For instance, the 1925 version seems to picture the Kingdom of God in a highly personal manner, expressing it as “the reign of God in the heart and life of the individual in every human relationship, and in every form and institution of organized human society,” whereas the 1963 and 2000 versions take on a much more corporate vision: “The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King.”  This again begs the question of why we are even talking about the Kingdom of God if we have so radically changed what seems to be the focus of it?

All that said, I do not disagree with most of what is said here (other than the emphasis on the word “willfully” in discussing the acknowledgment of God’s kingship).  I do not however find it very interesting or illuminating.  The big thing I wish it would do is to more clearly connect the way in which the church and the Kingdom interact/overlap.  Here is a statement from elsewhere which I find informative on this matter:

The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness.  The gospel of Christ is still the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 24:14; Acts 20:25), the good news of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  The church makes its message credible by manifesting the reality of kingdom life. [The Reformation Study Bible, p.1489] 

John the Baptist declared that “the kingdom of heaven [was] at hand” as he looked towards Jesus (Matthew 3.2).  Jesus declared that “the kingdom of God [was] in the midst of [the Pharisees]” (Luke 17.20-21).  Today, Christ is seated at the right hand of God, with all things placed in dominion under him and with him as the head of the church (Ephesians 1.20-23).  So, as the church we are under Christ’s reign, and therefore, being strangers and exiles still on this earth, we should live as the citizens of heaven that we are, paying respects to our king and making his glory known all throughout the land of our sojourning (Philippians 3.20, 1 Peter 1.1, 2.9).

This idea is simply omitted from the BF&M’s discussion on the Kingdom, due in no small part I would imagine both to a lingering fear of declaring the church to be the Kingdom of God (a la Roman Catholicism) and the modern influence of dispensational theology upon Baptist thought.  It is unfortunate, however, that this occurs, since otherwise we are left with the Kingdom of God appearing to be some abstract eschatalogical idea and not what it really should be to us: a daily reality of the sovereign reign of Christ demonstrated through the church, which will one day be fully consumated in a visible, earthly Kingdom.


What We Believe- Article VIII, The Lord’s Day

March 5, 2009

Following the last two weeks where we were focused strongly on ecclesiology (the church and the ordinances), we now head out into the more general practices of Southern Baptist life.  Specifically, in Article VIII we are dealing with what a Southern Baptist is called to believe about the Lord’s Day:

VIII. The Lord’s Day

The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Exodus 20:8-11; Matthew 12:1-12; 28:1ff.; Mark 2:27-28; 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-3,33-36; John 4:21-24; 20:1,19-28; Acts 20:7; Romans 14:5-10; I Corinthians 16:1-2; Colossians 2:16; 3:16; Revelation 1:10.

I think, before we say anything in particular about this statement, we must note that this article marks the first place where the 2000 BF&M is actually more liberal than the 1963 and 1925 versions, both of which call for what is often termed “sabbatarianism” in that they argue in favor of Christians “refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, work of necessity and mercy only being excepted,” on the Lord’s Day.  That said, I believe that the 2000 version is right in abandoning this practice.  Let’s look why.

To begin, the statement that “the first day of the week (i.e. Sunday) is the Lord’s Day” is a teaching drawn straight from Scripture and supported by asundry verses concerning the Resurrection occurring on a Sunday, as well as passages in Acts and the epistles showing early church gatherings on the first day of the week (cf. Acts 20.7, 1 Corinthians 16.1-2).  The term “the Lord’s Day” is observed in Revelation 1.10, and probably also has origins in Jesus’ statement that “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (cf. Matthew 12.8, Mark 2.28).  This helps us counteract the Christians who try to be “cute” (I say that facetiously) and point out an inconsistency in the modern church by arguing that the Sabbath is actually on Saturday, as clearly we see Scriptural evidence and reasoning for why the Christian “sabbath” is to be observed on Sunday.

The instruction that it should be a “regular observance” seems to come from the matter of frequency with which the first day observances are mentioned in the New Testament and its close ties to the weekly observance of the Jewish sabbath, as other than that I see no direct instruction that this be the case from Scripture.  Curiously, the Lord’s Day observance isn’t explicitly linked to “going to church” in the BF&M, otherwise one might be inclined to refer to Hebrews 10.24-25 as evidence for a regular observance.  (I do actually believe this is the case though, that the “public” manner referred to later as a way of observing the Lord’s Day is essentially the church service.)  The fact that this observance “commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead” is taken from the circumstances of the initial Lord’s Day, the day of his rising.  That the activites of this day “should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private,” is argued in Colossians 3.16.

Now, here is where the controversy occurs for many.  As I have already mentioned, the 1925 and 1963 versions of the BF&M say that the Lord’s Day is observed “by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, work of necessity and mercy only being excepted.”  This view is typically referred to as sabbatarianism.  Contrary to this, the 2000 version takes a non-sabbatarian position, saying that “Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”  Personally, I think that the 2000 version is right, and have much trouble in understanding why so few Christians (historically) have come to this same conclusion.  I say this because of the traditional confessions which I would claim agreement with, all of them take at least a moderately sabbatarian position.  I actually know of no other prior confession which doesn’t read as sabbatarian.  Yet, in reading the New Testament I can’t help but reach the non-sabbatarian position myself.

So, what Scripture would I refer to?  Many sabbatarians will include Matthew 12.1-12 in their argument for sabbatarianism.  However, I do not believe this makes the point they long for, other than being an argument towards excepting rest for the doing of good on the Lord’s Day.  Beyond this, whenever the New Testament approaches actual doctrine related to the Lord’s Day (and not just historical remarks) they always seem to allow for Christian conscience in place of strict sabbath rest.  Specifically I would turn to Colossians 2.16 (“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of . . . a Sabbath“), followed by Romans 14.5-10 (“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. &tc”). The Apostle Paul seems to clearly argue that whether one observes the Lord’s Day as a sabbath or not is purely a matter of conscience that none should be judged over if they follow their own.  This is in no way contradictory to the teachings we find from Jesus on the matter of the sabbath, and actually appears to accord very well with his statement that “The Sabbath was made for man,  not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2.27).

I’m curious how much debate there is on this matter today.  I know of many fellow Calvinist brothers who hold to the sabbatarian position (which is in compliance with things like the Westminster Confession of Faith and the full practice of Covenant Theology), but typically this is a belief held by an older generation.  I would be interested in seeing comments from those with a position opposite mine though, to see how they handle the Pauline passages I gave in defense of the non-sabbatarian conviction; the position which I have shown is now accepted as orthodoxy in the SBC.


What We Believe- Article VII, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (part 2)

March 1, 2009

Today we will continue our look at Article VII of the Baptist Faith & Message, this time by focusing in on what it has to tell us about the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.  It says,

The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12.

Contrary to the last paragraph on Baptism, where I was joyed with every jot and tittle of the confession, in the Lord’s Supper portion I am not nearly as enthused.  It is not that I disagree with what is said, per se, but only that, as seems to be the case in many Southern Baptist churches I have been in, the practice of the Lord’s Supper is simply glossed over.  Now this is better than the 1925 version of the BF&M which says only that “by the use of bread and wine, [the church members] commemorate the dying love of Christ,” but there are definitely more specific confessions as well.  So, since that is the case, I would like to share two other declarations about the Lord’s Supper that I find superior and give a brief explanation of why.

First, from The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833:

[Believer's baptism] is prerequisite . . . to the Lord’s Supper, in which the members of the Church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.

At first this appears hardly different from the 1925 BF&M version, which is true, the 1925 version was meant to be a near restatement of this confession, but the one extra button that I think makes this writing better is the last qualification: “preceded always by solemn self-examination.”  The Apostle Paul makes no little to-do over the necessity of self-examination and avoidance of partaking the cup in an unworthy manner while addressing the Corinthian believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 11.27-29), and, though it is certainly not in vogue to ask people to consider that they may actually be sinners in need of repentance these days, I find it funny that the 2000 BF&M does not mention anything about self-examination and yet still leaves 1 Corinthians 11.27-29 in as part of their Scriptural justification for their statement.

The second confession I would have us look at, and probably my favorite for use today, would be that in The Abstract of Principles:

The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, to be administered with the elements of bread and wine, and to be observed by His churches till the end of the world. It is in no sense a sacrifice, but is designed to commemorate His death, to confirm the faith and other graces of Christians, and to be a bond, pledge and renewal of their communion with Him, and of their church fellowship.

I don’t really think much more needs to be said about this statement.  It is as full a confession of the biblical position as I can find in the creedal writing without being burdened by historical concerns (many good confessions such as The 1689 London Baptist Confession and The Savoy Declaration are weighed down by trying to distinguish themselves from the Eucharist as performed in the Catholic church, though I much enjoy their discussion of what is actually being partaken in the bread and wine).

One last consideration, and I will just bring this up as it is of contemporary debate, is the unavoidable conclusion that the BF&M affirms that the Lord’s Supper is only to be joined in by members of the church who have participated in Believer’s baptism as described in our previous post (cf. “[Believer's baptism] is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, &tc”).  

Thus, there are two areas of contention.  One is from those who support “open communion” in the sense that they allow any and all people, baptized or not, saved or not, to participate in the Lord’s Supper.  Honestly, there is no Scriptural justification for this and plenty of Scriptural writing against it, and churches which practice this should be strongly rebuked by those other churches who would be in fellowship with them.

The second debate concerns a form of “close communion” in which a Southern Baptist church would allow believers in like faith, but from other baptisms, to participate with them in communion.  It is particularly acted out with Calvinist Southern Baptist churches allowing communion to believers from the Presbyterian church (PCA).  This is definitely in opposition to what is taught in the BF&M, however I am not sure myself if I have an issue with it.  In my opinion, I would want to try and stay as conservative as possible with something of this nature (i.e. near where the BF&M stands), but I have trouble coming to the stricter conclusion through what I read in Scripture.  This is one issue which I am still much in the air about.


What We Believe- Article VII, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (part 1)

February 28, 2009

This week we are hitting the seventh article of the BF&M and the article which defines us most as a denomination (along with last weeks statements about the local church being autonomous), that being the one on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  In this post we will look at what the BF&M has to say about Baptism in particular, tomorrow we will focus on Communion.  To begin, the article says,

VII. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

As we go on, there seem to be very few statements in the Baptist Faith & Message that I would not handle with a little care as to exactly what they say, but on this paragraph concerning baptism I have to admit that I am completely in agreement with what has been written.

From the beginning, they assert that Christian baptism is by immersion (as opposed to by sprinkling) which is the precedent we see in places such as with the baptism of Christ in Mark 1.9-11 and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.38, as well as by the linguistic analysis of the Greek word translated as ‘baptism,’ that being baptizō.  This is of first importance, not that it has any affect on the persons salvation, but to be in full obedience of the symbol which baptism is to hold (and to which we will speak in a moment).  

Secondly, it is “immersion of a believer,” hence us calling it “Believers baptism.”  Though I love my reformed Presbyterian brothers, this is where they get it totally wrong.  Baptism is not a perfect equivalent to circumcision the way they try and pursue it.  Baptism is for the believer who, after placing faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, partakes in it as “a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead.”  Look at the most controversial of the baptism verses, Acts 2.37-39:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

What evidence does this give us that the baptism is for believers?  Because it says that the people were under convicttion from the Holy Spirit and were seeking to respond somehow (v.37).  So, Peter instructs them that, since they have been convicted (regenerated, no?) then they should repent of their sins and follow after the Lord in baptism.  The following after in baptism is done as a public testimony of faith, since it is something that a devout Jew (which reasonably we should assume these people were) would not be willing to participate in.  

Notice, that is all he says to them about baptism.  The next verse, which is where the Presbyterians go awry, deals with the promise of the Holy Spirit’s availability.  The Presbys interpret this as a promise of his actual gifting and how to receive it, that through baptism “[this] promise is [realized] . . . for your children.”  However, clearly, if nothing else, this neglects the remainder of v.39 about “all who are far off,” since we never see any hurry to baptize those people in the Presbyterian church, and so should immediately be rejected as the proper understanding of what Peter is saying. (Note: for comments on why this verse doesn’t teach baptismal regeneration, see my earlier words here.)

Next, we see that baptism is done in the full Trinitarian name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This is Jesus’ clear command on what to do in the Great Commission, particularly Matthew 28.19.

Then we get to the crux of why we do it.  I think this is so crucial.  It seems to me that some people in the Southern Baptist church cling to baptism so strongly simply because it is one of our distinctives and so is what sets us apart from the other denominations, specifically from Catholics and Presbyterians.  As a whole, this is a crumby reason to be sold out on believers baptism by immersion.  The true reason, the biblical reason, why our holding up the symbol of baptism in this way should always be because of what it signifies.  Believers baptism by immersion is not just some form of Baptist hazing ritual.  If we don’t take to heart why we are doing it then we are no better than anyone else who corrupts this act.  At the end of the day, performing the correct mode and method of baptism are honestly unimportant if the symbol is still obscured.

That said, what does the BF&M say is the symbol of our baptism?  It says that baptism symbolizes “the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”  This can be easily justified in the biblical teachings on baptism found in Romans 6.3-5 and Colossians 2.12.

Finally, we see that baptism is a “prequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”  This, as I have argued previously, is most clearly seen in the order of events for the first members into the church of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.  It says in Acts 2.41, “So those who [first] received his word were [then] baptized, and [afterwards] there were added that day about three thousand souls,” where we should understand that the “three thousand souls” were added to the initial body of 120 (Acts 1.15) to make up what was the church at that time.  In tomorrow’s post on the Lord’s Supper we shall see a practical controversy which is arising out of the statement that baptism “is prerequisite . . . to the Lord’s Supper.”

 


What We Believe- Article VI and Regenerate Church Membership

February 18, 2009

One interesting note as it pertains to what the Baptist Faith & Message has to say about the church is on who it is in particular that qualifies to be a member of the local church. This seems obvious, right? Not quite. Let’s review what can possible be garnered from the text of the BF&M alone:

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

So, it looks like we get that the members must be “baptized believers” and that they are responsible to Christ as Lord.  Sounds good, right?  Well, what about where the New Testament talks about people obeying the teachings of the Apostles and the consequences for not doing so (2 Thessalonians 3.14-15)?  What about the admonitions to break fellowship with “baptized believers” who are sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, a drunk, or a partier (1 Corinthians 5.9-13)?  What about the call to not neglect meeting together for edification and encouragement (Hebrews 10.24-25)?  All these things, loosely what may be said to be the believers responsibility to the church, are simply left out of the article altogether.

As it stands, one could reasonably argue that the BF&M allows for people to be members in good standing of a church with no more than a quick dousing in the baptismal and a tacit acceptance that they really are trying to serve Christ as Lord, but the Bible itself seems to ask more.  Therefore, this past year a resolution on church membership, Regenerate Church Membership (RCM) to be exact, was offered and passed at the annual SBC meeting. The full text can be found here, but this is the gist of it: because of tradition and the clear call of the Scriptures, the SBC “urge[s] churches to maintain a regenerate membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ’s lordship for all members.”

The road to get this passed was long and well fought, and thankfully in the end this measure went through.  Unfortunately, given the nature of the SBC, as resolution like this does not have any real teeth as far as implementation, but the fact that the SBC is now on record as doctrinally calling for a regenerate body in the local church, it is just another nail against the easy believism, Free Grace theology which has prevailed among many congregations over the last quarter to half a century.  Thankfully the SBC, though late in addressing it, finally got around to calling for more responsibility in the church among the leadership for keeping tabs on who genuinely is among us that is among us.

As I said to my Men’s Bible study this morning, I fully believe that Scripture teaches it to be easier to be in good standing in heaven than it is to be in good standing in the local church.  This is the way it should be, since God can truly see the heart, but the only evidences men have is by seeing the fruit.  Some will argue that this is all the more reason for Free Grace and avoiding judgment, but I see no way in which that position can be made biblically tenable.

On paper this was a good step and to be applauded.  Now it is necessary to make sure it is put into practice widely enough to make a difference.


What We Believe- Article VI, The Church (part 2)

February 17, 2009

Today we are going to look at the second paragraph of article six of the BF&M which concerns itself with the universal church of all believers. Here’s what it says:

The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.

Matthew 16:15-19; 18:15-20; Acts 2:41-42,47; 5:11-14; 6:3-6; 13:1-3; 14:23,27; 15:1-30; 16:5; 20:28; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 3:16; 5:4-5; 7:17; 9:13-14; 12; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:8-11,21; 5:22-32; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:18; 1 Timothy 2:9-14; 3:1-15; 4:14; Hebrews 11:39-40; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Revelation 2-3; 21:2-3.

To start, I do not like the way this paragraph is set-up. Yes, I agree that “[t]he New Testament speaks of the church as the Body of Christ” and that the New Testament speaks of the church universal, but I do not believe that these two things are meant to be synonymous, as it seems to me this paragraph is implying. Specifically, I do not believe that the New Testament speaks of the Body of Christ as being only that which is the universal church; I believe that the Body of Christ is also fully present in each local manifestation of the church, else by the argument in 1 Corinthians 12, we would be unable to say that each local autonomous congregation is fully equipped to do the work of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

As for the idea that there exists a manifestation of the church on a universal level, I believe that this truly is a biblical notion.  In Hebrews 12.23 we see mention of “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” where the word ‘assembly’ is actually the word ‘ekklesia‘ from which we often translate as ‘church.’  Similarly, there are many mentions of ‘the church’ in places where the idea of meaning one specific, local body seem to make no sense, such as Ephesians 1.22-23 (“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all“).

The idea of a universal “invisible” church (“invisible” meaning that its exact boundary is unknown, not that it is wholly hidden from sight) also plays out in the illustration of the church as the flock of God, whose Chief Shepherd is Jesus Christ.  In this metaphor, we see but that there is one flock being gathered under one shepherd (John 10.16), but for a time this flock is scattered about and being tended to by many smaller shepherds awaiting his return (1 Peter 5.1-4).

One thing from yesterday’s post that I would like to add.  At the end of the post we were considering  anything which we felt was missing from the “minimum” definition of the local church given by the BF&M and I left out something which at the time I felt was right but could not think of any Scriptural justification for it, that being that the church is to be noted by the presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit.  Some places where we see this indicated are 1 Corinthians 3.16, which says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”, and Ephesians 2.22, “In [Christ Jesus] you[, the Gentiles and the Jews,] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

In closing, I would like to give you the affirmation of “The Church” from the Abstract of Principles, which I feel is as clean and sufficient a declaration of what the constitutes the church as could reasonably be made:

The Lord Jesus is the head of the Church, which is composed of all His true disciples, and in Him is invested supremely all power for its government. According to His commandment, Christians are to associate themselves into particular societies or churches [i.e. the local church]; and to each of these churches He hath given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which He hath appointed. The regular officers of a Church are Bishops or Elders, and Deacons.


What We Believe- Article VI, The Church (part 1)

February 16, 2009

After a weeks hiatus we are returning to our look at the Baptist Faith & Message and what it says (or doesn’t say) as our standard doctrinal confession in the Southern Baptist Convention. This week we will be analyzing the sixth article of this document dealing with the church, both local and universal. In the first part we will observe the church local:

VI. The Church

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

One should probably start in their analysis of this passage by taking it to be the minimum definition which the SBC believes is required for a body of believers to be considered the church. If this is the case, we must look at each portion of the article and ask if that indeed is part of the minimum criteria for a church as displayed in the New Testament, and then in the end if there is still more that needs to be said.

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation . . . ” This we believe to be true, in light of the fact that people in the NT, though given instruction at times by the Apostles, were free to practice the actions of being a church through the observance of the elders which had been appointed to them. They are clearly local as the fact that there are letters addressed to local churches by both Paul and by Jesus attests.

” . . . of baptized believers . . . ” A place I would turn to justify the idea that the members of a local congregations must be baptized believers is in Acts 2. Verse 41 says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Clearly by the context this here means “there were added to the church . . . ” and so here we see the practiced (and thus prescribed?) order: belief, baptism, membership in the church.

” . . . associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel.” It is important that the church be alike in beliefs. I am first among those who dislike denominationalism and think that churches today are too at ease breaking away from a denomination than standing and fighting for orthodoxy, but at the same time, the denominations exist to help us align more closely with a specific set of doctrinal beliefs. This is also the point of confessions which people ascribe to, such as the BF&M. If the church is to be unified, then it must be in accord on its doctrine, and this means obeying the words of Paul when he says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

observing the two ordinances of Christ.” By the language of Acts where we see the churches baptizing new converts who then become members, and by that in 1 Corinthians 11 where it talks about the Corinthians “com[ing] together as a church” (v.18) and partaking in the Lord’s Supper, we would agree that the church is called to observe both of the ordinances established by Christ and the Apostles in the NT.

governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word.” All of this I would classify under having a high view of Scripture, a trait promoted by 2 Timothy 3.16-17 when it says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.” This is the Great Commission/Acts 1.8, a command which was given to the disciples and early followers and was carried out by the gathering of people at different times and places. Christ gave this in a unified context (the church), and hopefully every effort will be made to maintain this unity in its fulfillment.  Working to fulfill the Great Commission is a must for any NT church.

Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processesIn such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord.”  I believe the call for the church to fall under “the Lordship of Christ” is clear by the teachings about Christ being given as “as head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1.22; which is addressed later as well in Article VI).  However, I am unsure of any clear verse teaching democratic decision making in the church, though would be glad to be corrected if one exists.  This does not mean that I do not feel it is the best form of rule, but I simply am unable to justify that as a hard and fast requirement of the church for myself.  Thus, moving on to the idea of “each member [being] responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord,” I do not think this applies in any more specific sense in the church than it does in general in the life of a Christian, which is supposed to be lived under the declaration that “Christ is Lord” (Romans 10.9).

Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”  I agree with this wholly.  It is a shame that we must make a declaration about the exclusion of women from the pastorate, particularly since this means we are singling out one among many qualifications for an elder in the church, but at the end of the day I am glad that the SBC is not leaving that one up for interpretation, since many interesting interpretations abound.  Still, there needs to be sufficient emphasis on the qualifications for elders, and the fact that the BF&M does not include Titus 1.5-9 among the supporting Scripture for this article is frustrating.  We must not skip on the required criterion for our leadership, as their qualification and purity are of utmost importance both for our local congregations and for the cause of Christ in the world.

Concluding this all, I can not think of anything right off which I feel is missing from the minimum definition leveled here, though I did point out one or two places where I felt they went too far.

Defining the church is of greatest importance for Christianity.  Many today are wont to recreate “church” in a fashion and practice which is in no way biblical or beneficial for the Christian believer, and without a firm idea of what we are to be looking for, we have no standing for declaring that body to be illegitimate.  This is a rampant problem and one that needs to be addressed more fully as time goes on.


What We Believe- Article V, God’s Purpose of Grace (part 2)

February 7, 2009

Last time we dealt with the section of Article V which addressed election. Today we will be looking at what it has to say about perseverance/eternal security:

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-8; 1 Samuel 8:4-7,19-22; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 31:31ff.; Matthew 16:18-19; 21:28-45; 24:22,31; 25:34; Luke 1:68-79; 2:29-32; 19:41-44; 24:44-48; John 1:12-14; 3:16; 5:24; 6:44-45,65; 10:27-29; 15:16; 17:6,12,17-18; Acts 20:32; Romans 5:9-10; 8:28-39; 10:12-15; 11:5-7,26-36; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 15:24-28; Ephesians 1:4-23; 2:1-10; 3:1-11; Colossians 1:12-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2:10,19; Hebrews 11:39-12:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:2-5,13; 2:4-10; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:19; 3:2.

[Note: These are the verses for both the portion on perseverance as well as the previous section on election.]

In a turn of irony, we follow the previous section to which no consensus was given and most all options were left on the table with a section that all of us should be able to be on-board with.  Many non-Calvinist Southern Baptists will argue that they are not Arminians (the traditional Calvinist counterpart) because Arminians deny eternal security while no Baptist would do such a thing.  So, let’s take a moment to enjoy this brief period of agreement.

Most of this article consists of standard yet solid lines like “All true believers endure to the end.”  This is nice, and particularly when it comes to an issue of such critical importance to the Christian life as security, it’s straightforwardness is appreciated.

One place where it gets interesting however is when it says, “Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation. . . .  yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”  There are a number of people today who still hold to a theology which says Christians who live in sin must have never been Christians to start with.  This is both wrong and dangerous.  Instead we must replace this incorrect notion with the proper biblical teaching that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.38-39).

Other than that, as I said, the section on eternal security is nice, simple, and straightforward.  It is an excellent outline to witness from when dealing with someone who struggles over their own righteousness and if they have done enough to merit salvation or pay penance.  I am thankful that, though it happens quite infrequently, we can at least come to one mind on the doctrine of perseverance within our convention.