Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Fifth Century Initiative

I cannot claim authorship of the following for at least three reasons. First, several people have looked at drafts for the past several months and have suggested helpful improvements. Second, the concepts articulated below are biblical and historical, and are in no way an innovation attributable to me or to anyone else alive today. Third, a great many strong leaders like Mark Dever, Stan Norman, John Hammett, Malcolm Yarnell, Paige Patterson, Nathan Finn, Tom Ascol, and too many others to count, have championed in part or in whole the concepts listed below long before I came to the scene. So, I offer this text for your consideration. In the near future I will supplement these words with related proposed actions and invite your participation.

The Fifth Century Initiative
Recapturing the Baptist Vision

Baptists embark upon their fifth century of modern existence beginning in 2009.1 Seventeenth-century Baptists asserted several New Testament precepts that we can isolate as the distinctive tenets of Baptist identity. These concepts coalesced for the seventeenth-century Baptists into a prescription of interconnected propositions for congregational reformation.

Four centuries have nearly elapsed. As the fifth century of modern Baptist existence dawns, the key New Testament precepts that define us have recently waned in influence and support among Southern Baptists. We are forgetting who we are—who Christ has called all Christians to be. At a moment when we once again need spiritual awakening and reformation, the New Testament prescription that served so well in the first and the seventeenth centuries beckons us again.

An initiative is in order to place before God’s people once again a vision for renewing the New Testament foundation of our congregations. Several tasks await faithful Baptists who would pursue this end:

  • The Restoration of Biblical Literacy: None of the initiatives stipulated in this document are feasible in their fullest sense apart from a concerted campaign to acquaint the Southern Baptist people with the sacred text. Southern Baptists must develop viable congregational strategies for pursuing biblical literacy among our members.
  • The Pursuit of the Great Commission: New Testament congregations are a construct intrinsic to the gospel and universally relevant to all people, cultures, and ages. Our congregations must visit afresh the Divine imperative to reproduce themselves throughout the world, embracing opportunities to engage the task with greater vigor than before.
  • The Proclamation of the Gospel: Southern Baptists must regain a confidence in the power of the unadorned gospel to win the lost and to effect a lifetime of transformation. A confidence in the converting power of the gospel is in many ways the theological premise underlying the entirety of the Baptist vision.
  • The Recovery of Regenerate Church Membership: Southern Baptists must restrict membership to visible saints.
  • The Defense of Believer’s Immersion: Troubling signs of erosion have appeared on the bedrock of Baptist belief—the ordinance of believer’s immersion. Southern Baptists must assert not only the biblical certainty of this doctrine, but its biblical importance. Christian immersion is the nonnegotiable initial act of obedience for every Christian disciple.
  • The Development of an Updated Southern Baptist Church Covenant: Many issues have emerged in the past century to pose new challenges to congregations. An updated covenant would greatly assist in recalling Southern Baptists to covenantal accountability as foundational to congregational life.
  • The Renewed Exercise of Biblical Church Discipline: Several leaders have done significant work to commend to Southern Baptists the biblical mandate for church discipline and to provide practical guidance for the recovery of church discipline in lapsed churches. Building upon this work, the Southern Baptist Convention must assert these reforms not merely as one way to “do church” but as the New Testament model for mutual accountability among Christians.
  • The Rehabilitation of Congregational Church Polity2: Baptist polity has far too often degenerated into the unholy pursuit of personal agendas. After an embarrassing hiatus, Southern Baptists have found once again the New Testament basis for congregational church governance. Now we need practical guidance to demonstrate how to restore the Lordship of Christ in the midst of congregational church governance.
  • The Mobilization of the Universal Priesthood: Southern Baptists do well to consider one of the most robust New Testament doctrines for Christian mobilization—the recognition of all believers as members of a universal Christian priesthood with responsibilities for spiritual service. If the members of the congregation are all regenerate, then all are obligated to participate in the congregation’s mission.
  • The Revitalization of Cooperative Association: Pragmatism and an inappropriate competitive spirit have sometimes marred relationships between sister congregations. Also, the waning of Baptist identity has diluted the fraternal doctrinal accountability that has historically marked the relationship between churches in their associative bodies. Southern Baptists need to recover a healthy cooperative life that encourages healthy congregational life.

1The year 1609 is, if nothing else, the first year to which the vast majority of historians—successionist or non-successionist—can point and identify genuine Baptists. Whatever disputed Baptist existence occupied 1608, the modern phase of the movement begins in 1609.

2Congregational church polity describes a broad category of polity with many viewpoints on such matters as the number and role of elders.

43 comments:

Ron P. said...

Bart (et al)

Most excellent!

Ron P.

Ron P. said...

Bart,

Let me add, that these biblical and historical beliefs can and should be embraced by all Southern Baptists. This is something upon which we can continue to build a bridge of cooperation without heading down the path of ecumenicism where any biblical belief is sacrificed for the sake of cooperation.

Ron P.

joerstewart said...

I look forward to this initiative

volfan007 said...

bart,

i agree with ron and joe. i look forward to what's next.

david

Bro. Robin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bro. Robin said...

Bart

What a vision for our churches to embrace. You have proven time and time again not only your humble manner, but that you are one of the sharp minds in the SBC.

Baptist Theologue said...

This looks great.

Bro. Matt said...

Excellent article

Scott Gordon said...

YES!

Good Stuff, Maynard! I am looking forward to seeing the start of the Fifth Century of Baptist Life...when exactly does that begin? ;-)

Bennett Willis said...

Once you have separated yourselves from all who don't support in every way this document--who will be left to cooperate with?

Bennett Willis

Paul said...

Bart,

Having recently done some brushing up on Spurgeon and the down-grade a few thoughts came to mind in regard to this initiative. First, if "Baptist" and "Biblical" are synonymous then doesn't it make more sense to call all Christians to greater Biblical faithfulness? And wouldn't you get more traction out of this by presenting it as a Biblical initiative rather than a "Baptist" initiative?

And then I guess that begs the question of the name "Fifth Century Initiative." Perhaps it should be the "First Century Initiative" or the "Twenty-first Century Initiative."

Perhaps these suggestions are a little late to the game. I just know that if I were to tell the people at our Baptist church that we're going to focus on being more faithful Baptists I would get a few yawns and possibly some blank stares and quizzical looks. However, if I were to tell them that we're going to focus on being more Biblical they'd all shout "Amen" like a bunch of Pentecostals (without actually being Pentecostals, of course).

Big Daddy Weave said...

In response to Paul,

I actually like the name. Between now and '09, I suspect many many Baptists will hear about their 400th anniversary. While I don't know how SBCers will celebrate this date, I do know that Baylor is planning a year long celebration with various events. Bill Underwood likely has big plans for '09 as well. Certainly, the SBC will try her best to out-do us mods in that regard.

Nonetheless, the name for this initiative seems to work well. 2009 is the year to celebrate our distinctives as Baptists. To sell your "Biblical" idea would take away from the anniversary itself.

Oh and Bart, I guess in your context footnote #1 was necessary. But in my Baptist world, we wouldn't dream of acknowledging the trail of blood folks. :-)

Bart Barber said...

Well,

Bennett thinks it is exclusive (although it breathes not a word of exclusion), and Aaron thinks it strangely too inclusive (by bowing to our friends, not all of whom see an entire trail of blood, who aren't so certain about 1609).

Must be just about right! :-)

Bart Barber said...

Ron P,

Yes, brother, the Bible commends to us just what we need right now.

Bart Barber said...

Joe,

Buckle up and hang on, brother.

Bart Barber said...

Volfan,

Glad to know that we have both banks of the mighty Mississippi in support.

Bart Barber said...

Robin,

Thanks. I presume that you speak for all of Oklahoma? ;-)

Bart Barber said...

BT,

Of course, any Baptist Theologue would agree.

Bart Barber said...

Scott,

Keep the phrase "modern Baptist life" together there. The "modern" helps a lot more of us to be together on the whole 2009 date.

Bart Barber said...

Bennett,

It is a sad day when the mere action of listing a number of biblical doctrines automatically opens one up to a charge of exclusion. Where, oh where, could you have gotten such an idea?

Bart Barber said...

Paul,

Package and promote the ideas anyway that seems right to you. You may very well be correct about the better presentation of these concepts in your church. I suspect that your idea would work better at most of our churches.

But within a group like the Southern Baptist Convention, while dealing with leaders in Baptist churches, I should hope that Baptist would not be a swear word. :-)

As for the date, in the comments already I have attempted to show the strategic importance of the adjective "modern" in this document.

Bart Barber said...

BDW,

I am encouraged by your supportive words. This document does not cherry-pick the things that have divided various Baptist groups. I would hope for the BGCT, the CBF, the ABC, the PNBC, or any number of Baptist groups both domestic and exotic that this document is one that they could embrace. I think that we would all be better off by devotion to a revival of these biblical concepts.

gmay said...

Paul,
If Bart will allow a slight rabbit trail?
I do believe amen was Biblical word and therefore a Baptist word before the Pentecostals came along. :)

volfan007 said...

paul,

shouting amen instead of speaking in ecstatic utterance sounds mighty baptist of you. :) and, it is a sad day if being a baptist is looked upon as something to yawn about, or to despise.

bennett,

i have to agree with bart. being a baptist christian in a baptist church is open to anyone who gets saved and wants to be a baptist christian. where's the exclusion?

david

Bennett Willis said...

One of the activities that I helped to do in my church was to write a set of church policies/procedures. I found this to be both difficult and focusing. It is a challenge to write "how we will respond" to most of the things that have come up and might come up.

How about putting up a Wiki (similar to the one on the church covenant) for a policy on church discipline and on regenerate membership. I think that I could write policies to cover most of the rest of the items in the document, but I would have a hard time with these two.

Thinking (not too seriously) about the regenerate membership policy... Maybe you could have a total points system. You'd get 1 point for each church service you attended each year (rolling, not calendar, year). 10 points for actually witnessing. 20 points for actually leading a person to Christ in the last 5 years who is still regenerate. 10 points per $1000 given. 10 points for serving on a committee. etc. It would take a minimum of 100 points to be regarded as a Christian worthy of membership in this church. But seriously, how are you going to actually apply this in real time?

Bennett Willis

volfan007 said...

bennett,

how about if you havent been to church in three or five or 15 years, and you have been visited by the pastor and a deacon, and you still dont come to church? would that be a good sign that those people aint interested in neither God nor His church? would they not be the kind of people that you might drop from the roll?

and, our churches are full of them. mine included. :(

david

Bennett Willis said...

Several years ago a couple of our deacons agreed (between themselves) that they would visit every person on our church rolls who was not "active." They thought that people who were on our rolls would be better prospects than "cold calls." By mid year they acknowledged that they were wrong but as I recall they finished their commitment. Basically the folks on the roll who were not attending were doing it (not attending) on purpose--and they knew exactly why they were not active.

I suppose that you could say that we would send out a postcard each year and if you did not send it back we'd take you off the count--that is even simpler than David's suggestion. We'd keep your letter in case you ever wanted to join another Baptist church, but we just would not count you any more. Or maybe we could just send the letter to you and let you keep it.

I could write the policy on that, but it does seem trivial. Maybe I'm making this too hard. But what about church discipline--surely it is harder than this one?

[Every blog needs a good straight man.]

Bennett Willis

Grosey's Messages said...

Bart, it sounds wonderful! Glad that you guys are remembering your British roots :)
I sure do hope you can revive our hope down under..
Steve

selahV said...

Volfan: once upon a time when my husband was going to Boyce Bible School, before it became a College, we were members of a wonderful church in Louisville. We were asked to be Sunday School teachers for one of the couples classes. On one particular visitation evening we picked up a card of a couple who hadn't been attending in years. They happened to have a little girl who was GA (Girls in Action) age. Bob and I arrived at their door and the lady was making Easter candy. We sat down and chatted for a long time. Talked about our call to ministry, what we were about and how we'd been asked to teach a couples class. We saw their name on the rolls and decided to visit them. We hadn't gotten very far along in the conversation of which we'd already discovered they were not interested in church much anymore, when the doorbell rang. There was a couple of ladies who were teachers of GA's who'd also picked up the couple's card and felt led to visit the daughter. The dining room was filling up with more people than candy. A few minutes later the ladies left and within five minutes the doorbell rang again. This time it was a deacon and the pastor of the church coming to visit the couple. NONE of this had been coordinated between any of us visiting. All of it was God-led.
Longer story short: The couple began attending regularly. Man was called to preach. He began going to Boyce. Within a few years he was pastoring a tiny bi-vocational church in Indiana. Guess we could have purged him from the rolls as a disciplinary action. Guess we could have chalked him off as lost and un-regenerate. But what would we have lost in the blessing of this life to ours, I do not know.

Yeah, we have members on our rolls that may never be back in a church again in their lifetime no matter how many visits are made. But how do WE know which ones they are? ya know? selahV

volfan007 said...

selah,

amen to your story. i've also seen some absentee members reclaimed in my life....but, very, very, very few. most of them tell me that they just got out of the habit, and they chuckle a little as they say it. then, they act as if i'm a little bit radical for thinking that something's wrong with them. but, i do thank God for the ones who are reclaimed.

btw, i try to visit absentee members on a weekly basis...when my schedule permits. i go to them the first time to meet them and encourage them to come back. the second time, i try to help them see that there's a spiritual problem in their life. i guess the next step should be dropping them from the roll....which i've never done. but, i'm thinking more and more in those lines here of late. maybe it would wake some people up to how serious a matter church membership is.

david

Grosey's Messages said...

Every one goes to hospital sooner or later... if you can arrange to know when they get admitted you ahve trebbled the effect of your visit in 1/4 of the time.
Steve

Debbie Kaufman said...

SelahV: Great illustration of something I have been thinking too.

Blackhaw said...

When I first read "The Fifth Century Initiative" I thought maybe that a Bpatist was calling other Baptists back to the the early Church. I was dissapointed.

BH- CARL PETERSON

Bennett Willis said...

Still no help on how to implement church discipline. If it is worth pledging to, it is worth implementing...

Bennett Willis

Bart Barber said...

Bennett,

You and I are on the same wavelength here. I do plan to carry this initiative beyond platitudes to practical guidance. The WikiCovenant never really got much traction, so I may find myself looking for another approach. But check out future posts for the practical side of things.

Bart Barber said...

Vol, Bennett,

I think that church discipline should address abandonment of the church (by failing to attend). But not in order to be picky. The purpose of church membership is mutual encouragement in service and spiritual growth. Do we or do we not believe that these things are normative for Christians?

I get far more complaints from people who dropped out and "nobody noticed or said anything" than almost any other category. Even the folks who quit coming recognize and expect that it should raise red flags and provoke some sort of response from the church.

Bart Barber said...

Steve,

Good to hear from you, brother! Thanks for the encouragement. We all need to do better, whatever our continent might happen to be.

Bart Barber said...

SelahV,

Certainly we should not sit down with a list in a sterile environment and just write people off. Biblical church discipline and regenerate church membership require a huge commitment from the people who are faithful regenerate members. Getting out to see folks who have dropped by the wayside is part of the point.

Also, when we look back at earlier days, we see an awful lot of people disciplined and then reclaimed. God has prescribed biblical church discipline and regenerate church membership because they are good for us, not because they are bad for us.

Some of Dr. Mark Dever's stories of the transition at CHBC are inspirational in this vein, I think.

Bart Barber said...

Blackhaw,

If you wish to speak of the first century AD, I believe that these principles do call us back to the early church. If, however, you would point us to the fifth century AD, I don't know that there is much in that epoch to commend it to us above other centuries of Christian history.

Bart Barber said...

To all,

Here is the likely pattern for the remainder of the Fall—you'll likely not hear much from me on Mondays and most of Tuesdays. I teach on Mondays out of state, so that day is filled with travel. Most of Tuesdays will be lost on catching up church stuff. But I'll catch up eventually.

Bennett Willis said...

I thought that the Wiki on the church covenant did fairly well actually. Remember you started with a well written document that had been "proven" over time.

If you wished for more input, maybe starting with a few major headings and a lot more white space would have gotten you your wish.

Church discipline might be a lot more fun. One of my late wife's favorite stories was that some ancestor of hers had been run out of a Baptist church in Mississippi about 1815 or so. He was ejected for "riotous living" because he had gone to a dance. The punch line was that he died a Baptist preacher, so I suppose that he had been reclaimed.

Bennett Willis

Dave Samples said...

Bart,

I've read through your initiative three times and I've yet to see anything that I cannot support. It does not appear to be divisive in any way. You have allowed for diversity within our convention while at the same time calling for a unity around fundamental core values that I believe we can all stand on. Unless I'm misunderstanding something, it appears that I agree with you! Well done!

Jonathon said...

I have one question...

Is baptism the "initial act" of obedience for a new believer?

I don't like that language. A new believer can be obedient in many other areas before being baptized. A new believer may tithe, pray, read the Scriptures, share his new found faith, before the time of his baptism rolls around.

I do not see baptism as the "initial act" of obedience, but instead the public declaration of his death to sin and union with Christ. I am on staff with Dr. Bill Henard, and I never hear him insert the first act of obedience argument when dealing with the issue. Instead he describes it as I have.

I have always struggled with calling it the first or "initial" act of obedience because of the previously mentioned arguments. However, I am open to correction.

Thanks.