Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Baptist Identity" Influences in My Life

How did I come to be a "Baptist Identity" sort of Baptist? Did I happen upon golden plates in my back yard inscribed by J. R. Graves? Did I have some furtive meeting over beignets with Dr. Paige Patterson?

I would like to say that the Holy Spirit and the New Testament have been the influences that have driven me to my position, and indeed this is what I believe. Nevertheless, I can identify a seminal influence in my life who is the most responsible for my more vigorous embrace of our distinctive New Testament beliefs as Baptists. That influence was Dr. Karen Bullock.

It was in one of my earlier Ph.D. seminar meetings that Dr. Bullock made a statement about the number of Ph.D. students in a Southern Baptist seminary who, when asked what were the distinctive beliefs of Baptists, were perplexed by the question and unable to provide a satisfactory answer. It was she who thereby gave me the initial indication that Southern Baptists were in the process of selling our birthright by abandoning our key doctrinal convictions without ever troubling ourselves to learn what they are and why we have held them so tenaciously and for so long. In two years of seminars to follow, it was Dr. Bullock's love for the English and American Baptists that so encouraged me to read them carefully and to learn from them. It was her supportive encouragement during my dissertation process that refined my views and provided helpful and necessary feedback along the way.

At least as far as this adherent is concerned, Dr. Karen Bullock is something of the Mother of the Baptist Identity Movement.

I do not mean that she has reached every conclusion that I have reached; I know for certain that we are not clones of one another. I simply mean that God used her to bring me to where I presently am. I am thankful for her.

Aaron Weaver has authored something of a kindly critique of some comments by Dr. Bullock in Associated Baptist Press on the subject of baptism. Also quoted in the BP article is Dr. James Leo Garrett, another powerful influence upon me in this area of thought. I do not find Weaver's post to be persuasive, but neither do I find it to be inappropriate. It is through such exchanges that academia moves forward. I speak to the matter not to scold the Big Daddy, but simply to go on the record in support of Bullock and Garrett.

I also think that BDW's post gives us a moment to consider what the Baptist Identity movement is and where it stands in our present context. Bullock's remark in that seminar meeting long ago and her comments in the ABP article give us an astute perspective on where Southern Baptist life stands right now. A tepid evangelical ecumenism crouches outside the tent, and its desire is for us. We are told by some voices within and some without that our only hope for survival is to embrace it. To some degree because of the influence of Bullock and Garrett upon me, I believe that we must master it and turn it back. To embrace it is to destroy ourselves, I believe.

The evidence to support my viewpoint is out there, I believe. I began blogging at a time when "Baptist Identity" bloggers were mostly involved in parrying against the thrusts of Ben Cole's pen. Ben is far my superior in intellect, focus, and eloquence. Ben was the brain and the soul of "the other side" of Southern Baptist blogging.

Ben is now, reportedly, a Roman Catholic.

That fact doesn't make Ben a bad person, nor does it cause me to question his salvation. The RCIA cannot undo what the gospel has done. The present state of affairs simply adds several more items of disagreement to what was already a sizable list of theological points of difference between myself on the one hand and Ben on the other hand. I suspect that Ben might say much the same had he not moved far on from Baptist blogging (something I may do myself at some point).

But Ben's movement is significant in one sense to our present discussion. Ben was authoring motions and crafting strategy in an attempt to shape the future direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it wasn't that long ago that he was doing it. So here's the question: Should the future of the Southern Baptist Convention be placed into the hands of people who have so little commitment to its core beliefs and so little stake in its future? Shouldn't the people playing central roles in the shaping of the Southern Baptist Convention be people who are Baptists by conviction?

Well, at least I believe that they should be, and so do those other brethren who are generally called "Baptist Identity" believers. Those who use the phrase use it to try to insult us. It is a politically calculated phrase. But that's OK—so was the word "Baptist" to begin with. The fact that we are being treated in the same manner as were the earliest Baptists and then the earliest modern Baptists is simply a good indication of the stock from which we descend and the historical side on which we stand. It's a proud heritage, and one I readily embrace. I learned about it from people like Karen Bullock and James Leo Garrett. The ABP article, and Aaron Weaver's post, reveal clearly that people like Bullock and Garrett see some of the same problems that I see in the present life of our churches and our convention. Political calculations notwithstanding, clearly there are a lot of people—and a lot of really smart and insightful people—who share a lot of these views with folks like me.

If that's true, then the "Baptist Identity" position cannot be nearly so radically narrow and obscurantist as some would have you believe.

28 comments:

younglandmarker said...

You say you are "a 'Baptist Identity' sort of Baptist"? Just a question: would you also identify yourself as a Landmark Baptist? How much cooperation would you be willing to participate in if any with churches of other denominations?

Andrew said...

Bart,

I had the experience of hearing Dr. Bullock teach just prior to her leaving Southwestern (I wasn't at SWBTS...the reference is for temporal reference).

I found here both warm and insightful. I am glad that we share an admiration of her and her commitment to Baptist beliefs

Bart Barber said...

Young Landmarker,

In the opening comments of my dissertation, I characterized my relationship with Landmarkism as "respect without endorsement." That remains my position to this day.

PARTIAL LIST OF AREAS OF AGREEMENT

1. I believe that failure to be immersed subsequent to conversion is an instance of unrepentant sin. I believe that those who are guilty of this particular unrepentant sin (like those who stubbornly persist in any unrepentant sin) are subject to church discipline and are not eligible for good standing in church membership.

2. I believe that immersion must take place under the auspices of a genuine New Testament church.

3. I believe that those who are subject to church discipline and are not eligible for good standing in church membership ought not to be participating in the Lord's Supper.

4. I believe that not all so-called churches are valid churches as Christ (the Head of the Church) sees them.

5. I believe that the local congregation is the preponderant and controlling sense of ekklesia in the New Testament. I regard the "universal church" as an ecclesiological construct, sometimes considered proleptically.

PARTIAL LIST OF AREAS OF DISAGREEMENT

1. I do not believe that there has always been a Baptist church in existence somewhere since the days of the New Testament (although I do believe that the New Testament church was Baptist).

2. I do not oppose church-intercommunion.

3. I do not believe that all non-Baptist churches are invalid "societies" (nor do I believe that all Baptist churches are valid churches).

4. I do not hesitate, on occasion, to invite some non-Baptists into the pulpit of my church.

5. I recognize some non-Baptist pastors as gospel ministers.

As to cooperation with other denominations, I am the president of our local ministerial alliance, and have been for several years. I have partnered with non-Baptist churches to perform general evangelism in our community and in our area. Together with several congregations in our community we provide financial assistance for the poor. We participate in periodic united worship services. And, of course, as a Southern Baptist, I have heard a number of non-Baptists preaching at our annual meetings of the SBC. Southern Baptists have partnered with a wide variety of people in political advocacy regarding issues like abortion and homosexual marriage.

bapticus hereticus said...

Early Baptists saw baptism as the expression of “a sober, sacred vow with heavy expectations for church membership and a life of selfless service to Christ,” Bullock added. So, they insisted candidates for baptism possess the maturity to make that kind of serious commitment.

bapticus hereticus: In this conversation, this is, in my estimation, the central issue. It also points to a dilemma of commitment to Christ as being point or process. If point, then more formal processes for assuring a reasonable motivation for commitment is necessitated, but which are lacking in probably most baptist churches. If process, then commitment will be facilitated by informal interactions and renewed over time due to cognitive and faith development. As cognitive and faith development reach higher levels of maturity, many issues that were once of major concern are reconceptualized and relativized. Whereas one will, highly likely, affirm a particular faith tradition, one will, however, affirm it as adequate and inadequate, relevant and irrelevant. One will become more open to the truth claims of other traditions and allow them to critique his own as his offers others. When the one perceives the other as other and can affirm such, differences divide less and facilitate more appreciation for and insights into the richness and mystery of being. Thus the parochial, still manifest to the latent universal, will be valued appropriately for its internal consistency and openness to deeper and richer understandings of truth. The rub: if extant research on faith development is our guide and past is prologue, very few people achieve this level of maturity. Thus our concerns will continue to be lower-order stuff that will divide and promote adherence to a faith tradition that values a type of commitment that, unfortunately, attenuates one’s ability or desire to advance it.

Greg Tomlin said...

As in the First London Confession:

"That the way and manner of dispensing this ordinance, is dipping or plunging the body under water; it being a sign, must answer the things signified, which is, that interest the saints have in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ: And that as certainly as the body is buried under water, and risen again, so certainly shall the bodies of the saints be raised by the power of Christ, in the day of the resurrection, to reign with Christ."

If we can't agree on the first act of submission to his command, what interest have we in His life of obedience to the Father?

She did teach us well, Bart, didn't she?

Alex said...

Perhaps in due honor of Praise-God Barebones you ought to change your blog title, your stated position here being the opposite of his?

Joe Blackmon said...

One will become more open to the truth claims of other traditions and allow them to critique his own as his offers others.

No. Spiritual maturity is not marked by open mindedness to the claims of other faith traditions. Anyone who suggests that Christ is not the only way to heaven and that there are other valid ways (Mohammed, Joseph Smith, etc...) as you do are not exhibiting a quality that is to be admired and coveted but prove, rather, that they have no idea what saving faith is and further that they have no idea what the gospel is.

In other words, they don't know what it takes to be saved.

Greg Tomlin said...

Alex:

Bart notes PraiseGod's less-than-Baptist views in his post from four years ago on the name of the blog, located here:
http://praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com/2006/09/so-whats-with-name-of-this-blog.html

It's not so much about being in line with PraiseGod as it is about conversational dissent and asking questions to probe for theological accuracy. PraiseGod's affiliation with the JLJ church aside, he would be proud to be connected to such a blog.

GT

David said...

If one believes that the new testament church was a "baptist" church, but doesn't believe there has always been a New Testament church since apostolic times...how does one interpret Matt. 16:18?

David Campbell

Christiane said...

David,

Some Christians see a reference to meaning of 'the keys of the kingdom' foreshadowed in the Book of Isaiah,
Chapter 22

"20
On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
21
I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
22
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open "

Not all Christian people see the reference as being meaningful, though.

Bart Barber said...

Yes, Greg, she did! Thanks also for your reply to Alex. My sentiments precisely.

Bart Barber said...

David,

I also believe that the New Testament church was a Mediterranean church, but if there were a period in history in which there were no Mediterranean churches, this would not mean that the "gates of Hell" had prevailed against the church. Why?

1. To state that the New Testament church was a Baptist church is not to state that any non-Baptist church is ipso facto not a valid church. Being a Baptist church is not the sine qua non of a New Testament church, although it was a characteristic of the New Testament Church.

2. Even if one were to assert that no church could be valid except it be a Baptist church, the eventual restoration of Baptist churches would constitute, I think, an ultimate failure of the "gates of Hell" to "prevail against" the church.

Anonymous said...

Bart, you know my opinion of Dr. Bullock, it's a shame this generation of SWBTS has been denied the opportunity to study under her. This was a great article that I am in wholeheated agreement with.

Jim Champion

Christiane said...

Hi BART,

You wrote this: 'I do not believe that there has always been a Baptist church in existence somewhere since the days of the New Testament (although I do believe that the New Testament church was Baptist).'

Since the New Testament was not written when the Church was founded, is there another name or names that might be more apppropriate for the first 'Church'?
For example: the 'apostolic Church'

Otherwise, the term 'New Testament' must mean that the early Church was that Church which Christ founded which is DESCRIBED in the New Testament that was written at a latter date.

David said...

Thanks for your response Dr. Barber and I appreciate the insight. I'm unfamiliar with this seemingly quite fresh perspective. Formerly a proponent of the presently operative universal church and mystical body of christ; my previous pastor exposed this error for the figment of the imagination it was via the biblical ecclessiology (for the most part) of B.H. Carrol, Arthur Pink, Louis Entzminger, S.E. Anderson, and others. However,I still haven't quite put it all together well enough to wholeheartedly endorse any position. Through personal study, I parted ways with the baptist bride of my former "independent" baptist church. After giving her (baptist bride) the boot...my crosshairs fell on the indemonstrable truth of baptist successionism according to landmarkists...I would rather fellowship with hyper-calvinists than hyper-baptists such as these (not realy though ;)). Your position is very appealing and I'd love to get some materials for further clarification. Where might I find these resources? Its very encouraging to read southern baptists who hold to biblical ecclesiology. This gives me further motivation to join a SB church...I think even J.Frank Norris would try to re-associate if he were still around today. These KJV-only guys have redefined "fundamentalism" into something it was never meant to be...

Thanks,

David Campbell

Ben Stratton said...

David,

Keep in mind that none of the men you mentioned (B.H. Carrol, Arthur Pink, Louis Entzminger, S.E. Anderson) held to the Baptist bride concept. They were very balanced and sound in their ecclesiology. Their books are very helpful and need to be read by all Southern Baptists. I hope you will continue to profit from them.

Ben Stratton said...

Bart,

We agree on most of our ecclesiology / Baptist history, but you mentioned two things I could let go.

You wrote: "Being a Baptist church is not the sine qua non of a New Testament church, although it was a characteristic of the New Testament Church"

How can a congregation be a N.T. church that does not hold to believer's immersion? While this is not the only Baptist distinctive, it is the main one. While there are Christians in pedobaptist and restorationist churches, their congregations do not meet the definition of a N.T. church. Romans 16:17 and Galations 1:6-7 demand this.

You also wrote: "the eventual restoration of Baptist churches would constitute, I think, an ultimate failure of the "gates of Hell" to "prevail against" the church."

When did the Baptist restoration take place? 1609? 1641? It's interesting that Baptists who lived during this time such as John Spittlehouse and Henry D'Anvers saw their churches as having descended from the Anabaptists and not the English Separtists or the Puritans. There are many, many evidences that McBeth, Nettles, and company missed that point to a much older origin for Baptists.

younglandmarker said...

Ben,

What do you mean that not holding to the Baptist Bride position makes one sound in their ecclesiology? If a Baptist church is the only valid church, and Ephesians 5:32 clearly says that the church is His bride, then what other stance is there to take?

Bart,
Okay, you said, as Ben quoted you, "the eventual restoration of Baptist churches would constitute, I think, an ultimate failure of the "gates of Hell" to "prevail against" the church." In other words, even if the truth about salvation was lost during the Dark Ages, Christ would still have fulfilled His promise. Let me ask you this: if a person who repents and places their faith in Christ could lose their salvation and regain it again by renewed repentance, would you ultimately consider Christ to have kept his promise to give them eternal life?

Christiane said...

I have a problem with the theory that the truth of salvation was lost during the 'Dark Ages'. That period of history includes the time when beautiful hymn were written and sung by Christians like the monks in Ireland who wrote this hymn during that time:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart, be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night, both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word, be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
be thou my great Father, and I thy true son; be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight; be thou my whole armor, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul's shelter, be thou my strong tower: O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise: be thou mine inheritance now and always;
be thou and thou only the first in my heart; O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, thou heaven's bright sun, O grant me its joys after victory is won;
great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all."

Hardly a Christian hymn?
Some of us think it is. Very much.

younglandmarker said...

Hi Christiane,

I think you thought that I said that the truth of the gospel was lost during the Dark Ages. That is not what I said. Before the rise of Protestantism, there were only two streams of churches, Catholic and Baptist. There are many who do not believe that Baptist churches have existed in all ages in succession since Christ. If the Catholic church WERE the apostolic church as they claim, and no Baptist church existed until 1609 or 1641, or Baptist principles were restored at such point, then yes, the truth of the gospel would have been lost because the Catholic church does not teach the true plan of salvation. Hope that helps to clarify my comments.

younglandmarker said...

Let me state clearly: I DO believe that Christ preserved the truth of the gospel through his true churches during the Dark Ages despite the fact that most of our history is written in blood.

Christiane said...

Thank you.

And if you can share with me the source of your information about the Baptist churches of early Christianity. Were they in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, Carthage, Ethiopia, Constantinople?

And were they mentioned by the Ante-Nicene Patristic Fathers in their writings?

Thanks if you can help.
Christiane

volfan007 said...

Many true Believers were persecuted, and even martyred by the Roman Catholic Church during the "Dark Ages." Many Christ Followers paid for believing the Gospel during that time in history when the Catholic Church ruled Europe.

David

David said...

Dr. Barber,

I'm sure you are a very busy man...I googled you and saw that you have a great many responsibilities so if you are tied up I completely understand. My e-mail is w.david.campbell@gmail.com if you would like to help me further understand your perspective w/o having to sharpen the iron of all others viewing your blog. Also, I have some questions concerning how the convention functions. My former camp teaches that a church associating with the convention sacrifices individual autonomy and independence. I find this interesting considering Graves died a SB and Norris was southern baptist until asked to leave and even then continued attending meetings. Any dialogue would be greatly appreciated. In addition, my comment about J. Frank Norris would certainly be construed (if I were somebody, and not a baptist college student) by liberals, moderates and some conservatives in the SBC as a means to malign the character of the present leadership. I was in no way conveying the tactics of the current leadership in any way, shape, or form...imitate the steps taken or positions held by the texas tornado ... I was merely incenuating the orthodox, biblical nature of the BF&M in a humorous manner. Norris would most certainly crusade against individuals like Perry Noble and Mark Driscoll in ways no southern baptist or myself would dare engage.

Thanks,

David Campbell
Florence, SC

Bart Barber said...

Good afternoon, David (and all):

I've written another post, and doing so has consumed all of my time for today. I want to re-enter this conversation. I hope that I will be able to do so soon. I've been enduring a sinus infection and have not been very productive the past few days. I think I'm on the mend.

Bart Barber said...

Christiane,

The New Testament was written by the New Testament church. The New Testament was composed entirely during the first generation of the church. It is the testimony of the apostles themselves, the eyewitnesses of Christ.

Thus, I could adopt your wording so long as I could modify one significant portion thereof: "The term 'New Testament' must mean that the early Church was that Church which Christ founded which is DESCRIBED in the New Testament that was written by the original members of the church and in very close temporal proximity to its founding."

Bart Barber said...

Ben,

If I read you correctly, my brother, you have asked me two questions. I'll attempt to answer them well:

1. Can a pedobaptist church be a valid New Testament church? To that I would say, eventually not. I conclude from Christ's admonition to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2 that there is a probationary warning period during which a church is sinning in ways that disqualify it from being a church, but during which Christ patiently calls the church to repentance and awaits their obedience before actually "removing their lampstand" so to speak. I conclude this from the fact that the Ephesian church itself was already guilty, but Christ had not yet removed their lampstand (but was merely warning that He would surely do so soon if they would not repent).

Pedobaptist churches are in sin against God. They are in sin that disqualifies them from being a valid church. Has Christ yet executed judgment against them, or are they in His probationary period? I don't know how to answer that question. I suspect that hundreds of years is long enough.

I fear that many of our Southern Baptist churches may be in the probationary period, if not beyond it as well.


2. If I see a restoration of Baptist churches, when do I see it?

I think that 1609 and 1641 are dates too late. And yet I do not accept that the Montanists or the Albigensians or the Paulicians were good Baptists. Certainly, if one of them were petitioning for membership at FBC Farmersville, the available materials concerning what these groups believed would make me no more likely to receive a Paulician into our church than a Mormon.

So, I would say that I know of no group that I would identify as a church holding New Testament beliefs in, say, AD 1100. As to Conrad Grebel, on the other hand, although we would certainly disagree about a thing or two, I might not only receive him as a member but also step down and make him pastor of our congregation if he showed up in our worship service this Sunday.

Bart Barber said...

Alas, out of time for today, my friends.