…At the same time, it would appear a certain sector within Southern Baptist life has taken on the mission to accentuate everything that distinguishes Baptists from other evangelical Christians to such a degree that our essential unity and spiritual communion with the wider Body of Christ has been downplayed or even resisted.David's words, coming as they have within the last few hours, provide the perfect starting point for my final pre-convention post on this blog. I appreciate everyone's patience with my silence of late. I'll have to tell you about the funeral sometime.
I Support a Renewal of Baptist IdentityI received a kind comment from OKPreacher (his screen name a reference to geography, I am certain, rather than to homiletical prowess). The comment was on yesterday's post, but it was clearly anticipative of this post. That gives me a chance to reply to a comment in the original post—not something you get to do every day!
Bart, I appreciate your blog and everything you have to say. My concern is that we as Southern Baptists arn't focused on the most important problems facing us. For example, a renewal of baptist identity isn't going to help us reach more people for Christ. I would encourage a renewal of Christian identity amoung Baptists and all who claim to be Christians. From what I have experienced as a pastor is that most Southern Baptist members don't understand what it means to be a Christian. They don't understand the very basics of how to grow as a Christian. Sure they say they believe the Bible is inerrant and they give to the Lottie Moon Offering, but for them being a Christian is going to church on Sundays. Until we have a renewal of Christian identity, who cares about baptist identity. When Jesus raptures His church, it won't just be baptists going. Lets focus on what is really needed, a Christian identity that results in bring billions of people into God's Kingdom.This brother and I agree more than perhaps either of us recognizes. I support a renewal of Baptist identity because it is precisely what we need in order to focus on the most important problems facing us and to renew our Christian identity. The heart of the Baptist movement is a desire for congregational authenticity and purity, coupled with a belief that the New Testament contains instructions for having just such a church. One key theological basis for Baptist practice is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit—particularly the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the church. The seventeenth century Baptists mostly came to Baptist life from Anglicanism, convinced that the ills of the state church were the result of a church led by lost people who therefore were disconnected from the Holy Spirit. The problems of churches in the seventeenth century were the problems of the world around them. The Baptists saw the solution in the construction of (to quote Roger Williams), a "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world." In other words, the world ought to be able to see a clear difference between itself and the church. In their quest for authenticity, the Baptists concluded that authentic leadership was not enough to produce an authentic church. Authenticity must extend to the church's membership. The New Testament congregations were fellowships of professed believers only. The very grounds of New Testament unity were devotion to the teaching of the apostles (preserved for us in the Bible), their common immersion, their gathering at the common table, their shared contribution and labor in the common mission, etc. While recognizing and availing themselves of strong pastoral leadership (have you successfully talked your entire congregation into moving to another country together?), they made the work of the church pertain to its every member. I agree with OKPreacher that there are many Southern Baptists who "don't understand what it means to be a Christian." Indeed, I would assert that there are many Southern Baptists who are not Christians. This is precisely why we need a renewal of Baptist identity. Tom Ascol's resolution on Integrity in Church Membership needs to be enhanced to incorporate language about believer's baptism—one indispensible part of maintaining a regenerate church membership—but I think something like Dr. Ascol's resolution exemplifies an important manner in which we need a renewal of Baptist identity. The fact that such a resolution might not receive unanimous support in the SBC is powerful evidence of our problem; however, the fact that so many people would support it is a strong reason for hope in our future. I hope that it passes with some mention of believer's baptism this year. So (forgive me some measure of oversimplification) Baptist identity boils down to a congregation of believers empowered by the Holy Spirit for 100% participation in the church's mission. Nobody on the bench. I believe that it is the God-endorsed, Bible-prescribed tonic for what ails us. I just can't believe that we are considering the election of a First Vice-President who publicly disagrees with The Baptist Faith & Message and whose primary concern is that we might be too Baptist. Why would someone worried about too much emphasis upon being Baptist even want to be an officer of a Baptist organization? Aren't there enough generically evangelical organizations in the world that need a vice president? I love David and have greatly enjoyed our intermittent conversation over the past year, but his quote just befuddles me to no end.
I Support Biblical Christian Unity...which is something altogether different from ecumenism (even in its evangelical variant). What is biblical Christian unity? I agree with The Baptist Faith & Message.
Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament..I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, what is it that impedes a people from prevailing spiritually? Does the fact that there is a Methodist church across town keep your church from being what it ought to be? Not at all. Does the fact that brothers and sisters within your congregation bicker and fuss ever get in the way of your church's effectiveness? You bet it does. That's where we see a breach of Christian unity. We need to focus on inter-congregational unity, not neo-ecumenical schemes like the "city church." Running headlong after ecumenical entanglements will only make things worse—every ecumenical movement in history has had as its ultimate result the further fracture of the Body of Christ (Church of Christ, anyone?). Until we are ready to be united in sound biblical doctrine, we are not ready to be united. Our source of cooperative unity has always been doctrine, not missions. Roman Catholics were busy about missions before modern Baptists emerged, but we didn't unify with them. The Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was around for nearly a century before Baptists formed the Baptist Missionary Society. Congregationalists had organized for missions in America before the Baptists. If missions is the basis for our unity, then why did we create separate missionary bodies rather than just joining up with these groups? Because they weren't Baptist…that's why. Many Baptists (and put my name at the top of the list) are not going to foot the bill to plant Presbyterian churches, Methodist churches, Anglican churches, or Pentecostal churches. That is our historic position. If the planting of these kinds of churches is a worthwhile effort on our part, then we have sinned and are schismatics for forming anything like the Southern Baptist Convention to begin with. If we should be unified with them today, we should have been unified with them all along. Indeed, many of them were far closer to orthodoxy then in 1845 they are right now. I agree with the BF&M—let us cooperate with other Christians on any and all things that do not compromise our convictions. If that is why David means by "our essential unity and spiritual communion with the wider Body of Christ", then I do not see how any renewal of our Baptist identity could ever endanger this kind of cooperation. If David means something else thereby, I would like to know exactly what he means, and how it fits in with what the BF&M has to say on the subject.