Saturday, October 28, 2006

Baptist "Name-Tags" - Are They Helpful?

Often the question is asked - Which Baptist are you? I can't imagine asking John the Baptist what kind of Baptist he was. But, as they say, "We've come a long way, baby."

How helpful are Baptist "name-tags"? It seems that you and the one to whom you are speaking must have the same concept of the meaning of the names in order for them to be accurate and descriptive. Do the "name-tags" often used by Baptists (conservative, fundamental, historic, independent, landmark, liberal, missionary, moderate, primitive, reformed, regular, unaffiliated, etc.) have a narrow enough definition to convey an accurate meaning of what one really is? For example, to say one is "independent Baptist" among many of my acquaintances will conjure up the Hyles/Rice type of Baptist. Yet a number of "independent" Baptist churches with which I am familiar are "Primitive" Baptists - probably the almost exact opposite end of the spectrum. Even to say one is SBC, BBF, etc., while identifying with which body one is affiliated, probably does not really tell much about what the individual believes.

"Name-tags" -- Are they helpful? Are they confusing? Are they divisive? Are they necessary?


clinch64 said...

As far as the missionary side of baptists are concerned, they are more divisive than anything else. They will usually agree on major doctrinal points, but stumble on other areas that give them their unique characterisitics. It's almost as if there has to be some sort of competition. I remember a humorous conversation some years back that a methodist was having with a baptist. They were talking about churches splitting apart, when the baptist fellow lamented the recent split of the Southern Baptist Convention. The methodist then said," What other kind of baptists are there?" If he only knew. I guess to sum it up, just using the term "baptist" is not concise enough anymore. I think eventually you will see it narrow somewhat as the younger generations do not seem as concerned with denominations, titles, etc.


amity said...

I think the problem with "labels" is that few people care enough to try to figure out what they stand for. Maybe we need more precise and self-explanatory labels! I think the heartfelt issues that led to denominationalism as we know it were extremely important, and ought to be important still.

No friend of ecumenical thinking, I. Vive la difference.

Mark Osgatharp said...

Brother Vaughn,

You asked, "'Name-tags' -- Are they helpful? Are they confusing? Are they divisive? Are they necessary?"

Yes, they are helpful. They give a reasonably accurate idea of the doctrine and practices you can expect to experience in any given Baptist church. You note that some Primitive Baptists are "independent". But not many, if any, Primitive Baptists use "Independent" as a name tag. When you go into a church which advertises itself as "Independent" you can pretty much expect to experience the Hyles brand of Baptist Fundamentalism to some degree or another. And when you see a Baptist church which tags itself "Primitive" you can pretty much rest assured it is a five point Calvinist church in the tradition of the Hardshells.

Yes, tags can also be confusing. Confusing to those who don't know what the tags signifiy. Confusing also because what a tag signifies in one area may not be so in another area. The tag "Missionary" is used in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma to distinguish between Landmark and Southern Baptists. But in the states east of the Mississippi it is not uncommon at all to see independent, Old Time, and Southern Baptist churches use the "Missionary" tag. I once gave my son directions to a certain "Missionary Baptist" church which was holding a revival meeting. It was in close proximity to a black "Missionary Baptist" church into which my son walked before he realized his mistake. Yes, tags can be confusing.

Are tags divisive? I would say they are not so much divisive as reflective of the divisions that exist. Most of the tags which the different Baptist groups wear were taken on themselves to distinguish them from other groups. That being the case, I say again they are helpful because they generally reflect real and consequential differences that exist among the various churches which identify themselves as Baptist.

Ideally, tags would not be necessary because ideally all Baptists would be in one accord in doctrine and practice. But since real differences exist among Baptists I would say the tags serve necessary purpose. At the same time, I would also say that they should be used as a rule of thumb, not an absolute standard by which to judge a church.

Mark Osgatharp

R. L. Vaughn said...

Neil, I think the list I'm posting 11/6 (d.v.) will show that the missionary side has many more divisions, but also that the primitivistic groups have more that might be well-known or supposed.

Amity, Brother Osgatharp, I generally agree that the tags are probably helpful more often than they are not. Confusing? Yes, when you run across a member of the Eastern District Association of Primitive Baptists who holds a "two-point Calvinism" just like Southern and Missionary Baptists, or Progressive Primitives who have Sunday Schools, musical instruments and church auxiliaries just like the board-party Baptists. Divisive? Not generally so, for as you mention, they reflect a division that already exists; but, yes sometimes, when folks are held apart by their names and not their faith and practice.

I am reminded of some who lament churches dropping "Baptist" from their names. Why? USUALLY they have pretty much, if not altogether, ceased to be Baptist by the time they get to that point.

Mark Osgatharp said...

Brother Vaughn,

You said that sometimes, "folks are held apart by their names and not their faith and practice." This is doubtless true and we ought to strive to overcome this problem.

But, in my estimation, the far greater problem is that names keep churches together who ought to be separate. For example, it is a matter of historical fact that for several decades modernist infidels and real Bible believers walked together as "Southern Baptists" within the Convention. This is still the case among the American Baptist Churches and the black Conventions.

The difference between modernism and the Scriptures is not superficial difference - it is the difference between God and the Devil, between Christ and Belial. And yet the modernists persist in flying the "Baptist" flag so as to deceive.

Among the churches of the American Baptist Association there is now a rising tide of interdenominationalism and quasi-charismaticism, which is just as surely, if not as obviously, unbiblical as modernism. This new philosophy is at diameterical odds with historic Landmark Baptist beliefs, and yet the two parties continue to walk together under the same "ABA" banner. And there are some folks so tied to the "ABA" tag that they will still be "ABA" when the Bapticostals totally take over.

Mark Osgatharp