Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 in review

Links to a few of the 300-something posts this past year:

All Male Apostles
Baptist groups in the United States
Washing of the Saints' feet -- book review
History of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church
Plexiglas preaching
Plurality of elders
Baptists afraid of water?
In memory -- Darrell Mark Burress
Baptists baptizing "infants"?
One Anothering
Biblical principles for church music

Shadows for Son

"If there is to be a futurist end-time 'millennial' restoration of a temple economy with priests, Levites, etc., the plan of salvation inexplicably goes retrograde. What was finished ("It is finished", Jn 19:30) becomes undone, the temple veil is sewn up again, and another foundation is laid other than that which is laid." -- Stephen Conte, pb-mb listserve, 19 Dec 2006

The true Messiah now appears,
The types are all withdrawn;
So fly the shadows and the stars
Before the rising dawn.

No smoking sweets, nor bleeding lambs,
Nor kid nor bullock slain;
Incense and spice of costly names
Would all be burnt in vain.

Aaron must lay his robes away,
His miter and his vest,
When God Himself comes down to be
The offering and the priest.

-- Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Some scriptural aids to unity

Jesus prays for unity, John 17:11,20-23 - And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are...Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

An apostle exhorts to unity, I Corinthians 1:10 - Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

The Lord's supper expresses unity, I Cor. 10:17 - For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

Seven ONES and unity, Eph. 4:3-6 - Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Spiritual gifts tend toward unity, Eph. 4:11-13 - And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Submission and unity, Eph. 5:21 - Submitting yourselves
one to another one to another in the fear of God.

"We are not our own" -- and are not alone -- but part of a community of believers whose minds and hearts should be on one another. Consensus decision-making seems to fit best with the New Testament concepts of unity and one-anothering (as opposed to other forms of decision-making/governance that have been set forward for the church).

Friday, December 29, 2006

Decision making -- considerations of New Testament examples

Some considerations and implications from the New Testament examples

Matthew 18:15-18 - Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
In the matter of consensus concerning fellowship, the matter (if unresolved at the person to person level) is taken to the church/ekklesia/assembly.

Acts 1:15,21-26 - And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said , (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) ...Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
In this account of unified decision making in the church, the they are some 120 men and women uniting together concerning the matter of Matthias.

Acts 6:1-5 - And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
Again in this case it is the they, the whole multitude of disciples/the whole church, that chose the seven.

Acts 13:1-3 - Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
The church at Antioch is unified in sending Paul and Barnabas. They receive the message of the Holy Spirit and act upon it.

Acts 15:1-3 - And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
Though disagreeing over circumcision, the Antioch church apparently reached a consensus agreement to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem concerning the problem.

Acts 15:22-23 - Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:
The "apostles and elders, with the whole church" at Jerusalem came to a united decision on the circumcision question before them and send Paul, Barnabas and others with a letter of clarification.

I Corinthians 5 & 6 - The whole church were to unitedly carry out the fellowship and discipline of the church, and in weighty matters, even the "least esteemed" are competent to judge.

I Cor. 14:23,27-31 - If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, ...If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
When the whole church came together at Corinth, among other things, they were to judge that which was prophesied.

II Thess. 3:6-15 - Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
The church must act in unison to carry out these commands of the apostle.

Although the whole church was not represented, Peter asked consensus of the disciples who traveled with him to Cornelius' household (Acts 10:47) concerning the baptism of these Gentiles. This shows deference to and interest in the opinion/spiritual discernment of others, and was not very pope-like.

These New Testament examples seem to have a common thread running through them. Even in cases of a direct command from the Lord through an apostle, the church had to act in a unified manner to carry it out. It is not a complicated matter that requires years of the study of parlimentary procedure in order to know how to conduct business, but the simplicity of finding out what the Lord wants and acting in concert.

The unified decision-making carried out by the church does not imply no leadership in the church. The entire church body is led both by the Holy Spirit and the elders whom the Spirit has placed among them. Ultimately the "decision-making" is judicial -- judging or understanding what the Lord says do and then doing it -- but "the whole church" is involved.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Church decision making -- Baptist history comments

Probably most modern Baptists know the rule of a democratic majority, though some experience the top-down rule of pastoral dictatorship, elder rule or staff decision-making. Historically, the Baptist decision making process has also included consensus, the unanimous rule in matters of fellowship, and even the casting of lots. H. C. Vedder wrote that "The Baptists of the seventeenth century had many curious customs...Fasting was a common observance, feet-washing was practised by many churches, though its obligation was earnestly questioned, and the anointing of the sick was so common as to be almost the rule. Pastors and deacons were often elected by the casting of lots, and love feasts before the Lord's Supper were a common practice. (A Short History of the Baptists, Henry Vedder, Chap. 15)

In the church in which I was raised, the 10th article of decorum passed down from the old Mt. Carmel Church required a "majority present shall rule in all cases except in maters (sic) touching fellowship, when the voice of the church shall be unanimous." This meant that some matters were settled by majority vote, but that receiving and excluding members, etc. had to done with unanimity. This rule reigned in the church until 1934, when a majority bent on excluding a member voted that the unanimous rule "be done away with".*

The historic Sandy Creek Association of North Carolina took the consensus principle beyond the local congregation to their associational meetings. According to David Benedict, "It had been usual with them to do nothing in Associations, but by unanimity. If in any measure proposed, there was a single dissentient, they labored first by arguments to come to unanimous agreement; when arguments failed, they resorted to frequent prayer, in which all joined. When both these failed, they sometimes appointed the next day for fasting and prayer, and to strive to bring all to be of one mind."

These are just some brief historical points to cause you to consider that Baptists probably have not always done it the way you may think they have -- hopefully to begin to knock a little of the wind out of the old "we've always done it that way" argument. Next we will look at the more important New Testament considerations.

* Note: an attempt to rescind the "anti-unanimous rule" vote was mounted in 1937 with no success. Though one might assume the church would be able exclude many more members without a "unanimous rule", this actually had the opposite effect. Perhaps this exclusion by a majority adversely affected the moral authority of the church and resulted in a loss of respect for church discipline.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The church, a decision making body

I'll hope to spend the next couple of blogs considering Biblical arguments for consensus or unified decision making in the church. Perhaps we have settled for less than the ideal.

When I speak of the church as a decision making body, I speak in a context of Christ as the Head of the church. So, no statement on decision making is to be taken as meaning a church can make decisions apart from what her head has already legislated. Each local congregation has authority under Christ to make decisions according to their understanding of the commands of Christ. A church has no right to make an unscriptural decision. BUT no individual, religious body or political body has any right or authority to interfere with and meddle between a church and Christ in said church making her decisions.

It is important to recognize the church as a "decision-making" body, though that is certainly not its only function. There is often found in churches and among church members an apathy and indifference with regard to church-governance functions, resulting in a lack of participation on the part of many church members. Brethren, these things ought not to be.

The church as a decision making body:

A. As seen in the word ekklesia

Ekklesia is the Greek word usually translated "church" in our English Bibles. That Jesus chose this word ekklesia rather than "sunagogue", or some other more "religious" word ought to be given proper consideration. Ekklesia was an assembly of (male) citizens duly summoned or "called out" to transact business. It was an open meeting with due deliberation in which these citizens interacted to come to a decision. Ekklesia never refers to a building or place of worship. We could no doubt get too extreme in trying to make parallels between a New Testament church and a Greek ekklesia, but it is way too extreme to think Jesus used this term carelessly and/or without awareness of its implications to His hearers/readers.

"The term ἐκκλησία was in common usage for several hundred years before the Christian era and was used to refer to an assembly of persons constituted by well- defined membership. In general Greek usage it was normally a socio-political entity based upon citizenship in a city-state and in this sense is parallel to δῆμος." [Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains, New York: United Bible Societies, 1996]
"A gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly" [Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament]

B. As seen in New Testament examples

Acts chapter 1 is an account of unified decision making in the church. Casting lots is not the same as voting as we think of it today, but the church was united in this process. In Acts 6 the whole church chose the seven (Acts 6:5); and in Acts 15 "the apostles and elders, with the whole church" at Jerusalem came to a united decision on the circumcision question before them. Related verses include the church at Antioch's unified sending Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1ff) following the choice of the Holy Spirt; this same church reached a consensus agreement to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem concerning the circumcision problem (Acts 15:1-4); the whole church at Corinth was to judge that which was prophesied (I Cor. 14:23ff). Another incident, although the whole church was not represented, shows Peter asking consensus of the disciples who traveled with him to Cornelius' household (Acts 10:47; not very pope-like, I might add).

Consider also Matthew 18:15-18; I Cor. chapters 5 and 6; II Thess. 3:6-15; and Gal. 6:1. We will develop these examples to a greater extent in a later blog.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Former president dies

Former U.S. president Gerald Ford has died

Fresh Excitement

"Every time you open the Holy Divinely Inspired WrittenWord of God, it should be with a prayerful heart, as if it was the very first time you opened it, with the same FRESH EXCITEMENT as at the first." 2nd Tim. 2:15. -- Elder Hulan Bass, pastor of Bethel PBC, McMahan, TX, on the [PB-MB] listserve November 20, 2006

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A grouchy saint

A little on the lighter side:

Brother returned from fields of sin;
My father had a ball.
Me? I'll be a grouchy saint --
If I'm a saint at all.

I know conversion's evidence --
Love brethren, one and all.
But let me be a grouchy saint --
If I'm a saint at all.

On soured milk I have been raised,
I've drank some bitter gall.
My face shows I'm a grouchy saint --
If I'm a saint at all.

My practice is the narrow way.
Doctrines? CORRECT ON ALL!!
My pride suits a grouchy saint --
If I'm a saint at all.

If someone disagrees with me,
We might get in a brawl.
My mood proclaims a grouchy saint --
If I'm a saint at all.

I'm at my best, above the rest,
When sadness casts its pall.
That suits me -- a grouchy saint --
If I'm a saint at all.

-- by R. L. Vaughn December 8, 2006

[Note: Some mistakenly think the correct opposite of this grouchy saint is to always yuk and ham it up. Not so. The correct "opposite" of the grouchy saint is not the saint who knows all the latest jokes, but the one who patiently rests in the will of God. "Godliness with contentment is great gain."]

The elder brother; or, Grouchy saints, if saints at all

Micah 7:18 -- "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy."

Sometimes those who profess to be God's people may become so lifted up with the Elijan pride of only I and so full of our "scriptural" correctness that we cannot abide how and on whom God chooses to dispense His gracious favours.

"Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry..." Are we elder brothers, ever ready to complain about how the Father chooses to dispense His Grace? Should we not rather have joy, as it is in the presence of the angels -- rejoicing over even one sinner that repents? If we have experienced any of the hog-pens and husks (as many of us claim), might we rather cry out with the hymnist, "Who is a pardoning God like Thee? Or who has grace so rich and free?" Sadly, often more true to character we must begin with the lines of an unknown hymnwriter: "I am a great complainer that bears the name of Christ..."

"O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil." Shall we, like Jonah, condemn the Father's choice on whom He dispenses His Grace? Happy are we prophesying the restored coasts of Israel, while withholding our look toward those which "were not a people"?? May we rather be pleased with that which pleases the God who does as He pleases!

6-8s. A Pardoning God - Micah vii. 18.

GREAT God of wonders! all thy ways
Display the attributes divine;
But countless acts of pardoning grace
Beyond thine other wonders shine:
Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

Crimes of such horror to forgive,
Such guilty, daring worms to spare;
This is thy grand prerogative,
And none may in this honour share:
Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

In wonder lost, with trembling joy
We take the pardon of our God;
Pardon for crimes of deepest dye,
A pardon bought with Jesus' blood:
Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

O may this strange, this matchless grace,
This God-like miracle of love,
Fill the wide earth with grateful praise,
As now it fills the choirs above!
Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

-- by
Samuel Davies, published posthumously in Hymns Adapted to Divine Worship, by Thomas Gibbons

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thank you, readers

A couple of years ago, I had no idea of what a blog even was! December 24th, 2006 marks the completion of one year of blogging. In one year I have had 5656 visits* to this site (as of 2:29 p.m. December 24; actually slightly less than a year since I haven't had a counter the full year). I'm sure that isn't many for well known, famous and infamous folk, but that seems like a lot to a country boy who has lived all his years in one Texas county. We've had visitors from as near as "right here" and as far away as Canada, Portugal, and Spain (to name a few). Thank you, readers; and thank you, Lord.

* Note: this only represents the number of visits, not the number of visitors; as some visitors come back to the site on a regular basis.
BTW, I am told "blog" stands for "web (as in world wide web) log"

When did this happen?

Perhaps I shouldn't ask this question. It may show my age and that I'm not keeping up. But.....

When did we begin to call 12 midnight 12 a.m. and 12 noon 12 p.m.? I was taught that wasn't correct and that it must always be either midnight or noon. But I've noticed on the radio and a few other places that 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. seems to be coming into common usage? Is this another part of the computer age?

It's confusing to me, but I'm sure it would work fine if one were taught that way from the beginning. Every time I hear 12 a.m. (or 12 p.m.) I have to think about when that is.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A couple of funnies

Back in the late 70s & early 80s (that would be 1900s), my wife and I knew someone who insisted she would not pull over for the big 18-wheelers racing down her highway when she had the right-of-way. Back then I learned this little poem that was so appropriate:

Here lies the body of old John Gray
Who died defending his right-of-way,
He was right - dead right - as he sped along,
But now he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.

To this I found someone has added:

John had the courage; he had the pluck,
But the other guy had a very big truck!

[Instead of the right-of-way right, I usually follow the who has a bigger vehicle theory!]

One that some of you all who are beginning to get a little older can appreciate:

I get up each morning and dust off my wits,
Go pick up the paper and read the obits.
If my name isn’t there, I know I’m not dead;
So I get a good breakfast and go back to bed.

Oh, how do I know my youth is all spent?
My get-up-and-go has got-up-and-went.
But in spite of it all, I'm able to grin,
And think of the places my get-up has been.

[Unknown authors on both, so far as I can tell]

Friday, December 22, 2006

100% Agreement

Acts 3:24 - Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.

"Often in our advertising we will see phrases like, '3 out of 4 Dentists agree.' Or maybe its '85% of 100 people surveyed found those who have followed this advice are satisfied customers today.' Those statistics sound pretty good and cause us to take note. There are a couple of problems with them however. First we do not know who these four dentists are. They could be four dental students just graduating college and the company has hired them for lab research. (I wonder if the fourth one still works there.) Also 85% of 100 people sound good, but how many did they ask before they got that percentage? They may have asked 1000 people and 915 said they didn’t like it. But if you toss out the first 900, then 85 out of 100 did like it. That’s 85%. We don’t know how their data is collected. But what if someone could say 100% of the time our statements are true. Or 4 out of 4 agree? That’s what the Bible says about Jesus and prophets. It says all the prophets were speaking of Jesus. Every one that opened their mouth spoke of Him. Not most, 85% or 3 out of 4. Not one was speaking of another god or idol. It says that all of them recorded in the pages of the Bible that prophesied of a coming messiah were referring to Jesus. Now those are some impressive statistics." -- by Franklin Senters,
Living in His Word Devotions, Friday 22 Sept 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas songs

Christmas songs, or carols, are usually relegated to be sung once a year -- at least by "Christmas traditionalists". OTOH, some folks may wish they were never sung at all!

If these songs contain truths about Jesus and His birth, why shouldn't they be sung? If these songs contain truths based on the holy Scriptures, why shouldn't they be sung year around? If they're not fit sing year around, should we sing them at all?

Some "Christmas traditionalists", if they hear "Joy to the World" sung in the summer, react as if someone has broken some sacred unwritten law! This song is among my favorites. I think it should/could be sung whenever the Spirit moves.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

-- Isaac Watts, 1719

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Christian Americanism"

"In recent years, a very vocal element within mainstream Christianity has been promoting a nationalized gospel — a gospel wrapped in an American flag. Unbiblical notions about patriotism and America's special place in God's plan abound in books, magazines, radio and TV programs produced by these religio-political zealots, as well as from their pulpits. To equate nationalism, American or any other, with faithfulness to the gospel is a misguided perspective that can only serve to weaken our witness to the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. When such nationalistic battle cries dominate our agenda, the true message of the gospel will be inevitably compromised, if not forgotten altogether...Those who have been influenced by the advocates of this nationalized gospel are often led to believe they will fail their God if they do not participate in campaign and voting processes and an ungodly candidate should happen to win. The implication, if not the actual teaching, is that it is always God's plan to have leaders with the right kind of values in power, and when his people fail to get them elected, his perfect will for that nation cannot be accomplished. Dear believer, the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:11) is not so easily thwarted, and that includes the role world leaders play in the unfolding of his eternal purposes in Christ. It may have been hard to convince the oppressed Jews that it was God who placed Pharaoh on his throne. And yet, God proclaimed, I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth (Romans 9:17)...Many Christians have been duped into thinking that some sort of national renewal will come if we simply get more people registered to vote, elect the right candidates in office and pass legislation in line with the 'Judeo-Christian heritage'. Christian political activism is viewed as critical for the future of our country. For the Christian to place any hope in political systems is naive at best, and will only bring disappointment and disillusionment. Our confidence must not rest in such human devices, but in the power of the gospel to transform hearts in any culture." -- From The Dangers of Contemporary Christian Americanism by Jon Zens

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's that time again...

According to Andy Williams, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year." It's that time again. The Winter Holidays. Christmas. A time that runs the emotional gamut from the unhinged glee of the suicidal shopper to the desperate desperation of the suicidally depressed. A time when shoppers' faces are all a-glow with cheer and drivers' faces might as likely be a-glow with road rage!

Yes, Christmas is quite a paradox; a holiday loved by both Santa-esteeming sons of fundamentalists & money-lusting moguls of corporate America, and loathed by both left-leaning liberals who hate the sound of Jesus' name & "ultra-conservative" Christians who take the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice. It is a holiday that carries the name of Christ but has more than its share of secular and pagan symbolism and history. During this holiday carrying Christ's name, Kwanzaa songs, Hanukkah songs and "Granma got run over by a reindeer" may be considered beneficial to the well-rounded education of a public school student, while "Joy to the World" might well damage their psyche!

Whacky political correctness run amuck
Students at Unity Drive Elementary School in Centereach, New York were given an assignment by a teacher to decorate a Christmas ornament which would be displayed in the hallway. "Here’s a Christmas ornament -- please have your child decorate it and have it back by Wednesday," the assignment note that was sent home read. One student decorated his ornament, including a cross symbol and the words "The Reason for the Season" and "Jesus". When this particular student brought his decoration to school the next day, the teacher refused to display it, claiming it was "too religious and it cannot be put up." Whoever are making these kinds of decisions need to get more sleep, eat right, stop watching too many horror movies, and/or drop their membership in the ACLU! Purveyors of such ideas often cite separation of church and state. But this is actually state-sponsored viewpoint-based discrimination, in which the state approves and disapproves of viewpoints of its students based on religious criteria. This type of discrimination violates the First Amendment and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it -- that public school students "do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." (1969,
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District)

On the other hand, you might be surprised that I would agree with the ACLU when they filed a lawsuit to have a Wiccan symbol included on a deceased American soldier's headstone. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a policy that allows many religious symbols to be included on headstones in military cemeteries. This policy excludes Wiccan symbols. Is not this the same state-sponsored viewpoint-based discrimination, in which the state approves and disapproves of viewpoints based on religion? I'm not keen on seeing Wiccan symbols in military cemeteries, but freedom of religion is freedom of religion regardless of whether I like the religion.

For the Christian American*, there are at least two sometimes opposing ideas that come into play -- politics and religion (both of which are not supposed to be the subject of polite conversation!).

Political -- For us U.S. citizens (it is different for some of my readers), freedom of religion in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution secures the citizens' right to celebrate or not celebrate Christmas or any other religious (or secular) holiday. Some confusion clearly exists, though; we discuss whether the "government" should support a religious holiday, yet Christmas is a national/federal holiday and has been since 1885. As Christians, the religious/biblical considerations should trump the political.

Scriptural -- Clearly there is no New Testament command, precept or example that indicates Christians are intended to celebrate Jesus' birthday. We are given by Jesus Himself a celebration of His death, but not of His birth. That being true, any complaint we have about the "treatment" of Christmas versus Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, or whatever must be tempered with the knowledge that these things do not cause us to disobey God -- since there is no obedience demanded or expected to engage in such a celebration. The New Testament teaching, so far as I can tell, is to obey the governmental powers that be unless they require us to disobey God.

What about private schools, employers, businesses, etc? Some "Christmas Christians" are ready to cry foul (and boycott if necessary) should someone not share their enthusiasm for "Merry Christmas" and merely wish them "Happy Holidays". A private entity or person is under no obligation to use a particular greeting, or any greeting at all, in this regard. Of course, the "offended party" is also free to not shop at a store that doesn't use the particular greeting that he or she wants to hear. I guess I have a problem getting too enthusiastic about "boycotting", seeing that Paul didn't even have a problem with buying meat for sale in the markets that had previously been used in some kind of idol worship. It was only meat, after all.

* I write here as a U.S. citizen who feels to have some understanding of our system, but with little of how other nations approach "freedom of religion".
** I had a little to say about Christmas songs, but since this is running long, I'll wait till later.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Right of conscience

"Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free." – Elder John Leland in Right of Conscience Inalienable

Sunday, December 17, 2006

More on Baptist identity -- another book review

More than just a name: preserving our Baptist identity. By R. Stanton Norman. Foreword by R. Albert Mohler. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001. 198 pp. $16.99 paperback.

In my review of Shurden's The Baptist Identity, I mentioned Norman's book More than just a name. I'm going to give a short review of it here. It is one of several fairly recent books that indicate a possible renewed interest in Baptist distinctives.

Stanton Norman is an Associate Professor of Theology, occupying the Cooperative Program Chair of Southern Baptist Studies at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Other writings by Mr. Norman include "Doctrine of Sin" in A Theology for the Church edited by Daniel L. Akin and David S. Dockery; Perspectives on Church Government: Five Views of Church Polity (Norman is co-editor with Chad Brand); "Distinctively, Unashamedly Baptist" in Why I Am a Baptist: Confessional Conviction for a New Century edited by Russell D. Moore and Thomas J. Nettles; as well as several articles in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Broadman/Holman, 2003).

The subject that Mr. Norman addresses is "What makes a Baptist a Baptist" or "Baptist distinctives". Norman explains his book investigating "What makes a Baptist a Baptist" as an outgrowth of his own "identity crisis", as well as a doctor of philosophy dissertation. He opines that this simple question is not so simple. This opinion is supported by the bounteous body of literature on the subject and the difficulty in answering it simply. The subject is important, according to Norman, because Baptist distinctivess "play a major role in shaping church life and ministry for Baptists" and influence "relationships with non-Baptist denominations."

Norman's plan in researching and developing this work appears to be a most appropriate one. He seeks "to provide an overview of the literature that exists on the subject" and examines "Baptist distinctives as a collective body of literature". So this is not just another book of someone setting forth his own peculiar Baptist views and offering them as THE Baptist distinctives. Many books offer only what the author believes with little or no examination of what others say or have said. Not so with Norman. His opinion is expressed, and he believes "preaching, writing and teaching Baptist distinctives" should be a primary emphasis. But he investigates a distinct body of literature to arrive at and/or support his conclusions. I am not so naive to believe that Mr. Norman worked in a "theological vacuum", but this book may be the only existing objective analysis of this genre of literature. Norman researched books that "communicate intentionally the unique beliefs of Baptists."

As a result of his research, Mr. Norman concluded that these writings use either Biblical authority or Christian experience "as the interpretive distinction to formulate the other distinctives. He develops the categories of Reformation tradition (Biblical authority) and Enlightment tradition (Christian experience) to express the two views as he unfolds his research. He contends that Baptist distinctives "are not simply a body of doctrine" but also "a method of theology." In chapters 4-9 he examines theological ideas such as the Bible, church, baptism, church polity, soul competency and religious freedom as they are formulated within the two Baptist interpetive traditions. According to Norman, the Enlightment tradition became a new guiding tradition for Baptist distinctives early in the 20th century, especially through the writings of E. Y. Mullins.

In the conclusion of the book, Norman addresses just how "distinctive" Baptist distinctives might be, and argues that Baptists DO have a distinctive historical and theological tradition separate from non-Baptists. For him one proof is because the "peculiar theological identity of Baptists did not exist before the rise of the Baptists." Further his evaluation is that the Biblical authority tradition is most consistent with Baptist history and theology: "Both religious freedom and soul competency promote the purity of a church built upon the conviction that the Bible is the absolute authority for faith and practice. The Reformation tradition of Baptist distinctives best embodies those ideals."

The endnotes are -- what can I say -- adequate, but endnotes; always a disappointing placement for an avid footnote reader as myself. The bibliography is an extensive collection of primary and secondary sources on the subject of Baptist distinctives. This collection will prove exceedingly worthwhile to the researcher of the subject. Nevertheless, Norman could have broadened the appeal and usefulness of his book had he chosen to include a broader cross-section of Baptists. For example, as far as I could tell, there were no references to or inclusion in the bibliography of the contributions of Primitive Baptists, Free Will Baptists, National Baptists, etc. to this genre of literature. Southern Baptists often forget that some of us exist. Furthermore, it would seem there should be more writings of the Baptist distinctive genre before the 19th century, though Mr. Norman only mentions one in his bibliography -- Thomas Grantham's Presumption No Proof: or, Mr. Petto's arguments for infant baptism considered and answered.

The book is very readable, though not a walk in the park for the drowsy or unattentive reader. More than just a Name will broaden your knowledge of Baptist distinctives, provide a foundation for future inquiries, and even shed light on Baptist "conservative-moderate" controversies (particularly within the Southern Baptist Convention). Buy Walter Shurden's The Baptist Identity and Stanton Norman's More than just a Name. Compare them. I think it will become apparent that Shurden moves well within the "Enlightenment Tradition", as Norman does within the "Reformation Tradition".

I cannot see how we can understand Baptist theology (except some of the modern variations) apart from their approach to "sola scriptura" or "Biblical authority".

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why Glory in the Cross

"Why is glorying in the cross the opposite to glorying in the flesh? Because the cross, far from being the work of man, is the work of God. Far from demanding merit from man, righteousness is accounted to men. Far from requiring works from the flesh, justification is freely bestowed by Christ’s merit. Far from obliging men to earn favor, grace is freely lavished upon debtors. Far from expecting anything from sinners, everything is accomplished by Jesus Christ. Far from the curse falling upon transgressors, the curse fell upon the Substitute." -- Selected, Bulletin: Shreveport Grace Church - October 15, 2006

I'm not ashamed to own my Lord,
Or to defend his cause;
Maintain the honor of his word,
The glory of his cross.

Jesus, my God! I know his name,
His name is all my trust;
Nor will he put my soul to shame,
Nor let my hope be lost.

Firm as his throne his promise stands,
And he can well secure
What I've committed to his hands
Till the decisive hour.

Then will he own my worthless name
Before his Father's face,
And in the new Jerusalem
Appoint my soul a place.

-- Hymn 103, The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts

Friday, December 15, 2006

Humility and the Word

"We all claim that we want the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of Christ, yet we must be aware that there can be sinister forces at work in each of us that keep us, in varying degrees, from discerning the Lord's mind. Even those with the sincerest motives can come to errant conclusions based on limited perspectives and incomplete information. These realities drive us again to see the importance of humility as we deal with the Word together with our brothers and sisters. A humble person is truly open to learn, ready to listen to the possible insight of others, and willing to modify his position if the evidence warrants it." Jon Zens, p. 101, Ekklesia: to the Roots of Biblical Church Life, New Testament Restoration Foundation

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life

At The Founders Library you will find Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, A Collection of Historic Baptist Documents. It has Introductory Essays by Mark Dever, Greg Wills, and R. Albert Mohler, Jr. and articles by Benjamin Keach (The Glory of a True Church and its Discipline Displayed, 1697), Benjamin Griffith (A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church, 1743), Charleston Association (Summary of Church Discipline, 1774), Samuel Jones (A Treatise of Church Discipline and a Directory, 1798), W. B. Johnson (The Gospel Developed, 1846), Joseph S. Baker (Church Discipline, 1847), J. L. Reynolds (Church Polity or The Kingdom of Christ, 1849), P. H. Mell (Corrective Church Discipline, 1860),Eleazer Savage (Manual of Church Discipline, 1863), and William Williams (Apostolical Church Polity, 1874).

Looks like interesting reading.

Customs of public prayer

Spinning off some of the discussion from the previous thread -- Public Prayer -- what are some of the customs* of public prayer in your area? I'll reference a couple and you can add yours and/or comment on these (some may be used in combination).

Kneeling to pray
Standing to pray
Sitting to pray
Lifting up hands
Bowing the head
Closing the eyes
Women or men may lead publicly
Only men may lead publicly
Only ministers/officers/officials may lead publicly
Concert prayer (All can/may/do pray aloud at once; not usually called that by those who do it)
Pray rhythmically or chanting
Read a written prayer
Pray/quote the Lord's prayer
Pray "extemporaneously"

Kind of a different note, but probably somewhat of a custom, too -- some churches make it a point to invite visitors from sister churches to lead in prayer, while in others this doesn't seem to be much of a concern/interest.

* I use customs here to refer to either a or the common way it is done, whether or not you/they hold it to be scriptural or just a custom.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Public Prayer

“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” 1 Timothy 2:8

"While it is the privilege of all of God’s children to pray to Him, and we have the example of the prayers of both men and women recorded in Scripture, yet, because Paul is here speaking of public prayer in the assembly, it is addressed particularly to men everywhere and the spirit with which they are to pray.

"'Men every where', shows that it is not limited to men of certain title. There are some organizations that limit public prayer to pastors, elders, or deacons, who may be officially recognized and ordained to those offices. Because of a certain authority imposed upon them by some institution or organization, they are set above the people in a 'clergy' and laity distinction. However, we do not find any such distinctions in Scripture with regard to authority being conferred based on title, education, or position as conferred by men.

"Having made that statement, there are two qualifications imposed by God the Spirit on any man who would lead the congregation in worship.
1. 'Lifting up holy hands'- These are men who evidence their justification (declared righteousness) before God through faith in His Son and His finished work at Calvary. The thief on the cross addressed such a prayer to God in crying, 'Remember me when thou comest in Thy kingdom,' Luke 23:42. He had nothing in himself as holiness to recommend him to God, but Christ’s acknowledgment of him as accepted by His imputed righteousness was all sufficient for Him. The publican addressed such a prayer, lifting holy hands in crying, 'Be merciful to me a sinner,' Luke 18:13. He looked to the mercy seat, a type of Christ’s propitiation as his only righteousness before God, 1 John 2:2.
2. 'Without wrath and doubting'- Prayer is to be offered to God in an attitude of quietness, peace, and faith by those who know themselves redeemed and justified by the blood of Christ and called out by His Spirit. They know to whom their prayers are addressed, (the ALL Sovereign God), and believe that He hears and answers according to His will. Trouble, turmoil, and conflict in a congregation may at times cause someone to lash out in prayer, scold, or even doubt God’s presence. Nonetheless, may we ever pray to God in the same spirit as the church gathered in the first century, trusting God’s sovereign will and purpose as found in Acts 4:23-31, without an angry and unforgiving temper towards men." -- Ken Wimer, Shreveport Grace Church Bulletin - November 26, 2006

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Separation, long hair and long tongues

"I cut my eye teeth on preaching against THE BIG FIVE—dancing, drinking, smoking, gambling, and theater going. I heard messages against these things by the dozen. I heard very little about gossip, covetousness, a hateful spirit, etc. I observed that people who adopted this separated life often become pharisaic and proud of their separation, and I heard very few sermons against such pride. For example, one preacher I knew observed that while some women thought separation meant wearing long hair, they often had tongues as long as their hair!" -- written by John Piper's father in 1981

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Flesh Tank and Peashooter Regulations

Monday, December 11, 2006

More: music in the church

On my side bar I maintain a link to Bro. Jason Skipper's "A Minister's Musings". I'm always interested in topics on music & singing and am linking here to his Music in the church.

In part, Bro. Skipper writes:
"Faithfulness to Scripture is absolutely essential...Music is a teaching tool. We are to use it to admonish/warn one another...Our songs should always remember the Lord, His glory, and His goodness to us." Click the link above and check it out. His blog also contains a link to Bob Hayton's "Fundamentally Reformed" blog site, which got him musing on the subject.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Confessions of a pastor

"That's when it dawned on me: I had become a full-time minister and a part-time follower of Christ. From the outside, I looked the part. 'God bless you,' I'd say, followed by the promise, 'I'll be praying for you.'

"But that was usually a lie." -- Confessions of a Pastor, by Craig Groeschel, Multnomah Publishers, 2006

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Are you a heretic?

A heresy is a sect. A sect is a party formed for the purpose of separating some of God's children from the rest. Sects are formed by factionalists, those under the insidious influence of the party spirit. No one who is honestly mistaken about some matters of scriptural interpretation is a heretic. To be a heretic one must make a test of fellowship out of his opinion or interpretation and attempt to establish a party to promote or protect that view. Not only is the common view of 'heresy' held by the majority unscriptural, but it is inimical to the peace and harmony of the body of Christ, for many reasons.

1) It brands and stigmatizes humble seekers after truth whose character is above reproach and whose only crime is that they cannot concur in every view of opinion held by those who have assumed the role of infallible interpreters of the sacred scriptures.

2) It assumes that each faction or party has an infallible interpretation of the word of God at the same time that it denies the possibility of an infallible interpreter.

3) It makes real communication and interchange of ideas with other sincere students of the word in the Christian realm virtually impossible.

4) It breeds inconsistency of the worst kind. We are betrayed into rejecting those who have not attained unto a certain intellectual status at the same time that we receive those whose moral and ethical behavior is inferior. It rejects those whom God receives and receives those whom God rejects.

5) It denies the validity of the only law bound upon those in Christ Jesus--the law of love. It limits and restricts the real applicability of this law to those who conform to the party norm, and thus reduces it to a factional dispensation. If you doubt this, all you need to do is to read the various journals to learn that each has its own circumscribed 'brotherhood' and each of these brotherhoods is composed of those who conform to the party test.

(The brief comments above are from an article entitled "What Is Heresy?" by W. Carl Ketcherside. The article is contained in a journal, Sound Words, that was published in the mid 1980's.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Exodos 32:1-6

Exodus 32:1-6 - And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD. And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

v. 1 - The people desired to serve other gods.
v. 2 - The priests complied with their request.
v. 4 - A serious perversion of the truth occurred.
v. 6 - They all practiced a lie.

Before Moses could get down from the mount with the law written in stone, these Israelites sought to gratify lusts of the flesh which the law condemned. Surely this is a graphic illustration of the sinfulness of sin. They couldn't wait to get the law to break it! "Their feet run to evil...feet that be swift in running to mischief..."

God moves in His own time according to the counsel of His own will. That may be either slow or swift -- but always sure. "To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Blue letter Bible

Here is a link to the Blue letter Bible, a useful online Bible/reference tool which my brother and nephew pointed out to me.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Baptist Identity - conclusion

To summarize my comments and come to a conclusion, I offer the following thoughts.

I will not argue that Shurden’s “four freedoms” are not a fair representation of the commonalities in the sermons and addresses given by speakers at the Baptist World Alliance. I have no doubt that they are. I do question how well these speakers represent the constituency of the BWA, and especially question how well they represent Baptists as a whole. It is Mr. Shurden who chose this format in which to frame his argument, and therefore it is his task to convince us that it is a broad enough pool of Baptist thought and representative of the broader body of Baptists. In my opinion, He fails to do so. According to Denton Lotz (BWA General Secretary, 1995) the fourfold purpose of the BWA is to unite Baptists worldwide, lead in evangelism, respond to people in need, and defend human rights [Baptist Atlas, 1995, p. xxx]. There is nothing wrong with the BWA having and existing for a specific purpose. But I think that this fourfold purpose of the BWA limits the type of speakers that would address the assemblies. Albert W. Wardin, Jr. [BWA member and author of the Baptist Atlas] identifies three broad divisions of Baptists worldwide -- mainline ecumenical, conservative evangelical, and separatist fundamental (p. 3), and says that the BWA “includes all Baptists of the first party and a good cross section of bodies in the second party but none of the third group.” I would assert, therefore, that limiting the research to the speakers within the BWA leans the conclusions heavily toward the mainline ecumenical version of what Baptists are. Finally -- that time frame again (1905-1980). This ignores Baptist thought before 1905, and, though this represents a period of 75 years, it only represents 15 or 16 meetings of the Baptist World Alliance (the Congress gathers approx. every five years; see Dictionary of Baptists, e.g.).

I want to be careful about judging Mr. Shurden's purpose. But there seems to be a possibility he is concerned with creating a scenario in which Baptists that have relinquished certain distinctive Baptist principles may still be considered Baptist.

Though I am in disagreement with some of Shurden’s conclusions, I do recommend that this book be purchased and read. Though I do not agree with Shurden’s presentation of these “four fragile freedoms” as being what makes one a Baptist, or all that is common to Baptists, the work is scholarly and the research is thorough (though I do not accept Shurden’s approach from the BWA angle as correct, as usaul, he is thorough in his research for this work).

Another book in this genre by a Southern Baptist is More Than Just a Name: Preserving Our Baptist Identity by R. Stanton Norman (Broadman & Holman, 2001). It comes from a different perspective than the book of Mr. Shurden, and might even be considered a rebuttal to it. Those interested in Mr. Shurden's book should also consider reading Norman's book. I will post a review of it in about a week or two.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Baptist Identity - chapter four


"Religious Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion, and freedom FROM religion."

This may be the best chapter of the four, and it certainly deals with a topic that resonates (and has resonated) with Baptist people. Though Shurden generally maintains his 20th century bibliography, he here deals with more of the older Baptist writings, writers, and history before the 20th century. He introduces us to the idea of religious freedom, then proceeds to expose it under four heads: Historic Baptists and the Witness to Religious Freedom, Historic Baptists and the Foundations of Religious Freedom, Historic Baptists and the Meaning of Religious Freedom, and Baptists Today and Threats to Religious Freedom.

In the introduction, Shurden presents to us some of the different historical and biblical relationships between church and state, though he almost seems to think scripture has contradictory teachings in the matter: “Even scripture proposes diverse interpretations of this relationship (between church & state, rlv).” He probably means that different circumstances call for different responses: "No one model fits all circumstances and epochs of history...Often they (Baptists) have been 'Romans 13 People,' appreciative of civil government. Occasionally they have been 'Revelation 13 People,' opposing the state with their very lives. Most of the time, however, they have been 'Matthew 22 People,' legitimizing but limiting the state."

Under the next three headings, Shurden looks at the historic connection of Baptists and religious freedom. First, he notes that religious freedom inheres in Baptist belief, beginning with Smyth & Helwys, early American leaders such as Clarke & Holmes through Leland & Backus, and on into the 20th century. Shurden does not go beyond Smyth & Helwys to the Anabaptists or others because he believes Baptists began in England in 1600. He notes that the message of religious freedom for all "is much easier to hear and act upon when you are small and powerless. When a denomination gets large and powerful and courted for political reasons, the bells of freedom ring fainter and fainter." This is an astute observation (and possibly also a side shot at the SBC). Shurden believes, and I think accurately, that the anchor of the Baptist "passion for religious liberty" is found in "(1) the nature of God, (2) the nature of humanity, and (3) the nature of faith." Thomas Helwys' observation is probably most succinct, "mens religion to God is betwixt God and themselves."

The chapter points out the difference of the Baptist teaching of religious freedom and the plea of some for religious tolerance, as well as emphasizing that the Baptist plea has always been religious freedom for all. The Baptist idea of freedom of religion includes freedom for all religion protected by the state, and freedom from religion -- those who have no religion are guaranteed freedom in that. Shurden quotes John Leland, who argued, "Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing." Under the last heading, Shurden rightly warns us of threats today to religious freedom, whether real or imagined (I believe there are real threats, but that some are only imagined). Mr. Shurden is fully enamored with the phrase "separation of church and state" and seems to see threats to religious freedom even when the phrase is challenged. "Separation of church and state" does not appear in the Constitution and seems to have been coined by Thomas Jefferson when writing to the Danbury Baptist Association. It has been used to mean everything from what Baptists have always meant by religious freedom to an idea of fencing religion completely out of the public sector. But there are real and present threats to religious freedom in America. One Shurden points out is the Christian Reconstruction Movement. Even those who may not agree with Shurden should be aware of the possibilities and be ever vigilant against encroachment.

“Nationalism is not the faith of Christians...It is easy for a people -- even Baptist people -- to call for religious liberty when they do not have it...This was not self-serving expediency; it was principle! And it was principle applied to all people...What about Baptists today? Having become prominent and powerful, especially in the United States, are we still as committed to religious liberty for all persons as our ancestors were?”

Though we may not agree with Mr. Shurden on all the practical applications, I hope his question echoes in our hearts and becomes a meditation. Are we still committed to religious liberty for all?

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Baptist Identity - chapter three


"Church Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part. "

After an introduction, Shurden addresses “church freedom” in four divisions - The Church: Free to Follow Voluntarily; The Church: Free to Govern Obediently; The Church: Free to Worship Creatively; and The Church: Free to Minister Responsibly.

Shurden maintains his use of 20th century bibliography. Of the four freedoms, Dr. Shurden’s presentation of number three probably makes it the most controversial, as well as confirming this book is definitely a polemic for the “liberal” Southern Baptist viewpoint. In light of the fact the Shurden purports to define “that essence...that constitutes being Baptist”, in seems unusual that he tries to fill this “freedom” with ideas that are at least dubious as to the degree they are held by Baptists.

First, he again includes that ambiguous phrase “under the Lordship of Christ.” As noted earlier, as far as Baptist Confessions go, this phrase seems to mean all things to all people. The controversy over the deletion of this from the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message seems to indicate that conservatives see it as a dodge of Biblical inerrancy and that moderates hold it as a necessary element of their orthodoxy. Most Baptists would agree that the church answers to no higher authority - to Christ alone. But is this what the professor means by the phrase? Or does it have some hidden agenda; is it a ‘code word’ to the enlightened? It is hard to tell, since he does not seem to develop the phrase in the chapter. Second, he shoves upon us three tiny words - male and female. The church is free to ordain “male or female”. Actually, the author doesn’t follow up too much on this, but he does say, “A congregation may call whomever it wishes, women or men, to serve as ministers or deacons (p.38).” Whatever Shurden may believe about women in the ministry, surely he doesn’t think holding that women may be ordained defines the essence of what it means to be Baptist! Does He? Though one can select historical passages to imply that ordaining women as pastors has long been held by Baptists, the total historical record shows that this has been at best a vagary among Baptists. Third, Mr. Shurden once again makes his plea for ecumenism. Baptists are free “to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.” But he overstates the case. Sure, some Baptists are ecumenical. More are not. Does this freedom to be ecumenical define the essence of what it means to be Baptist? The author takes several opportunities to praise the ecumenism he so sincerely wishes upon Baptists. Among the adorations of Penrose St. Amant is that he was “an ecumenical churchman and a thoroughgoing Baptist (p. 33).” And, “Baptists have a theology of the church that encourages relationships with non-Baptist Christians (p. 36).” Striking again, he says “...the Baptist notion of ecclesiology {the study of the church}, does not by any means preclude interdenominational or ecumenical activities by Baptists” and “All Baptist groups, therefore, would be wise to break out of their self-imposed isolation from other Christian groups and enter into ecumenical dialogue and action (p. 39).”

Why didn’t Shurden leave these details out and let us be free to decide what it means to be free. Surely we all agree that an individual Baptist church is an autonomous body and may decide to do any of these things and many more. But, please, don’t suggest that holding these things to be scriptural somehow defines the essence of what it means to be Baptist. The all-inclusive Baptists only want to include others who are all-inclusive!?

If he had simply said "local churches are determine ordain whom they perceive as gifted for ministry" he would have fairly represented something with which all Baptists could agree, but by inserting "or female" he presents something with which most Baptists do not agree. I say this in light of the stated purpose of the book - "to identify...that essence...that constitutes being Baptist (p. 1)." This hints, in my opinion, the purpose of Shurden’s work may be not so much to historically or doctrinally identify Baptists, but rather to present these four freedoms as what he thinks SHOULD identify Baptists.

Though I disagree with the basic premise of Walter Shurden’s book, I do not disagree with everything he says. Here are a few quotes I like: “...the individual is always an ‘individual in community’...the church should only include those persons who have deliberately committed themselves to the way of Christ...But one must not equate faith in Jesus with mere intellectual assent to doctrinal ideas...Baptists hope to implement the rule of Christ through the mechanism of the full participation of the congregation...Congregationalism never meant isolationism of Baptist churches from one another...No organization exists in Baptist life that is superior to or legislates for Baptist churches...The Baptist freedom for worship aims at an authentic spiritual offering being presented to God (pp. 34-40).”

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Baptist Identity - chapter two


"Soul Freedom is the historic affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government."

Here in Chapter Two, after an introduction that looks at other terms synonymous with “Soul Freedom”, Shurden addresses the idea in four divisions: The Centrality of the Individual, The Primacy of the Personal, Conversion by Conviction, and Baptism for Believers. Once again the bibliography is all 20th century. This may be the finest chapter in the book, and also one in which Baptists in general will find little with which to disagree.

Here are some interesting quotes from Chapter Two:
“Baptists assert that each individual is created in the image of God. Each individual, therefore, is competent under God to make moral, spiritual, and religious decisions. Not only is the individual privileged to make those decisions, the individual alone is responsible for making those decisions.” p. 24
“Baptists insist that saving faith is personal, not impersonal. It is relational, not ritualistic. It is direct, not indirect. It is a lonely, frightened, sinful individual before an almighty, loving, and gracious God.” p. 25
“Soul freedom or 'individual competency' has never meant human self-sufficiency. Baptists have never come close to saying that individuals are capable or competent to save themselves...No proxy can fetch grace for you.” p.26
“Sooner or later, however, that question from Jesus is mine and yours to answer: 'But who do you say that I am?' The Baptist word for the world is that each individual is free to answer and is responsible for answering.” p. 28
“Baptists' ultimate goal was a church composed of believers only, but they could not get to that goal apart from the personal faith of individuals who made up that church.” p. 29
“The idea of Soul Freedom with its emphasis on the personal and voluntary nature of faith drove Baptists to adopt believers' baptism in order to have a believers' church.” p. 30

Those last two statements, in context of the chapter, concur with Shurden’s idea that Baptists arose with John Smyth and Thomas Helwys.

One paragraph on page 28 may be a passing shot at fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention. “...some Baptists, especially fundamentalists, unintentionally advocate an impersonal faith by placing rigid emphasis on correct belief.” I would not want in any way imply incorrect belief is good. I certainly would be in greater agreement with the conservative/fundamentalists of the SBC than with the liberal/moderates. And I expect my application of some of these statements on soul freedom would vary from that of Shurden. But here I must say he is right on! I have seen this in real life situations, where agreement with cold hard facts is exalted above personal piety; and where mental assent to certain questions of orthodoxy are seen as spiritual religion. Let Shurden sum it up: “Five right responses to five right questions never made a Christian out of anyone. This is rationalistic, not experiential faith. 'Even the demons,' said James (Jas 2:19), have this kind of faith.”

No doubt the practice of Shurden and his Baptist Alliance varies from mine, but don't I find a lot in Chapter Two with which to disagree (without going to nitpicking!).


Seen on a billboard while driving home this afternoon:

If you want to have the last word, try saying “I’m sorry.”

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Baptist Identity - chapter one

The Baptist Identity consists of an Introduction, four chapters on the four freedoms, a Conclusion, and eight appendices of documents on Baptist identity. On this blog, I would like to post a topic for each of the chapters of the book, but do not intend to put up specific posts on the appendices.

Before starting on chapter one, I would like to make a brief comment on the appendices. The eight documents are: “Towards a Baptist Identity: A Statement Ratified by the Baptist Heritage Commission in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, July, 1989”; “Baptist Distinctives and Diversities and Disagreements and Differences of Emphasis Among Baptists”; “A Pronouncement on Religious Liberty”; “The Covenant of the Alliance of Baptists”; “The Baptist Doctrine of the Church”; “ An Address to the Public of the Interim Steering Committee of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship”; “Baptist Ideals”; and “ The People Called American Baptists: A Confessional Statement”. It is noteworthy that all of these documents are 20th century documents, the earliest from 1939 and the latest from 1991. It should cause some concern that a man who believes that Baptists appeared in the seventeenth century places such an emphasis on 20th century documents in a book claiming to portray what it means to be a Baptist. Could it be that many of the older documents do not support as well the conclusion at which he arrived? Notice also the 20th century dominance in his bibliography (this is not to say that neither he nor these works do not mention earlier Baptist writings). Part of this might be explained as consistency with his time frame for deriving the “four freedoms” (1905-1980), as well as his desire to make this “relevant to the waning years of the twentieth century.”

Chapter One introduces and explains Shurden’s distinctive of Bible Freedom - Bible Freedom is the historic affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the scriptures.”

Early in the chapter, the author reveals his desire for Baptists to recognize their dependence upon the church universal. “One of the first, and often unacknowledged, features of the Baptist tradition is its ecumenical relationship to the broader Christian tradition...It is time for Baptists who acknowledge the authority of scripture for faith and practice to confess our oneness with and our dependency on the larger Body of Christ. This confession of oneness and dependency calls us to a fresh commitment to Bible Freedom.” (pages 9-10) Though some might assume scholarly works are unbiased, Mr. Shurden assures us he does have a certain agenda. I am not surprised that Shurden has an agenda; and I have no problem that he should follow it. If someone has a separatist agenda, he is likely to be influenced to interpret certain data in light of it; if someone has an ecumenical agenda, he too is likely to be influenced to interpret certain data in light of that. While a separatist agenda may tend to find many Baptist distinctives; conversely, an ecumenical agenda may tend to find few Baptist distinctives. The separatist agenda will emphasize the differences of Baptists with others, while an ecumenical agenda will emphasize the unity of Baptists with others. Most Baptists would not disagree with Shurden’s argument that Baptists have many doctrines in common with other Christians, but a large number of them do not share his ecumenical agenda. The Baptists who 'separated' from the English ‘separatists’ in the 1600’s must have thought there were some distinctive reasons for them to exist separately from other churches or denominations! [note: I use Mr. Shurden’s point of reference for argument’s sake; I have previously mentioned that I believe Baptists have a kinship to Anabaptists and other dissenters back through the ages.]

Mr. Shurden explains his “Bible Freedom” statement under four heads: Bible Freedom Means Freedom ‘Under’; Bible Freedom Means Freedom ‘For’; Bible Freedom Means Freedom ‘From’; and Bible Freedom Means Freedom ‘Of’. Most Baptists would agree with most of the Bible Freedom statement, and might even put their own interpretations on certain controversial parts of it, so that they are aware of no controversy at all. But at least one portion of the statement - under the Lordship of Christ - is a source of no small dissension among those who are aware of the implications of it. “Under the Lordship of Christ” could define, at one extreme, a strict literalist approach to Bible interpretation, to, at the other extreme, Bible interpretation based on one’s own personal experiences. Again, I raise the question of whether the inclusion of this phrase is consistent with his purpose of defining the essence of being Baptist. I had also hoped that the author would go into more detail on the phrase “with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry”. He does address, and I agree, that freedom of Biblical interpretation should impress upon us the need “to go to the trouble to be good interpreters.” The author should at least acknowledge a strain of us among Baptists who fear certain forms of “scholarly tools of inquiry” and believe that “the Bible is its own best interpreter.” Finally, on page 17, Shurden seems to imply that conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention have left their heritage by trying to enforce orthodoxy. I would be willing to give him most of this if he would also admit that “moderates” in the Convention have also left their heritage. Do not assume there is no polemic intent in this book. Much of Shurden’s thought seems to have been forged in the conservative/moderate controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention. [I want to again insert the disclaimer that I am not, nor have ever been, a part of the SBC.]

Though my interest in critiquing The Baptist Identity rises from a general negative impression of the book, I do want to note certain important statements with which I agree. I agree with the following statements, but my application of them may vary widely from that of Mr. Shurden. Some Baptists who may state they agree with them, do not, in actual practice, seem to agree. Page 12 - “God’s word is not limited to scripture.” The Scriptures to me are authoritative and final, but God also speaks to us by His Spirit, His providence, in nature, etc. Page 13 - “The Bible is final, but human understanding of the Bible is never final or complete or finished.” Again, the Scriptures to me are authoritative and final, but everything I believe about them may not be correct, so I must constantly ‘search the scriptures to see whether these things are so.’ Page 14 - “...BAPTISTS ARE A NON-CREEDAL PEOPLE! There is no The Baptist Creed or The Baptist Confession of Faith or The Baptist Church Covenant.” It is the Bible, not formulated creeds, to which Baptists always return for authority. Page 18 - “Baptists have that hands down correct biblical interpretation. Freedom ‘of ’ interpretation by each individual believer is fundamental to Baptist thought.” The negative of this is also true - no Baptist church or individual Baptist is bound to accept or agree with your interpretation.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Book review of "The Baptist Identity"

A review of: The Baptist Identity : Four Fragile Freedoms by Walter B. Shurden, 1993, Smyth and Helwys, Macon, Ga. This book may be ordered online at Smyth & Helwys.

About the author - Walter B. Shurden (1937-) is a Baptist historian, author and editor. He is a Callaway Professor of Christianity and Chair of the Roberts Department of Christianity, both at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Shurden is also Director of the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer. He is author or editor of several books on Baptist history and ecclesiology, and a well respected member of the Baptist educational community. Mr. Shurden is a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, as well as a co-founder of the Southern Baptist Alliance (Alliance of Baptists) and former member of the Southern Baptist Convention. Among his many other books are: Not A Silent People: Controversies That Have Shaped Southern Baptists; Associationalism Among Baptists in America, 1707-1814; The Life of Baptists in the Life of The World; The Struggle For the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to Fundamentalism; and Not an Easy Journey: Some Transitions in Baptist Life.

Before, I get into more specifics from the "Introduction" of Shurden's book, I will list the Four Fragile Freedoms. This was copied online at *

Bible Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the Scripture.

Soul Freedom is the historic affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government.

Church Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom the perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.

Religious Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion, and freedom FROM religion.

The purpose of this book is supposed to be to identify "What makes a Baptist a Baptist."

In his book, The Baptist Identity, Walter Shurden sets out to answer the question "What makes a Baptist a Baptist?" He says "what I have tried to do in this book" is define the essence of what constitutes being a Baptist. So he sets out on the task of finding any "spiritual and theological marks", any "generic distinctives", "any peculiar convictions" that Baptists have in common and make them Baptist. Initially, Shurden notes the simplistic, but true, fact that "membership in a local Baptist church" makes one a Baptist. But his purpose goes beyond that, seeking to find what these members of any given local Baptist church may have in common.

Shurden notes the great diversity among Baptists, which may be illustrated by two political Baptist Jesses - Helms and Jackson. But, Shurden says, "Despite their frustrating diversity, Baptists share some common convictions, however."

On page 4, Shurden tells us when and how he arrived at his consensus of Baptist distinctives, as presented in his Four Fragile Freedoms. "I first identified the four freedoms discussed in this book in the concluding chapter of my book 'The Life of Baptists in the Life of the World,' published in 1985." He goes on to note, "I arrived at these Baptist Freedoms by analyzing the sermons and addresses given by Baptists from around the world at the meetings of the Baptist World Alliance from 1905 to 1980." Herein lies what I believe was Mr. Shurden's first mistake. His conviction was that the Baptist World Alliance is the best place to look if one wants to mark major Baptist distinctives. I make no question of Mr. Shurden's motive for such a conviction, but I think such a conclusion is mistaken because it is too narrow.

1. The time element (1905-1980) is too narrow. Looking in this time frame alone (the BWA was organized in 1905) dismisses a large volume of Baptist thought prior to this time. Even Shurden believes there are 'four centuries of Baptist witness' -- that Baptists arose out of English Separatism in the early 1600's. If I believed this, I would think it of utmost importance to see what was distinctive then that caused these men/churches to leave Separatism. (I do not believe the English Separatist theory of Baptist origins, but believe that Baptist thought harks all the way back to the New Testament.)

2. The "Baptist variety" element is too narrow. Though it would seem that a sampling of Baptists from across the world would give the best variety, I think this is not true on several counts. First, though there were approximately 135 Baptist bodies represented in the BWA at the time of Shurden's writing, the purpose (much deals with political religious liberty issues and humanitarian aid) of the BWA somewhat skews the type of Baptists that participate. For example, though the numerical majority of American Baptists were represented in the BWA (due to the presence of the Southern Baptist Convention),** only 14 of over 50 groups of Baptists in the United States are in the Baptist World Alliance. In England, only the liberal open membership Baptist Union is represented (while it is the largest body, in my opinion it by no means represents the best Baptist thought in England). Finally, though Baptists from all across the world are represented in the BWA, many of these countries do not have a very long tradition of Baptist thought or presence.

3. The content element is too narrow. Shurden pulls his information from "sermons and meetings of the Baptist World Alliance." With no intended disrespect for Baptist intelligentsia, it is my opinion that the people who would be invited to speak at the Baptist World Alliance are not the best representatives of what rank and file Baptists really are. One could probably find a broader sampling on
the Baptist Board than the BWA.

I do not dismiss the "four fragile freedoms" as being common among some Baptists, but believe that they fall far short of what it means to be a Baptist. All of us move to our conclusions from some bias (an inclination to a certain outlook), and I think Mr. Shurden's have probably been shaped by the conservative/liberal controversies in the SBC. I do not doubt that Shurden’s “four freedoms” are a fair representation of the commonalities in the sermons and addresses given by speakers at the Baptist World Alliance. I do question how well these speakers represent the constituency of the BWA, and especially question how well they represent Baptists as a whole. It is Mr. Shurden who chose this format in which to frame his argument, and therefore it is his task to convince us that it is a broad enough pool of Baptist thought and representative of the broader body of Baptists. He does not do this in the introduction; we shall see with the rest of the book.

Though I have presented Mr. Shurden’s frame of reference in this book as being too narrow, I would add that his statements of the "four fragile freedoms" are actually too broad, and tend toward representing a particular style of Baptist as opposed to representing disinterested research (I believe it is impossible to reach the goal of ‘disinterestedness’ in religious research). Examples: 1. “Under the Lordship of Christ” might be considered “code” language and send up a flag to both sides in the Bible controversy. This is not a point of agreement among Baptists, but rather a chief bone of contention; 2. Inclusion of the words “male or female” in the church freedom statement is not as issue of commonality among Baptists, but rather the source of much dissension. We shall hope to discuss these in greater detail as we proceed through the book.

* This link was active when I wrote this review, but appears to be no longer active.
** Since this book review was first written, the Southern Baptist Convention has withdrawn from the BWA.