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).”


jofa_non said...

"Churches" are never free. Why is there a need for such complicated belief systems? Nature and humankind is beautiful without the need for such outdated and aggressive rules. Let Jesus rest as the wise man, the prophet, (the charlatan?) he was. There are too answers without proper questions. Too many excuses for not thinking deeply and too many beliefs that allow the destruction of anthing unfamiliar.

And another thing, I'm rather upset about this 'Christmas' thing - the Romans made it up (or rather, changed it a bit). Presumably, you can put me straight on this.

Sorry, mini rant there. I'd be interested to hear what you really think in real life without thinking that God is reading your Blog. In the meantime, read and reject this:


R. L. Vaughn said...

Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.

Anonymous said...

Where did that come from?

Cheers, and God reign forever,