Friday, February 08, 2008

The Southern Baptist Convention is not a true “denomination”. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word denomination as “A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy.”

That is not how the SBC works. Now, sure, under the most general and relaxed understanding of what a denomination is, the SBC might be thought of as one. But in no way are we a true denomination in the strictest or most technical sense. In fact…as far as I know…there has never been a significant Baptist “denomination” ever in history. It could well be argued that Baptists were the original non-denominationalists.

That’s why I’ve often said (gaining the strangest of looks I assure you) that if your “non-denominational” church does not baptize infants, if it doesn’t teach that every believer should seek (and receive) the gift of tongues, if it believes the Bible is the final and only infallible authority in the Christian life and if it teaches that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ…it’s a Baptist church. If that describes your church…your church falls squarely within the Baptist tradition. Ha ha…naana, naana, naana!

Now obviously where such a church fits within the Baptist spectrum may vary greatly. Defining what an average Baptist church believes is as difficult as defining what an average non-denominational church believes. When the only creed a tradition has is “we don’t have creeds” or “our only creed is Christ” you can imagine how diverse that tradition would be. We’ve got 5-point Reformed Baptist churches and we have Free Will Baptist churches. We have King James Only churches and snake handling churches…all who call themselves “Baptist”. Some Baptist churches are shouting and dancing country gospel churches, some are shouting and dancing black gospel churches and some are very reserved, stern, conservative, piano and organ only Baptist churches. Then you can toss churches like The Epicenter into the mix and you can see…the mold isn’t broken…there was no mold to start with. In the essentials “unity”…and that’s about it.

There are only a few things which truly unite all Baptists and at the top of that list is a fierce and radical independence. Baptist congregations are autonomous (self governing) churches and have historically preferred even torture over conformity. Study how the Magisterial Reformers/Protestants AND the Roman Catholics viciously persecuted, tormented and even tortured to death our forefathers AND foremothers known as the Anabaptists and you’ll quickly understand how this independent streak was forged in our identity.

You must understand this fundamental mark of all Baptists…local church autonomy. I’ve talked with “non-denominational” pastors before who are in every way “Baptist” yet say things like “I don’t want some headquarters telling my church what to do…” This idea of a headquarters telling local churches what to do is unheard of in the Southern Baptist Convention. Take a look at the definition again…a denomination is “a large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy.” In no way does this describe the SBC.

First of all…we are not “united under a common faith…” This gets tricky because obviously there are certain fundamentals that no true Christian congregation would deny. I won’t get into them here. All true Baptists like all true Christian congregations confess the doctrines of the Holy Trinity, Sola Gratia and Sola Fida. Additionally, all true Baptists confess Sola Scriptura, believer’s baptism and (therefore) regenerate church membership. So these parts of the faith are held by all Baptists, but as I will get into next time, there is a TREMENDOUS diversity of theological distinctives in tertiary issues among Southern Baptists. We’ve got all the verities of “Calvinists”, premillennialists and amillennialists. We’ve got cessationists and continualists, many times in the same congregation! Now you can understand why Baptists have well earned the nick-name “Battling Baptists”! The theme verse of Baptists is surely Proverbs 27:17! And because sparks a’flying are not uncommon in Baptist circles Baptists have historically been very Biblically sharp and have produced (in my ever humble opinion) the greatest apologists and some of the most brilliant teachers, preachers and theologians since the very ancient Church fathers. Programs such as Sunday School and Awana are rooted in the Baptist passion to always go “back to the Bible” and to train children at early ages how to boldly use the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. (By the way…I’m terribly concerned about the condition of Christian education in our Baptist churches these days…we’ve become infatuated with seeker sensitivity, PowerPoint and video clip driven preaching and are not teaching an entire generation how to study the Bible for themselves…this is leading to a desperate spiritual anemia in Baptist and non-denominational congregations…)

Furthermore, we certainly do not have a single administrative or legal hierarchy. Hierarchy? Hierarchy? What is this hierarchy you speak of? We don’t know of any hierarchy! Not at all…there are no headquarters which can “administrate” ANYTHING in a local SBC congregation. SBC churches, as far as the Convention itself is concerned, are under no obligation whatsoever to send a dime in financial support in order to be an SBC church. Every congregation governs itself from start to finish. So the non-denominational pastors or church leaders reading this…nothing regarding the governing of your congregation or your congregations tertiary theological distinctions would need to change to associate. You don’t need to insert the word “Baptist” onto your name or anything. As I said in the last article…the SBC is from start to finish about MISSIONS…that’s it. We are missional association of autonomous churches. We have a guiding document which is no way a “creed” called the Baptist Faith and Message (which you will find running down the right hand side of this blog, called here, “my confession”).

I like that. The Southern Baptist Convention is ruled “from the bottom, up” so to speak. The local congregations together instruct the Convention leadership how the mission monies should be spent. The local congregations instruct the Convention leadership what “we” believe…they don’t dictate those things to us. Every SBC church is under the authority of the Scriptures and the under-shepherding of a “Bishop” or “senior pastor”…not Convention leaders. No one can come into an SBC church and say “boo” unless the local elders (pastors and deacons) of that congregation give the ok first. And believe me when I tell you…if a Convention leader strode into a SBC congregation and even attempted to throw false weight around he’d be shouted down and then shown the door (generally by the deacons) in an unceremonious way…I assure you.
It’s all about a highly effective missional effort without the sacrifice of one ounce of local autonomy. That’s why I’m planting Southern Baptist churches. As “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair has often declared (about himself of course), it’s “…the best thing going today…woooooooooo!”

Next time…in the final installment of my SBC cheerleading series…I’d like to talk about the diversity within the SBC. Our tent is a big one.


Zac said...

So what about Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and all of the various campbellite-movement denoms? The reason I ask is because from what I understand they believe in all the Reformation solas, hold the Word of God to be their only authority, and don't baptize babies or speak in tongues.

But they do still differ with the Baptist spectrum on a number of things, not the least of which is believing in baptism for the remission of sins and no musical instruments in church worship.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac!

great question! indeed...the CoC and DoC...and all their various come from the "campbellite" movement.


they don't hold to all the "sola's" and that is the problem. they deny justification by faith alone. they all add in addition to faith the necessity of water baptism for salvation.

one of the largest congregation in Wadsworth, Northside Christian, is a Church of Christ...and many wonderful born again believers are attending there believing the church is simply a main-line evangelical church. contemporary music MUST mean the church is "ok", right?

not at all. I even contacted their senior pastor awhile back and asked him to clarify their understanding of justification for me and...after a good bit flopping...he did admit that one MUST be baptized by immersion in order to be saved.

so that is where we part ways. I'm sure there are other smaller issues which we also separate over...but justification is the big one.

if I am not mistaken I believe they also teach that not only is Trinitarian baptism by immersion necessary for must be done under the authority of the CoC or my baptism is worthless. I could be wrong or overstating that Baptists...have a ton of off-shoots.

but very good question! from a sociologically perspective it could be say that Baptists are distent cousins with them.

Zac said...

Oh I see what you mean. Although just as an aside, Luther also said that baptism was necessary for the remission of sins. He distinguished it from a "work" though, because it's not something we do, but something that God does to us.

irreverend fox said...

absolutely...I certainly stand in the Anabaptist tradition and not the Magisterial. but even within the Magisterial Reformers the Lutherans were a branch unto its own.

I think Luther was an arrogant, divisive, pharisaical, legalistic jerk in MANY ways. Anyone who disagreed with him was a "devil" and servant of Satan or the Antichrist. It was as if he, a single university professor, was right, and the rest of the Church was wrong. Look how he treated and spoke of Zwingli...the brilliant Swiss reformer. Luther said of him, “I cannot regard Zwingli or any of his teachings as Christian at all. He neither holds nor teaches any part of the Christian faith rightly, and is seven times more dangerous than when he was a papist." Why? because he and Luther didn't see eye to eye on the Eucharist? Luther warned people to shun Zwingli’s books as, "the poison of the prince of hell" and even said he would rather drink blood with the papists than wine with the Zwinglian!

So my admiration for Luther goes only so far and then goes very sour, to be honest. I don't believe the Lutheran distinctives are rooted at all in the Scriptures, frankly. I believe they are rooted in Luther’s arrogant and bullied interpretations and outrageous maverick personality. I believe he was wrong on the role of baptism and his view of the Eucharist was also, in my mind, totally silly. I feel no obligation to him or to reconcile his view of baptism…it was and still is totally contradictory…he was not the first nor nearly the most brilliant Reformer…he didn’t start it…it’s just that the ones before him were slaughtered. He was simply the most grandiloquent, pompous and overbearing.

I mean...just think about it. Justification was, as he fought with the papists so doggedly, by faith ALONE or not, right?

I'm no Lutheran...I'm a Radical Reformer! lol...Anabaptist of course...which in our minds is simply Baptist because we don't believe that infant baptism is real baptism...anyway...

irreverend fox said... more thing...the CoC and DoC do not hold the Lutheran view of baptism and justification, either. the Lutheran view is very convaluted with the DoC and CoC is actually far more logical. Their view is that you must choose to be baptized in order to complete your salvation. it is very much a "work" of faith for them...while the Lutheran, as you said, try to say that it also is an act of God's grace and not a "work".

Zac said...

Good points, although I feel bad for having provoked such a beating for poor Dr. Martin! I guess what you find most repulsive about his theology I admire, but I think we are both agreed concerning certain aspects of his personality.

What interests me is how far Lutheranism has strayed from Luther's teachings.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac!


it's really not the issue of baptism in the role of salvation that I find so incredible in Luther’s thinking (I disagree whole heartedly of course...but to be certain, such thinking was not knew to him!) It's that he was the champion on "Sola Fida"! To me that is just crazy!

Either justification is through faith ALONE or it's not, right? His doctrine at this point is just strange to me. either it is through faith ALONE or

And I agree...I don't understand how some of these "Lutherans" can keep a straight face. Only God knows what kind of rant and rave Luther would spin into for weeks or months if he saw what was going on in the church he founded!

irreverend fox said...

Also, when it comes to Luther I have two very extreme impressions and thoughts of him. I really do admire him in many ways. But in the years that followed after all the fireworks of Worms and much of the dust settled I find Luther’s behavior very destructive and distasteful. I must believe, based on the way he treated other Reformers, that he wanted to crown himself the Protestant Pope…at least in a functional way.