More Reading on Baptist Distinctives…

May 18, 2007

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One of my heroes in the faith, T. T. Shields (1873-1955), preached a message at Jarvis Street Baptist Church (the church he pastored from 1910-1955) on January 22, 1928 which I think still has value for us today.

It is reproduced in The Gospel Witness and can be found here. I suggest we all read it and reflect on what makes a Baptist a Baptist.


Baptist Distinctives – Two Offices of the Church (Pastor and Deacon)

March 14, 2007

The first leader in the church is the pastor. He has a number of responsibilities in the local church. First, we need to explain that there is no distinction between elders, bishops, or pastors. We will look at their qualifications and responsibilities as well in the church.

 

First, in a number of religious groups there is the idea that not only are there pastors and deacons but there are bishops as well. The Roman Catholic and Anglican system especially argues for that distinction. Not only is there a “shepherd” of each church there is a “shepherd” of “shepherds” that looks out for them. The problem is that in the Scriptures, all three terms are used interchangeably as pastor, elder, and bishops. In particular, Titus 1:5–8 has Paul explaining that elder and bishop are used interchangeably (in v. 7 bishop is translated as overseer). Second, even more clear in Acts 20:17–28 Paul calls the elders of the churches in
Ephesus and later on in v. 28 calls them both bishops (overseers) and shepherds. These three individuals are all the same.

 

Some churches argue that there are two groups of elders in the church. They will say there are both teaching and ruling elders. The verse they turn to is 1 Timothy 5:17. In some translations it seems that Paul makes a distinction between those who rule well and those whose job it is to preach and teach, there should be both ruling and teaching elders. This is a poor translation. The NASB translates it correctly as, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Paul’s focus is that pastors who are doing a good job at ruling their church, and especially if they are working hard at preaching and teaching are worthy of double honour. Paul is not advocating some kind of second type of pastor who does not teach. The idea in the New Testament of a pastor always combines the idea of teacher. 

 

Now, two passages explain the qualifications of a pastor. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–7. Essentially, the requirements are that he be above reproach, husband of one wife, a godly leader in his home, and able to learn the Word and teach and preach it. One is called as pastor by a congregational vote and is ordained by the church to perform the functions of a pastor and to carry out the gospel ministry. Pastors are to be only men. There are two major reasons for this. Whenever Paul is talking about an elder, he says they are men. For instance, he says they are to be “husband of one wife.” It does not say and “wife of one husband.” Clearly Paul felt the pastoral ministry was for men. Second, there is clear teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11–15. Paul is referring to the public worship service when he says that women are to learn in silence and not to teach or have authority over a man. This is not cultural because he roots it in the very order of creation itself. Therefore, pastors are men.

 

The responsibilities of the pastor are that he be a shepherd of the flock. He is to be the ever ready, sympathizing and helpful friend to all. He is to guide the flock into godliness and service to Christ. He is to be the preacher and teacher of God’s word. For though a pastor, he must still be a preacher, a Gospel herald to his flock. The minister is, perhaps first of all, a teacher.

 

We generally accept that the Scriptures teach a plurality of elders, or that churches can have more than one elder or pastor. Depending on the size of a church, multiple pastors may be required. We are opposed to the idea that there is a full equality amongst the pastors. Instead of all elders being equal, we look at Acts 15 and the issue of the Jerusalem council as a paradigm. There were a number of elders in the Jerusalem church but James shows he is an authority over them by reaching the decision about what to do regarding the question of Gentiles and the church.

 

Deacons are the second group of officers in the church. They originally were raised up to free the apostles and pastors of the churches for the ministry of prayer and study and preaching and teaching the Word. Acts 6 explains the original formation of the group known as deacons and 1 Timothy 3:8–13 explains their qualifications.

 

Acts 6 teaches that the apostles were getting bogged down in daily temporary affairs of the church and were neglecting the ministry that God specifically had called them to, and this was to pray and study the Word so that they could effectively preach and teach the Word to the flock. 7 men were chosen from amongst the congregation then to serve as servants of the church. They met the temporal needs of the church so that the apostles and pastors would not be taken away from their first duty. By free vote of the church then, these men were chosen to have charge of the sick and needy members and whatever temporal affairs may require attention. They are also to act as counselors and assistants to the pastor in advancing the general interests of the body, both temporal and spiritual. There is no set amount of deacons in a church. It should be dependent on how small or large a church is to determine how many men are needed to serve it.

 

1 Timothy 3:8–13 teaches the qualifications of the deacon. They are very similar to that of the elder. They are not to be divorced (husband of one wife) and manage their homes well and lead godly lives and that they should be immersed in the Word. Essentially then, these are men who serve as the custodians of the daily temporal affairs of the church. They relieve the burden of the pastor regarding these affairs.

 

What about women deacons? Many good men and many Baptists have argued that women can be deacons (or at least there should be a second class of deaconesses). There are a number of reasons to see deacons as only being men. He uses the language of servant as an office. Then when he mentions the women/wives, he does not use that term again, nor a feminized form of the term deacon either (to mean deaconesses). Some would argue though that Phoebe was called a deacon in Romans 16:1. Most though accept the quite proper translation of “servant” and not that the office of “deacon” was in view. The major problem with seeing this refer to women deacons or a separate group of deaconesses is that it is an abrupt change to all of a sudden start discussing another office. So why did Paul mention deacon’s wives? This seems to be an ad hoc list of qualities both of overseers and deacons, and Paul simply felt the need to bring up some qualities of deacon’s wives. Why does he not mention overseers wives? The duties as deacons make it all the more important for them to have godly wives to help them in their servant ministries. Since, an overseer’s duties cannot truly be partnered with their wives (teaching, preaching, authority), Paul did not need to mention them. Therefore, deacons are men.


Baptist Distinctives – Separation of Church and State

March 7, 2007

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Matthew 22:15–22 is the key passage setting forth the basic text on separation of church and state. In this passage the Pharisees and Herodians faced Jesus with a loaded question (15–17). Involved was their messianic concept which forbade payment of taxes to a pagan power. To answer categorically either way would have involved Jesus in trouble with the Romans or the Jews. Jesus did neither (18). The coin testified to the Jews’ subservience to and dependence upon the State (19–20). They also recognized their relationship toward God. Jesus pointed out their obligations to both God and the State (21).

The principle of the separation of church and state does not mean that the two have no relationship whatever. Jesus recognized the existence, rights, and functions of the State (Matt 22:15–21). The early Christians in missionary work utilized roads and sea lanes provided by the State (cf. Paul’s travels, Acts 13–16; 27). On occasion Paul accepted or called for the protection of the State (Acts 18:12ff; 21:27ff; 22:25ff; 25:10–12). At the same time Christians were exhorted to submit to the authority of the State (Rom 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2:12–17). Even when persecuted by the State they were to endure it willingly as a testimony unto the Lord (1 Peter 3:14–15). In the peaceful existence of an orderly society they were to carry on their spiritual work (1 Tim 2:1ff).

Church and state are mutually related in the normal events of life. The state provides a proper atmosphere in which the churches carry on their work (cf. fire and police protection, national security, postal service, and general stability in society). In turn the churches endeavor to produce through the gospel the type of Christian character conducive to a well-ordered society.

But church and state are also mutually exclusive. Neither shall endeavor to control the other or to use it in the discharge of its separate responsibility. The church shall not seek to achieve its spiritual goals through political power (cf. Matt 4:8–10; John 6:15). Nor shall the state commandeer the church for political ends (Acts 4:19). No religion shall be favored above another. The state shall not levy taxes upon strictly religious property, nor shall any church receive tax funds to be used in the performance of its spiritual, educational, and healing ministry (cf. 1 Cor 16:1ff). The church shall be free to determine its own form of worship, faith, government, membership, and missionary outreach. But such shall be carried on within the framework of the laws of the state.


Baptist Distinctives – Individual Soul Liberty

February 27, 2007

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Individual Soul Liberty

 

One of the outstanding principles and doctrines of Baptists through the centuries has been what we call individual soul liberty. By this phrase is meant the right so far as any human intervention is concerned, of every soul to approach God and interpret God for himself. It does not mean that the soul is sovereign above all other souls. If an individual makes a mistake in the exercise of his soul’s sovereignty in his approach to or interpretation of God, then he must settle with God on that score; but no other human, or combination of humans, anywhere on the face of the earth can coerce him to approach any other way or to interpret God in any other fashion than he chooses for himself. Romans 14:5­–12 is the key passage which instructs us on our individual liberty to interpret the Word of God. Also, Joshua 24:15 teaches that we have the responsibility, right, and privilege to choose to follow God or not. Acts 17:11 teaches us about the example of the Bereans who constantly on their own searched the Scriptures to determine what was correct doctrine. 

Does believing in individual soul liberty mean that we can be opposed to the historic cardinal doctrines of the faith if we so choose to read it that way?  

Baptists have always been creedal people. We have been people that have come together around a common doctrinal commitment. These doctrinal statements have stood the test of time, like the First and Second London Baptist Confession, the Philadelphia Baptist Confession, and the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith. These doctrinal statements were the central point of convergence for these churches. Their people served in churches that were committed to these teachings. Creeds are a very important part of the church of Jesus Christ. It helps to develop a systematic understanding of doctrinal teachings which we can rally around. Even our church, has a doctrinal statement which in itself is like a creed. 

We can have the freedom to interpret the Word for ourselves and yet still hold to a central confession of faith. The key here is, if one chooses based on their soul liberty to reject that confession, they have the freedom to do so and can choose to fellowship with a church that better reflects their doctrinal stands.


Baptist Distinctives – Two Ordinances

February 21, 2007

Two Ordinances (Believer’s Baptism by Immersion and the Lord’s Supper)

There are two ordinances (commands) in the Bible for the church today. The first is baptism; the second is the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism is a command that comes directly from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as revealed in Matthew 28:19-20. Clearly we know this is an ordinance or command of the local church because it was revealed to us to be by Jesus Himself.

Acts 2:41 shows us that baptism was to identify ourselves as followers of Christ and add us to the membership of the local church. The context of this passage is on the day of Pentecost following Peter’s sermon regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ and our responsibility to that knowledge. After he had preached this message there were a number (3000) people who responded in repentance to that message and were baptized in response. By basis of their baptism they were “added” which implies being added to the church. Most are agreed then that baptism is what places us into the “church.” There are disagreements over how that happens. Those who believe that baptism is for believer’s only say that you have to profess faith and your baptism places you in the universal church and then by result places you in membership in the local church. Those who baptize infants believe it places them in a covenant community and somehow those who cannot “respond” to the Word are now part of the Church. The problem with this is that the text says those who “received” the Word were baptized, not infants who cannot receive the Word at all.

Acts 8:12 also confirms that one must respond to the Gospel first. This is similar to the previous verse where it was those who believed in the teaching of the Word of God concerning Christ who were baptized. There is no mention of those who cannot respond in faith to God being baptized here.

Even in the problematic passages like Acts 16:31-34 baptism does not apply to infants. While it does say that the whole household was baptized it does not mean that infants were baptized. It clearly says his whole household was saved If one must consciously repent of their sins and turn to Christ to be saved, then these are obviously not infants here that were saved and baptized. These were individuals in his household that could understand and accept the Gospel and therefore be baptized.

Therefore, baptism is clearly only for those who have repented of their sins and turned to Christ. It is designed to place them in the body of Christ and be recognized as members of a local church. Now we need to understand in what mode baptism should be performed

Lots of churches practice baptism by sprinkling or pouring water. Why do we fully immerse people in Baptist churches? It is for two reasons. First, and this is totally un-debated by those who do not practice immersion is that the Greek word “baptidzo” which we translate as “baptize” means to immerse. Those who practice sprinkling or pouring recognize this but do not follow it anyway.

Second, baptism represents the death and resurrection of Jesus. Romans 6:4 reveals to us that baptism is a picture of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. If one is not actually immersed under the water the picture is missing. Sprinkling or pouring can never reflect being dead (under ground) and coming back to life (coming up from under the ground). Only baptism by immersion can reflect that picture.

Baptism is pure and simply an act of immersing someone into water. It is a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It shows that we wish to be associated with Him and what happened to Him. It is only for believers; for those that profess faith in Jesus Christ and have repented of their sins and turned to follow Him. Its purpose is to demonstrate that we associate with Christ and what He did and His church. It places us into the body of Christ and makes us a member of a local church. It is a visible expression of our association with Christ and His church. It cannot be true baptism by sprinkling or pouring and it cannot be performed on infants.

The Lord’s Table, Supper, Communion, or the Eucharist makes up the second ordinance or command of the local church.

There are two main passages that teach the church about the Lord’s Supper.

Matthew 26:26–30 gives us the original institution of the Lord’s Supper by Jesus Himself. 1 Corinthians 11:23–34 gives us a re-iteration of that official institution as well as some added information regarding the purpose and attitude of the Lord’s Supper.

There are a number of things we can learn from these passages regarding the Lord’s Supper. First, again this is a commandment, instituted by Christ Himself, and reaffirmed by the apostle Paul. The church of Jesus Christ is required to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Second, we read in the 1 Corinthians passage that we partake in remembrance of Him. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial. It is designed to focus our attention once again on what Jesus Christ did on the cross for us. There is nothing mystical about the Lord’s Supper. It does not impart grace. It is simply a fresh reminder for us of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Third, not only is it a reminder of His work of salvation in the past, it is a promise of hope that He will return again. We proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore, the Lord’s Supper is both a time of memorial, reflection, with a somber tone, it is also a time of celebration over the truth of Christ’s saving work on the cross and His promise to come again. We are to reflect on our own lives in relation to what Christ has done for us and rejoice in that He has provided us salvation.

Fourth, since it is an ordinance of the local church, we do not believe that the Lord’s Table should be performed outside of the regular meeting of God’s people in the local church.

Finally, the Lord’s Supper is taken by those who are baptized believers who are members of a local church of like faith and practice who are walking in the Lord. Since an un-baptized believer is an idea foreign to the New Testament, we require all those who participate in the Lord’s Supper to be a baptized member of a church that is like ours in doctrine and practice.


Baptist Distinctives – Priesthood of the Believer

February 15, 2007

Priesthood of all Believers

Essentially it argues that the ministry of the local church belongs to the church as a whole. The conception of the priesthood of believers was formulated in the Reformation era, but it’s foundations are in the New Testament. While the idea is implicit elsewhere, one of the few places where it is explicated is 1 Peter 2:5, 9. It reads “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Peter’s intent is to declare that as God’s people, the church has a priestly ministry similar to that of Israel. The idea of the priesthood of believers, therefore, might be more clearly expressed as the mutual ministry of all believers.

Every man is a priest, and thus there is no special priestly class which has a monopoly on the means of grace. Nothing in the New Testament encourages the idea that a special clerical class was to be created which would be responsible for worship and witness, while the great majority of members would be spectators.

First of all, the limited idea that the church exists and serves only when people are gathered for some formalized church service needs to be dispelled. The church exists even when its members are dispersed in their homes and at their jobs and its ministry is carried on through all of the roles and relationships of individual Christians. Not everyone bears his witness or carries out his Christian vocation in exactly the same way, but everyone is called to serve Christ in all of his life. As John Calvin put the matter “God has appointed to all their particular duties in different spheres of life. And… he has styled such spheres of life vocations or callings. Every individual’s line of life, therefore is… a post assigned him by the Lord.” Looked at in this light, it is plain that members serve God in a wide range of ways; and all of these are part of the church’s ministry to the world in the name of God.

With the thought very clearly established in our minds that the ministry belongs to the entire congregation, we may proceed to discuss the need for leadership within the churches. It is important to guard against clericalism’s opposite extreme, which sees no need of leaders with professional training. We must remember that, although all members of the church are ministers, not all of them are pastors. The distinction is one of role or function. There are diverse kinds of ministry, and among them is a ministry of leadership in the church whereby the entire fellowships is trained for its responsibilities. According to Paul, Christ’s gifts to his church were “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph 4:12). Gifts of leadership are needed to help the whole church develop spiritual maturity so it is prepared to fulfill the calling it has received from God.

It should be self-evident that churches need leaders in order to be faithful to their calling. This necessity is implied in Paul’s enjoinder that things be done “in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor 14:40), and it is involved in the concept of the church as analogous to the human body. Declaring that Christians have diverse gifts, Paul compares them to different parts of the body. It would not be good, he says, if the body were all eyes or ears; but each gift within the church supplements the other gifts, as varied parts contribute to the total functioning of human life. His point is obvious; namely, that all who make up the church contribute to the fulfillment of its task, each one according to the gifts that God has granted him.

Therefore, while there are differences in roles within the body of Christ, each person is a priest before God serving in mutual ministry to the church.


Baptist Distinctives – Autonomy of the Local Church

February 1, 2007

Autonomy of the Local Church

Autonomy does not mean autonomy from God’s authority and leadership, or indulgence in carnal or worldly living, or isolated from the world by neglecting to give the gospel to others and from other Christians of like faith. We are constrained by the love of God to evangelize the lost and fellowship with God’s people living in obedience to His commands. Autonomy does mean though that we are not part of any denomination. While it is true that denominations have some apparent advantages, they tend on the other hand to become man-centered and emphasize tradition. Often denominational loyalty replaced loyalty to Christ and His Word.

There are three key passages of Scripture that we can look at which informs our understanding of the autonomy of the local church.

Acts 6:5 gives a major example of the local church acting on their own accord without outside influence. It reads, “And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch” (ESV). This verse is found in the context of the selection of deacons to help with the temporal affairs of the local church. The apostles found that there was too much going on in the church and that the temporal affairs of the people were preventing them on focusing on their main responsibilities of prayer, and study of the Word for the purpose of preaching and teaching. Their recommendation was to have the church pick out some men who could accomplish these tasks. They gathered all the disciples (church) and told them this. It pleased the whole group and the group selected the 7 men to serve as the first deacons. It was the local congregation that made the decision in this and there was no outside influence that determined this decision. The authority resides within the local church, not in some larger hierarchical group.

1 Corinthians 16:1–3 gives further example of the local church’s autonomy. This passage reads, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.” The circumstances revolved around Paul instructing the church in Corinth regarding how they could help support other local churches, in this case, the churches in Jerusalem. Paul tells them he will come by and give letters of introduction to the men the church at Corinth has chosen before they go to Jerusalem with their monetary gifts. The selection of these men was done “in-house.” The decisions are made within the local congregation. Again, there is no outside group determining how or what should occur within the local church. Each local congregation is technically independent from any other.

Acts 15:22–23 adds to our understanding of autonomy. The passage reads, “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.” The context of this passage is that some were trying to get Gentile converts to obey the Mosaic law along to be saved as well. The church at Jerusalem wanted to help to inform the other churches about what God’s Word said regarding the inclusion of Gentiles into Christianity. With this letter the church decided they wanted to send some men to travel with Paul and Barnabas with the letter. It was this local church that wrote the letter and sent it with men they chose. Again, there is no outside influence of some other hierarchical group. This whole work is the work of one local church. This church was independent from the others.

Ultimately, these examples serve to show us the autonomy of the local church. Each individual church determined their own processes and procedures. They elected their own officials. They were the source of their own authority. The authority of the church ultimately rests in Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone but authority is derived from that through the leaders of the church and the congregation as a whole. The Scriptures teach that each individual congregation as informed by the Word makes their decisions.