Saturday, May 1, 2010

This is Who We Are: What a Baptist is and Believes? - Introduction

Each month in our newsletter, we will be walking through a section of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M 2000).  As I write these for the newsletter, I will post them online.  The purpose for this venture is to help our members understand what a Baptist is.  Not just our distinctives (like regenerate church membership, etc.) but also the things that unite us with many other Christians (such as our understanding of Scripture and the gospel).

To begin we must ask the question, what is a Baptist?  Certainly there are stereotypes of Baptists – backrow sitters, many committees, loves chicken, and always the first to arrive at the local buffet after church.  But this is not what a Baptist really is; these are only characteristics.  There are multiple answers people oftentimes give to this question:  cooperation, missions, doctrine, or something similar.  I want to argue that none of these are correct.

When persons mention that Baptists cooperate primarily in the form of missions what they mean is that Baptist around American and around the world have joined together, shared with one another their resources and funds in order to support local and international missions.  Certainly this is true.  Baptist are notorious for this.  Every year we take up a number of offerings (like the Anne Armstrong Offering and the Lottie Moon Offering just to name a few) which go to support specific missionaries and mission agencies (like the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board).  Very early on in our history, Baptist understood that many churches cannot support large mission ventures, but by cooperating together, we can accomplish more in the mission field.

Others argue that a Baptist is one that affirms particular Baptist beliefs.  Not only do Baptist emphasize orthodox doctrines (like the inspiration of the Bible, salvation through the cross and resurrection of Christ, the Trinity, etc.) but also historical Baptist distinctives.  Some of the distinctives include regenerate church membership (only those saved are members of the local church), believers baptism (we don't baptize babies), the autonomy of the local church (we are in charge of our own church, which is why we have business meetings), the separation of State and Church (we Baptist played a major role in the First Amendment), and others.

But to affirm just one of these and say that this is what makes a Baptist a Baptist is false.  Historically, those who have said that a Baptist is one that cooperates and supports missions usually do so as a way to undermine doctrine.  In other words, when we say that Baptists only support missions is to allow destructive doctrines in the church.  At the same time, those who only care about the doctrine forget the passion Baptist have for missions and its necessity.

So what is a Baptist?  A Baptist is one that affirms both orthodoxy and Baptist distinctives and at the same time has a passion to see the world reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We embrace our identity and at the same time seek the world for Christ.  We cooperate in order to see the lost know Christ.

The union of both doctrine and cooperation is imperative.  Without right doctrine our evangelistic agenda is empty.  How can we reach people with Christ if we have wrong beliefs about Christ?  There are many religious and non-religious organizations dedicated to cooperation but do so to their own peril by being founded on compromising doctrine.  The National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches are two examples.  By making unity their foundation they have undermined divisive doctrines that define our faith.  Such organizations deny gospel doctrines like Christ’s deity, the Bible’s inspiration, and salvation through Christ alone.  As a result, their cooperation is nothing more than a social club most known for their humanitarian aide.  Baptists must avoid such a popular tendency in a culture that unashamedly rejects the divisive doctrines of the faith.

We must not fall for this trap of cooperation at the cost of doctrine.  Cooperation is essential to Baptist identity but cooperation apart from orthodox doctrine is empty.  At the same time, we must not forget that our study of Scripture and sound theology must motivate us and drive us to the spreading of the gospel.  Baptists are known for their cold approach to personal evangelism.  People know that we affirm the full inspiration of Scripture, but oftentimes see us as hypocrites and ignorant of our own faith.  We must not forget that God is most glorified when souls are saved and He has declared that sinners will not be redeemed apart from the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14).

So what is a Baptist?  A more thorough definition could be offered, but at its core we must admit that Baptists are orthodox believers who affirm historical Baptist  distinctives united to the spreading of the gospel around the world for the glory of God.  To lose this core message is to cease to be Baptist.

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