Friday, February 4, 2011

This is Who We Are: What a Baptist Is and Believes - The Church

The Baptist Faith & Message 200 moves from discussing God, the Bible, & salvation, to talking about the community in which newly redeemed believers fellowship: the Church.  Here, the BF&M 2000 makes two distinctions of the church.  The first regards the local church:

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith & fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, & privileges invested in them by His Word, & seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible & accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors & deacons. While both men & women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

Here the confession says several things. First, the local church is autonomous & made up of regenerated, baptized believers. This is one of our distinctives as Baptists. Each church is responsible for its own business. The various conventions & associations connected to the church have no authority over the church.  The Southern Baptist Convention does not & cannot hire or fire staff or build a new gym.  That is the business of the local church. This is unique among denominations. Unlike Roman Catholic, Methodist, or Presbyterian who have a hierarchal system, Baptist do not. 

But who makes up the local church?  Regenerated, baptized believers dedicated to & shaped by the gospel.  This is the basis of church membership & why Baptists take church membership so seriously.  We do not baptize babies, we baptize believers (this separated us from other denominations like Catholicism, Presbyterianism, & Methodism).  The New Testament speaks of only baptized believers who have made a confession of faith, have repented of their sins, & are redeemed by Christ.  These believers, as the confession says, joins the local church, participates in its fellowships, grows & disciples in the faith, becomes ambassadors for Christ, & observes two ordinances of Christ: baptism & the Lord’s Supper (Catholics add to this list what they call Sacraments including such things as marriage, confirmation, & extreme unction among others).

The second point of the confession regards the Universal Church (which prior to the Great Reformation was referred to as the catholic church.  The word “catholic” means, “universal”).  The confession says:

The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, & tongue, & people, & nation.

The church isn’t just limited to the local body of believers, but extends to the universal body of redeemed souls both living & dead. The language of body is important & taken directly from Scripture (see 1 Corinthians 12ff).  The Church is the Body of Christ making Christ its Head.  He is the Head & stands as its Lord & Sovereign leader.  True redeemed believers submit fully to the Lordship & Headship of Christ.

But the concept of the universal church ought to make us rejoice.  The gospel transcends all time, cultures, race, gender, nations, languages, age, & people.  We rejoice with the same salvation in Glenn Dean as do those in the village of Dargol in Niger, Africa.  The same Lord rules over all & offers the same grace to all.  This means that one day, when united with our Maker, we will worship our Savior.  The we here isn’t limited to middle-class white Americans, but will include every person from every nation & race.

This ought to lead us to rejoice in our great God of salvation & it ought to drive us towards evangelism.  May we work to grow the body of Christ to see unity in the midst of diversity. Baptist have a rich heritage in supporting missions & celebrating the diversity of the body of Christ.  Only the gospel can bring such diversity into a unity under the Headship of Christ.

The question, then, is how will we serve in the body of Christ?  Will we act like the head & demand from Christ or will we be the body that we are, & serve at direction of our head so that our Savior might be glorified & the souls of men & women everywhere be redeemed.

This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - Introduction
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - Scripture
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - God
This is Who We Are  What a Baptist Is and Believes - God the Father
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - God the Son
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - God the Spirit
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - Man
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - Salvation 
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes -  God's Purpose of Grace 

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