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Ministry and Teaching

1. Why Baptist Principles?

Imagine two conversations.

'Would you care to join a class I'm planning on Baptist principles?' says the bright young pastor. 'Baptist principles!' says the equally bright youngster, 'I see myself as a Christian first and a Baptist only second!'

'I understand' says the pastor on the doorstep, 'that you've recently moved in from Brownstown where you attended the Baptist Church. I've come to invite you to the Baptist Church along the road'. 'That's true. We did attend the Baptists where we lived before. But we are going to look around the Churches before we commit ourselves. We don't want to be tied to one denomination. You see, we believe that the day of denominationalism is dead!'

You don't really need to use your imagination where these two stories are concerned. Most leaders of Baptist Churches hear something like them frequently. They represent two strong reactions to the whole idea of stressing Baptist principles or Baptist identity. 'Isn't it enough to be a Christian?' and 'It's out of fashion to stress one denomination over against another'.

Let's look, briefly, at the background to these two reactions.

Pick 'n Mix

If you visit a shop specialising in chocolates you can either buy a box or take your pick from the assorted chocolates displayed before you. You take one from one tray, a couple from the next and three or four from the next. Pick 'n mix is a common name for such shopping these days. Behind the reactions of the above two stories is the belief that, where Churches are concerned, you can take something from one, a little from another and so on. No one Church has the whole of the truth so you don't need to commit yourself to one set of beliefs or principles.

Again, in the society in which we live, principles are in short supply. There are lots of opinions and views around but principles are unpopular. So when a Church announces that it stands for certain principles we are not impressed. What matters these days is whether that Church meets my 'felt needs'. When it comes to inviting people to our Church we find ourselves saying, not 'We stand for such and such', but 'We provide a crèche for your baby, we have following activities for your other children and we have a Mothers' and Toddlers' Group'. As part of the so-called consumer society even the Church finds itself setting up its stall to attract people. People then tend to gravitate to the most attractive Church rather than to the Church which stands for a set of principles and beliefs and makes everything else secondary.

Meeting Needs or Upholding Principles?

Sometimes a Church quite happily adopts that position and sees the meeting of peoples' needs, emotional, physical and spiritual, as its chief purpose in life. Principles, worked out in history, and the cause of the distinctiveness of that particular Church in the past, are soft peddled or even considered an embarrassment The local Church is drawn toward other Churches which, though of different denominations, or none, adopt the same general set of priorities. Distinctiveness, and the principles which led to it, begins to receive lip service or is regarded as unimportant. Certainly a class on 'Baptist Principles' or 'What we cherish as Baptists' would not be over subscribed!

What Kind of Church Is It?

Again, there are those who do not see the main division between the Churches to be that between Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and so on. They are not really interested in what these various names stand for and not much attracted to gatherings which have their beliefs as their focal point. Whether a particular Church is evangelical or not is more important than its denominational platform. A 'charismatic' fellowship will be more attractive than a Church which has fought and suffered for its convictions. 'Reformed' doctrine will take precedence over the nicities of denominational beliefs The questions asked when considering attendance or membership will be, not 'Is this Church congregational in its government and does it baptise only believers?', but 'Is it charismatic in its worship?', 'Is it Reformed in its doctrine?' or 'Is the preaching evangelical?' So a new or altogether different set of distinctives replace those which are purely denominational. In some cases divisions belonging to the present have taken the place of divisions forged in the past.

There has been a steady flow into many of our Churches of people who have been drawn to us, not because we are Baptists as such, but often for some of the reasons mentioned above. They have made an immense contribution to our Churches but would often be the first to admit that they are less than well informed on Baptist principles and history.


Crucial Questions

Important questions have to be faced.

When people have joined us for other good reasons, and not because we are Baptists, why should we emphasise Baptist principles to them? They may not, initially, be interested!

How can we defend an emphasis on Baptist principles as distinct from the other emphases and differences of today? Why look at principles where contemporary society largely thinks in terms of individual opinions? Why look at Baptist principles when we should be looking at what Christians, in general, should believe?

Baptist principles are Christian principles. That deserves to be said. Baptist principles are, when all is said and done, the expression of the fundamentals of our faith and, as such, dare not be ignored, dismissed or forgotten. We hold to them, and our forefathers suffered and fought for them, because they are Christian principles. They are neither prejudices nor opinions.

Some Principles

Baptists hold to the authority of the Bible and that is a Christian stance. How can you say 'I'm a Christian first and a Baptist second' in the light of that? If a Christian is one who stands under the authority of God's Word then that Christian is a Baptist in their beliefs, if not in their affiliation!

Baptists hold to the Lordship of Christ over His Church and that, too, is thoroughly Christian. 'He is the head of the body, the church' says scripture (Colossians 1:18). Baptists are implementing the implications of that when they hold that the local Church conducts itself in obedience to Christ Jesus. Is that not fully Christian?

Baptists believe that entry to the Church is through conversion, the experience of justification by faith, followed by baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Could anything be more distinctively Christian? They certainly believe that it is firmly taught in scripture. Any other belief regarding Christian initiation has to rely on tradition or, in some cases, Baptists believe, the flimsiest of evidence or an argument from silence.

There are other beliefs, as we shall see, but those mentioned are sufficient to make the point.

One final fact does not weaken our argument. People other than Baptists share with us some of what we regard as our principles. Baptists, however, are those who hold all the principles we shall look at together.

Questions for discussion.

1. Are convictions popular or unpopular today? Are words like 'zealot', 'extremist' and 'fanatic' complimentary or not?
2. What place is there for holding to Baptist principles today? How firm should be our stand for them?


Reproduced with kind permission of the author, Rev. James Taylor

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