by Ronnie Rogers
“Wall of separation” is the exact phrase used by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, whereas “separation of church and state” is the popular phraseology. My use of these phrases in this article should not be construed in any way as an endorsement of either agreeing with them or using them. I actually argue for Christians to disabuse ourselves from using them as a gloss of the First Amendment. For when it is so used, it is at best a tawdry and misleading replacement of the amendment’s beautiful words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” I use it only because the article necessitates that I do.
By: Ron F. Hale
The long-standing family feud among Baptists has dusted-up since the early part of the seventeenth century. After each dust devil has settled, our differences on the atonement seem to be the point of impasse.
In England, Baptists divided up into two groups called General Baptists and Particular Baptists. The General Baptists held to a general or unlimited atonement, while the Particular Baptists contended for a restricted or limited atonement. Many historical theologians would say that the Generals leaned more toward an Arminian view and the Particulars leaned toward the Calvinistic position.
This in-house theological tiff followed us to the New World. The names changed several times in America, so you have to be careful with the different Baptist brand names. The Particular Baptists in England became known as the Regular Baptists in America. This group adopted the more Calvinistic Confessions of Faith, and they came to embrace more rigid predestination doctrines. Their sermons were mostly of the expository type, delivered with calm deliberation.
by Johnathan Pritchett
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” thunders the preacher quoting Hosea 4:6a, which is appropriate pulpit thunder these days.
“Yeah, but knowledge puffs up,” think some folks in the pews who know just enough random Scripture quotes to be dangerous. Of course, these folks are completely oblivious that the quoted passage deals with a lack of faithful love, rejection of God’s teaching, and being without truth. They are also completely oblivious that the snippet that popped in their minds in rebellion and protest has to do with food and idols.
Of course, the folks that don’t think of that text from somewhere, 1 or 2 Corinthians-something, at all usually don’t think much about anything they hear. They lack the mental tools to follow the points in a given sermon, and since in many cases the preacher thundering Hosea 4:6a forgets to thunder 4:6b along with it — which is the pertinent part to the biblical illiteracy problem in our churches — then some of the ignorance in the pews can be more easily understood. Often times, many pastors are proof-texters, filling their topical sermons with random verses that suit the message of their own spinning.
No, this is not a rant against topical sermons. The best topical preachers exegete and teach the passages they use to fit their themes. Sadly, many don’t. They merely fill their sermon with simplistic principles without explaining from the very texts they quote why the principles matter and how they relate to the story of God’s redemption in Christ that runs from Genesis to Revelation. That’s the problem.
In other news, biblical literacy is down in Southern Baptist churches, and other denominations as well. Even among those who read their Bibles regularly, though these people are fewer and fewer each year. Congregations get so caught up in the current routines that the fundamentals are forgotten. One fundamental that has been forgotten is teaching people how to read and study their Bibles. This lack of teaching from leadership may contribute to a lack of doing from the congregations.
My family and I spent six months last year visiting various churches, mostly SBC churches, but also other churches just to see what was happening there. We weren’t members anywhere at the time, so we took some time off from active membership somewhere (blasphemy to some people) to see what all was happening in the churches in our community.
Apparently, not much.
In any case, in Sunday school classes, small groups, sitting in the pews during services, and whatever other occasion for biblical study or learning, people were just at a loss as to how to follow Scripture. They do get some milk they remember until Monday morning when they wake up, but they do not get the meat, and meat sticks to the bones.
Is this purely anecdotal and limited to my community? Perhaps, but I highly doubt it. I hear too many stories from elsewhere, and hear the statistics in seminary. So, yeah, this is probably everywhere.
In other news, I noticed something that has paralleled this decline of biblical literacy that is truly sad. This I will refer to as “The Death of the Church Library.” In too many churches, even large ones, the best library in the church is the pastor’s office bookshelf, or even more likely (and sadly), the youth pastor’s office bookshelf. The most recent scholarship in the actual church libraries, if there is actually any scholarly works to be found in them, is sometimes only as recent as the 1970s. Most of the time, the tiny libraries are filled with old and occasionally new devotional junk, and way too much Christian-fiction junk.
It couldn’t hurt to reemphasize the need for the folks in the pews to study to show themselves approved, (2 Timothy 2:15), to be good Bereans (Acts 17:11), to store up the word in their hearts (Psalm 19:11), etc. Besides, speaking of Bible snippets, Jesus gave this command: “…teaching them everything…” (Matthew 28:20)
That sounds comprehensive.
Given the general lack of knowledge of Scripture, even among those who do not lack a familiarity with Scripture (big difference), not only is encouraging more daily study of Scripture necessary, but also necessary is a moving on from promoting, or encouraging, or even condoning, simplistic daily devotionals, goofy Bible app reading plans, and the like. After all, God has a standard for all this (Joshua 1:8).
It is time for pastors and other leaders to encourage the folks to buy a biblical survey book and a commentary or two for using as study and conversation partners in their private daily Bible reading. What level of commentary or survey? Whatever suits the person, and that takes the pastor(s) or other leaders knowing each of the persons in their churches to figure out what level of commentary is right for each person, be it lay, semi-technical, technical, etc. Are they somewhat pricey? Well, that depends — certainly not any more pricey than many people’s Blu-ray collections.
Given the Conservative Resurgence, all the affirmations — from the seminary professors to the pews — about the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture is rendered meaningless if it is nothing more than a “uh-huh” affirmation of lip service without the actual knowledge of Scripture stored up in our hearts and its governing authority in our lives.
We are Southern Baptists. We are Evangelicals. We are “People of the Book.” It is time once again to live like it.
It is also time for SBC churches to reinvest in their church libraries. We build gyms for our churches, so why not also stock the libraries? One of those two things is related to knowledge, truth, faithful love, understanding and remembering God’s Word, and most importantly, avoiding destruction. One of them isn’t. It is not too hard to figure out which is which.
Church membership has been variously determined at different times and places in the history of the church. At first, belonging to a local church was by free choice, but as the church and state became more integrated, church membership was often determined by one’s geographical location.
The Reformation accomplished many things, but it did not fully restore free association membership. Both Luther and Calvin connected church and state, although Luther more than Calvin. This pattern of considering geographical location to determine church membership continued in varying degrees in Protestantism for centuries; for example, King Henry VIII, along with the invaluable help and support of Bishop Cranmer, consolidated church and state in Protestant England. The Puritan churches in New England acted similarly; for example, John Cotton, teacher and co-founder of the First Church of Boston, with whom Roger Williams interacted in his book, The Bloudy [Bloody] Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience. Others on American soil did likewise.
By Walker Moore
My dear little friend,
I felt like I didn’t do a good job of writing to you last time. There was so much I wanted to say. I stumbled over my words, but I knew you understood what I meant.
Today, I saw you looking at me. Even though you weren’t wearing your yellow dress, I knew it was you. I see you everywhere I go. Sometimes, you’re the frightened little girl who peeks from behind the curtains, wanting to know if it’s safe to come out. At other times, you’re the sassy one who puts her hands on her hips and gives me that “Don’t mess with me” look.