A good deal of discussion in Baptist life, even some on this site, has focused upon the role of elders in the church. How should those who hold this biblical office fulfill their role within the congregation, and how should they relate to the members of the church? Much of this discussion goes ultimately to the question of how the church is governed. Is it to be ruled by elders, or are the elders to lead, with the responsibility for making decisions remaining with the congregation as a whole? As Southern Baptists, we have clearly and, I believe, biblically, answered this question in our statement of faith.
In a day when some want to remove Baptist from our names and even distance ourselves from the name “Southern Baptist”, we have a college that is making strides to do otherwise. Truett-McConnell made great strides at their last trustee meeting to bring their faculty under accountability and strengthen their relationship with Southern Baptists. Thank God for the leadership of a Board of Trustees that is not afraid to step forward and boldly confess they believe in the inerrancy of the Word of God and that they are Baptists.
Enjoy the article from the Christian Index.
Before the outset of this post let me say that this piece is not meant to criticize Acts 29. They have the right to organize the planting of churches as they feel they are led by the Lord. This post is to show the clear irreconcilable difference in ecclesiology between Acts 29 and the Baptist Faith and Message when it comes to church governance. It is also intended to show why a church planter cannot honestly accept support from the North American Mission Board and Acts 29 while affirming both ecclesiastical statements as they both drastically differ. I have no animosity towards Acts 29 and wish them God’s best in wisdom and guidance.
Dave Miller wrote a post last week, published at sbcIMPACT, asking questions about the proper approach to baptizing children who have made a profession of faith. Much of his post focuses on his own approach to the question, and in this post of nearly 2,300 words, the word “church” appears twelve times. About half of these occurrences comes in legitimate criticism of the practice of another church, or when Dave is describing the actions of the apostles and others in the church in Acts with regard to baptism. The other half comes in this paragraph:
There is little or no evidence of church oversight of the process of baptism in the early church. This is not germane to my topic and runs the risk of diverting the discussion from the subject of children’s baptism. But [I] see no place in which a baptism was put through the mechanism of a local church before it was performed. Philip did not consult the Jerusalem church when he baptized the Samaritans. Peter probably knew that the baptism of Gentiles would create problems among the apostles, but he did not stop to seek consent before he baptized Cornelius. The evidence seems to lead us to an immediate baptism upon profession of faith. I am not against church supervision of the process, but wonder where the biblical support for that idea is.
What troubles me about this post is not necessarily the conclusion at which Dave arrives. I am personally inclined to agree that baptism should follow as closely as possible after someone makes a credible profession of faith. But I am stunned by his apparent lack of recognition of the authority of Christ given to the church in the Great Commission as it relates to baptism. Baptism, as is well described by the Baptist Faith and Message, is an ordinance of Christ and an ordinance of the church. That is, it is a command of Christ, given by our Lord to His church to administer. What this means is that these questions, while they make for interesting debate and discussion, cannot ultimately be answered by any one of us. They must be answered by the body of Christ, gathered in His name, and speaking with His authority. If we’re going to have a Great Commission Resurgence, there must first be a clear understanding of the responsibilities given to the church in the Great Commission.
Dave makes it clear in his post (in the paragraph I quoted above) that he doesn’t want to get sidetracked in the comments on this post by a discussion of the church’s role, claiming that what he wants to discuss is the appropriate age for baptism. But an understanding of the proper role of the church in baptism will lead us to realize that this isn’t a question that can be answered in a comment thread; you need a church to answer it. As the church speaks with the authority of Christ, it is up to the church to determine whether a child is a valid candidate for baptism.
I am convinced that, like so many of the challenges we face, this is a result of an inordinate emphasis on individualism. Because our society so values individual identity, we let that seep into our understanding of the Bible. We read passages that were intended to apply to the church as though they were intended for us as individuals.
As an example, think about 1 Corinthians 3:16, which says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (ESV) How many times have you been taught, or taught yourself, that this is a reference to the indwelling of the Spirit in the believer, and it is an admonition to take care of our bodies? While that is a true and biblical principle, it is not what is being taught by the Spirit-inspired apostle in this verse. Both occurrences of “you” in this verse are in the plural, and this verse is addressed, like all of 1 Corinthians, to “the church of God that is in Corinth.” (1:2)
We must come to the place where we recognize the damage this individualistic focus is doing to the life of our churches. It permeates our thinking, and unless we recognize it and actively combat it, it will continue to harm our understanding, about baptism and so many other areas of the life of the church. Though Dave only manages to squeeze 12 mentions of the word “church” into his nearly 2,300-word post, I could not help but notice the prevalence of self-references:
“I” 43 times
“me” 13 times
“my” 11 times
We hear a great deal today about ordering the relative importance of doctrines. My concern is that if we fail to address this unhealthy emphasis on individualism that has seeped into our views of the church, ecclesiology will be the latest doctrine tossed into the category of “non-essentials.”
This is part of an article originally published January 1922 in the Southwestern Journal of Theology by Dr. L. R. Scarborough entitled, “Poisoning the Fountains of Truth.” It was republished in the most recent Southwestern Journal of Theology, “Baptists and Unity.” You can find part one here and part two here. May a voice of our past speak to us today. Below is part three of a four part series reprinting Dr. Scarborough’s essay:
2. Another way by which the fountains of truth and life of our churches can be poisoned is by doing violence to the ordinances of Jesus Christ, in depreciating their value and emasculating their testimony. This is done when a Baptist church receives baptism administered at the hands of some other organization than a Baptist church. If a Baptist preacher admits into the fellowship of his church Christians who have received baptism at the hands of pedobaptists, without requiring them to be baptized by a Baptist church, he violates the truth of God and is guilty of a heresy in ecclesiology which will eventually ruin the testimony of the ordinances and vitiate the witness of Christ’s churches. Such practice eats at the very heart of the life of Christ’s churches. Such a practice will not only injure the life of the church practicing it, but will eventually poison the fountains of truth in all of our churches
A pastor of one of the leading churches of Texas told me recently of a member from another Baptist church in Texas seeking admittance on a letter from this church, but when questioned as to her baptism she reported that she came to this other church on the baptism from a certain Campbellite church and had not been required to be baptized by this Baptist church. This pastor tells me that he promptly refused to admit this woman into the fellowship of his church. I think he did right.
There lies at this point a great danger and we should guard the fountains of truth from the poison that will come by the emasculation of the ordinances of Jesus Christ.
Reprinted with permission, Southwestern Journal of Theology