We are privileged to share with you today a post by guest author, Dr. Kelly Randolph. Dr. Randolph is the pastor of Country Acres Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, where he has served since 1994. He is a native of Norman, Oklahoma. Dr. Randolph is a graduate of The Criswell College (B.A.), Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv), and Bethel Theological Seminary (DMin). Kelly was married to Jamie (Sullaway) in 1983. They have four children. Prior to coming to Wichita, Kelly served as a pastor in Texas and North Dakota. He is also the owner of the blog, Ecclesiophilist: Thoughts on the church and church life from one who loves the church.
Whether it is Fred Phelps picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers with his “God Hates Fags” signs or Rev. Jeremiah Wright making outrageous statements about the US government inventing the HIV virus as a genocidal attack on people of color, one thing is certain, the union of the church and politics is always a perilous thing. There is a debate raging currently among evangelicals over what planks belong in the political platform of the movement. A new group is emerging which calls for the inclusion of environmental issues, poverty, AIDS, and fair wages. The old guard continues to focus on the issues of abortion, gay marriage, and family. With no consensus evangelical candidate in this election cycle, there is a scramble between Republicans and Democrats for the evangelical voting block. Controversial endorsements are creating troubles for candidates in both parties. Whether it is John McCain having to distance himself from the likes of John Hagee or Barack Obama having to deflect the statements of Jeremiah Wright, the union of church and politics is creating quite a stir.
The series of three posts on Baptists distinctives that John Mann contributed were the product of research he did in the preparation of a resolution on doctrine, which he has submitted to the Resolutions Committee for their consideration in Indianapolis. Here is the text of his resolution:
WHEREAS the Great Commission instructs Christians to make disciples by teaching the commands of Christ; and
WHEREAS Scripture teaches that as the saints are equipped, they will, “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” (Ephesians 4:12, 14); and
WHEREAS Scripture commands us to, “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,” (1st Timothy 1:3); and
WHEREAS Baptist are historically a people that have been unified around common doctrinal distinctives and convictions; and
WHEREAS the Introduction of the Baptist Faith and Message states, “Baptist are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines,” and
WHEREAS being a witness demands a clear understanding of Whom we witness about, and who we witness to; and
WHEREAS we have observed a compromise of doctrinal distinctives in recent days in various other denominations by sacrificing clear, scriptural principles upon the altar of cultural acceptance for the purpose of a unified ecumenism, which has neither been unifying nor healthy; now, therefore be it
RESOLVED, that we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 10-11, 2008 affirm that our mission of reaching the world for Christ must be defined and determined by our doctrine of Christ; and be it further
RESOLVED, that our understanding of Christ must inform our witness to Christ; and be it further
RESOLVED, that we repudiate any attempt to teach about God that which is contradictory to clear Scriptural revelation; and be it further
RESOLVED, that, although there are various doctrines open to differing interpretations, there are certain doctrines that cannot be compromised for the purpose of establishing a New Testament church and a unified Convention; and be it finally
RESOLVED, that we encourage all pastors, church members, and churches, to pursue proper doctrinal understanding through teaching and preaching for the purpose of continuing to educate believers in an attempt to edify and equip Southern Baptists to engage the world in conversation about Christ in an evangelistic effort.
This is the third and final installment in a series of posts by guest author Rev. John Mann. These essays are the result of research he has done in the preparation of a resolution he has submitted to the SBC Resolutions Committee for their consideration in Indianapolis. We will publish that resolution here next week.
To teach our distinctive views is not only a duty to ourselves, to our fellow-Christians, and to the unbelieving world, but it is a duty we owe to Christ; it is a matter of simple loyalty to him. Under the most solemn circumstances he uttered the express injunction. He met the eleven disciples by appointment on a mountain in Galilee; probably the more than five hundred of whom Paul speaks were present also: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The things of which we have been speaking are not, we freely grant, the most important of religious truths and duties, but they are a part of the all things which Jesus commanded; what shall hinder us, what could excuse us, from observing them ourselves and teaching them to others? The Roman soldier who had taken the sacramentum did not then go to picking and choosing among the orders of his general: shall the baptized believer pick and choose which commands of Christ he will obey and which neglect and which alter? And, observe, I did not quote it all: Go, disciple, baptizing them, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Shall we neglect to teach as he required, and then claim the promise of his presence and help and blessing? -John Broadus.
The Ecumenical movement as a proper development had its official start in the early 20th Century on the heels of a social gospel movement that birthed such associations as the YMCA, YWCA, and the Evangelical Alliance. Ecumenism thought it had found a successful culmination beginning with the World Council of Churches and its Americanized version, the National Council of Churches of Christ. Though their stated focus was to unite around a common work in witness and missions, they have largely been nothing more than a social action group that is impotent in biblical evangelism.
Before one reads too far into what I will be arguing for, let it be known at the outset and remembered through the conclusion that in no way am I saying that we have people within our beloved convention advocating another World Council of Churches. My claim is not that the SBC is becoming the classic expression of ecumenism; rather my claim is that there are portions of the SBC that are being affected by ecumenism. By its very definition, an ecumenical movement is an attempt to find the lowest common doctrinal denominator for the purpose of unifying in order to do missions and evangelism. However, one need not look far to see that when we lower our expectations of doctrine, our expectations of evangelism go with it. Allow me to offer a few thoughts that evidence the invasion of an ecumenical attitude into some Southern Baptist circles.
Ecumenicals and the Narrowing of Parameters
I am not a blue blood in the SBC. I was raised in the Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ [Christian Church]. As a child I was immersed in order to receive salvation. A series of events led me to visit a local Baptist church, which I had been warned against my whole life. Some time later, I approached the pastor about becoming a member, which to my surprise, he denied my membership unless I would submit to, what he termed, true baptism.
This sent me on a scriptural search seeking clarification on the true purpose of baptism. It soon became evident that the baptism I had received was not a New Testament baptism because it was taught that it was the vehicle of grace. The baptism that Christ commanded was not a baptism resulting in salvation, but a baptism that followed salvation. I concluded that though my salvation was a proper salvation, my baptism was an improper baptism. I had one of two choices; I could justify my “immersion” as being ‘close-enough’ or I could fully surrender to the Lordship of Christ and receive a proper baptism. For me, a proper baptism was not a matter of “doing my duty,” it was a matter of surrendering my will to my Lord. To fail to submit myself to a proper baptism was not only a failure to submit to the church I was attending, but a failure to submit to Christ whom I had confessed as Lord.
This post begins a series of three posts by guest contributor John Mann. John has been the pastor of LaJunta Baptist Church in Springtown, Texas since November 2000. He is currently completing his MDiv with a concentration in Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been active in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which he served on the resolutions committee in 2007. He has a great passion for theological and expositional preaching. John was raised in a different denomination, but a deep study of Scripture convinced him that Baptists were more accurate in their understanding of the Bible, which has led John to join a Southern Baptist church by baptism as a young adult. His journey to the SBC has created a desire to better articulate an accurate understanding of differences within various denominations.
“The distinctive principles of the Baptists are those doctrines or practices which distinguish us from other Christian denominations. It is held by some that no doctrine or practice should be classified as distinctive which has at any time been shared, in whole or in part, by any other denominations. But this limited sense of the word distinctive is too narrow for ordinary speech or common sense. For example: The Greek church and the Baptists both practice immersion, but their doctrine of baptism is widely different from ours. Authority, subject, and design all enter as much into the validity of this ordinance as the act itself. More than mere immersion is necessary to constitute New Testament baptism.” BH Carrol, Distinctive Baptist Principles.
“Preacher, don’t tell me all of that doctrinal stuff. Just teach me to love Jesus.” On the surface, this seems to be a reasonable statement that one could build his ministry on. After all, who would not “amen” the statement that true Christianity is simply loving Christ. The Ephesians were rebuked because they had “lost their first love,” in Revelation 2. The first Epistle of John instructs its hearers that true obedience is bound up in love for God and love for the brethren.
However, for one to divorce the discipline of proper cognitive knowledge about God from the passionate pursuit of loving God demands the redefining of love in such a manner that love is no longer defined by Scripture, but rather it becomes defined by the cultural moorings of an emotional feeling that is separated from factual knowledge regarding the subject loved. Simply, the depth of one’s love for God is at least partially related to his understanding of God. To fail to recognize this truth will ultimately have tragic effects upon missional and evangelistic efforts, corporate worship, and future opportunities for Southern Baptists to engage a rapidly developing world.
There are those who want to make everything that is not a matter of salvation into a tertiary doctrine. To do this is to fail to recognize that there are doctrines that are not necessarily matters of salvation, yet still have destructive ecclesiological results. For example, if the movements of ecumenism were to come to fruition, consistency would demand joint worship services because the only reason for choosing a denomination or a local church would be personal privilege over and against theological conviction. Given that in these joint worship services there would be a plethora of distinctives recognized, decision counseling would take on a whole new context; if a new believer committed to follow through with baptism, who then would be the one to baptize them? Would we have to ask them if they desire a Methodist, Presbyterian, or Baptist baptism? Would they expect the church to accept their infant baptism?
What about times of corporate prayer? Would we invite everyone who advocates speaking in tongues to stand in the northeast corner, and those who pray understandably to stand in the southwest corner? What about the celebration of the Lord’s Supper? Would it be a sacrament or an ordinance? “Symbolical observers on the right, sacramentalists to the left.”
Granted, there are none to my knowledge within the SBC who are advocating the erasure of distinct local congregations. But honesty demands that those who are advocating moving away from doctrinal distinctives for the SBC stand up and say that it is naïve at best and foolish at worst to propose that all doctrinal distinctives will be erased in this fallen world. The very fact that they hold a membership in a local church evidences their recognition, either consciously or unconsciously, that doctrine is important.
At its heart, ecumenism exists because the world’s expectations of the church have become priority over biblical revelation to the church. We currently live in a day and age of an eroding recognition of absolute truth. Given the volatility of the current cultural climate, the Bride of Christ must be quite aware of the impending danger of prostituting herself to the world. If we continue to drift into the waters of the ecumenical movement, we will find ourselves swept away by the forceful currents of theological pragmatism that champions worldly acceptance to the exclusion of biblical fidelity.
The danger of this is that by allowing the ever-shifting winds of cultural popularity to direct the vessel, we will find ourselves without a doctrinal rudder to direct our course and a biblical compass to point our direction. In part 2 I will share a personal testimony about the danger that the ecumenical movement poses to the spread of the Gospel. Let us press on to greater evangelistic activity while still recognizing the One who has commissioned has instructed us to “teach ALL THINGS that He has commanded.”