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.” May a voice of our past speak to us today. Below is part one of a four part series reprinting Dr. Scarborough’s essay:
Poisoning the Fountains of Truth
Christ’s churches are the most important institutions in the world. He gave them a definite form of government, a specific character of membership, set up in them the two ordinances, gave to them the great body of the truth found in the New testament, set for them their officers, and committed to them the great task of winning the world to Him and building His great Kingdom. He says through His inspired apostles in 1 Timothy 3:15 that this organization which He set up and called His church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” He says this church was purchased by His blood; and in His spiritual economy He calls this institution His Bride. All this and many other things in the New testament indicate that these spiritual organizations set up by Christ and established in many places by the apostles and which have for their successors these New testament churches of today are the most important institutions in all the world. These churches are to keep, guard, and promote the ordinances. They are to propagate the gospel. They are to win souls. They are both the preservers and the heralds of the gospel truth. They are to establish Christ’s Kingdom and to make Christ King in all the world. From any angle you look at these churches their importance is magnified.
I have passed the half-way point of my two week seminars here at Southwestern. Because of my blogging slavemaster friend, Wes Kenney, :-D I find myself writing a post instead of working on my DMin assignments. Yet I am reminded of why I entered this program back in 2007. At that time I would have considered myself an expository preacher, but today, as I look back, I was anything but one. Back then I would taken a text like Genesis 39 and the incident of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife and preached on how to keep oneself from sexual sin. I would have used the lives of both Joseph and of Potiphar’s wife to illustrate techniques and habits that could help in keeping oneself pure. I would have proclaimed, “Be like Joseph!” while missing the point of the text. Yes, my sermon may have been biblically true on those points, but it would not have been scripturally based according to the original intent of Genesis 39. In all this, I would have claimed to be an expositor of the scriptures. I was wrong and I knew I needed to change.
The document linked to here is a joint effort by Dr. Malcolm Yarnell and me to help clarify and lead others to a proper understanding of the Lordship of Christ as it pertains to matters which have been discussed via blogs over the last three years. Below are some excerpts from the paper. I would encourage all the readers of SBC Today to download the document for further reading.
The desire to discover the lowest possible standard before sin happens is not the way Christ expects us to live. Indeed, seeking the lowest denominator may be indicative of an improper attitude about temptation. Instead of seeing how far we may travel away from Christ’s will before we have gone over the edge, one who professes Jesus as Lord should be seeking eagerly for closeness to His will. If He is Lord, He must be Lord of the Christian’s life in truth. This applies equally in the spheres of doctrine and ethics. The Christian should adopt the attitude that asks, “How may I fulfill the standard that Jesus Christ reveals in His Word?” Likewise, the Christian must avoid the opposite attitude, which asks, “How far may I get away from Christ’s commands before it is wrong?”
When the method of theological triage was issued, it was accompanied by a call for theological maturity. We agree and echo this desire for growth, which we believe involves a growth into faithfulness to the Lord. Much of the current crisis in Baptist life circles around the relationship between gospel and faithfulness to Christ. On the one hand, the responsible Christian preacher, like Paul, will be careful to preach the gospel clearly. And he will be careful never to confuse the gospel with legalistic righteousness. Paul’s harsh words about the false teachers troubling the Galatians come to mind: “You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ: you have fallen from grace!” (Gal. 5:4). There is no room for legalism in preaching justification as the declaration of righteousness through faith in the Righteous One.
On the other hand, Paul never treated justification by grace through faith as an excuse for immaturity. The responsible Christian preacher, like Paul in Philippians 3, will not stop with the basics of the faith but will issue a call to forsake immaturity and pursue maturity.
The secondary issues include, according to the offered form of theological discrimination, those doctrines that make us Baptist. One may consider here such important Baptist distinctives as believers-only baptism by immersion, New Testament communion, democratic congregationalism, and regenerate church membership (cf. Baptist Faith and Message, articles 6-8). To term such doctrines “secondary” in the sense of “insignificant” or “unnecessary” or “indifferent” is not only a misuse of theological triage; it may be more egregiously a subtle but significant downgrading of Christ’s Lordship over His church. Indeed, we would argue-building upon an earlier metaphor-that a misuse of the bowie knife of theological triage may end with the consignment of some Christians to the spiritual emergency room. For the church planting enterprise in which Great Commission Christians engage, these second-order doctrines may not be ignored; if they are ignored, chaos and confusion of the Corinthian magnitude will ensue.
What we can and must do for those Christians that are not Baptists is to encourage them to submit even more to the Lord’s will. And when they will no longer listen, we will resort solely to the illimitable power of prayer. With Paul, we humbly pray that those Christians with whom we disagree regarding our Lord’s commands will no longer “think differently” but that “God will reveal this to you also.” Likewise, we would hope that non-Baptists would share the grace of God’s revelation with us where they deem we have not properly interpreted God’s Word.
I would personally like to thank Dr. Yarnell for allowing me to participate in this paper. When we started earlier this week, I had no idea I would learn so much in organizing and presenting a paper. Again, to view the entire document, click here.