This isn’t the first post that has touched on this subject, and in this case – I plan to be as brief as possible. The primary thing that identifies a particular church (and thus denomination, association, or convention of churches) is doctrine. There are even the cases of “non-denominational churches” that fall into either being non-aligned, but holding fairly clear doctrinal positions (often baptist in nature), or that have absolutely no doctrinal foundation – and thus have no spine or biblical credibility. We Baptists have historically been somewhat confessional (much to the chagrin of many modern baptists), in that we have long held some very firm core doctrines that actually define the term “Baptist”. Among these are:
- The BIBLE– The Inerrant, wholly-inspired, Word of God, given through men across thousands of years as the perfect and complete revelation of God to mankind. It is sufficient for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. The Word of God (the Bible) is the sole authority on faith and practice.
- GOD – There is One True God, who exists in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection, in three distinct persons: The Father, The Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit – all of one substance, power and eternity, undivided. Jesus Christ, the Word, has always existed with the Father and the Spirit, was born of a virgin (took on flesh), lived without sin, with the single purpose to die in full payment for sin that wasn’t His own.
- MAN– Mankind is made by God in His image, created for relationship with God, to bring Glory to God and to Enjoy Him forever. BUT – mankind is, because of Adam’s fall, sinful by nature and has no ability to restore himself to right relationship with God.
- SIN – That which violates God’s Law, that in any way attempts to rob God of His glory, whether sins of commission (actions), or omission (things left undone). For All have sinned and come short…
- Way of Salvation – God has made provision for the restoration of fallen, sinful man through the perfect sacrifice of Himself in Jesus Christ, who took on the penalty of sin that we deserve, and in His death, paid the eternal price for that sin. Salvation is by grace, through faith – not of works. (Ephesians 2:8&9)
- BAPTISM & LORD’S SUPPER – the two ORDINANCES given to the church as signs and as an encouragement to believers as well as a testimony of the gospel in participants. Baptism is the immersion of the repentant convert in water, conducted in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a public sign and profession of the individual’s death, burial, and resurrection with Christ Jesus. The Lord’s Supper, sometimes referred to as Communion, is the memorial meal of the Cup representing the blood Jesus shed for our sins, and the bread – of His flesh broken on our behalf. Jesus commanded His followers “do this in remembrance” of Him. Both ordinances are to be practiced by born-again believers. The Supper to be practiced by believers who are members in good standing of a local New Testament church.
- The CHURCH– is the Body of Christ, expressed explicitly as the Local Body of Believers, yet in a sense understood as the larger union of all true, New Testament believers who are part of the local church.
- PASTORS/ELDERS & DEACONS– There are two distinct “offices” recognized historically by Baptists: Elders (also known as pastors and by various other terms) who are called out and set apart by God and via ordination of the local church, to be undershepherds of Christ’s flock. The New Testament lists some very specific qualifications for a man who desires the office – (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). Among the most obvious are that these are to be MEN (the Greek is unambiguous), of high moral character, and gifted in teaching. Likewise, Deacons – who are not rulers, but men of character and spiritual maturity, who are to carry the primary burden for material/physical care of the local church’s members, with a particular emphasis on widows, orphans, etc.)
- AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH– While Baptists have historically often worked together in various associations and later “conventions”, Baptists have a very biblical perspective of the autonomy of the local church – meaning that each church stands units own, and is beholden only to the Lord Jesus Christ and is not to be subjected to the whims of the secular world, nor to the rule of other churches of entities (essentially the opposite of the episcopal/top-down church government of Catholicism, Methodism, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and others).
Beyond these, Baptists have followed a variety of local church polity from firm elder-leadership, to democratic congregationalism. In ecclesiology, there is a wide range of practices among historic baptists (though congregational government seems to be the most common). Churches are free to associate and cooperate with other churches for the sake of fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission, and for mutual aid and encouragement. It is out of this voluntary association that larger formal Associations (like the BMAA) and the Conventions have come into existence.
I say all this to set the stage for this concern:
Doctrine Matters! It is doctrine that binds a local church together. That “unity of faith” Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:13 that believers ought to be seeking together. This all begins with the gospel itself – that Christ died to reconcile lost sinful man to our Holy and righteous God, by HIS sovereign will and purpose. The fundamental beliefs of any church body or denomination serve as the defining of their faith, and SHOULD be the basis of cooperation and fellowship. This is why Baptists generally reject any cooperation with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses – as they hold very different views of God, Salvation, and even in WHO Jesus Christ is. This is why it is extremely rare to find areas of cooperation between Baptists and Roman Catholics – because their view of salvation and other doctrines are so radically different (and why when there is such cooperation, it is on a single-issue like the right to life).
Even in Baptist history, there have been significant doctrinal dividing points. Early Baptists were divided primarily along Soteriology with the predominant view of Particular Baptists (some might refer to them as Calvinistic Baptists), and General Baptist. While many don’t understand the difference, the underlying division is over salvation – with Particular Baptists firmly holding that salvation is 100% of the LORD *(monergistic- Ephesians 2:8-9), while General Baptists (including those known as “Free Will” Baptists) hold that the individual must gain and hold on to salvation (synergism). It is rare to find these two primary groups associating and cooperating due to this significant difference in soteriology.
In the association of churches I am a part of, the Baptist Missionary Association of America (and the state version), a church is expected to completely affirm our formal statement of faith to be in fellowship and cooperation with us. We believe that an association of churches (voluntary) ought to hold to a common core of values, just as the local church should. A set of theological and doctrinal distinctive that eliminate any misunderstandings on these matters. Beyond these fundamental (primary) beliefs, we allow much more flexibility – whether it be in who the local church invites to the Lord’s Supper table (close vs closed communion), worship style, ministry models, church polity, and even eschatology (theology of end times). But the doctrines that matter, are what bind us together.
I have recently discovered that the Southern Baptist Convention, while having a history of affirming a set of common beliefs, no longer have such affirmation as a criteria for cooperation and fellowship. Maybe this has been a factor for a significant time (I have been trying to research when that came about), but this reality should be a concern. If an Assembly of God congregation decided to cooperate with the SBC, would that be accepted? Based on the current language – the AoG congregation might be found to be in “substantive agreement” with the BF&M. What would stop them?
There are congregations in the SBC who functionally reject parts of the BF&M, including the core belief of sexual immorality, the limiting of the office of Pastor to men, and apparently even the practicing of the “Miraculous Gifts”. Add in that there are some congregations that have pastors preaching blatant heresies that not only directly contradict the BF&M, but shred Scripture – is it any wonder that Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and a myriad of other anti-gospel ideologies have become firmly rooted in many churches? These all find their support in a low view of Scripture -and the question “has God really said?” just as the Serpent used so long ago in the context of the fall.
I would propose that the current “liberal drift” of the SBC (and in other denominations and local churches) is the product of several factors – one originating in another. It is the product of a low view of the Bible, God’s Holy Word – a functional rejection of it’s inerrancy, reliability, and sufficiency, which makes mankind the arbiter and judge of what is and what isn’t/what God did and didn’t mean. But even this is in many ways the product of a woeful failure to make disciples. Making disciples means, as Jesus clearly stated – TEACHING THEM all that I have commanded. It means passing on the doctrines and theology that Jesus (and in a larger sense that all the Bible teaches) – that the man (person) of God is fully equipped. Instead – churches (including baptists) have become the gathering of “feelings” and what is easy, expedient, world-pleasing, and yes – pragmatic. And in a world that hates God, hates Jesus, and hates those who follow and love Jesus (just as HE warned us would happen), pragmatically seeking the world’s approval is doctrinal suicide, and has led to churches that far more reflect the world than the Glorious and Holy God they are supposedly worshipping and proclaiming.