Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Rebuttal Part II: A False Dichotomy and a Shaky Premise

          The false dichotomy is the most prevalent kind displayed in persuasive writing. Chapter 2 of the Blue Book expounds on a great example: Covenantalists believe in a hermeneutic that leads to continuity within Scripture while Baptists support discontinuity. The false dichotomy then rests on a cracked foundation: the idea that covenants between a superior and an inferior are always conditional.

          “The question of how we should interpret the Bible is at the very heart of the baptism debate—indeed it is the foundational issue.” BB at 15. Justus is spot on with this assessment. Interpretational methods will lead to particular conclusions, or at least to a particular range of conclusions. We may be interested, then, to see how the paedobaptist chooses to interpret Scripture. Here, Justus is quite helpful, as he gives us the “Reformed or Covenantal Method.” BB at 16. This method “sees a basic continuity between the Old and New Testaments, with the New flowing out of the Old and building on its foundation.” BB at 16-17. One could hardly argue with such a method of interpreting Scripture. Though we will soon learn that when it comes to baptism what the paedobaptist means by this hermeneutic is that there is a basic continuity with the way by which God chooses who His people will be—the children of His people are His people—and how they should be marked. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Rebuttal: Part I

     I’m a Baptist of a Reformed bent. I love high-church services, but there’s something about the dunking of converts in vats of water which apparently renders such practitioners incapable of practicing high-church. I prefer Bach to praise choruses; were I a paedobaptist I would find myself much more comfortable on Sunday mornings. Alas, I am not, though I long to be. I’m not alone—many Reformed Baptists feel a little out of place and, having already been properly baptized, make the plunge to a Presbyterian or Episcopalian church of their liking, particularly if their children are grown. My child’s about two, which means this isn’t an option for me.

          Nevertheless, the desire to be convinced of the merit of the paedobaptist view lingers in my mind and heart. So it was with great anticipation I cracked open a book about a credo-baptist’s journey to being a paedobaptist. The book was given to me by its author, who is a good and kind man. His thinking on the issue of baptism, however, is illogical, incomplete, and tinctured by haughtiness, which is to say that it is typical of a paedobaptist’s arguments about baptism. But I write this, my response, not as an attack on the author’s intelligence—his name will not be mentioned, nor will the title of his book. Instead, as I note that his book is typical of the arguments I’ve heard from credo-turned-paedo-baptists, I take it upon myself to rebut the ideas contained therein. You’ll read quotes from the book as I use them to display the thinking, and wrong-headedness of its underlying logic. As I said, I’ll not use the name of the book, but in the spirit of Lewis I shall call it the Blue Book, and I’ll refer to its author as Justus. It is only right that I not refer to the author by name, not only because of my desire not to embarrass him, but because the thinking reflected in the book is not really his own. Justus didn’t lock himself in a room with a lamp and a Bible until he came away with a “proper” understanding of baptism. He adopted the thinking of others, and is now in the Blue Book trying to hook new converts to an idea he finds intellectually appealing.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Value of Confessions of Faith

    Contemporary Christianity faces an intellectual crisis of faith that, regrettably, equals its ethical deterioration. By “contemporary Christianity” we do not mean Christianity inclusive of Catholic or liberal churches but rather contemporary evangelical and Protestant churches including Baptists. By “intellectual crisis” we do not refer to a mere dearth of scholarship at the seminary podium or in the parish pulpit; rather, we mean an intellectual crisis in the typical church wherein the average member and, too often, even the pastor, remain ill-informed about their theological roots and historical identity. For over a century and, more especially in the last fifty years, Christianity has homogenized theologically, resulting in a willful yet unconscious ambiguity about a given religious group’s ecclesiastical and theological ancestry. One wonders if such ancestral forgetfulness results from embarrassment about our religious past or perhaps stems from our desire to excuse ourselves from explaining to parishioners who we really are. Such ecclesiastical denial falsifies many churches’ claims to religious non-affiliation and deceives their membership into believing “we are just a Christian church; we don’t want to be labeled,” when the truth is that, except for extreme cult groups, almost every so-called non-denominational church has a history traceable to a specific theological movement and denominational identity.
    Preeminent among such non-affiliation groups would be the so-called “Bible” churches. What could be simpler, more honest, truer, and more innocent than to say merely that we are a “Bible church”? Certainly, such a claim has been tremendously successful for “Bible churches” since the mid-twentieth century. But the truth is that presumably non-denominational “Bible churches” are in fact quite denominational, though not in name, and easily identifiable in theological and ecclesiastical terms as descendants of the Plymouth Brethren movement, doctrinally characterized by Dispensational Premillennialism and modified Calvinism (viz, refined Arminianism). The same holds true for major non-denominational, “Bible church” seminaries, such as Trinity Evangelical and Dallas Theological. Other, more specific and outstanding examples of this de-identification with ecclesiastical and doctrinal history would be Saddleback Church, California; Lakewood Church, Houston; and Cornerstone Church, San Antonio; who respectively are tethered to historical Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, and Assembly of God traditions. Arguing that denominational tags represent an obstacle to “seekers,” many Baptist pastors, especially those for whom numerical increase of their congregation is a primary goal, follow this trend to disassociate themselves from their denominational identity.
    While most Protestants may reject the Roman Catholic emphasis upon Holy Scripture and tradition, the fact is that, whatever its theological faults, the Roman Catholic Church maintains a loyal respect for tradition that has sustained its identity for many centuries. Except for conservative Episcopalians and Presbyterians, such vivid and consistent identity is not the case with the majority of Protestant churches whether liberal or conservative, especially Baptists.
    One of the major contributing factors to the Baptist denomination’s identity crisis is its polity, its form of ecclesiastical governance, specifically congregationalism. Unlike other conservative groups whose confessional history is highly respected and guarded by a ministerial hierarchy of bishops, presbyters, and elders who govern paedobaptist congregations, the Baptists, wedded to their congregational form of government, are more vulnerable to the shifting opinions, biases, and attitudes of the broader culture from which they draw their membership. This is most especially true of American Baptist churches. In contrast to their European or British counterparts for whom tradition is paramount and where elders and even monarchs still rule, American Baptists inherently have a disdain for tradition and hierarchy, fostered by the political philosophy of the broader culture. In other words, American Baptists too often allow their political opinions to influence and even compromise their ecclesiastical identity and theological convictions; the theory that “all men are created equal” now permeates the intellectual life and ecclesiastical setting of most Baptist churches to the extent that they tacitly believe that “all opinions are created equal”; thus, in terms of doctrinal belief, almost anything goes in a typical Baptist church: “Well, I know what you think” or “Well, I know what they thought,“ but “This is what I think and your opinion is no better, and certainly not more important, than mine.” Such existential subjectivism has resulted in a doctrinal amalgamation of “all things evangelical” within the Baptist denomination so that broad and even antithetical opinions about cardinal doctrines can comfortably coexist within the same ecclesiastical body, shaping it not to look like the unified body of Christ but rather an ecclesiastical smorgasbord that proffers almost every theological morsel to its banqueters. More than this, churches who retain the “Baptist” name are ashamedly unfamiliar with historic Baptist confessions that grounded Baptists historically and shaped the destiny of their denomination. The present writer’s opinion is that the Baptist denomination would do well to recover a confessional grasp of its historic identity, the potential benefits whereof follow.
    First, a valid, time-tested confession of faith represents an historical repository of the declared faith of specific churches, religious organizations, and their leaders, and tethers a contemporary church or pastor to a legitimate ecclesiastical ancestry. One sees such an attempt today among the Founders Ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as among “reformed” Baptists. The Founders group, for instance, typified by such leaders as Albert Mohler and historian Tom Nettles, strongly argues for a return to the original faith of the Southern Baptist “founders,” epitomized in historic declarations of faith such as the New Hampshire, Philadelphia, and First and Second London Confessions. The Founders point not only to the original architects of the Southern Baptist Convention as the rightful heirs of those confessions, but also to the most notable theologians in their history, such as B. H. Carroll and J. P. Boyce. Beyond their own organizational history, Mohler and his cohorts cite the theology of early American Baptists such as John Clarke, Isaac Backus, and Obadiah Holmes as proof of a strong confessional, Calvinistic strain predominant among original American Baptists. An even more conservative group known as “reformed Baptists” led by Albert Martin, Walter Chantry, and others, also strongly emphasizes baptistic confessional history, especially the confession of faith embraced by John Gill and “the prince of preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Second London Confession. To the point, both the Founders and “reformed Baptists” seek to vindicate and legitimize their theological convictions by tethering themselves historically to ancestral confessions of faith. At the local-church and denominational levels, such historical tethering could potentially fortify a pastor’s or congregation’s claim to orthodoxy, especially in times of doctrinal ambiguity, controversy, or schism. If heterodoxy, heresy, or serious theological questions arise in a denomination or church, reference to a biblically-based, historically influential, and well respected confession of faith provides a touchstone of comparison and contrast by which to discern the “faith of our fathers” reposited in confessions and declarations of faith, strengthening our ability to “mark them that causes divisions” and empowering us to “fight the good fight of faith.”
    Presuming its theological integrity, a confession of faith could also serve as an anchor, compass, and lighthouse for the contemporary church. Paul warns the church that, like a wayward ship, she is not to be tossed about by “every wind of doctrine,” and Jude refers to false teachers and their deceptive doctrine as “raging waves of the sea.” One might convincingly argue that many “ships” upon the contemporary religious sea have been driven off course by the fickle winds and waves of unstable doctrine, and are therefore in need of a weighty anchor, an accurate compass, and a bright lighthouse. A confession of faith represents such an anchor, compass, and lighthouse.
    Solomon teaches us that, “in the multitude of counselors, there is safety.” That proverb affirms the wisdom we derive from others. Certainly, we may cautiously look to contemporary leaders and their preaching, writing, and teaching for guidance, but God’s Word teaches us that we should “seek the old paths, wherein is the good way.” Time-honored, time-tested confessions of faith mark those “old paths” and map out the “good way.” A confession of faith is a repository for the collective wisdom of our elders – antecedent theologians, preachers, pastors, and churches from centuries path who, “being dead yet speak” to us as a “multitude of counselors” in whom the contemporary church can find “safety.”
    A confession of faith also provides an effective tool for the sanctification and edification of pastors, individual Christians, and churches. Arguably, Baptists do fairly well with two-thirds of the Great Commission – Evangelize and Baptize – but we often struggle and even fail in our responsibility to its third commandment – Catechize. Certainly, nothing replaces the study, preaching, and teaching of God’s Holy Word; however, we should not neglect to read and profit from ancient documents that our holy and wise fathers have authored as aids to faith for their generation and ours. Alien to the frequent mediocrity and shallowness of contemporary commentaries and religious literature, a biblically tethered, well written confession of faith is, no doubt, the soul’s best guide outside Holy Scripture. Yet almost the entire Baptist denomination neglects that rich vein of theological gold, choosing instead to erect its intellectual edifice with the bendable aluminum of the moment and the pliable plastic of the present. If we would teach, that is, catechize, our children well and, more importantly, the children of God, we could do no better than to return to those old confessions that nurtured our forefathers in their youth – Spurgeon, Bunyan, Gill, Keach, and other great divines.
    Moreover, a confession of faith might result in an unpleasant but healthy reduction in congregational numbers. In a religious generation that has abandoned radical repentance and authentic faith characterized by holy living, a unified confession of faith could separate sheep from goats, wheat from tares, and purify the church ethically and intellectually. But such a confessional revival in the Church would necessitate a radical shift in how pastors interpret their basic philosophy of church ministry, specifically, that the principal aim of the New Testament Church is not numerical but spiritual growth; intellectual unity, not intellectual diversity; and moral accountability, not moral permissiveness coupled with an easy forgiveness that requires no hard repentance.
    A confession of faith is also a window to the past and a mirror of the present. If we would know who Baptists were, we need to peer into history; the most translucent medium through which to look at Baptist history is the windowpane of historic confessions. And if we truly want to see ourselves as we really are, or as we really should be, confessions of faith reflect not only the image of our ecclesiastical forefathers but also an image of ourselves, either convincing us of our rightful inheritance of identity with historical Baptists, or convicting us that who we are does not correspond with who they were.
    Finally, returning to a confession of faith could unify contemporary Baptists. The Apostle James tells us that “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” If instability characterizes the double-minded individual, how much more does it destabilize that collection of individuals known as “the Church.” Paul’s mandate to the church is that she should embrace “one faith” and “speak the same thing” in “the unity of the faith.” Absolute Truth does not respect, tolerate, or encourage diversity of opinion within the body of Christ but rather seeks to “bring every thought captive to Christ,” resulting in actual fulfillment of the biblical mandate that the Church should “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.” But if we speak different shibboleths, we are destined to fall before our enemies, turn upon one another, and find ourselves confused in the tower of theological Babel.
    In summary, the current ecclesiastical trend toward doctrinal homogenization has resulted in an identity crisis in contemporary Christianity. No group suffers more from this malady than Baptists, who have almost completely lost connection to their most influential and noble forerunners whose faith was defined by formal confessions. Severance from our theological ancestry not only obscures our historical identity, it also threatens our claim to orthodoxy as we incautiously follow the popular trend of religious homogeneity. That is an unsafe path, for not only does it lead to compromise and error, it also ensures the “dumbing down” of our congregants for whom we are responsible to “sanctify” by the Truth, casts aspersion upon our forbears, and forebodes the continuing intellectual regression of the entire Baptist denomination (is that possible?). Although a renewed emphasis upon our confessional history might be an enlightening and edifying development for contemporary Baptists, it might also result in a modern exodus from our churches when our congregants, or even our pastors, find out who we really are; however, whatever collateral damage a confessional revival might inflict upon the Baptist denomination, the Bible teaches us that two cannot walk together except they are in agreement, that a divided house or a kingdom must eventually fall, and that even Gideon’s few or David’s outlaw band, when unified, are much more usable to God than a mighty army marching unattuned to their commander’s voice and out of step with their comrades’ strides.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The New Hampshire Declaration of Faith, Revised in Modern English

I revised the NHCF under commission from
our nation's most affordable, fully-accredited seminary.

Written in 1833 with minor revisions in 1853, the New Hampshire Declaration of Faith ranks highly among historic Baptist confessions of faith. While its language and content fall short of the more definitive and eloquent Second London Confession of Faith (1689), the NHCF nonetheless is an important historical document that provides great insight to historic Baptist theology. The NHCF is of particular significance to contemporary Southern Baptists who identify themselves as conservative and evangelical, as it is the foundation upon which modern Southern Baptists set forth "those things most surely believed among us" in the Baptist Faith and Message. Incumbent upon modern Southern Baptists is the responsibility to contemplate and evaluate both their claims of faith and the integrity of their doctrine in light of this document.

I. Of the Scriptures, we believe that the Holy Bible, written by divinely inspired men, is the perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that God is the Bible’s author; salvation the Bible’s end; and, without any mixture of error, truth the Bible’s substance; that the Holy Bible reveals the principles by which God will judge humanity; therefore, the Bible is, and shall remain to the world’s end as the true center of Christian unity, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.

II. Of the True God, we believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God; that God is an infinite and intelligent Spirit; that God’s name is JEHOVAH; and, that JEHOVAH is the Creator and Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth; inexpressibly glorious in holiness; worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; revealed under the personal and relative distinctions of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who are equal in every divine perfection, and who execute distinct but harmonious offices as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the great work of redemption.

III. Of the Fall of Humanity, we believe that mankind was created in a state of holiness under the Law of his Maker; that, by voluntary transgression, mankind fell from that holy and happy state, the result of which is that all humanity are now sinners, not by compulsion but by choice; that humanity’s nature is completely devoid of that holiness required by God’s Law; completely given over to worldly pleasures, Satan, and sinful passions; and, without defense or excuse, humanity is under just condemnation to all humanity’s eternal ruin.

IV. Of The way of Salvation, we believe that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace; that, by the Father’s decree, the Son of God freely but sinlessly took our nature upon Himself; honored the Divine Law by His personal obedience; atoned for our sins by His death; rose from the dead; now reigns in heaven; unites in His wonderful Person the tenderest sympathies (as Son of Man) with the Divine perfections (as Son of God); and, is in all ways qualified to be a suitable, compassionate, and all-sufficient Savior.

V. Of Justification, we believe that Justification is the great Gospel blessing that, from His fulness, Jesus Christ bestows upon those who believe in Him; that, based upon principles of righteousness, Justification consists in the pardon of sin and the promise of eternal life; is not bestowed upon us in any consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through Christ’s own redemption and righteousness; is freely imputed to us by God through faith; brings us into a state of most blessed peace and favor with God; and, secures every other blessing needful for time and eternity.

VI. Of the Freeness of Salvation, we believe    that the Gospel freely declares the blessings of Salvation to all humanity; that the gospel demands of all humanity an immediate heartfelt repentance and obedient faith; and, that nothing prevents the Salvation of the greatest sinner on earth except his own total, inherent depravity and voluntary refusal to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ that will result in his awful condemnation.
VII. Of grace in Regeneration, we believe that, in order to be saved, we must be regenerated or born again; that Regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that Regeneration occurs by the Holy Spirit’s power through Divine truth in a way that is above our comprehension or calculation; that Regeneration secures our voluntary obedience to the Gospel; and, that Regeneration evidences itself in the holy fruit that we bring forth to God’s glory.

VIII. Of Repentance and Faith, we believe that Repentance and Faith are both sacred duties and inseparable graces, produced in our souls by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit; that Repentance and Faith deeply convince us of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and the way of salvation by Christ, through whom we turn to God with authentic (genuine and sincere) contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy and, at the same time, heartily receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King, relying on Him alone as the only and all sufficient Savior.

IX. Of God's Purpose of Grace, we believe that Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He freely regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners; that, being perfectly consistent with the free agency of human volition, Election includes all the means in connection with (and necessary for) the salvation of sinners; that Election is a most glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy and unchangeable; that Election utterly excludes boasting, and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust in God, and active imitation of His free mercy; that Election encourages the use of means in the highest degree; that Election is demonstrated and proven by its effects in all who truly believe the gospel; that Election is the foundation of Christian assurance; and, that we must exercise utmost diligence to “make our calling and election sure.”

X. Of Sanctification, we believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of His holiness; that Sanctification is a progressive work; that Sanctification begins in regeneration; that the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, our Sealer and Comforter, carries out Sanctification in believers’ hearts by the continual use of appointed means, especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer.

XI. Of the Perseverance of Saints, we believe that only true believers endure to the end; that true believers persevere in their faithfulness to Christ, which is the grand mark that distinguishes them from false professors; that a special Providence watches over the true believers’ welfare; and, that true believers are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”

XII. Of the Harmony of the Law and the Gospel, we believe that God’s Law is the eternal and unchangeable rule of His moral government; that  God’s Law is holy, just, and good; that the inability, which the Scriptures ascribe to fallen humans to fulfill the precepts of God’s Law, arises entirely from their love of sin; and, that one great end of the Gospel, and one great end of the means of grace connected with the visible Church, is to deliver fallen humanity from their love of sin, and to restore them through a Mediator to authentic (genuine and sincere) obedience to the God’s Law.

XIII. Of a Gospel Church, we believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers who are associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel; who observe the ordinances of Christ; who are governed by His laws; and, who exercise the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His word; and, that the visible Church’s only proper officers are Bishops or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.

XIV. Of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, we believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion of a believer in water, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, with its purifying power; that Christian Baptism is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation; and, prerequisite to the Lord's Supper, in which the members of the church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; and, always precede with solemn self-examination.

XV. Of the Christian Sabbath, we believe that the first day of the week is the Lord's-Day, or Christian Sabbath; that the first day of the week is to be kept sacred to religious purposes by abstaining from all secular labor and sinful recreations; by the devout observance of all means of grace, both private and public; and, by preparation for the “rest that remains” for the people of God.

XVI. Of Civil Government, we believe that God establishes civil government for the interests and good order of human society; and, that we should pray for, conscientiously honor, and obey civil magistrates except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.

XVII. Of the Righteous and the Wicked, we believe that there is a radical and essential difference between the Righteous and the Wicked; that only those who through faith are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and sanctified by the Spirit of our God, are truly Righteous in His esteem; that all those who continue in unrepentance and unbelief are Wicked in His sight and under the curse; and, that this distinction between the Righteous and the Wicked remains both in death and after death.

XVIII. Of the World to Come, we believe that the end of this World is approaching; that, at the last day, Christ will descend from heaven, and raise the dead from the grave to final retribution; that a solemn separation of the righteous from wicked will then take place; that the wicked will be condemned to endless punishment, and the righteous to endless joy; and, that, based upon principles of righteousness, the judgement will fix forever the final state of humankind in heaven and hell.