THEOLOGICAL STUDIES

Baptist Beliefs

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BELIEFS DISTINCTIVE TO BAPTISTS

XVII. RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has Left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Gen 1:27; 2:7; Mat 6:6-7, 24; 16:26; 22:21 John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Rom 6:1-2; 13:1-7 Gal 5:1, 13; Php 3:20; 1Ti 2:1-2; Jas 4:12 1Pe 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19


Every Person Has the Capability to Have a Relationship with God

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that _____________________ believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

"For we must ___________ stand before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10)

Probably the distinctive Baptist belief with its implications is that every person is competent, that is, has the capability to have a relationship with God. This does not mean that every person does; it's just that God has made every person capable (competent) to have that relationship with Him. (E.Y. Mullins, former President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY who was born and baptized into FBC Corsicana called this belief "The Competency of the Soul.") Moreover, everybody is personally responsible to God for his relationship with God. On Judgment Day God will not ask me to be accountable for your actions, nor you for mine. You and you alone are going to be held accountable for your relationship. As a result, you must be given the freedom to express the relationship with God you believe He wants you to have.

This foundational Baptist belief has many implications: (1) religious freedom, (2) priesthood of the believer, and (3) a congregational style of church government.


Religious Freedom

Because you and you alone are held accountable for your relationship with God, you must be given the freedom to grow in that relationship. Your relationship (or lack of relationship) is between only you and God, and nobody else. As a result, Baptists pushed for separation of church and state. No one should force you to attend church or even a particular denomination for that matter.

Unfortunately few Baptists understand the impact they had in promoting this belief. Because of Baptists in Virginia (particularly George Mason) James Madison agreed to insist upon adding religious liberty to a Bill of Rights attached to the Constitution. [James Madison who wrote the Constitution was finding it difficult to get elected to the Constitutional Convention which would ratify the Constitution for the state of Virginia; the reason was that many Baptists were extremely suspicious of Madison because he refused to include a Bill of Rights in the main body of the Constitution. After spending time with John Leland, a prominent Baptist minister in Virginia and an ardent supporter of a Bill of Rights, Madison was elected to the Virginia Constitution Convention which ratified the Constitution for the state of Virginia. After the ratification of the Constitution, Madison led the way in have a Bill of Rights attached to the Constitution as the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution. See: http://transformationvirginia.com/how-a-local-baptist-preacher-changed-the-course-of-u-s-history/.) The first amendment to the Constitution declares that Congress shall not enact any law restricting the exercise of religion. Until the Bill of Rights had been enacted into law, religious liberty was unheard of. When the Puritans came to the New World for religious liberty, they came so that THEY could have the freedom to worship God the way they wanted. Non-Puritans were persecuted in the Massachussetts Bay Colony. It was Rhode Island Plantation, a Baptist colony, which instituted religious libery. There even Quakers (non-Baptists) were allowed to hold the position of governor. In Providence the capital of Rhode Island stands FBC of America (founded by Roger Williams) and Brown University, likewise established by Baptists. It is no wonder then that Baptists still continue to lead the fight in perserving the doctrine of religious liberty and separation of church and state.


Priesthood of the Believer

1 Timothy 2:5 "For there is one God and _________ __________________ between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 2:5 "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy ______________ to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

Revelation 1:6 "And He has made us to be a kingdom, _____________ to our God and Father."

Next, because you can have a relationship with God because of what Christ has done, you need no other person to mediate in your relationship with God. Because Christ has removed the sin barrier, you can approach God in prayer and also present God to people. One person, when asked what the priesthood of the believer meant, replied: "There aren't any priests!" Wrong. It means all Christians now are priests.

One area in which the priesthood of the believer operates is the right for each Christian to interpret Scripture the way he believes God wants him to interpret it. Since you and I are responsible for what we believe, we must be given the right to interpret the way we believe God wants us to interpret it. This does not mean that your or my interpretation is right; it just means we have the right to interpret it the way our conscience dictates. (Now don't restrict priesthood of believer to just the right to interpret Scripture the way you believe; it also includes approaching God directly through Jesus and also presenting God to the world.)

Congregationalism

Finally, because we can all have a relationship with God and because the Holy Spirit lives in all believers (not just a select few), Baptists believe that in the church all Christians are equal. (The Spirit lives in the poor man as much in the rich and in the not-so smart as in the intelligent.) As a result, all Christians are equal.

This equality affects the way our church governs itself. Because the Spirit lives in all believers, the church itself is the final human authority, not the deacons, the staff, or the committees. The church is that final human authority. As a result, it has the final say in all church matters.

This does not mean that Christians now can do whatever they want. Since Christ is the ultimate head of the church, each believer is to pray and ask what Christ wants with regards to decisions facing the church. The believer then should vote only the way he believes God wants him to vote as the church comes together to vote. It should not be just you voting. It should be Christ through you voting.

This does not mean that there are not other authorities in the church. It is just that these other authorities derive their authority from the church. These authorities--the pastor, deacons, and committees--should be and have the right to be held accountable by the church.


In Acts 20:17-35 Paul is addressing the same group of people. What are these people called in Acts 20:17?

Yet what are they called in Acts 20:28?

What is another function of the elders mentioned in v. 28?

The pastor then is the shepherd (elder, overseer) of the church. These 3 terms describe 3 different aspects of the pastor. The label "overseer" refers to his supervisory role in the church. The term "elder" comes from the Jewish synagogue in which older men in the church governed the church. (The Jews equated age with wisdom). Although our pastors do not have to be "old," they should have the spiritual maturity which many times does come with age. For this reason Paul says that a pastor should not be a new convert (1 Tim. 3:6). The term "shepherd" refers to his pastoral role, feeding and caring for the flock of God.

The pastor leads by persuasion and life, not by dictum (1 Pet. 5:2). The deacon body are servants of the church, supporting the ministerial staff by taking care of affairs which allow the ministers to minister the Word to people. (The idea behind the Greek word for deacon is that the deacon serves so fast and furiously that he stirs up dust; he doesn't collect it.) Since the church cannot meet every time a decision needs to be researched and made, the church delegates authority to competent people who make up committees. The committees are extensions of the church; they are to report to the church. Although the church has authorized them for certain functions, they report back to the church as a form of checks and balances. No one and nothing is over the church, except for Jesus. The pastor and the ministerial staff should be in front of the church guiding it, while the deacons should be below the church serving it and supporting it.

We see the relationship between the pastors and the church in Acts 15. The church is in crisis trying to decide if a person is saved solely by grace through faith or if he also needs to be circumcised. Look at the heavy hitters in this debate: the great apostles Peter and John (see Gal. 2:1-10), Paul and Barnabas, and lastly James the half-brother of Jesus who has taken over as head of the Jerusalem church. After Paul and Barnabas had presented their side of the debate, after Peter had urged the church to endorse Paul's theology of salvation by grace through faith, after James had sided with these other 3, then Luke writes: "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders with the whole church to choose men from among them to send to Antioch . . ." (Acts 15:22). (We also see the Jerusalem church, not the board of elders or even pastors, being the ones entrusted with the role of choosing the first 7 deacons--see Acts 6:5: "And the statement found approval with the whole church, and they chose Stephen . . .") The bottom line is this: if it was necessary for Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James to seek the church's approval, then how much more should the rest of us seek the church's approval. As long as we are all responsible for the church, we all must be given our appropriate amount of say in the way the church governs itself.

(Beware of anyone saying: "Oh, we shouldn't have to take that to the church" or "Oh, we don't have to vote on that, we can just do it." That attitude may be one of fear--"I'm afraid the church won't give me what I want" or it may be out of a sense of superiority--"I don't have to give an account to the church because I am above the church." Or it may simply be that we believe that the church has authorized us to do a certain task and we don't have to report back to the church. Just make sure that is what the church has done. It may want you to report back for a vote to make sure that you did not violate the parameters set by the church.)

Every now and then you hear somebody talk about Robert's Rules of Order either as being divine or as being an obstacle in the way of the Holy Spirit. Robert's Rules of Order is basically an agreed-upon way to conduct church business. If you don't have an accepted way of conductin church business either one of 2 things is going to happen--anarchy or dictatorship. Neither is acceptable. Robert's Rules of Order simply enables each church member to be heard in the church.

Recently our church has been looking at our church government. Some claimed that we should have an advisory board because the early church had elders. Again, if you look closely at passages such as Acts 20:17-35, 1 Pet. 5:1-8, and 1 Timothy 5:17-18, you will see that the NT elder is the modern equivalent to our ministers. The modern concept of a Board of Elders comes from, once more, John Calvin, who simply did not trust his people but felt that only a few from the church were competent to lead the church. Until only these few are responsible for the church, then they don't need to be calling the shots for the church. As long as the church as a whole is responsible for the whole church, then it needs to be the final decision-making body in the church.


BELIEFS DISTINCTIVE TO SOUTHERN BAPTISTS

Cooperation

Cooperation is not distinctive to Southern Baptists; however, Southern Baptists (and American Baptists) are few among Baptists who practice cooperation. In some denominations the individual churches send out their own missionaries. The beauty about doing this is that these missionaries report back regularly to the sponsoring church about the wonderful things God is doing through their ministries. The first drawback to this though is that not every church can afford to send out a missionary. This approach cuts out the smaller congregations from engaging in missions. The second drawback is that if a sponsoring church goes under financially, that church's missionary can find himself stranded out in the mission field. (This is exactly what happened to a friend of mine who was a missionary during the 20's and 30's in the Belgian Congo.) No missionary should have to worry about such things. He should be free from such considerations so that he can concentrate on saving souls.

Theological institutions were a later development within the SBC. (Whereas the SBC was created in 1845, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was not created until 1859.) Missions is what has brought us together, and missions should be what keeps us together.

The Cooperative Program is a system set up by Southern Baptists so that the churches can be more effective especially in the area of missions and in all areas of education. Before the CP was instituted in 1925, a church would give some money to a missionary agency and might not give to the theological institutions. Whenever you give to the CP, a certain % goes to missions, while another % goes to theological education.