Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Baptist" or "baptistic"?

(This post is an "appendix" to the "Historical Documents" series. My next post will be a summary and conclusion to the series)


I have been asked on several occasions recently to comment on why I believe it is okay for IMB missionaries to plant "baptistic" rather than specifically "Baptist" churches.

Let me start by saying I don’t have anything against planting specifically "Baptist" churches. The last thing I want to do on this blog is "throw stones" at someone for planting "Baptist" churches. My intention is rather to defend those who feel that, in their particular context, it is best to plant "baptistic" churches.

While it is true that the term "baptistic" can mean different things for different people, there is also a wide divergence of belief and practice among people and churches that identify themselves as "Baptist". As IMB missionaries, we already have a good doctrinal guideline (the BF & M 2000) as well as definition of church (the Church Definition and Guidelines referenced on my last post).

In some contexts, the name "Baptist" has negative cultural connotations that serve as an unnecessary impediment to lost people giving a fair listen to the Gospel message. This perception of Baptists may be deserved or undeserved, but nevertheless exists in some cultural contexts. There are some contexts, for example, where Evangelicals, or even Christians, in general, are in such a small minority, that additional labels bring unnecessary confusion to the uninitiated.

Here in Spain, for example, the majority of evangelical churches of all denominations use the same logo and sign on the front of their church building, which says simply Iglesia EvangĂ©lica (Evangelical Church). It is felt that this helps to build a better image in Spanish society, lessening the confusion in people’s minds between Evangelicals and various cult groups. When you throw the name "Baptist" into the mix as well, it can confuse the issue even more, as many people don’t understand there are different denominations of Protestantes or EvangĂ©licos, or why.

In several countries of Latin America, from what I understand, Evangelicals are known merely as Cristianos. I long for the day we can say the same thing here in Spain. For the time being, the term Cristiano, for most people in Spain, is equivalent to Catholic.

Even in the States, in recent years, church growth experts point to the advantage of non-denominational church names, especially in certain areas of the country, and with certain population segments. I wonder, for example, if Rick Warren would have had the same success in Southern California, if his church had been known from the start as Saddleback Baptist Church. Even in the middle of the Bible belt, in suburban Memphis, Tennessee, since the time of my father’s ministry, my home church has intentionally linked its public image to the name "Bellevue", opting to play down the official name, "Bellevue Baptist Church". Ed Stetzer, of NAMB, in his book Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age, goes as far as to affirm: "Most new churches being planted today do not identify their denominations in their names."

Some have suggested that to avoid identifying oneself publicly as "Baptist" is tantamount to being ashamed of Bible doctrine. I would definitely agree we should not be ashamed of biblical doctrine. But I see as completely separate issues being ashamed of biblical doctrine, and naming or not naming your church after a particular doctrine. Why specifically baptism, and not, for instance, substitutionary atonement, or bodily resurrection, or virgin birth, etc.? It would seem to me that the purpose of the name "Baptist" is mostly to separate (or at least to create a separate identity) from other Christians who do not share "Baptist" (or "baptistic", if you will) distinctives. I do not think going without the name "Baptist" necessitates compromising on biblical doctrinal beliefs (which, in my point of view, would almost certainly match up almost completely, if not completely, with what many call "Baptist" distinctives).

Paige Patterson, as you will remember from a recent post, says:

…to call a church a Baptist church is to tap into the historic march of a people bent on a restoration of the New Testament Church. Clearly, the Baptist name is not found attached to churches in the New Testament. But the name apparently assigned to a movement by its enemies came to stand for a body of truths that marked the movement as distinctive. To the three Reformation principles of sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fide, Baptists would add sola Trinitate, doubtless with the approval of the Magisterial Reformers. But then they would also insist on sola ecclesia regeneratorum witnessed by baptism and ordered by the ban, working to disseminate the liberating Gospel of Christ to every person on the earth. For these truths, Manz, Hubmaier, Sattler, and a host of others paid with their blood. For those of us in this generation to trifle with those principles for which they shed their blood would be reprehensible.
While I am certainly "proud" of the theological and testimonial heritage of the Anabaptist leaders, and would not hope for their legacy to be lost to posterity, I think it perhaps even better to commemorate the example left us by the martyrs of the early church, who were content to be identified by the term "Christian". Perhaps, in some contexts, as ours in Spain today, that term creates confusion in people’s minds. But, the truth is, whatever term you choose in most contexts around the world creates confusion in one way or another.

Perhaps the following example will help to illustrate my point. I unreservedly believe in believer's baptism by immersion. I wholeheartedly embrace it as the biblical model of baptism. I also happen to believe in "common loaf communion". My reasons for this are basically the same as my reasons for my beliefs about baptism: 1) The Scripture clearly teaches it in 1 Cor. 10.17; 2) it is a symbol of the important spiritual reality of the essential unity of the Body of Christ (just as immersion is of death, burial, and resurrection); 3) Biblical example almost always refers to "breaking bread", not passing out "pre-prepared wafers" (in the same way biblical example points to believer's baptism by immersion).

Would it not make as much sense to call my church a "Common Loaf Communionist" church as it would a "Baptist" church? However, I would not choose to call my church a "Common Loaf Communionist" church for several reasons: 1) it would, in my opinion, place the main emphasis on a doctrine or practice, which, although important in my mind, is not the central doctrine of the Gospel; 2) it would be communicating to all "non-Common Loaf Communionist" Christians my separation, rather than essential unity with them; and 3) I would be concerned that the name "Common Loaf Communionist" church might provide an unnecessary barrier to the lost.

Am I saying that I believe Baptists are therefore wrong to call their churches "Baptist" churches? Not at all, especially if that name helps you in your quest to reach people for Christ. But please don’t tell those who hold to biblical and even "baptistic" convictions that they are compromising their faith, and are ashamed of the Gospel, when they choose to call themselves something other than "Baptist".

14 comments:

Paul Burleson said...

David....An EXCELLENT post. I was reminded of the time I passed a small church building with a sign out front that read... "Independant, Missionary, King James Version, Fundamental, Premillenial, Baptist Church". The sign was bigger than the church building. [Actual sign seen]
It also reminded me of a statement I heard once that said..."Remember whatever unites you can be dangerous because whatever unites you will ultimately divide you".
So if our unity is based on who Christ is and His work on the Cross as Paul said to the Corinthians, we can agree/disagree on the meaning of or use of Baptistic or Baptist and remain in unity. But IF our unity is based on that,or any other particular issue in our personal theological system we will find ourselves NOT MAINTAINING THE UNITY PRODUCED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD.
This not to say differences/distinctives are not good and even important. That's why I'm a baptist. But true unity is on the basis of something different. Otherwise it would simply be uniformity. Again, I say, no one [ certainly not you or I ] is trying to diminish the importance of distinctive Baptist beliefs. Let's hold to them, teach them to our churches, new believers, children, and to anyone who will listen, but let's be free to express them as unique beliefs NOT our ground of unity as a family.
You challenge and bless me...THANKS

Paul Burleson

Anonymous said...

David,

I like your "Common Loaf Communion" church analogy. The problem is that too many folks who either believe or are influenced by Landmark theology would indeed, applied to your analogy, withhold fellowship and/or cooperation from the "non-Common Loaf Communion" folks.

That may sound silly, but that is essentially what is happening, among some of our IMB trustees.

Anonymous said...

Very good post, David. I thank God for your discernment and your spirit. May God bless you always.
Former "Missy"
Florence Young in KY

Micah said...

David, as usual this is a fantastic, well researched, thouroughly thought out post.

I particularly enjoyed your insights in regard to our own SBC churches in the USA that fail to utilize "baptist" in their name. Many of these churches are lauded as examples in our convention.

Additionally, I really liked your statement, It would seem to me that the purpose of the name "Baptist" is mostly to separate (or at least to create a separate identity) from other Christians who do not share "Baptist" (or "baptistic", if you will) distinctives. In this sense, it helps us to understand that use of the word "baptist" is in many ways adjectival, rather than a symbol of afiliation. Understanding the word in this manner will help us to refrain from demanding conformity and help us to celebrate our unity in, and through, diversity.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

The name "Baptist" is of course, not sacrosanct.

However, "baptistic" implies that the church is less than "Baptist" in principle.

David, all of your arguments seem to be pushing the envelope of Baptist distinctives. Are you ashamed of being a Baptist? If so, why work for the SBC?

David Rogers said...

Anonymous,

I have chosen to work for the SBC for the following reasons:

1. Among various churches and mission organizations, I more closely identify with the SBC doctrinal position than with most all of the others.

2. I believe the SBC Cooperative Program, and especially the strategic vision of the IMB under current leadership, provides an excellent platform from which to obey the Lord's command given through the Great Commission.

3. Having grown up in Southern Baptist churches, and having been sent out as a missionary by a Southern Baptist local church, I have a special sense of spiritual family relationship with Southern Baptists.

None of this, in my mind, however, conflicts with anything I have said in my post.

jerry cadenhead said...

David,
Good blog. I think sometimes we some folks in the IMB need to be reminded that Jesus is our standard and not
Gamaliel.
Jerry

David Rogers said...

Jerry,

Hey man, great to run into you here in "blog-town".

Blessings,

David

Micah said...

David, I just read on Wade's blog that you will be in Greensboro. I look forward to hopefully having the privilege of meeting you there.

David Rogers said...

Micah,

I would love that! Let's count on it.

David

Kevin Stilley said...

Hello David,

Your post shows a big heart and I am grateful for your service. However, I am having trouble following your line of argument. It seems to break the rules of logic.

Four times during the course of your posting you use the word "confusion." As long as wise men have pondered the difficult questions regarding God's world and God's work they have been unified on the principle that when there is "confusion" you make a "distinction." You seem to be moving in the opposite direction -- away from distinction. It is a shame that Anonymous jabbed at you with his question "are you ashamed of being a Baptist?" for two reasons, (1) it is obvious you are a committed Baptist, and (2) because Anonymous was actually making a good point up to that time. Namely, that "baptistic" means less than "Baptist." A basic law of logic is that increased connotation results in more precise denotation. With less connotation ("baptistic") the inevitable result will be more encompassing, and more ambiguous identification. It does not make for a clear presentation of the gospel when "baptistic" missionaries are mistakenly identified with those who teach a doctrine of works, or modalists, or the many other groups with which one will be identified if one declines to clearly identify oneself.

The Chinese communists were frustrated because sparrows were eating rice out of the fields. Their solution? They killed the sparrows. After killing vast numbers of the sparrows they found that the result was "diminishing returns." Why? Because the sparrows, while problematic, were also eating far more insects than they were rice. Without the sparrows the insects wreaked havoc on the crops. If we kill the name Baptist because it has some annoying drawbacks (like the Sparrows eating some rice), the result will be that we end up with a far greater problem (insects) in that we have assumed a more ambiguous identification that only invites greater confusion.

My dear brother, the fields are white unto harvest. Let us pray together that God will send many more laborers into them. And, as we go, let us be wise in our approach, by choosing the narrow way.

Your brother in Christ,

Kevin

David Rogers said...

Kevin,

In my opinion, confusion is not always resolved by narrowing parameters. I would say "confusion" is also caused by "majoring on the minors". In the long run, the way to avoid confusion is to delineate between primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrine, and to base your main identification accordingly. I am, for example, first Christian, next Evangelical, and next Baptist (not to imply all "evangelical" or "Baptist" distinctives are necessarily "secondary" or "tertiary"). If I were to reverse this order, though, I believe I would thus be creating "confusion".

Gary Duke said...

David,

God bless your work. I am a Bellevue Baptist Church member. I have heard your father say several times, "What would I be if I weren't a Southern Baptist?" as he alluded to the stated doctrine we have adopted and as Southern Baptists we share.

Dr. Rogers' work (and that of the team) on the the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message was incredible. I want to be associatiated with a church (Bellevue Baptist Church) which separates itself from the world in terms of what doctine and Who is believed, encouraged, and followed in our lives. We must be careful to not blur the distinction between this doctinal approach and other churches who are not as focused on biblical truth. It might make us more "seeker friendly" but is that the best course?

Thank you.

Gary

Anonymous said...

jerry is my uncle!!hey buddy love george