Monday, May 08, 2006

Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Part 7

From a historical point of view, it would be an error to attribute the proclivity of Southern Baptists towards avoiding cooperation with other evangelical groups solely to the Landmarkist Movement. The Landmarkists, while emphasizing specifically Baptist distinctives, and eschewing cooperation with non-Baptists, have at the same time traditionally defended, more than perhaps anyone, the autonomy of the local church.

Regarding the new IMB policies related to new missionary candidates and "private prayer language", and baptism, it is somewhat ironic that Landmarkism is being referenced as a major influence, in light of comments such as the following by J. R. Graves, in an article pubished in 1858 in The Tennessee Baptist
We do not believe that the Foreign Board has any right to call upon the missionaries that the churches send to China or Africa, to take a journey to Richmond to be examined touching their experience, call to the ministry, and soundness in the faith. It is a high-handed act, and degrades both the judgment and authority of the Church and presbytery that ordained him, thus practically declaring itself above both.
In light of the recent developments in the IMB, I have been going over recently the book The Southern Baptist Convention and its People 1607-1972, written by Robert A. Baker, and published in 1974 by Broadman Press. One of the chief developments that Baker traces throughout the book is what he calls "denominational consciousness". It is my conviction that this "denominational consciousness", while at many times, directly at odds with Landmarkism, has had the overarching effect of promoting a denominational unity, based many times on common methodology and structures, which largely has come at the expense of a more evangelical unity, based on a common relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and a common commitment to biblical essentials.

Consider, for instance, the following quotes from Baker…
"It will be recalled that the three principal societies in the North were organized in such fashion as to minimize denominationalism while emphasizing the appeal of a particular benevolence. The society method stressed independency; the convention method stressed connectionalism or denominationalism… Had the South simply formed separate benevolent societies for each type of activity, it would have been possible for the various societies, conceived as they were, to relate to one another on the basis of their common task, whether located in the North or the South. It is doubtful that a denominational rigidity would have developed… The organization of a territorial convention, on the other hand, brought a geographical consciousness and a total denominational loyalty, still intensified by sectional passions, into structured form in the South." (pp. 242-43)

"In 1893 the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution which marked the beginning of [the Baptist Young People’s Union of America] in its structure. The resolution recommended that young people form societies that were "strictly Baptistic and denominational and be under the sole authority of the local church without interdenominational affiliation." (p. 275)

"James E. Tull is probably correct in suggesting that Landmark ideas had filtered into the bloodstream of Southern Baptists, for some of them are still evident; but the radical denominational enlargement and concentration beyond the local church level that took place in the early decades of the twentieth century in the structure and functions of the Southern Baptist Convention point unerringly to the disintegration and overbalancing of Landmark views. A strong Landmark undercurrent would have rendered impossible what took place in Southern Baptist organizational life between 1917 and 1972." (p. 284)

"… standardized methods and uniform structural patterns were developed by talented men in leadership and exploited through financial assistance to seminaries and state bodies, magnified in the literature used by almost every Southern Baptist church, and promoted through field workers, study courses, state papers, and all other media of Southern Baptist information. The effect on the life of Southern Baptists can hardly be estimated. New direct leadership was provided at the Convention level and channeled through parallel structures developed in the states and associations for each benevolence (i.e., Sunday School, Training Union, Vacation Bible School, etc.) so that churches were provided patterns, motivation, and nearby assistance in the promotion of all of these areas of service. These were large factors in developing the denominational consciousness of Southern Baptists that tied them to the structures, methods, and doctrines of the Southern Baptist Convention." (p. 296)

"Reference has already been made to the unifying effect of the work of the Sunday School Board. Another significant factor was Woman’s Missionary Union. Following the organization of their general body in 1888, they rapidly became a substantial cohesive force in their state and Convention-wide programs of devotion, missionary education, enlistment in missionary activity, and promotion. The impact of these and other influences on the constituency of the Southern Baptist Convention, unifying all of their denominational loyalties in a single general body and interlacing their religious activities in common denominational patterns, can explain the reluctance of Southern Baptist people to affiliate with even other Baptist churches of the same general doctrinal stance in states outside of the South." (p. 337)
What is my point in this post? To defend Landmarkism? No, I definitely do not believe that Landmarkism is the direction we need to go as Southern Baptists. However, at the same time, I recently added my name to the list of "adjunct signees" of the Memphis Declaration, indicating my agreement (along with the rest of the statement) with Point 6, a point most avowed Landmarkists would gladly sign as well:

We publicly repent of having misplaced our priorities on the building and sustaining of institutions of secondary and far inferior importance than the local church.

Therefore, we renew our pledge to the local church as the primary focus of our ministry and service to advance the Kingdom of God and bring glory to his Son.
My point is, it doesn’t matter if you are Landmarkist or Denominationalist, if your views on ecclesiology keep you from strategic cooperation and fellowship with other born-again, biblically conservative, evangelical Christians, you are going against the wishes of our Lord expressed in John 17.20-23 and 1 Corinthians 1.10-17, and may well be more of an obstacle than a help in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

1 comment:

KRM said...

David,I just read this post. This is great ! I applaud this and response to Jerry Corbaley !