Although I do not personally know Dr. Patterson well, I have a lot of respect for him as a person. His leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention over the past years has been of vital importance as we were in danger of slipping further and further away from our biblical moorings. He is clearly a brilliant scholar. I am aware that he was a close friend and co-laborer of my father during the crucial years of the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. It is thus with a certain degree of apprehension that I must now respectfully voice my disagreement with several views he espouses in this paper.
Actually, I have no real bone to pick with the majority of what he writes in this 29-page treatise, which mostly outlines a traditional Baptist understanding of Biblical ecclesiology. It is only when he comes to the section towards the end of the paper on "Missiological Issues" that I find any significant points of disagreement with what is stated. Although this paper was published back in 2001, the truth is, from my perspective, the issues it brings up pretty much "flew under the radar" for many Southern Baptists and IMB missionaries, myself included, up until the recent events involving new policies at the IMB, and Trustee Wade Burleson. The fact that I (and others) am just now responding to them, though, does not necessarily imply a reactionary "jumping on the bandwagon". They are rather deep-rooted issues that recent events have merely brought to the surface, in my opinion.
Copied below is the part of the paper with which I disagree. At the end of this lengthy quote, I will share my comments…
MISSIOLOGICAL ISSUESDr. Patterson’s words in this section are apparently a reaction against "New Directions" at the IMB. They seem to be motivated, as far as I can tell, by a sense of duty to defend the Anabaptist and Baptist ecclesiological heritage, as well as a distaste for and concern about what he calls "Third Wave churches" and the "Neo-charismatic movement". As a result, it seems to me, he wants to throw "the chaos of 5,000 independent African church movements", "unbridled experentialism", "the World Council of Churches" and non-Baptist but "baptistic" evangelical churches and groups, all in the same sack.
Ecclesiological questions also intersect missiology at crucial points. With the advent of “Third Wave churches” partnering with other “Great Commission Christians” and the age of post-denominationalism, new horizons force contemplation of questions of cooperation both new and old. What level of cooperation with others who name the name of Christ is appropriate for Baptist missionaries? Is it sufficient for a church to be merely “baptistic” or must it be “Baptist”?
Actually, the prior question is the matter of integrity. For Southern Baptist missionaries to be involved in planting churches that are not Baptist churches, would not be good news. Integrity demands that a clear policy be articulated to and approved by the Southern Baptist Convention. Then that policy needs to be circumspectly followed by Southern Baptist Convention mission personnel. To accept the funding provided by Baptists and proceed in a direction distinct from what that supporting constituency believes is no different than the actions of the mid-twentieth century liberal and neo-orthodox leadership who deliberately misled the Convention.
The author does not allege that this is what is happening, but it is the case that disturbing reports do continue to filter in from the field. If any of these represent the trajectory of even a few, then that issue must be faced; and a solution acceptable to the Convention must be found.
But why is it important to plant "Baptist" churches? Why is it not enough to plant "baptistic" churches? The first problem arises from the lack of definition of "baptistic." This rather vague, amorphous concept may mean almost anything from "baptizing believers" to insisting on autonomy for churches.
On the other hand, 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.
To the contrary, if we avoid the chaos of 5000 independent African church movements, many of which are de facto cults, as the pattern in all countries or if we do not wish to concede the world to a Neo-charismatic movement sculpted by experience rather than the parameters of God’s Word, then we must tether our new churches to their historical roots all the way back to the New Testament. In no way does this interdict their automony, but it does link them to a strain of Christianity rejecting the Volkskirche concept as well as to the unbridled experentialism that has periodically wasted the church since the days of its earliest manifestation in Montanism. These churches are linked thereby to a "people of the Book," who have continually insisted that every doctrinal belief and consequent practice of the church arise from and be judged by the Scriptures alone.
If someone wishes to suggest that this is nothing less than the imposition of western cultural patterns in other segments of the globe, it need only be rehearsed that "truth" is not subject to cultural variation or manipulation. A pure church witnessing to a dislocated and lost world is New Testament and "Eastern" to the core. Consequently, it is both necessary and appropriate to explore two important questions. First, what levels of cooperation with other Christian groups are acceptable? Second, under what conditions would our own missionaries find it necessary to plant a church that is not statedly a Baptist church?
As I see the answer to question one, there are four levels of participation with other confessing Christians, but with each level narrowing in the scope of that cooperation. Level one is that which is frequently denominated "co-belligerency" in combating social evils. Here we may be so broad as to cooperate with those of non-Christian faiths in such efforts as those made recently by Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Mormons, Roman Catholics, and evangelicals to impact the United Nations in behalf of the "traditional family."
A second level of participation is prayer, although here at least two parameters must be maintained. First, Christians must remain free to pray in "Jesus’ name" as the Scriptures prescribe. Second, I cannot imagine a situation in which prayer would be appropriate among any but monotheistic faiths. But to gather to pray with other monotheists for peace or at time of great calamity seems appropriate. For Christians who are of the same mind about salvation and its consequences to pray for revival or for the lost is surely acceptable. And caution is needed even here since the follower of Christ must keep in mind that God has obligated Himself to hear only prayer in Christ’s name. Christians must then exercise care lest people of other faiths be led to believe that they can approach God in some way other than through Jesus (John 14:6).
A third level, participation in evangelism such as Graham Crusades, showing the Jesus film, etc. seems appropriate, provided the concept of salvation proffered is fully biblical and without compromise. Also, such efforts should not be allowed to become easy stepping stones to the development of less than New Testament churches.
A fourth level raises the old question of acceptable baptism. Whose baptism shall we receive? On this Landmark advocates insisting on rebaptism for many were probably correct but for the wrong reason. I do not believe that New Testament churches should receive baptism from any communion that fails to embrace the nature of salvation by grace alone. Here the shingle out front is not so important. The confession of faith of that assembly is strategically critical.
Finally, there is one level to which we need never proceed. When it comes to the planting of churches we need to do our own work. First, as indicated above, churches that we plant need to have roots of identification with the people who sent the missionary and to the Baptist people of history. In order to establish churches that will remain true to the New Testament faith, churches need a statement of faith informed by the New Testament. Unless we attempt to argue the unprovable, namely a swift return of Christ, then we must plant churches that have sufficient doctrinal comprehension to pass this on to others until Jesus comes.
Another way to state this is to say that there is such a thing as a New Testament church. If this is the case, then for anyone to establish "churches" that are not in keeping with the whole faith of the New Testament constitutes a significant abandonment of at least a third of the Great Commission, namely, teaching all things commanded by Jesus.
But are there exceptions to this? Are there circumstances in which we might plant other than a "Baptist" church? And, of course, the answer must be that it is better to have a church without the Baptist name than to have no church at all.
Conceivably, situations may arise where it is unduly dangerous and/or unlawful to plant a Baptist church. Of course, if this is the case it remains exceedingly doubtful that the word "church" would be any more tolerable than Baptist. The same would be true of most other substitute names. And even if the above conditions prevail, our forefathers accepted the designation in the teeth of persecution; why should we do less?
This paper is certainly not intended as definitive on these issues. It is an effort in light of Baptist history and belief to push to the surface legitimate missiological questions. But a few conclusions seem to me to be abundantly clear. (1) The people paying the bills deserve to know exactly what the missionary practice is. (2) If the mission personnel are out of step with the position of the sending body, they are compelled by integrity to seek employment elsewhere. (3) The threat of a worldwide ecumenism based on the least common denominator is more real and more potentially devastating than it was in the days of the old liberal ecumenism, which spawned the World Council of Churches. The new ecumenism, tied heavily to the neo-charismatic movement, is not where Southern Baptists and their missionaries belong. (4) Except in the most exceptional and remote cases, Southern Baptists should establish Baptist churches and not cooperate with other groups when it comes to ecclesiological matters.
In the final analysis, the conclusion is obvious. If we do not establish distinctively Baptist churches, then our distinctive Baptist witness will gradually die. If it is not a New Testament vision, it should perish. But if it is a vision faithful to the New Testament, then it must be perpetuated. We are primarily about getting the Gospel to the nations and the nations to Christ. But this includes not merely evangelization, but also baptizing and teaching all that Jesus taught. And what Jesus taught included ecclesiology.
In his article "Shoot-out at the Amen Corral: Being Baptist through Controversy" included in the book Why I am a Baptist, edited by Tom Nettles and Russell Moore, Patterson writes:
In all this time, I had read carefully the various members of the Landmark triumvirate, including Theodosia Ernest by Amos C. Dayton, all of J. R. Graves’s available works, and William Pendleton’s contributions on the subject as well as his short systematic theology. I read John T. Christian and even J. M. Carroll’s The Trail of Blood. While I was profoundly influenced by the Landmark tradition in my view of the importance and independence of the local church, I did not follow the Landmarkers in some of their more questionable conclusions. Nevertheless, I dare not fail to acknowledge my indebtedness to them.I wonder what specifically are the "questionable conclusions" of the Landmarkers Patterson does not follow, and what specifically are the areas of his ecclesiology in which he is "indebted to them". It seems to me that perhaps some of the latter surface in these "Missiological Issues". I would argue missiologically (and I believe biblically) that our emphasis must be on planting New Testament churches, not necessarily "distinctively Baptist churches". Don’t get me wrong. I am not against planting Baptist churches. But Jesus did not command us in the Great Commission to "go and plant Baptist churches". He did command us to "make disciples", "baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit", and "teaching them to obey everything he commanded us". And, according to my understanding of the Bible, one of the things about which he commanded us was the essential unity of his Body, the Church Universal.
Since I plan on dealing with the question of "Baptist" versus "baptistic" churches in another post, I will not go into much depth about it here. I do appreciate Patterson’s acknowledgement that it is acceptable to cooperate with other Christian groups at various levels. Some "Landmarkers" would perhaps not go this far. I also plan on dealing more in depth on another post with the question of the various levels of cooperation.
But for now, I leave you with my comments in response to the following statement:
If we do not establish distinctively Baptist churches, then our distinctive Baptist witness will gradually die. If it is not a New Testament vision, it should perish. But if it is a vision faithful to the New Testament, then it must be perpetuated.Although, when taken in context, they may seem to reflect only a slight twist of emphasis, I identify more with the words of Charles H. Spurgeon (quoted on a previous post), "I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ's name last forever."
I can’t help but ask the following questions… Is the Christian & Missionary Alliance vision a New Testament vision? Is the vision of the Plymouth Brethren assemblies a New Testament vision? Is the vision of any number of independent evangelical congregations with baptistic ecclesiology a New Testament vision?, etc., etc. Or does the name "Baptist" bring along with it a "corner on the market" in regards to faithfulness to the Scripture?
And, perhaps, the even bigger question for me…
Am I as an IMB missionary actually demonstrating a "lack of integrity" which ought to "compel me to seek employment elsewhere" because my "Bottom-line Loyalty" is more to the Body of Christ at large around the world than specifically to the Southern Baptist Convention?
My hope and assumption regarding this are that no, that the majority of Southern Baptists, upon really understanding the issues involved, are more interested in seeing the nations won to Christ, disciples made, and New Testament churches planted, than in whether these churches have the "Baptist" label on them or not. However, it seems to me there is a concerted effort underway to influence more and more Baptists to give more and more relative importance to the "Baptist" name and "Baptist" distinctives as over against "generic" New Testament distinctives. And I, for one, in keeping with my understanding of Scripture (i. e. John 17. 20-23 and 1 Corinthians 1.10-17), am not in agreement with this.