By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
My “Baptist” dad went forward at invitation time one Sunday night when I was 16. I didn’t have a clue why he might be doing that. All my life Dad had done all the Baptist things the rest of our family did: the whole shebang. Growing up, I had never wondered why Dad took me to the Presbyterian Church in Sandusky, Texas, when we visited his home. But I found out. Dad was still a Presbyterian by church membership even though he practiced Baptist to the bone. I overheard one shocked lady laughingly say, “All these years we trusted Johnnie with counting the church’s money; and he wasn’t even a Baptist.”
Baptism and Baptist membership: In my early years, most Baptist churches seemingly matched my home church’s belief: namely, you had to have the right subject, the right mode, the right baptizer, and do it within Southern Baptist life. Otherwise, it wasn’t Scriptural. Dad got saved by grace through faith and totally immersed in a creek to symbolize that born-again experience. In the Presbyterian church, his baptism had been Scriptural. But Baptist doctrine requiring him to be Baptist-baptized had kept him from joining the Baptist church. Besides baptism symbolizing salvation, we had also made it a symbol of denominationalism and doctrine. Real Scriptural baptism occurs once. Today? Even our International Mission Board just agreed with what I just said. Baptism requires a believer symbolizing his born-again experience in immersion. That’s it. You can get baptized outside Baptist life. The Ethiopian eunuch and Philip proved that in New Testament days. But believer’s baptism only by immersion is biblical!
Baptists and the Bible: To even ask if Baptists are becoming more biblical implies we might have been less biblical on some points. Neither God nor the Bible changes, but Baptists have changed and probably need to change some more. The core is the same, but some tweaking to get more biblical is always a good thing. And more than nits are concerned here. The key question is, “Scriptural or unscriptural?”
Candidates for foreign missions, pastorates, deaconship, and denominational positions have often excluded themselves from positions if they’ve been honest. For example, “speaking in tongues” or “prayer language” became an up-front test to consider or exclude mission candidates. Divorced persons were excluded despite legitimate biblical reasons for their divorce and then their repentance of any sin. Baptists still differ on matters like these and on who can partake of the Lord’s Supper. Some require baptism before you can partake of the Lord’s Supper. So you can’t get saved in a service and then partake of the Supper if you haven’t had time to get baptized. Each Baptist church has to decide for itself how to interpret the Bible and how to practice what it believes. But no entity can decree by creed any requirement less or more than what the Bible itself requires.
Baptist confessions, covenants, and creeds: A confession of faith is what a group agrees that the Bible most clearly teaches and which they intend to practice. A covenant formally spells out what and how individuals and churches agree they will commit to believe and live. A creed tends to be a legalistic document for inclusion or exclusion or punishment in church membership and life. Every Baptist would do well to have a good understanding of Baptist history and confessions. But sadly most of our era lack knowledge of our origins, confessions, and cooperative agreements. I will mention only these few items: Anabaptists, “The New Hampshire Confession of Faith,” “The Baptist Faith and Message” in its editions of 1925, 1963, and 2000. What Baptists have even read those documents, much less understood and committed to them? Yet, those who would work for Southern Baptist Convention agencies are required to assent to agreement with the 2000 “Baptist Faith and Message”— much like a creed. The Cooperative Program captures the right spirit of New Testament Christians confessionally alike joining together.
If Baptists are to have a creed, it should be the Bible. If Baptists are to practice beliefs and a way of life, it should be biblical, New Testament, and Christ-like. Even the framers of confessions of faith set out limits in the prefaces of the confessions. The framers note that the documents are human; they are subject to change; and they are not equal with Scripture itself. Baptists claim to be a confessional people, not a creedal people. Nevertheless, standards for membership and leadership in service should match the New Testament. Instead of wordy exceptions about a practice, our documents of belief and practice should simply withstand the test of “scriptural or unscriptural?”
My Baptist testimony: Literally born into the Cradle Roll of First Baptist Church, Midland, Texas, I’ve always been Baptist. At age 7, I was saved in a Baptist church and then baptized. At age 16, I was licensed to preach in my home Baptist Church; and then the church ordained me to preach at age 21. I graduated from a Baptist university and seminary; and I worked my career in one of our Baptist agencies. Along with all that history and heritage, I also found myself working in cooperation with Christians under all kinds of labels. My strongest experiences were international book fairs and seminars I worked behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s and behind the Bamboo Curtain in the 1990s. The Christians there — saved by grace through faith —didn’t ask me about fine points of denominationalism. It was enough that my born-again heart beat with theirs; and the blood in my veins was like theirs that flowed from the Lamb of Calvary. And we worshiped and shared Christ together.
The Allied Forces in World War II each had our countries, our ways of governing, and our differences. But we were more united in warring against AXIS Powers than any divisions among us. We won! And the world won!
The same is true as we Baptists persistently work at becoming even more biblical than we have been. Titus 2:1 says, “Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (KJV). As we unite with other Christians, we will hold our biblical distinctive and cling to biblical truths. We will not compromise, but we will cooperate in the name of our Lord and Savior for His glory and to defeat Satan in winning the world. Akin to Martin Luther, “Here I stand; I can do no other!”
— Copyright 2015 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write the author at email@example.com.