By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
God blessed me with birth in a Christian home. My parents instilled within me the culture of what it meant to believe in and live the Christian life. From my earliest days, I learned the core of the Christian faith. I accepted my inherited convictions and values from my parents; and we never missed attending First Baptist Church, Midland, Texas.
Step by step as I moved into childhood and adolescence, I learned that even though my parents were Christians, that didn’t mean I was. Quite the contrary, I myself needed to repent of sin and trust Christ as Lord and Savior. God, the Creator, loved me and gave His only Son that I might have eternal life. Salvation was something I could not inherit. So at age 7, I became a Christian. At age 15, I felt led to answer God’s call to lifetime vocational ministry and said yes to God. Then I shared with my church.
Forming my own convictions. So far, so good: the convictions I held were the ones I had inherited from my parents and also made on my own. But — besides church, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, etc. — I had never personally studied the Bible and the Confession of Faith that we Southern Baptists had adopted in 1925. I had never really questioned anything my pastor or teachers told me.
But that changed one Sunday night. My dad was one of the best Baptists I knew. Yet, he got up from beside me and went forward to make some kind of decision known to the pastor and before the church. When the pastor announced the decision, I was shocked! Dad had come forward for baptism and church membership. No, his baptism wasn’t the complicated kind of whether he felt any kind of earlier baptism wasn’t in the right order or anything. Rather, Dad got saved by grace through faith in the rural Presbyterian church of his upbringing. And that church also scripturally baptized believers by immersion for the same reason Southern Baptists did. But that wasn’t good enough for the understanding of our church in that era. If you changed from one denomination to another, you had to get “baptized” again in our church. So for 16 years Dad had come with Mother and our family to the church, tithed, counted the offerings on Sundays, and was a great help. I thought Dad was a Baptist. He wasn’t.
You can only be scripturally baptized once; anything else is something else. Dad had been scripturally baptized. But my strong truck-driving dad had agreed to get dunked as a requirement to become a member of our Baptist church. A friend had known what I didn’t know and had talked Dad into it. That’s when I really began to form my own convictions in studying the Bible, church history, covenants, and confessions, and further study in majoring in religion and Greek at seminary.
Every person needs to form his own convictions. When I became a pastor, I ran across many people of all denominational persuasions and some who simply believed and practiced what they had inherited. Often, they were hard-pressed to give an answer from within themselves of what they believed. As a young pastor, I got criticized for some of my doctrinal preaching. When I asked the critics what the biblical basis for their criticism was, they often couldn’t give an answer. One woman was typical: “Well, I can’t explain it; but if Brother John Doe were back here as pastor, he could explain it to you.” She didn’t own her answer.
Over many years, I’ve served as pastor, preacher, teacher, and denominational servant. In those decades, I’ve come across many people and churches who never really have formed their own convictions. Ask a pastor or deacon or church member what their church covenant says. Many have a blank look on their face. Ask them what “The Baptist Faith and Message” [1925; 1963 revised; 2000 revised] says about a particular doctrine or teaching. Many Baptists won’t even know what you’re talking about. So retreat to the Bible in your questioning; and many will be equally naïve or ignorant of what to answer. Yet, the Bible says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). Peter wrote, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15).
My convictions remain biblical, Christian, Baptist (in that order). Article XVII. Religious liberty in “The Baptist Faith and Message” (2000), reads, “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” (p. 20). I know what I believe, and it sometimes differs from pastors, teachers, commentaries, and others. But I also know Whom I have believed. What I and other Christians differ on seldom deals with the heart of the faith of God as Creator and Christ as Lord and Savior and what the Bible clearly says. So we agree; and when we don’t, it’s time to be agreeable in spirit. Unity of heart and prayer for your pastor and others and yourself is the Christ-like way both when we agree and disagree. But the stewardship assigned to each of us is to come to our own convictions!
— Copyright 2016 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write him via firstname.lastname@example.org.