Friday, April 24, 2009

Am I a Baptist?

I happened to be on the website of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship the other day and read this statement of Baptist Principles. I almost recoiled in horror as I read them and thought "Well, if that is what a Baptist is, then I haven't been a Baptist for a long time!"

I had read such statements before, but always connected them with the liberal fringe of Baptist denominational life. (I suppose that makes sense since the CBF is the now-separated liberal fringe of the Southern Baptist Convention.) Here is what they have in place of a creed or confession, four "freedoms:"

"Baptist Principles:

1. Soul Freedom – We believe in the priesthood of all believers. We affirm the freedom and responsibility of every person to relate directly to God without the imposition of creed or the control of clergy or government.

2. Bible Freedom – We believe in the authority of Scripture. We believe the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, is central to the life of the individual and the church. We affirm the freedom and right of every Christian to interpret and apply scripture under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

3. Church Freedom – We believe in the autonomy of every local church. We believe Baptist churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whomever they perceive as gifted for ministry, and to participate as they deem appropriate in the larger Body of Christ.

4. Religious Freedom – We believe in freedom of religion, freedom for religion, and freedom from religion. We support the separation of church and state."

There are deep and serious problems with all four principles. Number 1 is a declaration of independence from the creedal tradition of the Church and is therefore cultic in chararacter. It means that one does not have to believe the Nicene Creed in order to be a Baptist, which means that it is possible to be an unbeliever and a good Baptist at the same time - an absurdity. Enlightenment individualism would seem to be the driving ideology here. Number 2 accepts interpretive chaos. Jehovah's Witnesses interpret the Bible, John Spong interprets the Bible, and Dispensationalists interpret the Bible. This principle throws up its hands and says "Who is to say who is right?" Number three appears to make autonomy, rather than organic unity, the postive principle of ecclesiology. No mourning lost Christian unity here. Number four is outrageous in joining with the extreme secularists in proclaiming freedom from religion. The New Atheists would be pleased with their Baptist/Enlightenment allies.

Are these people Baptists or extreme Modernists? Fortunately, not all Baptists are like this. The Southern Baptists at least try to balance the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers with an agreed upon interpretation of Scripture (a confession). They have a statement of Faith called The Baptist Faith and Message. It may not be perfect, but at least it is something more substantive than Oprah meets Harnack.

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