Summary: The basis for our faith and practise must be the authority of God’s Word, and not our own personal experience. This concept is explored through referring to the instruction Jesus provided to people who had believed Him.
“Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”?’
“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.’
“They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.’ They said to him, ‘We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.’”
We are currently exploring the particular doctrines that should define the Faith of a Baptist congregation. What truths define Baptist theology? How do Baptists differ from other evangelicals? These questions should concern each of us. If we are identical to other Christians, bringing nothing to the table that would distinguish us from every other Christian, perhaps we have no right to continue to hold a separate identity. If we are really like all other evangelical Christians, perhaps we should close the doors of this building and lend our full support to some other evangelical church with whom we will be best able to fulfil the commission of our Master.
I am convinced that Baptist theology is biblical theology; this should certainly hold true for every Baptist congregation. Moreover, certain truths distinguish Baptists as a community of faith. Historically, we Baptists influenced evangelicals to become baptistic in practise. In recent years, a form of evangelical ecumenism has influenced Baptists to become less distinctive. It is time to seek again those ancient landmarks.
“Do not move the ancient landmark
that your fathers have set.”
I hold these Baptist convictions as a sacred trust. The distinctive truths which mark us as a confessional people have been set as landmarks, and no conscientious Christian should ever seek to move those ancient landmarks. I was not born Baptist, nor was I raised Baptist; I gained Baptist convictions through study of the Word of God and through defence of this Faith in the arena of daily life. Whenever someone asks me what I would be if I were not a Baptist, without hesitation I state that I would be ashamed.
We must be careful not to jettison the truths that have historically marked Baptists congregations simply because we no longer wish to be burdened with them. Those truths represent the labours of dedicated servants of the Lord Christ as they defined and defended this holy Faith throughout the long ages since the Saviour’s Resurrection. Nor will we quickly desert these doctrinal tenets, if we but understand their significance and the consequences arising should we refuse to embrace them any longer.
In messages yet planned, I propose, by God’s mercy, to examine the distinctive truths which combined, define us as Baptists. For the moment, you will do well to note these distinctive truths in the margin of your Bible. The distinctive beliefs which mark us as Baptists include the following seven truths: the authority of Scripture; the lordship of Christ; a regenerate church membership; congregational church polity; religious liberty; soul competency; and believer’s baptism. Individually, any of these truths may be claimed by other, especially evangelical, Christians. Taken together, these truths distinguish Baptists from other believers and define us within the Christian community.
CONFLICT BETWEEN AUTHORITY AND EXPERIENCE — The words of the Master that are preserved in the Scriptures are powerful and profound. He was never superfluous in His statements to those about Him. The opening words of our text constitute one of the simplest, and yet most profound, statements defining the Faith of Christ the Lord. The Master is recorded as stating, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” [JOHN 8:31, 32].
It is intriguing that Jesus spoke these words to Jews “who had believed in Him.” Across North America on any given Sunday, thousands of sermons will be preached to Christians, urging them to live like Christians. Thousands more sermons will be preached to those who are not Christians, urging them to become Christians. It is doubtful that many sermons are preached during that same timeframe to those who are generally convinced of the veracity of the doctrines of Christianity and who think they are Christians, but who, nevertheless, have never brought their lives under the reign of Jesus as their Master and Saviour. Tragically, I suspect that this is the situation confronting the average preacher in North America on any given Sunday.