Summary: Baptists have brought distinctive truth to the circle of the evangelical faith. However, there appears to be a danger of being of losing the Baptist identify which must be recognised and resisted.
CHALLENGES FACING BAPTISTS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
What makes a Baptist a Baptist? The question is central to the search for Baptist identity. There is no individual Baptist without a Baptist congregation. Staunch advocates of believers’ church, Baptists must answer this question of identity together, as well as individually. Eventually, the answer to this question will shape our churches, our denominational affiliations, and every aspect of our work together.
I observe that the truths which define us as Baptists are sadly neglected today. Even denominational leaders and seminary instructors have permitted a dilution of Baptist theology during the past several years. This is a trend which concerns me deeply, and which should concern each of us both as Christians and as seekers of truth.
The current generation of Baptists knows little about Baptist doctrine. Consequently, contemporary Baptists invest considerable energies searching for some solid ground on which they can base their lives and Christian discipleship. Tragically, this statement is made regarding denominational leaders and teachers in our theological institutions. If those supposed to provide leadership prove to be ignorant of the doctrines Baptist have championed, should we marvel that those occupying the pews of our churches know so little concerning this rich heritage?
The tragedy of this censure is that our Baptist people are joining with non-Baptist evangelicals in a virtual new evangelical ecumenism leading to a number of novel ministry ventures that are not always beneficial to spiritual health of the congregation. Areas of commonality and agreement have been identified with many of these evangelical Christians; and while this trend has positive elements, we have tended to neglect the traits that have forged our unique theological identity and shaped our mission and our passion in pursuing many of these ventures.
The result of this dilution of Baptist doctrine is that we have lost the power of our convictions and too often lost even our identity as a historic people. If we are truly identical to all the other communions, then let us cease clinging to our identity and join with whoever gives us the best deal. However, if we possess distinctive truths which mark us as a people, and if those distinctive truths make us the people we admire historically, then let us return to those truths and proudly proclaim them. Our endeavour is not to proselytise non-Baptists to become Baptists, but it is to clearly articulate truths which may otherwise be neglected to the detriment of the world in which we live.
With the Word of God as our authority, we must relearn the basics and reclaim the richness of our doctrinal heritage. We must rediscover a lost and neglected wisdom, and reconstruct the foundation and framework of our faith. It is time that we were again about this task. If we are to define what it means to be Baptist, it will be necessary that we establish the basis for every belief, the basis for every statement. In order to do this we must agree upon a standard. The standard for faith and practise is the Word of God, and in particular, our authority is the New Testament. That truth needs to be explored thoroughly as we prepare ourselves for the future.
Baptists share many doctrines and practises in common with other religious bodies. In common with Jews, we believe in one God, Creator of all things. Many of the teachings of the Catholic Church are acceptable to Baptists. With them, we believe in one God in three Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We also believe in concert with those of the Roman Catholic persuasion in the incarnation, the atoning death and the glorious resurrection of Christ the Lord. As is true of Catholics, we have high regard for the Scriptures as the written Word of God. We do not hesitate to say that we share similar moral views with both Jews and Catholics and even with Mormons. Nevertheless, we hold most truths in common with other evangelical denominations.
The whole body of evangelical truth belongs to all evangelical denominations. We rejoice in the fact that the things in which we agree are more numerous and more important than the things in which we differ. We join with other evangelical denominations in holding to precious truths such as the inspiration of Scripture, the existence of one God in three Persons, the necessity of the new birth through repentance and faith and salvation by grace and not by works. We hold in common with other evangelical groups the deity, substitutionary death, resurrection, ascension and Second Coming of Christ Jesus our Lord. As is true for all evangelical Christians, we hold a final judgement, with eternal blessedness for the redeemed and eternal death for the wicked.