Summary: Despite the independence to which Baptists hold, we seek to co-operate with fellow believers to the extend permitted by the Word.
“Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the Law of Moses.’
“…Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: ‘The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’”
Baptists are an independent people. I don’t know that we should brag about it, but it has been observed that where there are two Baptists, there will be at least three opinions. Baptists advocate the autonomy (independence) of the local church and stress freedom for believers. However, we frequently lose sight of the fact that when our independence overrides our desire for unity in the Faith we have deviated from the Faith. We insist on the independence of the believer; we are equally insistent that there can be no deviation from foundational truth. Certain revealed truths define us as Christians; and adherence to accepted doctrinal truth defines us as Baptists. There can be no deviation from these truths without transforming us into something we are not.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man; we believe that He died a sacrificial death because of our sin, that He rose from the dead and that He ascended bodily into Heaven where He is seated on the right hand of the Father. We believe that solely by faith in the Risen Son of God sin is forgiven and man is brought into a living and right relationship with the Living God. We believe that these truths are revealed in the Bible, which is inerrant and infallible in the original manuscripts.
Baptists are known as consistent advocates of religious liberty. Baptists hold to the autonomy of the local church—no outside agency can dictate to the congregation in matters of faith and practise. We champion the concept of the priesthood of the believer, believing that each Christian enjoys equal access to God. We accept two ordinances—baptism of believers and the Lord’s Table for those who have identified with Christ in baptism as believers. We promote the biblical doctrine of a regenerate church membership; and we hold to two offices within the church—elders and deacons. All these truths arise out of our conviction of biblical authority for faith and practise.
The message today explores the interdependence of Christians. I do not deny the need for balance in our interactions, and I am certain that we need to define the parameters of co-operation. Nevertheless, we do benefit through consulting the brothers in the Faith when questions of faith and conscience arise. I invite careful consideration of an incident that occurred in the early church in order to examine this issue more closely.
THE CONFLICT — “Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ …Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them.” A church is a voluntary community charged with holding the members responsible for moral, ethical and theological decisions. The manner in which we live and the truths we teach are never in isolation from other congregations.