“A Contemporary Ecclesiology”
“To the question, ‘Why are you Baptist?’ a well-informed Baptist will reply, ‘because I interpret Scripture as teaching Baptist positions on the traditional ecclesiological questions.'” (p.20)
I am Baptist, though oftentimes I find myself needing to qualify this claim with such additives as, “But not like the weird ones” or “Though I don’t separate from as many people as Baptists do” or “But I’m not necessarily going to be planting ‘Baptist’ churches overseas.” While I am a member of an independent fundamental Baptist church, even here I can barely suppress the urge to add that “It’s not as closed-off as most.” The natural tendency for me to distance myself from the very group to which I have joined exemplifies the struggles that many Baptists face today, for while none of us could fathom departing from the entirely-Scriptural theology of fundamental Baptists, too many of us are sick of the extra-biblical add-ons that our denomination seems to hold so dear.
My Baptist identity is one of mixed feelings for sure. The negativity honestly has nothing to do with my family background: my dad has been a Baptist pastor since before I was born, and he is the most solid, godly, genuine person I know. If all Baptists were like him, I would never have questioned my denominational ties. The Christian life has always been a matter of standards for my dad, not rules, and this distinction is truly paramount. The negativity (or at least the awkwardness) attached to my Baptist identity comes from a lifetime steeped in Baptist circles who have seen themselves in utter non-humility as the sole bearers of truth, the world be damned (or at least looked down upon). “Evangelicals” might be believers; Non-denominationals might witness for Christ; Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans all might live stellar lives in the name of Jesus, but if they are not “Baptist,” well, then we oughtn’t associate ourselves with them–they may be believers, but they’re not the right kind of believers. We tend to convince ourselves that Christ warnings to those who say “Lord, Lord” must be for anyone else but us, yet we will all be surprised just how many of our members will hear that sad conclusion: “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
For the reasons listed above, I know that as I progress in my faith and ministry, I need to re-establish my footing and recognize once again why I am Baptist. John S. Hammet’s book, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, has helped strengthen my theological foundation, closing my eyes momentarily to the failed practices of far too many Baptists and opening them only to the few undeniable truths which we claim and which set us apart, the so-called “Baptist distinctives.” How refreshing it was to read through such distinctives as “regenerate church membership” and “congregational polity,” not to mention the emphasis on Scripture alone as our final authority! How wonderful it would be for us as believers to return to a practice of these distinctives alone, minus the foolishness to which we have instead attached ourselves–for example our Godless antagonism toward any psalms, hymns, and contemporary spiritual songs absent from our Majesty Hymnals, or the anti-Christian attitudes our people possess when dealing with other believers.
I read this book in conjunction with The Baptist Way by Stanton Norman, and while I found Stanton’s book to be a much easier, more succinct read, Hammet bore some elements that really got me thinking. First, his fifth chapter titled “Where We Went Wrong and How We can Get Right” fantastically targeted two of the great Satanic devices which currently have a strangle-hold on our Baptist churches—apathy and a greed for numbers. Hammett targets specifically the shameful Baptist habits of basically forcing false conversions from our youth through leading questions and early baptisms, as well as our aversion to both maintaining integrity in our membership roles and church discipline. He suggests that if Baptist churches could first destroy their church membership roles, and then assure themselves of their own regeneration through personal interviews and covenant affirmation, they could then begin anew with a regenerate membership of only the faithful and dedicated willing to covenant together before God, thereby establishing the strongest congregation possible. If they could also limit baptism only to those beyond a certain age who truly evidence their salvation and understand the need for baptism, then they could assure that all new members are truly regenerate as well. While such drastic actions as membership cancellation or “invasion of privacy” through confirmation will undoubtedly anger many and cause untold numbers of people to flat-out quit the church, the membership remaining would be the most mature and the most committed. In all Scriptural honesty, these individuals could say for the time being, “Good riddance,” to the dead weight which had been holding them back from glorifying Christ, and they could then start anew the process of multiplication for the glory of Christ. Second, Hammett acknowledges the biblical role of elders in the church, a subject Baptists do not often touch, and even recommends some means of recovery which could help our Baptist churches return to this scriptural form of leadership.
Hammett’s book has certainly been one to get me thinking, especially now as I move towards teaching others the concepts of “church” and “leadership.” I would recommend this book to Baptists in particular who are fed up with the way their churches are going, likely stuck in traditions and apathetic towards truly Scriptural obedience. I would also recommend this book to those of other denominations who dislike or otherwise do not understand Baptists. Peruse this book and take a look at what we are meant to be, not what many of our representative churches have become, and know that some of us Baptists are really not all that bad.