Baptist Distinctives

NickImage

Regular Baptist Press has just released my new volume entitled Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order. Copies of the book were available at the GARBC annual conference in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, and are now offered at the Regular Baptist Press web site. It can be purchased in either hardcover ($24.99) or paperback ($19.99). At this writing, the bookstore at Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary has the books discounted about $3.00 each.

The project that led to this book began more than twenty years ago. At the time, I was a member of the First Church that Jack Built. There I encountered a version of church leadership and ministry that had little in common with historic Baptist principles or New Testament patterns. I found myself wishing for a moderate-length treatment of Baptist thought and practice that I could place in the hands of pastors and church members.

Unfortunately, I could not think of one that was not somehow flawed. Some were too old or had language too difficult for an average reader. Some were theologically aberrant or historically deficient. Some omitted topics that are vital to the health of Baptist churches. Some were simply too brief to provide much detail about why Baptists believe and practice as they do.

Consequently, I began writing my own discussion. At that time, I envisioned a project that would be grouped around six Baptist distinctives, including the following:

  • The absolute authority of the New Testament in all matters of church faith and order
  • Believer immersion (with emphasis upon both words)
  • Pure church membership
  • Individual Christian responsibility, including the priesthood and soul liberty of the believer
  • Congregational polity and pastoral leadership
  • The separation of church and state

Obviously, nothing about this list is divinely inspired. One can readily find summaries that label the Baptist distinctives differently or list them in a different order. Nevertheless, I thought that this was the shortest list that I could use that would actually distinguish Baptists from other groups of Christians.

Each of these distinctives is held by some other Christians—Baptists are certainly not the only believers who practice immersion or who emphasize the priesthood of the believer. None of these distinctives, however, is held by all other Christians. Each distinctive sets Baptists apart from some group or groups, but only the complete list distinguishes Baptists from all other groups. The entire list is essential to Baptist identity. In other words, one cannot abandon any distinctive without, to some degree, abandoning the right to the name Baptist.

The most pivotal of the Baptist distinctives is the first: the absolute authority of the New Testament in all matters of church faith and order. Ironically, this is also the distinctive that contemporary Baptists most often get wrong. Rather than citing the distinctive as New Testament authority, many present-day Baptists will cite it as biblical authority. In fact, in some of the famous acrostic systems for remembering the Baptist distinctives (whether BAPTIST or BRAPSIS) the initial B is generally made to stand for biblical authority. Thankfully, the more thoughtful discussions of this distinctive usually insert some clarification about the role of the New Testament in establishing the doctrine and order of the church (e.g., see David Saxon, “The Logic of BRAPSIS” in Sunesis, 1 September 2006).

The idea is simply that Baptists (whether dispensational or covenant theologians) do not look to the Old Testament to discover the present form of order in the church. Neither do they look to church tradition or even to utilitarian consequences. They believe that the church (at least in its present form of order) is a New Testament institution and that the doctrine, definition, mission, worship, and organization of the church must be gathered from the New Testament. This is the distinctive upon which all other Baptist distinctives rely.

The original plan of the book was simply to treat each of the six distinctives. The target readership consisted of pastors, informed church members, and students in colleges and seminaries. While the book would be more popular than academic, it aimed to present the distinctives in a thoughtful and responsible fashion.

As it now stands, the book not only describes the distinctives, but also offers their principal biblical, historical, and theological evidences. The presentation nevertheless remains primarily expository rather than polemical. Consequently, the book does not usually respond to the standard objections to the principal evidences and arguments. To do so would have required a book of a different sort.

This was the plan I had in mind when, about three years ago, a conversation with Regular Baptist Press highlighted their interest in publishing the volume. This means that nothing in the book strays outside of the doctrinal commitments of the GARBC, but I am sometimes more specific than the GARBC’s own position. For example, in areas such as the sufficiency of Scripture or the eldership of the local church, I argue for positions that would not be held by all Regular Baptist pastors (though they are held by many).

In conversation with Regular Baptist Press, a decision was also made to expand the format of the volume. In addition to discussing the six Baptist distinctives, I have added a second section that discusses particular issues in Baptist order. One chapter addresses the problem of how Baptists organize for endeavors outside of the local church. Another chapter deals with church councils, an often-neglected aspect of Baptist life. Still another takes a look at the problems associated with Landmarkism, and another evaluates the texts that are used to defend baptismal regeneration. The final chapter offers help for those who are interested in planting new churches, an activity for which every Baptist ought to be prepared.

Naturally, readers will notice deficiencies in the structure and discussion, but they can hardly be more aware of them than the author. Over the next few years I’ll compile a list of the deficiencies that I notice, as well as those that others point out to me. In a few years I would very much like to do a second, expanded edition of this book.

The book is simply an attempt to re-articulate the historic principles of Baptist church order for a new generation of readers. It is more than a pamphlet but less than a scholarly tome. It can be used in college and seminary classes, but an adult Sunday School class could also work through it. It is certainly not the final word, but it was written to meet a need. You will have to judge whether it actually does.

O Thou From Whom All Goodness Flows
Thomas Haweis (1734-1820)

O thou from whom all goodness flows,
I lift my soul to thee;
In all my sorrows, conflicts, woes,
Good Lord, remember me.

When on my aching, burdened heart
My sins lie heavily,
Thy pardon grant, new peace impart:
Good Lord, remember me.

When trials sore obstruct my way,
And ills I cannot flee,
O let my strength be as my day:
Good Lord, remember me.

If, for thy sake, upon my name
Shame and reproach shall be,
All hail reproach, and welcome shame!
Good Lord, remember me.

If worn with pain, disease, or grief,
This feeble frame should be,
Grant patience, rest, and kind relief:
Good Lord, remember me.

When, in the solemn hour of death,
I wait thy just decree,
Be this the pray’r of my last breath:
Good Lord, remember me.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 11 Comments

Rob Fall's picture

I'm glad you oncluded the late Dr. Richard Weeks' contribution to the discussion of Baptist Polity.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Eager to get my hands on a copy of this. I like the idea of simplifying the list of distinctives a bit, too.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Already ordered my copy; can't wait for it to arrive. I especially appreciate the focus on the NT pattern for the church. Our congregation has been ravaged by FIC thinking based on OT theology applied to NT institutions. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Does one of the distinctives somehow include "traditionalism" with regard to publishing methods? I think this would be an interesting book, but no available e-version is a non-starter for my library.

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Yes, if the book is targeted for "a new generation," it'll need to get to some e-formats as soon as possible.

I'll bet RBP would entertain offers from volunteers to produce a Kindle version. I heard from someone that the tools for creating Kindle texts are not hard to obtain and that the process is not difficult. It's a matter of doing the labor and getting a copy of the text in a format that can be Kindlized or PDFd or whatever.

I suspect RBP doesn't have a "department" for that.

Steve Davis's picture

I'd be interested in seeing how Kevin deals with congregational polity and pastoral leadership. Much of the congregational government I've seen was mostly in name and pastoral leadership was not merely influence but often control in the hands of one man with a divine mandate. Personally I don't believe that most matters should be submitted to a congregation for a vote as if all members, whether newly saved or on the margins, have equal competency in spiritual decisions. I do think affirmation would be wise in many cases but believe Scripture leads us in the direction of multiple elders with a lead elder who provides vision and primary teaching/preaching ministry (first among others in some ways but one among others in decision making). It seems to me that one of the glaring failures of one man pastoral leadership is the lack of accountability and the difficulty of removing a senior pastor when a congregational vote is necessary with all the barriers  involved in bringing the issue before the church (especially when all church business matters must go through a deacon board composed of men often selected by the pastor).   

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Steve Davis wrote:

I'd be interested in seeing how Kevin deals with congregational polity and pastoral leadership. Much of the congregational government I've seen was mostly in name and pastoral leadership was not merely influence but often control in the hands of one man with a divine mandate. Personally I don't believe that most matters should be submitted to a congregation for a vote as if all members, whether newly saved or on the margins, have equal competency in spiritual decisions. I do think affirmation would be wise in many cases but believe Scripture leads us in the direction of multiple elders with a lead elder who provides vision and primary teaching/preaching ministry (first among others in some ways but one among others in decision making). It seems to me that one of the glaring failures of one man pastoral leadership is the lack of accountability and the difficulty of removing a senior pastor when a congregational vote is necessary with all the barriers  involved in bringing the issue before the church (especially when all church business matters must go through a deacon board composed of men often selected by the pastor).   


That's one of the sections I was particularly interested in as well. I think in pretty much all the baptist churches I've been a part of, the usual is not that the congregation really wants to be involved in every decision. They usually want leaders to lead (sometimes to an extreme -- they want leaders to do everything, but that's a topic for another post), but they do want to retain the ability to restrain obvious unwise or questionable decisions, or in some cases, be able to restrain a leader who believes he has that divine mandate, and is not leading scripturally. If multiple elders are not used (or the church only has one man qualified to be an elder), there needs to be the accountability to keep dictatorships from forming.

Dave Barnhart

Ron Bean's picture

I'm curious to see if this will address the idea of multiple elders.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

It does cover multiple elders, very well I might add. I got my copy Last Friday and have been through large portions already. I purchased it primarily because of the first  chapter on NT authority. This is a fantastic chapter and worth the price of purchase all by itself.

 

I was a little less satisfied with the chapter dealing with the roles of pastors and deacons. While I appreciated much of what was said (including the  section on multiple elders), I found myself questioning some  of the conclusions. It seems to me that Dr. Bauder's approach pretty much eradicates the pastor's role as bishop (overseer) and  I think the deacon's passage reads too much into Acts 1 in going from bread servers working at the request of church leaders for the aid of church members to leaders responsible for all material aspects of the church.

 

Overall, I love the book so far and am so thankful to Central (and Fourth Baptist) for permitting Dr. Bauer to write more, and for Dr. Bauder taking the task on.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

JNoël's picture

I appreciated and agreed with the section on pastors-elders-bishops, but I felt like Kevin was validating the various leadership styles of the late 20th and 21st century Baptists rather than approaching the topic from a historical perspective.

What type of leadership/polity model did Baptists start with and use in its first few centuries and why?  Did they have multiple elders and possibly lay elders?  Was their original polity style immature and then simply developed over time into what we now have with a variety of plurality, laiety, top-down, etc. styles more in line with what the Bible allows/prescribes?

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

pvawter's picture

I haven't read the book yet, but I'm curious why the great emphasis on NT authority over biblical authority? Have I just missed a great deal of abuse of the biblical authority distinctive to support applying OT law to NT churches? I've never heard of it used in that way, but I assume that Kevin must have seen something like that going on somewhere.

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