Saturday, January 19, 2013

Baptist Identity: The Interconnected Nature of Baptist Theology

1. Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura).  The Bible alone is sufficient special revelation in the life of the individual and in the life of the church (2 Tim 3:17; Prov 30:6; Matt 15:6; Jn 17:17). This doctrine was the “formal cause” of the Reformation. Tradition and personal experience do not have authority equal to or above the Bible. Sola Scriptura is the sine qua non of Baptist identity because without it, Baptists would never have emerged in their historical context. Our Baptist forefathers’ commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture led them first out of Anglicanism and then out of Congregationalism to become Baptists. The early Baptists believed that God alone reveals how He may be worshipped. Historic Baptists believed that clear Scriptural warrant must under-gird every aspect of church practice and worship. They were committed to the “Regulative Principle of Worship,” which says that whatever elements of worship are not required in Scripture for corporate worship are forbidden. The early Baptists did not find infant baptism in their Bibles; therefore, they believed that infant baptism is forbidden as an element of worship because the Bible does not require it. “Scripture Alone” is also related Christian liberty. The pastors of a church do not have the right or authority to require church members to worship according to any rule or pattern not revealed in the Bible. Church members are free from the doctrines and commandments of men, including any extra-biblical commandments of pastors. So, pastors do not have the authority to require infant baptism or anything else that does not have clear Scriptural warrant.

2. Justification by Faith Alone (Sola Fide). This doctrine was the “material cause” of the Reformation. We aren’t justified by rituals or by our own good works, but by personal faith in Christ and His imputed righteousness alone (Rom 3:28; 4:5-6; Gal 2:16; Phil 3:9). When the doctrine of justification is correctly and thoroughly taught, people are “converted.” Conversion and justification are both rooted in the law/gospel contrast. The law condemns us, but the gospel justifies us. The weight and pressure exerted by the law and its guilt is wonderfully lifted by the free grace of the gospel. When the Spirit burdens a man under the condemnation of the law, he senses his guilt and becomes fearful of the law’s penalty because he realizes he can do nothing to save himself. But, when the Spirit savingly liberates a man from bondage by the gospel of Jesus Christ, he becomes grateful, joyful, and eager to walk in holy obedience to the commandments of God. This is “conversion.” The doctrine that men are regenerated and converted is foundational to a Baptist understanding of the church. Baptist churches seek to have a membership composed of genuine converts (1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:1). They do not baptize members of society and their children. Baptists have always stressed the importance of conversion/regeneration, which, historically, has been the result of a clear understanding and preaching of the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone.

3. Christology.  Orthodox Christology is a necessary prerequisite of Baptist identity.

The Person of Christ: Christ is true God and true Man. Penal substitution requires Christ to be both God (John 1:1; 20:28; Heb 1:8; Rev 1:8; 22:12-16) and man (1 Jn 1:1; Lk 22:44; 23:46). Christ could only render infinite satisfaction the penalty of the law because He is God. He could only represent us and be our substitute because He is man. The doctrine of penal substitution, justification by faith alone, and individual conversion all require that Christ be both God and man.

The Work of Christ: Penal Substitutionary Atonement (Rom 5:6-8; 1 Pet 3:18). Without penal substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone is impossible because if Christ did not pay the law’s penalty in our place (1 Pet 2:24), then we must not only believe but also suffer for our justification. The same is true of imputed righteousness. If Christ did not keep the law’s demands in our place (Phil 3:9), then we must not only believe, but also perfectly obey the law. This would be slavery not freedom. It would not bring about joyous liberation but fearful bondage (no conversion experience). Thus, the doctrines of a believing church, conversion, and justification by faith alone all hang on a right understanding of the historic work of Christ.

4. Regenerate Church Membership.  Baptists believe that only those who are converted are actually members of Christ; therefore, only those who give a credible profession of actual possession of Christ may be members of the church (1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:1). As we have already seen, the doctrine of conversion follows from the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Only when regenerate individuals personally embrace Christ for redemption may they legitimately become members of the local church. This doctrine of regenerate church membership is the foundational doctrine of Baptist ecclesiology because the gospel of Christ is the central or core doctrine of Baptist ecclesiology.

5. Believers Baptism.  Historically, churches of every denomination have recognized that baptism is prerequisite to church membership (1 Cor 12:13). Baptists, however, are distinct from other Christian groups because we believe that we may only baptize those who give a credible profession of faith in Christ (Matt 28:19; Lk 14:25-33). This is consistent with the Baptist commitment to have churches composed only of believers (2 Cor 6:15-18). All of this follows from Scripture alone, justification by faith alone, and from the doctrine of regenerate church membership. Those who baptize infants do not believe that the church should only be made up of believers. They believe that the church should include believers and their unbelieving children. But, because Baptists believe in regenerate church membership, we do not baptize infants.

6. Corrective Church Discipline.  The practice of corrective church discipline follows from Scripture alone, justification by faith alone, and from regenerate church membership. When members lose their credible profession of faith by persisting in open and unrepentant sin, corrective church discipline is necessary (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:9-13). Historically, Baptists were most faithful to practice church discipline. This was due to their commitment to a pure church and refusal to admit membership to those without credible professions.

7. Congregational Polity.  Congregationalism assumes the sufficiency of Scripture in determining church polity. The Bible teaches us that the congregation as a whole is the final court of appeal in matters of church membership and discipline (Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 5:4-5; 2 Cor 2:6-7) and that the congregation as a whole approves church leaders (Acts 6:1-6; Gal 1:8-9). Congregational polity would be (and is) a disaster in churches full of unregenerate people; thus, congregational polity assumes regenerate church membership as well as church discipline in order for it to “work” biblically. Baptist churches in recent history that have lacked a regenerate church membership have had serious problems with congregational polity because when the people’s hearts are not bound to the Word of God as the supreme authority, then every man’s own opinion becomes the standard.

8. Liberty of Conscience.  Because God alone speaking in the Scriptures alone is the first and final authority in the church, we are free from the extra-biblical doctrines and commandments of men. Therefore, membership in the individual churches and submission to their authority is to be voluntary, apart from governmental, church, or pastoral coercion. If liberty of conscience is taken away, then the purity of the churches (regenerate church membership) is threatened, since there will be insincere, hypocritical church members, who are only present in the church to avoid government penalty. Baptists further believe that liberty of conscience is the basis of local church enforcement of creedal/confessional statements. That is, since the government has no right to force the individual’s conscience by imposing a state creed or book of common worship, each individual church retains the right to adopt and enforce its own confession of faith.

9. Separation of Church and State.

The Church is separate from the State (Jn 18:36): This means that the state has no formal authority over the structure of the church because Scripture alone is the highest authority, and kings and princes have no authority over the hearts and consciences of men. Since only God can change men’s hearts and make them Christians, men could not become Christians at gun point even if they wanted to.

The State is separate from the Church: Likewise the institutional church has no formal spiritual authority over the state since to bring all men in a nation under the spiritual authority of a church would violate liberty of conscience. John Smyth said, “Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews or whatever, but it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”

10. Evangelism and Mission.  People are not Christians because they are citizens of a nation or because they were baptized as infants with Trinitarian baptism, but are only Christians as a result of conversion. Therefore, the Baptist view of the church makes evangelism and mission absolutely necessary. Very simply, without conversion growth, Baptist churches would cease to exist, since Baptist churches are composed of converted people. The local church isn’t continued through natural generation, but through the grace of regeneration and conversion that accompanies the clear preaching of the gospel.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Some Theological Analysis of Les Miserables - The Bad and the Good

I absolutely loved the most recent movie depiction of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and I recommend it highly, but not uncritically. Hugo was not a Christian, and he did not intend to communicate the biblical gospel through his work, though gospel themes run through it.

The Bad 

1. Christ is not the redeemer. Throughout the story, human beings are portrayed as “redeeming” human beings. Hugo depicted a world where human beings, by acting “redemptively” toward one another, are able to change the world, and make it a better place, free from the condemnation of the law.  This is not the biblical picture.

2. Justice is not the basis of Hugo's idea of redemption. Also, some of Valjean's “mercies” are outright injustices. Valjean often thwarts the law and runs from it. When Valjean saves Fantine from arrest by Javert, he simply rescinds the law by fiat based on his power as a governor. There is no substitutionary sacrifice, no satisfaction of justice.

3. No one is redeemed for Christ. People are redeemed from the penalty of the law, but they're not redeemed by the grace of the Lord Jesus, nor are they redeemed to know Him, commune with Him, and be conformed to Him for His glory. They are redeemed primarily for “freedom” from this-worldly oppression. The little man is saved from the tyrannies of the strong, but not explicitly by Christ or for Christ.

4. Final salvation is without Christ. Heaven is a better political order where the little man is no longer oppressed by the strong. The weak are free from the dominion of tyrants. Hugo's heaven is not a world of Christ's love with Him sitting on His eternal throne. It is not a place where Jesus is central. Rather, people are central.

5. The source of sin is not within sinners, but originates from without. Human beings sin because others have oppressed them and they've been caught in hard circumstances. If oppression were to lift and circumstances were to improve, people will probably stop sinning so much. Valjean was imprisoned for his theft, which was not really his fault. Fantine was called to account for her sin, which was not really her fault.

The Good 

1. There is a strong contrast between the law and the gospel. Though Hugo's picture is distorted, there is a true biblical contrast between the law and the gospel. The law does not and cannot save. It only condemns sinners in their sin, enslaves them, and puts them in need of redemption. Only true mercy and redemptive grace have the power to change a heart and a life. At one point Valjean (mercy) tells Javert (justice) that he finds no fault with him, but that Javert has done his duty “and no more. “ Biblically speaking, the gospel finds no fault with the law, but it certainly does more than the law by satisfying it. 

2. The larger trajectory of Valjean's life is that of a Christian. At first, Valjean is enslaved to the law for his sins. His sentence to imprisonment for breaking the law cannot touch his heart. The law can never change the heart of a sinner. But Valjean is then redeemed freely and unconditionally by the mercy of another, even in the face of his stubborn sin. And the actions of Valjean's redeemer melt his heart and change his life forever. For the rest of his life, Valjean is a flawed character, but having been shown grace, he can't help but show grace and mercy to others. He is a man who can never get over the mercy shown to him. Valjean's death is not the end but leads to a better world.

3. True grace is not cheap. The church today often teaches a gospel of cheap grace that does nothing but give people a ticket to heaven. The distorted picture of grace is sentimental and produces good feelings, but it does not transform lives. But God's grace in Christ is powerfully transformative. Just as Valjean couldn't get over the mercy shown to him, those who see their own sin and condemnation and Christ and His mercies can't ever get over the gospel. There is no such thing as a sinner saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ who does not show grace and love to others. Redeemed people seek the redemption of others in Christ.

4. Christ's mercy overcomes the penalty of the law. Valjean's unconditional mercy overcame Javert's strict justice and ultimately ended up killing Javert. In the way of analogy, Christ's death on the cross does the same thing (Rom 7:1-6), except Christ did not kill the law, He satisfied it. Christ didn't destroy the law by leading it into an irresolvable conflict; rather, He exalted the law so that it lives in full.  "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?  By no means!  On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Rom 3:31).

5. God's mercy in Christ is for the worst of sinners. Jesus Christ shows mercy to thieves, liars, prostitutes, and legalists. Sinners don't have to (and must not!) clean themselves up before they receive mercy. Rather, Christ gives His mercy freely. He saves and redeems the worst of the worst, just as mercy came to the worst of the worst in this movie.

6. Christ came to save the weak, not those who think they are strong.  Scripture tells us that Jesus didn't come to save the righteous but the unrighteous.  He didn't come to heal the well, but the sick.  Mercy is for those who are miserable in their sins.  Grace is for those who need it.  Les Miserables captures this truth.  The strong cannot comprehend their need of mercy.  But the weak do.

7. Heaven will be a restored world, free from all oppression. While Hugo's vision of heaven is truncated, what he says about it is basically true. It will be a place of freedom from oppression. It will be a renewed political and economic order. It will be a place where swords are exchanged for plowshares. It will be a world of happiness.

8. Ironically, the very fact that Hugo hides humanistic ideas in Christian clothing confirms the truth of Scripture. By nature, fallen human beings resist the gospel. We want to think we can be our own saviors and the saviors of others. Even true Christians fall into the trap of emphasizing our mercy, our good works, and our ability to change ourselves and others, rather than Christ's works, Christ's mercy, and Christ's ability to change us. So, unwittingly, Hugo confirms the truth of Scripture about human nature. He confirms his need and our need of God's grace in Christ.

9. Ironically, the fact that Christian themes are pervasive throughout the film confirms that Hugo is made in God's image. Tolkien and Lewis said that the gospel is the “true myth.” Though the lost can't embrace the gospel as it is, its themes resonate with the remaining image of God in them. Victor Hugo couldn't escape the "true myth" and even found beautiful the glory of mercy and redemption.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Blessing of Baptist Theology to Our Children

Under the old covenant, children were externally subject to the church law of God.  For those children who had not first been won by the gospel, the church law of God functioned like a vice-grip upon their outward behaviors in order to preserve the national church-state until the coming of Christ.  God legally required old covenant children to participate in rituals, feasts, assemblies, and church ordinances on pain of church discipline, and in some cases death. But external church law never won the heart of any child. In fact, it drove most of them further away. The Bible says the system of circumcision was a “yoke” that “neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

So, what was the point of that old system? If the old covenant was so hard on the children, why did God put it into place?  The Bible teaches us that God gave the old covenant church law, in part, to shape the people externally, to preserve them, and protect them as a nation, even to force them into behavioral submission through penalties, threats, and behavioral rewards, so that He might keep His promise to Abraham to bring about Christ through his descendants.  The law externally restrained the nation so that Christ could come in later generations.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then the law was our guardian until Christ came in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith” (Gal 3:23-25).

The external coercion of church-state law was necessary to preserve the line of promise. But now that the Messiah (or faith) has come, there is no need to threaten or coerce our little ones to keep the law outwardly to preserve an unbroken line of descent.  Because of Christ's coming, God is no longer preserving a genealogy.  He's preserving the "children of the promise" (Rom 9:8).

Now that our Christ has come, church polity under the new covenant is administered graciously, not legally as it was under the old.  It aims for the heart. It doesn't force church law upon our precious little children to secure their external performances. Rather it simply preaches the sweet mercies of Christ to them and summons them to believe in Him for the forgiveness of their sins and the eternal salvation of their souls.  It never threatens unbelieving children with church discipline.  It never foists upon them an identity by church ritual that they do not willingly own from within. It simply, freely, and constantly announces the great and merciful promises of Jesus.

The new covenant calls our precious little children to see Christ, to believe the One they see, and then to come to Him most willingly and freely from the heart. This is the gospel. It is the heart and essence of new covenant church polity. It aims not to coerce their behavior, but to win their heart. And as God omnipotently conquers the hearts of His children with His sovereign mercy and grace, these little ones do indeed come freely and willingly. They never have to resent the yoke as children did under the old system.  Their little hearts are never crushed from without by church law.

Rather, in Matthew 19:14, our good Savior said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  Our little children are invited to "come" voluntarily to Christ, from their hearts.  To "such" who "come" belongs the kingdom of heaven.  Thanks be to God our sweet little ones are no longer hindered from freely and willingly coming by an external yoke too heavy for them to bear.