Baptist Concern over Church Problems
BAPTISTS today number into the millions. Nearly every country has at least a small Baptist community.
But about nine out of every ten Baptists, over 26,000,000, live in the United States.
More than a third of these Baptists are members of churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. This largest of the Baptist bodies, according to the 1971 edition of The World Almanac, has missionaries serving in sixty-nine countries.
Very likely you know some Baptists. You may be one yourself, belonging to one of the churches affiliated either with the Southern Baptist Convention or with one of the twenty or more other recognized Baptist bodies. If so, have you noted concern over any of the following problems?
THE PROBLEM OF UNITY IN BELIEF
Truths We Hold, a leaflet published by the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, points out that “a church’s authority is expressed by its members, not by bishops or potentates, . . . each church is independent in its action under the lordship of Jesus Christ.”
So, as you may know, within the overall framework of the Southern Baptist Convention, affiliated churches differ to a greater or lesser degree in what they teach. Does this present any problems?
Some Baptist sources say Yes. A former Baptist minister in Athens, Georgia, observed: “The people who belonged to my church said they believed the Baptist teachings. But when I began to teach the Trinity the way it should be taught, they just wouldn’t accept it.”
The members of the church, however, probably felt they were within their right as Baptists to exercise ‘independence’ and express their ‘member-oriented authority.’
But a Director of Education associated with a leading Baptist church in Charleston, South Carolina, voiced the opinion that ‘the difference in teaching and belief is due to a warping of the Scriptures to fit the ideas held by the individual.’ When asked if this difference of belief did not create problems for Baptists moving to other locations, he agreed that it did, but added: ‘It is not just a problem between separate Baptist churches, but within a given church. In our church here we have three factions existing.’
So, while some Baptists take difference of belief within the ranks of their local church group (or between their group and other churches of the same faith) as a matter of course, other Baptists are disturbed. Is their concern justified? You may feel that it is, particularly in view of the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Corinth:
“I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”—1 Cor. 1:10, Authorized Version.
CONCERN FOR RIGHT SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE
Then, too, some feel that this situation places many Baptist ministers in a compromising position. In Clarkston, Georgia, a close relative of a Baptist minister remarked: “A minister serves a given church at the pleasure of the local church’s power structure. God’s truths are to be molded to fit the prevailing views and prejudices of those in power in the local congregations.”
Is the picture overdrawn? Some church leaders evidently feel it is not. A few years ago, Dr. Samuel Southard, of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky, stated: “We have subverted our message to hold our numbers and our wealth.” Dr. K. Owen White, a Southern Baptist clergyman, noted: “We have drifted away from the practice of Scriptural Christianity.”
Sincere concern is expressed over present-day church services and their content. You, like other Baptists, may have noted that sermons are becoming more secular, urging support for men’s efforts to solve the worsening political, social and economic problems of modern society. Some feel that, instead of this emphasis on human projects and schemes, more attention should be given to the spiritual guidance provided by the Bible and to building faith in the hope it sets forth. They may have in mind Jesus’ words about his true followers: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”—John 17:14, AV.
Some of the concern doubtless springs from the entry of new members into the Baptist ministry, men who have completed their seminary studies only in recent years. In many non-Baptist Protestant denominations, it is quite well known that evolutionary teachings, doubts about the existence of a personal God, and reluctance to accept the entire Bible as inspired by God, are becoming more and more common among new members of the ministry. But, surprising to some, Dean Rosco Brong of Lexington Baptist College voices this warning: “Baptist churches are being overrun and their testimony destroyed by a flood of infidels masquerading as ministers poured out of modernistic colleges and seminaries—infidel preachers who deny the Bible, serve self instead of Christ.”
Likely you accept as true the Bible’s accounts of creation and the Flood. The Bible, of course, shows that Jesus and his apostles accepted these accounts as divinely inspired truth. (Matt. 19:3-6; 24:37-39; 1 Tim. 2:12-14; 1 Pet. 3:20) To ask your minister about his acceptance of these accounts may seem a little strange to you. But today such questions often bring surprising answers.
CONCERN OVER LACK OF CHRISTIAN CONDUCT
Truths We Hold says that Baptists may be called “a people of the Book,” that is, the Bible. Like people in many other Protestant denominations, however, some Baptists have felt that all too often fellow members do not take that Book seriously enough in their daily lives. A recent survey by Ladies’ Home Journal revealed that, among both Catholic and Protestant women churchgoers, one out of four was distressed by “the feeling that many of my fellow worshipers are hypocrites.” Continuing, the article states: “Among Baptists, the sense of sharing a pew with hypocrites rose significantly: one in three say they feel this way.”
As with other Protestant groups, the question here seems to be: Does being a member of a Baptist church really make a difference in people, does it distinguish them from others as to their daily life, their values and morals?
One Macon, Georgia, housewife, discussing her former association with a certain Baptist church, said that, as a result of her employment, she gained definite knowledge that “the ‘pillars of the church’ were just as immoral, and did illegal things as much as those outside.” She was disillusioned and for a while lost interest in the Bible. Not all become so disturbed. But still the fact that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” makes many sincere persons ask, What should be done with church members whose conversation and conduct violate Bible principles?—Gal. 5:9, AV.
WAS IT DIFFERENT IN THE EARLY CHURCH?
Admittedly, first-century Christians also had their problems. Baptists may point to disputes over doctrinal matters back there as reason for not getting upset over differing beliefs today.
True, at times disputes arose over doctrines among early Christians. There were occasions when certain ones in their midst failed to maintain right conduct. And false teachers manifested themselves within the churches. But what did first-century Christians do about these problems? Did each church decide for itself what it should do?
While the apostle Paul was at Antioch, a dispute arose as to whether non-Jewish converts should be circumcised. The church at Antioch did not take it upon itself to decide the matter nor did it permit this dispute to result in division. A delegation was sent to Jerusalem to present the question to the apostles and elders of the church there. Testimony was given by Peter, Barnabas and Paul. The apostles and other elders carefully examined the Holy Scriptures on the matter. With the help of the “Holy Ghost” or God’s spirit, they reached a unanimous conclusion. You can read about this in Acts chapter 15.
It should be noted that the decisions made by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem benefited, not merely the church at Antioch, but all the other churches. Acts 16:4, 5 tells us: “As they [Paul and Silas] went on their way through the cities, they delivered them the decrees to keep which had been ordained of the apostles and elders that were at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith.”—American Standard Version.
While we do not have the apostles with us today, we do have their writings. Is it not reasonable, therefore, to expect that true Christians would enjoy oneness of belief because of their faithful adherence to the Word of God? The Baptist pamphlet Truths We Hold states: “Baptists believe that the Bible is the only safe and sure guide in religious faith and practice. From this Book—and not from church councils or man-made creeds—Baptists have formulated their basic beliefs.”
This gives rise to the question: If the Bible tells Christians to “speak the same thing,” why should it be difficult for a Baptist who moves to another location to find another Baptist church teaching exactly the same doctrine as the one in his former place of residence? Does this perhaps suggest that, in actual practice, the Bible is not really being looked to as a “safe and sure guide”?
In the churches of first-century Christians, habitual thieves, fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, and the like, were not tolerated. To the church at Corinth the apostle Paul wrote: “If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. . . . Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (1 Cor. 5:11-13, AV) Does the church of which you are a member follow this Biblical admonition? Or are known violators of God’s righteous commands allowed to remain in good standing, perhaps even permitted to hold important church offices?
In the first century definite steps were taken against professed Christians who promoted false doctrines. The apostle Paul instructed Titus: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.” (Titus 3:10, AV) If this were done by Baptist churches today, would it be possible for a dean at a Baptist college to say that such churches were being “overrun and their testimony destroyed by a flood of infidels”?
Obviously, there is a great difference between the situation of first-century Christians and that prevailing among members of Baptist churches. While first-century Christians faced problems, they knew what had to be done to preserve unity of belief and congregational purity. And they took action. Their efforts resulted in maintaining unity of belief in all the congregations.
If such unity is not in evidence in your church, does this not indicate that you should be taking positive action? True, your membership in a particular church may give you a certain standing in the community. And social acceptance may seem very important to you. But would it not be reasonable to investigate whether there is a body of Christians today that strives to maintain unity, as did first-century Christians?
Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ wants persons who are truly devoted to what is right. The church of the Laodiceans was told: “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16, AV) Surely you would not want to be associated with a church that stands in danger of being rejected by Christ because of his not finding its “works perfect before God.” (Rev. 3:2, AV) Therefore, would it not be truly wise to concern yourself about God’s view of matters, rather than the opinion of relatives, friends or the community?
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In this time of religious ferment, sincere Baptists are expressing concern about such problems as:
● Lack of unity in belief.
● The Bible’s being overshadowed in church by secular matters.
● Modernistic clergymen.
● Failure of so many to put the Bible to work in their daily lives.