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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Baptist Covenant/Creed

Do Baptists really believe in Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) or are they selective in whatever will support their doctrines and practices? From a youth I remember the Baptist Covenant being displayed in the form of a large framed poster. This display was usually mounted on the front wall of the sanctuary near the altar. While Baptists claim "no creed but Christ", that the "Bible is all sufficient for faith and practice", denouncing creeds and ignoring the decisions of the Ecumenical Counsels of the Church as well as the writings of the Early Church Fathers, they promote their own version of what is important. The Baptist Covenant was slowly replaced by The Baptist Faith and Message (1963) which was adopted at one of their own councils which they call Conventions. The creed and statements of the Baptist church are still changing as seen by the recent conflict and split of the Southern Baptist Convention. Now both parts are attempting to define what makes them different from each other in the form of new statements or creeds, each claiming to be the true Baptists with the right teaching and methods. It is apropos that their division stemmed from arguments on how to interpret scripture.

If the Bible alone can be interpreted outside of the historical context of the life of the Church of 2000 years, why the need for so much definition and creedalism? Baptists and others throw general accusations toward the Orthodox Church saying that Orthodox value "men's writings as sacred as the scripture". Even the The Gideons International forbid Orthodox Christians from being members of their organization for this stated reason. The irony and dare I say, deceptive hypocrisy of each, is the fact that the Orthodox Church wrote, compiled and preserved the very scripture they defend and distribute and has withstood any redefining of doctrine and truth for 2000 years. The only creed was one that was adopted by the whole undivided church- The Nicene Creed, and this was done to combat a heretical attack by some on the very nature of Christ. The Nicene Creed highlights the very foundations of the Christian faith, unlike the Baptist creed and others which picks and chooses what is seemingly important to them culturally and denominationaly (see the forbidding of alcohol as a beverage). This is not to diminish the good and scriptural statements contained in such creeds, but rather to point out that denominations, while claiming to follow only the Bible, interpret that Bible by their own standards outside the historical life of the Church. To do so has made them foreign matter to the Church that Christ founded and the Apostles established.
The Baptist Covenant
"Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do now in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ. We engage therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness, and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations. We also engage to maintain family and secret devotion; to religiously educate our children; to seek to salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our department; to avoid all tattling, backbiting, and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drink as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Saviour. We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Saviour, to secure it without delay. We moreover engage that, when we remove from this place, we will as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word. And now unto Him, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, be Power and Glory forever. Amen."
Good stuff but only a slice of the pie, a snap shot of Christianity, a drop in the bucket, compared to the Faith of the Apostles as reflected in the creed that the whole Church adopted in 325 A.D. There is nothing inherently wrong with creeds if they are birthed from the whole Church and not limited by factional or denominational agendas. Paul quotes from an early creed which encapsulates the gospel as creeds are intended to do:

"...I write so that you may know how to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,

Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory."
(1 Timothy 3:15,16)

Paul also quotes various creeds of the church in his second letter to Timothy and in his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. "Thus, when the early councils met and issued creeds, they were well within the bounds of biblical precedent." (The Orthodox Study Bible Page 489 Notes)

The Baptist church does practice creedalism and strays from its doctrine of Sola Scriptura in doing so. Being birthed outside the original faith of the Apostles, the Orthodox faith, Baptists and others like them are left to their own devises and attempt to reinvent the wheel. With over 2500 denominations there are plenty of wheels from which to choose.

8 comments:

  1. Debbie Espen4:25 PM

    As a former Baptist I still have an affection for the church, and keep up with what is going on with them. They used to be big advocates for "the priesthood of every believer", proud to be creedless, but now, with their new insistence on everyone's strict adherance to their new statement (creed), they have left historic Baptist faith behind. It is so ironic how a faith that was proud to call itself creedless now has a creed.

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  2. Stephen Harmon speaks on this issue at length in his book Toward Baptist Catholicity. He agrees with you that Baptists have missed the mark on this, but makes the case that this age-old adoption of theological Tradition (Trinity, Canon, Incarnation, etc.) is grounds for asserting that Tradition is a valid aspect (rather than an antithesis) of Baptist faith.

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  3. Now, if we can get them to use the word "Tradition" as valid and not anathema, then they are one step closer to the Church Christ founded.

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  4. I think you would find that a considerable number of the leading Baptist theologians would not consider "tradition" anathema, but would rather consider it one important, indispensable channel through which we come to have knowledge of God. Most of my Baptist professors either explicitly or implicitly hold to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (or something close to it) when it comes to theological authority: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience. All four of these are considered very epistemologically important. There is a tremendous surge I've seen of prominent Protestant theologians elevating the importance of the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of Tradition. These are very interesting and exciting times.

    Come, Lord Jesus. Make us one. Merry Christmas, Nathan!

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  5. Adam, I will share your hope, however, as a cradle Baptist I have seen the universities and seminaries have pockets of truth that do not translate to the life of the congregations. It is the SBC Conventions and powerful pastors who set the tone for truth. When others do rise up and speak the denomination spits as seen in this decade. Try using the word "tradition" in a typical Sunday school class and see what happens from adherents to Sola Scriptura.

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  6. Of course I meant "splits" when I wrote "spits" but I'm certain they did some spitting as well.

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  7. I was born and raised Protestant, primarily Southern Baptist. Something always seemed to be missing from the services. The first time I visited an Orthodox Church in America (OCA) parish I knew that this truly is worship. After 2 1/2 years as a Catechumenate, my husband and I joined the Church which was established by Jesus Christ himself and has changed little since. Thank God for the Orthodox church and people who remain ever faithful.

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  8. pyegirlrn, We never thought we'd be here, we didn't know where here was. Bless you on your journey which I am sure you have discovered only begins at our Baptism.

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