Monday, July 30, 2012

Being Baptist: the five solae

    The five solae refer to 5 Latin phrases that summarize the Protestant Reformation. They are:
  • Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)
  • Sola fide (by faith alone)
  • Sola gratia (by grace alone)
  • Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
  • Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)
Sola scriptura is the foundation of the others and was covered in a previous blog. Together they describe the way to salvation.

Three of the solae are found in Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (NIV).

That's it. There are no rituals; no rules to follow; no symbolic acts. 

Many Baptist churches have traditions surrounding the salvation event. These include the invitation where people are invited at the end of the service to come forward and make a public profession of faith. Sometimes they are prompted with instructions to bow their heads and close their eyes. Many times the preacher will pray a model “sinners prayer” that people can repeat. These activities are not essential to salvation. All that is needed is grace (God's) and faith (in Jesus Christ).

Baptism follows a profession of faith in Christ. This is not needed for salvation. The thief on the cross made it to heaven without baptism (Luke 23:39-43). Baptism is an outward expression of an inward change.

Certainly a person who is “born again” exhibits different behavior after salvation. The Bible tells us, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Changed behavior is evidence of salvation, not a prerequisite.

Friday, July 27, 2012

VBS is the highpoint of the year for Baptist churches

I remember my first Vacation Bible School. I was on a mission trip to Miami and we were conducting a VBS at an inner city church. Veteran city missionaries Rosemarie & Mildred taught me the ropes. We began each morning with a parade down the sidewalks of our neighborhood and gathered the children.

At the church we pledged allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible. We sang songs and broke up into age groups for Bible stories and simple crafts made from a recycled margarine tubs, egg cartons and greeting cards that were held together with glue and pipe cleaners.

In the afternoon we conducted an outdoor VBS at a low income housing project on Miami's north side. And so I was introduced to a tradition that dates back to the 19th century.

Early on VBS was longer (six weeks) and found in inner city areas (New York, Chicago and Philadelphia). By the beginning of the 20th Century the Baptist Mission Society helped spread the VBS idea across America. The movement had such momentum that Standard Publishing began producing printed material in 1923.

Today VBS is the highpoint of the year for Baptist churches. It is used to bring new families into the church and expose children to the gospel. The results for most churches are increased Sunday school enrollment and new believers.

The workers get to put their faith into action. For many it is their first opportunity to serve. Some are new to the church and have a chance to get to know their fellow members while working with the kids. There is always something to do. If a church has all the teachers they need, there are opportunities in set up and take down, transportation, refreshments, publicity, etc.

It can be small and simple (some are done in back yards with less than a dozen children) or it can be an elaborate production. You can put it together yourself or you can buy elaborate kits from a variety of sources. Big or small, every church will receive a boost.

Although Baptist Temple is an inner city church with a tight budget, we were able to put together a big production thanks to some help from friends. Our VBS involved 115 children, 62 adult and youth workers from our church, and 26 young adults on a mission trip from Mimosa Lane Baptist Church. The mission group provided a big boost with their worship band, light show, movement team and recreation team. They greatly increased our worker to child ratio. Another key to the spectacular look of this year's VBS was Lifehouse Church passing down their VBS decorations to us.

More than a quarter of the children enrolled do not attend church. We expect a good number of them to join our Sunday school. Fifteen of the older children responded positively to a presentation of the gospel. Just as important was the fun the children had as they learned the Bible. The adults had fun, too (although they put in long hours). Who could ask for more?

Here are links to some great pics: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Being Baptist: the Authority of the Bible

Before the Reformation, the church recognized two sources of authority: the Bible and the traditions of the church. These traditions included ecumenical councils, the writings of church fathers, and the infallibility of the Pope. As a result many heresies crept into the church. One was that the church was the only source of forgiveness for sins. Another was that you could use money to buy forgiveness for sins past & future. Church leaders would control both kings and the people with the threat of hell.

Martin Luther and other reformers believed that the Bible was the final authority and superior to church tradition. Luther challenged the church on 95 wrong teachings and appealed to the Bible for his arguments. The Reformation led many churches across Europe to declare their independence from the Pope.

Baptists follow this teaching from the Reformation. We believe in the Bible as the sole authority for faith and practice. The Baptist Faith & Message (1963) states:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of Gods revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.

Many people today believe that tradition is equal to the Bible. One Baptist was winning an argument regarding a controversial teaching. His opponent said, “I don't care what the Bible says, it ain’t Baptist!”

There are many regional beliefs that Baptists have that are not grounded in the Bible. These often begin, “Baptists don't...”

You can fill in the blank with many cultural prejudices about dancing, movies, women wearing pants and more. One infamous belief was the defense of slavery by some Baptist churches. Baptists repented of this upon a closer examination of scriptures.

One principle of the Reformation is called ecclesia semper reformanda est, which is Latin for “the church is always to be reformed.” The Baptist movement was born as a result of examination of the scriptures. For more than 400 years Baptists have examined the scriptures and adapted their doctrine accordingly. This principle has helped Baptists to continue to grow as other denominations began to decline.

Baptist leaders must know the Bible well and dedicate themselves to lifelong study of the scriptures if we are to continue to keep our churches free from doctrinal error.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105 (KJV)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Being Baptist

Baptists are a diverse group. Most people groups are represented both in America and across the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. was Baptist and so was segregationist governor Lester Maddox. Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and conservative Republican Senator Jesse Helms are all Baptists. Baptists are organized into various denominations including the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Protestant denomination in America) but many choose to remain independent.

Within this diversity lies a distinctive group of beliefs that Baptists hold in common. These beliefs are not exclusive to Baptists, other denominations believe them as well. It is the combination of these beliefs that create the Baptist identity.

These beliefs include the authority of the Bible, soul competency, salvation by faith alone, local church autonomy, religious freedom and a strong emphasis on evangelism and missions. The Baptists are more commonly identified by the belief in believer's baptism by immersion.

Diversity and freedom are a common theme among Baptists but some headline-grabbing individuals within our denominational family make us look mean and controlling. It's important for Baptists to understand our history and doctrine. This Sunday I begin a sermon series about being Baptist that will be accompanied by this blog and a study of Baptist doctrine on Wednesday nights.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lack of discernment fuels rumors

A rumor is a piece of information that is passed along without regard to its truth. They are often half-truths and sometimes complete fabrications. They can cause a lot of damage, even when not intended to do harm. The Bible compares the tongue to a spark that can start a forest fire (James 3:5-6). Like a forest fire, rumors can grow out of control.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:21 we are admonished to examine or test what we hear and hold on to the truth. The Bible calls this discernment. A Christian needs discernment because Satan (the father of lies) will deceive us if we are not careful. He will play on the desires of some to believe the worst in people.

We must be very careful about what we believe and what we pass on. Jesus said, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37 NIV)”

The power of the tongue is magnified by technology. First it was the telephone, then the fax, the email and, now, Facebook. Each exponentially magnified the power of the rumor. I determined long ago not to pass along internet rumors. I will not stake my reputation on a forwarded email or anything that begins, “Facebook is at it again.” To pass it on means that I believe it to be true and am adding my approval.

Rumors run rampant in the workplace, at school and in the church. When it is directed at an individual it can be cyber-bullying and has led to more than one suicide. Be extra careful when talking about an individual. Defamation put in writing is libel and can cause someone to sue you.

I'm not sure that it is ever appropriate for a Christian to say negative things about people or institutions. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).”

It is certainly wrong if the intent is malicious, “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends (Proverbs 16:28 NIV).”

Take care when you post something on line. It will be a permanent record; it will be seen by more people than you thought; and it will say as much about you as it does about the other person or institution.

The discerning heart seeks knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.
Proverbs 15:14 (NIV)

Monday, July 09, 2012

A New Commandment

Jesus was asked what was the most important of the commandments. He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).” He said that this was the heart of the commandments; the key to obeying God. The Apostle Paul said that when we practice love we need not worry about commandment breaking (Romans 13:8-9).

This teaching is so important that Jesus chose to speak on it during his last hours of freedom. He told the Apostles, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Although Jesus said that love would be the way His followers would distinguish themselves, the opposite is often true. We hear about church and denominational splits, feuding among members within a congregation, pastors badmouthing other ministries, sexual abuse and more. Some church leaders speak such hateful words that they make a mockery of our faith and our Lord.

Jesus modeled how we should love. His was a humble love that washed the apostles feet. It was a compassionate love that touched lepers, healed the sick and raised the dead. It was a love that reached out to outcasts like Zacchaeus and the Samaritan woman. It was a sacrificial love that went to the cross so we might be freed from the shame and bondage of our sin.

The Bible teaches us that we are to love our brother, our neighbor and,even, our enemies.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another,
God lives in us and his love is made complete in us
1 John 4:12

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Adapting to Change

I recently read an article about a Lutheran church that will soon be closing it's doors. Once a thriving church, only eight people attended a recent worship service. On the other hand a Baptist new church start that rents property from the Lutherans is thriving with an average attendance of 80.

Why are the Lutherans dwindling while Baptists grow in the same neighborhood? The answer comes from Dr.Bill Leonard, church history professor at Wake Forest University. He said that mainline churches such as the Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists have a top-down church polity. Local churches follow policies set by senior leaders at a national level. Change comes slow.

Baptists, on the other hand, can more readily adapt to change. Baptist churches are autonomous and do not need permission from a bishop or synod to start a new ministry or drop an old one. They don't have to use denominationally approved teaching materials. Congregational church polity puts decision-making in the hands of the people who either decide to move or stay and find ways to reach their changing community.

Of course, not all Baptists congregations adapt (so they die) and there are other denominations and movements that follow congregational polity. But, overall, Baptists continue to adapt for the sake of the gospel. In fact, the Baptist's motivation for change is the desire to reach the next generation for Jesus Christ.

Baptist Temple has survived a century by adapting to a community that seems to be constantly changing. Forty-six baptisms over the last three years bear testimony to Baptist Temple's motivation to reach our community. Many of these baptisms have been among the hard to reach Millennial Generation (born between 1980 and 2000) and have included couples and families.

One important factor in Baptist Temple's current revival is the congregation's ownership of the ministries. Congregation polity gives everyone a voice, the Holy Spirit guides our decisions, and love helps one accept congregational decisions with which one may not agree.

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
Psalm 96:1-3