Neo-independent Baptists 7
Note: This is the seventh post in an eight part collaborative series addressing the neo-independent Baptist movement. Today's post is by me, Tom Brennan. I am 45, a 1995 graduate of Hyles-Anderson College. I pastor the Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago.
As Baptists, the foremost distinctive of our denomination is that the Bible is the sole rule of faith and practice. Unlike charismatics, we do not find our own experience authoritative let alone extra-biblical revelation either, and unlike the Roman Catholics we do not elevate tradition to an equivalent place with the Word of God.
The result of this doctrine, and rightly so, is that if we teach a particular thing is right or wrong our people demand to see it in the pages of Scripture. Baptists are made of Berean stuff. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17.11) In real life, this tends to be heard as some version of this: “If you want me to believe you about that I am going to need chapter and verse.”
It is the point of this post to assert that even though this is a wonderful thing it can also become a tremendous problem. Why? Because an unbalanced application of it becomes an almost fatal weakness to the sanctification of God’s people, personal and corporate. In practice, this justifies any and every behavior that is not explicitly forbidden in the Word of God. In other words, if God does not clearly spell out that I should not do a thing it is thus allowed. Voila! I have built myself a loophole large enough to drive an entire Mack truck through – after all, there is nothing in the Word of God about driving Mack trucks, is there?
I am being slightly ridiculous, but my point stands. For example, I have been part of more discussions than I care to remember about whether some particular thing is worldly or not. At some point, someone inevitably reaches for this justification and whirling it around their head like Thor’s hammer demands that all and sundry retreat from the field. But such a position – that unless you can show me a chapter and verse where something is labeled as wrong then I am free to do it – reveals a blatant misunderstanding of how God intended the Bible to function.
Allow me to unpack this for you by way of defining two important words, convictions and principles.
In a spiritual context, a conviction is something I am convinced about. How did I arrive at that definition? By combining the dictionary and the Word of God.
Merriam-Webster defines conviction as a strong persuasion or belief; the state of being convinced. The etymology of conviction is Latin, having its roots in terms that mean to overcome decisively, or to conquer. In context, what am I conquering to arrive at my convictions? My own objections, my doubts. Those are overcome and I arrive at the place of being absolutely convinced about something.
We can see here a similarity with the legal term, being convicted. In that usage a jury convicts someone of guilt. Why? Because they become completely convinced that this person actually did the crime with which they were charged. A conviction in that sense is a legal, formal statement of being convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Such a person who has been convicted becomes a convict. They have been labeled by a jury of their peers convinced of their guilt.
Let us turn now to the Word of God. The King James Version uses the word conviction not at all but does use a similar word – convicted, though on only one occasion. It is not a legal reference of criminal guilt but a personal, spiritual reference, that of an individual becoming convinced of his own guilt. That man, or men rather, felt convicted by their conscience as Jesus was writing on the ground. Their inner justification for their actions no longer held water. They became convinced of their own error.
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped
|Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery|
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
Though this is indeed the only use of convicted in the King James Version the root word in the original language is used another seventeen times in the New Testament. Defined in the original, it means to reprove or expose, to be sternly admonished, likely using argument to convince or refute. It is variously translated as rebuke, rebuked, tell fault, reprove, reproved, convince, convinced, and convinceth.
In fact, in the very same chapter of the Bible you will find one of these. Jesus, in an argument with a crowd of murderously angry men, boldly states, Which of you convinceth me of sin? (John 8.46) No matter what was said no one would ever be able to convince Jesus Himself or anyone else who knew Him well that He was a sinner. This was true informally and formally, for a few months later at His trial a genuine conviction was impossible to obtain. Even the man who sentenced Him to death, Pilate, did so in the presence of grave doubts. He was not in the least convinced that Jesus deserved death. Jesus was not so much convicted as He was assassinated, and the verdict of history bears that out.
A conviction, then, is something about which I have become convinced, often because I got convicted about something.
Where should I get my convictions from? Negatively speaking, I should not get them from popular opinion, from what my friends or peers think, from what experts say, from my own reason, or from my own experiences. Why not? Because all of these are fallible. Yes, they often contain some truth, some fact, but they never always contain entirely truth or fact. These sources for convictions are never completely correct let alone always completely correct. Thus, we see the only proper source for our convictions – the things in life we are to be convinced about – is the Word of God.
For example, one of my life convictions is that adultery is wrong. This is not based on what society says or my own bitter experience. It is based simply on the Scriptures. Moses tells us in the Ten Commandments, Thou shalt not commit adultery. (Exodus 20.14) Ergo, adultery is wrong, as is its closely related second cousin, pornography. Why? Because Jesus explains in the Sermon on the Mount that the Mosaic law was not just forbidding the physical act but the heart of lust that drives the physical act. (Matthew 5.27-28) On these issues there is no doubt in my mind. I am convinced, and that conviction is based on the Word of God.
Much of the time God reveals His will in Scripture by plain pronouncement. The Ten Commandments cited above are an evidence of that, as is the illustration of adultery and pornography. That is a clear statement, and my application of it to pornography based on Jesus’ explanation of it in Matthew 5 is likewise clear. There are hundreds of such statements in God’s Word, simple declarations that are not complicated to understand, that draw a line and insist we stay inside of it or outside of it. Using such statements as our guide it is not difficult to formulate our convictions. They may be difficult to live but they are not hard to prove or establish.
The Christian life, however, is full of decisions that are not so clear-cut. And if my interpretation of Scripture demands I only hold to those that are clearly and plainly staked out my life will inevitably grow to resemble the worst of the world around me.
What is my support for asserting this?
The Word of God will. If there is no clear Bible statement forbidding marijuana use how can I say that? Because God reveals His will with more than just clear statements; He reveals His will with biblical principle too.
What is a principle? Merriam-Webster defines it as a comprehensive law, doctrine, or assumption. It comes from Latin terms such as princeps, meaning chief or first, and principia, meaning beginning, origin, commencement, or first part.
Turning to science for an example, we can see this in the principle of buoyancy. Why does iron sink while wood floats? Because of the principle of buoyancy. And there an almost infinite number of applications – various densities of wood, various temperatures of water, how the iron is shaped, if it is propelled, etc. Whether you are building a navy, planning to swim the English channel, or operating a buoy making factory you need to understand and apply the principles of buoyancy. The specific situation varies but the principles apply to all of them.
Understanding this leads me to my definition of a principle. In the context of spiritual things, a principle is a general expression of God’s will often with a wide application. It is not specific as in thou shalt not commit adultery. It is general. At the same time, it is just as much God’s will as thou shalt not commit adultery but it is left wide on purpose in order to allow it to be applied to many different things.
Let us turn back now to my conviction that smoking marijuana is wrong. Is there a clear Bible statement to that effect? No. But there are several principles I can think of relatively easily that apply, and lead me to my conviction. For one, my body is the temple of God. (I Corinthians 6.19-20) He resides in me and I am to glorify Him in what allow and disallow in relation to my body. Additionally, I am responsible to manage the resources God gives me for His use, not my own. One of those resources is my physical health. Good stewardship implies if not demands that I take care of my body as carefully as possible so that I may continue to serve Him. (I Peter 4.10) Not only that, but God tells me that I am not supposed to let something else other than the Holy Spirit control me even if it is legal. (I Corinthians 6.12) These and other principles lead me to my conviction, whether it becomes legal or not.
Paul uses this very approach often. He cites a principle – a general expression of God’s will – and then he uses it as the justification or foundation for a wide variety of applications. For instance, there is a section of Ephesians that runs through two chapters that does exactly this. It begins with a general admonition. That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4.22-24) That is certainly an expression of God’s will but it is just as certainly not a narrow, specific one; it is a wide, general one. From that statement, that principle, Paul over the next nearly twenty-five verses extrapolates out some very specific things. He forbids lying, anger, stealing, corrupt communication, and fellowshipping with those who still do such things. He exhorts us to tell the truth, to work hard, to use our speech to edify others, to forgive, to walk in love, to sing, and to give thanks. These applications are consistent with other aspects of God’s will revealed in Scripture, and are just as valid of a foundation for our convictions as a clear Bible statement is.
If you are still with me over two thousand words into this post you surely must be thinking to yourself, “Ok, fine, but what does all of this have to do with the neo-independent Baptist movement?”
The answer is, “Everything.”
The neo-independent Baptist movement takes for an article of faith, apparently, the idea that if God does not specifically say He is for or against something in a worship service then the rest of us dare not say so either. This is a blog series aimed at philosophy rather than methods, but here methods become clearly illustrative of my point. I am not allowed to say that God is against a certain style of worship service because there is no chapter and verse I can point to when I say that. "All styles of worship services are acceptable," they say, "the only real guiding point is what is culturally acceptable in your local context. God is not specific as to methodology. These are preferential issues not worthy of dividing over like a conviction would be. We cannot draw lines because the Bible does not draw lines. God may lead you to a more conservative position and me to an entirely different position but that is ok; we are both entirely acceptable in God’s eyes. There is nothing in Scripture to assert that God is more pleased with my church’s worship than the worship of a church down the street. God draws no negative lines here, and to say He does is foolish. You cannot show me any chapter and verse that says He does. Methodology is not theological; it is preferential."
A movement that accepts such shoddy justifications is not scriptural no matter how much it hollers, “Chapter and verse, brother, chapter and verse!” It has purposely refused the anchor of biblical principle (s). While it is beyond the scope of this post or, indeed, of this series to address many of the principles in question the fact is the concept of biblical principle has been rejected in forming corporate convictions. To make matters worse, such refusal is progressive. The consequences, at first minor, over time become more severe. The result is the destruction of sanctification, of being set apart, as the world is incorporated more and more into the church. Eventually, all that marks us as doctrinally and practically distinct evaporates, and we become like the rest of contemporary American Christianity.
…and it is happening right before our eyes.