The Baptist Identity - Introduction

Discussion in 'Books / Publications Forum' started by rlvaughn, Oct 27, 2001.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    The Baptist Identity : Four Fragile Freedoms by Walter B. Shurden, 1993, Smyth and Helwys, Macon, Ga. This book may be ordered online at Smyth and Helwys.

    About the author - Walter B. Shurden (1937-) is a Baptist historian, author and editor. He is a Callaway Professor of Christianity and Chair of the Roberts Department of Chrisitianity, both at Mercer University. Shurden is also Director of the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer. He is author or editor of several books on Baptist history and ecclesiology, and a well respected member of the Baptist educational community. Mr. Shurden is a member of the Alliance of Baptists (and though I haven't confirmed this yet, I believe also of the Southern Baptist Convention and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship).
     
  2. rlvaughn

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    Before, I get into more specifics from the "Introduction" of Shurden's book, I will list the Four Fragile Freedoms. The context from whence this was copied is online at Baptist Library.

    Bible Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the Scripture.

    Soul Freedom is the historic affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government.

    Church Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom the perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.

    Religious Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion, and freedom FROM religion.

    The purpose of this book is supposed to be to identify "What makes a Baptist a Baptist."

    [ October 28, 2001: Message edited by: rlvaughn ]
     
  3. swaimj

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    The page you cite, on which these four freedoms are posted, also says that the author derived his list after analyzing the sermons and addresses given at a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance. I think that the author's sampling pool is too narrow to give him the capability to do what he is trying to do; state the distinctives of Baptists. Consequently, these four are not reflective of all baptists. The third one, in particular, Church Freedom, does not reflect most of the baptists on this board, as a reading on the "Women Pastors" threads will show. Aside from that, I have a philosophical objection to what he is trying to do. Baptist churches should be in the business of discipling people to know, understand, and apply the whole counsel of God in our lives, not trying to figure out what parts we can dispense with so that we can have unity.
     
  4. rlvaughn

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    In his book, The Baptist Identity, Walter Shurden sets out to answer the question "What makes a Baptist a Baptist?" He says "what I have tried to do in this book" is define the essence of what constitutes being a Baptist. So he sets out on the task of finding any "spiritual and theological marks", any "generic distinctives", "any peculiar convictions" that Baptist have in common and make them Baptist. Initially, Shurden notes the simplistic, but true, fact that "membership in a local Baptist church" makes one a Baptist. But his purpose goes beyond that, seeking to find what these members of any given local Baptist church may have in common.

    Shurden notes the great diversity among Baptists, which may be seen in two political Baptist Jesses - Helms and Jackson. But, Shurden says, "Despite their frustrating diversity, Baptists share some common convictions, however."

    On page 4, Shurden tells us when and how he arrived at his consensus of Baptist distinctives, as presented in his "Four Fragile Freedoms." I first identified the four freedoms discussed in this book in the concluding chapter of my book "The Life of Baptists in the Life of the World," published in 1985. He goes on to note I arrived at these Baptist Freedoms by analyzing the sermons and addresses given by Baptists from around the world at the meetings of the Baptist World Alliance from 1905 to 1980. Herein lies what I believe was Mr. Shurden's first mistake. His conviction was that the Baptist World Alliance is the best place to look if one wants to mark major Baptist distinctives. I make no question of Mr. Shurden's motive for such a conviction, but I think such a conclusion is mistaken because it is too narrow.

    1. The time element (1905-1980) is too narrow. Looking in this time frame alone (the BWA was organized in 1905) dismisses a large volume of Baptist thought prior to this time. Even Shurden believes there are 'four centuries of Baptist witness' - that Baptists arose out of English Separatism in the early 1600's. If I believed this, I would think it of utmost importance to see what was distinctive then that caused these men/churches to leave Separatism. (I do not believe the English Separatist theory of Baptist origins, but believe that Baptist thought harks all the way back to the New Testament)
    2. The "Baptist variety" element is too narrow. Though it would seem that a sampling of Baptists from across the world would give the best variety, I think this is not true on several counts. First, though there were approximately 135 Baptist bodies represented in the BWA at the time of Shurden's writing, the purpose (much deals with political religious liberty issues and humanitarian aid) of the BWA somewhat skews the type of Baptist that participates. For example, though the numerical majority of American Baptists are represented in the BWA (due to the presence of the Southern Baptist Convention), only 14 of over 50 groups of Baptists in the United States are in the Baptist World Alliance. In England, only the liberal open membership Baptist Union is represented (while the largest body, in my opinion it by no means represents the best Baptist thought in England). Finally, though Baptists from all across the world are represented in the BWA, many of these countries do not have a very long tradition of Baptist thought or presence.
    3. The content element is too narrow. Shurden pulls his information from "sermons and addresses...at meetings of the Baptist World Alliance." With no intended disrespect for Baptist intelligentsia, it is my opinion that the people who would be invited to speak at the Baptist World Alliance are not the best representatives of what rank and file Baptists really are. One could find a broader sampling on this Board than there.

    I do not dismiss the "four fragile freedoms" as being common among Baptists, but believe that they fall far short of what it means to be a Baptist. All of us move to our conclusions from some bias (an inclination to a certain outlook), and I think Mr. Shurden's has probably been shaped by the conservative/liberal controversies in the SBC.

    It is my intent to later look at some specific chapters of the book.

    [ October 28, 2001: Message edited by: rlvaughn ]
     
  5. rlvaughn

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    <BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by swaimj:
    ...Aside from that, I have a philosophical objection to what he is trying to do. Baptist churches should be...not trying to figure out what parts we can dispense with so that we can have unity.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    I want to be careful about judging Mr. Shurden's purpose. But my guess would be that he is more concerned with creating a scenario in which Baptists that have relinquished certain distinctive Baptist principles may still be considered Baptist; rather than just trying to dispense with certain doctrines so we can have unity.

    Another book in this genre by a Southern Baptist is More Than Just a Name : Preserving Our Baptist Identity by R. Stanton Norman (Broadman & Holman, 2001). It comes from a different perspective than the book of Mr. Shurden, and might even be considered a rebuttal to it.
     
  6. ellis

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    Shurden's research and conclusions are based on the response he found from Baptists identifying themselves. It is a mistake to think that the composition of Baptists in the US is representative of all Baptists, or that the perspective of being Baptist held by any individual in any specific group of Baptists is representative of all Baptists. This board has obviously attracted a significant number of Baptists who hold fundamentalist views. Yet from an objective numerical perspective, fundamentalists account for fewer than one out of five Baptists in this country.

    It is also a mistake, which I have learned from experience, to think that every Baptist that attends the same church believes exactly the same or holds exactly the same convictions.

    Shurden writes from the broadest perspective to find the most common elements of Baptists, and I think he hits on it pretty well.
     
  7. swaimj

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    rlvaughan
    Since I have not read the book, I should not pass judgement on its contents. Sorry for that kneejerk reaction.
     
  8. Michael Wrenn

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    Swaimj,

    What did you mean by your reference to church freedom and the "Women pastors" thread?
     
  9. rlvaughn

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    Ellis, I'm glad you made it over here. I enjoyed your comments that you made on the 'Back to our roots' discussion. I would like to pose a few questions concerning some of your comments. First, I am unsure of the meaning of your initial statement: "Shurden's research and conclusions are based on the response he found from Baptists identifying themselves." Perhaps you will clarify.

    Second, you said, "It is a mistake to think that the composition of Baptists in the US is representative of all Baptists, or that the perspective of being Baptist held by any individual in any specific group of Baptists is representative of all Baptists." I agree completely. My reference to the 14 Baptist groups in the BWA out of some 50 in the US was merely an illustration that the Baptist World Alliance perhaps does not represent as great a Baptist diversity as from first impressions we might suppose. If we were as familiar with Baptists outside the United States, we might be aware that many of them are also not represented by the BWA. And with the last part of your statement, each of us probably tends to assume that our kind of Baptists (whatever that kind may Baptist that may be) is what Baptists are. If we didn't think so, we would probably be some other kind of Baptist. Nevertheless, we must realize that our "Baptist thought" does not exhibit all Baptist thought that exists.

    "This board has obviously attracted a significant number of Baptists who hold fundamentalist views. Yet from an objective numerical perspective, fundamentalists account for fewer than one out of five Baptists in this country." I will not argue this number; I assume that you are fairly close. Though I consider that Baptists have traditionally and historically held what might be called the fundamentals of the Christian faith, I would not choose to identify myself as a fundamentalist (although I agree on many points, I often get there some other way). The fundamentalist Baptists arose from the fundamentalist/modernist controversy in the early part of the 20th century, and this was not a Baptist issue, per se, though many Baptists got involved. I do think this controversy eventually brought some things to a dogmatic position among some Baptists, that they had not previously held to be dogmatic issues; for example, premillennialism.

    "Shurden writes from the broadest perspective to find the most common elements of Baptists, and I think he hits on it pretty well." I believe that the four freedoms are common elements to all Baptists, though when I get into reviewing some of the chapters I intend to show where I think he stretched some of the definitions. What I fear is that Mr. Shurden's previous experiences led him to an conclusion he unconsciously wished to find, and that the group on which he focused for his study allowed him to find those conclusions. But that is as far as I want to go with that, because I want to stay with the facts he has written rather than attempting to determine what motive he might have had for writing it.

    I expect to be away at a meeting in Kansas City for a few days, and hope to pursue the review of this book further when I return.
     
  10. swaimj

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    Church Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom the perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.

    Michael Wrenn,
    The above definition opens the door to the ordination of women. My point is that those advocating ordination of women on the "women pastors" thread seem to be a minority on this board. Therefore, it is hard to see how "Church Freedom" as defined above can be regarded as a distinctive of baptists.
     
  11. Michael Wrenn

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    Swaimj,

    But who or what outside of a local Baptist church can dictate whom that local church may or may not ordain?
     
  12. Kiffin

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    I can't judge the book but the publishers Smyth and Helwys, are on the leftward edge of Baptist thought and the Alliance of Baptists is a extremist liberal group that endorses homosexual behavior and that hints at universalist theology. I cannot take seriously anyone associated with the Alliance of Baptists that is closer to Liberal Protestant theology than Historic Baptist theology be it Particular or General Baptists.
     
  13. swaimj

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    Michael,
    The scriptures. They are the rule of faith and practice.

    It is interesting that this author's quote sees the church as having freedom to decide under the "lordship of Christ" rather than under the "authority of scripture." This is a subtle shift in definition which contains a pandora's box of consequences.

    [ October 30, 2001: Message edited by: swaimj ]
     
  14. Michael Wrenn

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    Swaimj,

    Not to argue, but which came first, Christ or the scriptures? Who is Lord, Christ or the scriptures? Is Christ dependent on the scriptures, or the scriptures dependent on Christ? If the scriptures hadn't been written, the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, would still have been incarnated, lived, died, and rose again.
     
  15. swaimj

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    Yes, Michael, but what if we did not have the scriptures? What would you know of Christ?
     
  16. Michael Wrenn

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    Swaimj,

    Yes, I know what you're saying, but what I'm saying is, just as in Jesus's day, some people today try to do with the scriptures what the scribes and Pharisees did, forgetting that Jesus is Lord, not only over the individual and church, but over the scriptures as well.
     
  17. swaimj

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    Michael,
    Let me direct my comments back toward the third freedom. I see the phrase "under the Lordship of Christ" as a phrase of intentional ambiguity. In a sense the author could say that, "under the leadership of the HS", or "under the authority of scripture" and the statements would be synonomous. However, I don't think that author, nor you, see those statements as synonomous. Somehow you think that you can be under the Lordship of Christ and ignore the instruction of scripture or even disobey it outright. You CANNOT know the desires of Jesus for you apart from scripture any more than you would know that salvation is through Christ if you had no scripture. How can you say that Jesus is lord over the scripture? The scriptures say that Jesus was "born under the law" and that he kept it perfectly. He is lord in the sense that he added a new body of revelation to the scripture, but until that new revelation was given, he kept the old faithfully. You need to follow his example and obey his word in the matter of women being pastors.
     
  18. Michael Wrenn

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    Swaim,

    You have both misunderstood and mischaracterized my views.

    So, you don't think Christ can reveal Himself to someone apart from the scriptures? It seems it's you who is limiting God; it's seems it is you who do not believe in the sovereignty of God.

    Funny, I don't remember Jesus forbidding women being pastors, so maybe it's you who is being disobedient.
     
  19. swaimj

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    <BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR> So, you don't think Christ can reveal Himself to someone apart from the scriptures? <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    As Pastor Larry told you on another thread, God can do anything. The question, in light of the "church freedom" statement is, "is Jesus revealing himself apart from scripture to people who have the scripture?" and "is Jesus revealing himself to people who have the scripture with a message that goes against scripture?"

    I think not. If you say that a church, under the Lordship of Christ, can choose women pastors, then I must conclude that you either willingly disobey a passage like I Tim 2 and consider the lordship of Christ and scriptural authority to be separate things, or that you have a new revelation from Christ which is different from the scripture and consider yourself under his Lordship. If there is a different alternative to my conclusions, please share it.
     
  20. Michael Wrenn

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    And as I have repeatedly said, when you and others of the same mind start forbidding women to speak once they enter the church, forbid them to wear gold or pearls, forbid then to braid or cut their hair, never hire single men as pastors, requre women to wear a head covering, etc. etc., then I would at least say that you are consistent in your interpretation and practice of scripture. Since I know you don't follow these practices, I must conclude that YOU willingly disobey scripture, or that you have a new revelation from Christ which is different from scripture.
     

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