“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17)
“The Bible: Our Only Rule of Faith and Practice” is a Baptist distinctive. When Paul wrote this to Timothy there was only one true church and there is still one true church. As pillars that bore inscriptions on the mighty buildings of the ancient world so it is that the church supports and maintains truth. The church of the living God, the church that Jesus built….we must remember that we did not author the truth, but we received the truth from God as given in His Word and are the only institution on earth given the authority to publish and proclaim the truth on the earth!
It is what sets us apart from the rest of the world.
H. Boyce Taylor, in his work Why I Am A Baptist wrote these words, “If it isn’t in the Bible it isn’t Baptist doctrine: if it is Baptist doctrine you can find it in the Bible.”
Francis Wayland wrote in Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, “We profess to take for our guide in all matters of religious belief and practice, the New Testament, the whole New Testament and nothing but the New Testament.”
When put into practice (and not just mere words), this is one of the distinguishing marks that separate us from the rest of the religious world.
It’s a fact that even when you study the movements and growth of even the Protestant groups, they held up the banner “SOLA SCRIPTURA” as their rallying cry but their actions were different weren’t they? When they wrote those words down and held the banner high, at the same time they were also upholding the pillar of popery – infant baptism. And that’s just one glaring example, showing that they did not believe it really. Our Reformed Baptist brethren would do well to remember this as they celebrate the Reformation. Perhaps their banner should have been – “SCRIPTURE WHEN IT IS CONVENIENT.”
“Buy the truth, and sell it not; Also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.” (Proverbs 23:23)
There is never a good reason to compromise or to sell out.
“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
This text shows us that doctrine (Greek, teaching, that which is taught) is absolutely necessary to the growth of the believer. Right doctrine is essential to right practice. Our doctrine must always come from the Bible.
“Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” (Acts 5:28)
The Word of God was so important to the early church that they were accused of filling Jerusalem with their doctrine. How far have we gone away from this? Instead of filling the world with the Word, in many cases the church has gotten its fill of the world.
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
The pastor of every Baptist church ought to be preaching the Word of God….regardless of his “style.” Perhaps he is doing sequential expository sermons. Maybe his sermons are mostly topical. Whatever it is, God’s Word better be what he is preaching. This should be the expectation and demand of every church member. Those who neglect the Word of God get turned to fables….in their preaching, their creeds and confessions, their practices, and their way of living.
We are warned in Ephesians 4:14,
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;”
It is sad when preachers will get online or get up in their pulpits and brag about how they got carried away with a wind of doctrine. Somewhere, some how, they read or heard something that pulled them away from the truth. I love to read. Through the years I have built a pretty large library, but you have to be careful what you read. We have access to a lot of good books out there, but there is also a lot of garbage. I like what Charles Spurgeon said, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”
There are some who slip false doctrine in through their writings and their preaching. The Bible warns against this:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17-18)
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (2 John 9-11)
How can we be watchful?
“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)
Tom Ross, in his commentary on Acts wrote, “The Bereans were earnest seekers of truth. They did not merely go on the word of the preacher, they searched the Scriptures to see if the things being preached were so. I am convinced that if more professing Christians had the spirit of the Bereans we would have a lot less heresy in our day. The Bereans did not merely pick up their Bibles one day a week, rather they sought to mine truths of Scripture every day. Every Christian needs to spend some time in the Word of God every day. Not only should we read it, we should search it out as we would for hid treasures. Time spent in earnest study of the Scriptures is never wasted. If more Baptist church members followed the example of the Bereans there wouldn’t be so many churches compromising and departing from the faith once delivered unto the saints.” (A Baptist Exposition of the Book of Acts, p 240)
We must be Berean. Not only in the preaching that we hear from our pulpits, but in the practices of the churches we are a member of. The last article I had printed for the Berea Baptist Banner was on congregationalism, and it is an important distinctive of the Baptists. But understand something, the Baptist church has its limits. If there is a majority vote, that does not mean it is the correct vote. It is possible that the minority may be in the right. What is the deciding factor? The Word of God.
Let’s just suppose an imaginary case. First Landmark Baptist Church of Anytown, USA decided by majority vote that going forward all baptisms would be by sprinkling or pouring. There was a small minority that opposed the measure, but the resolution passed. Is this resolution binding? In some churches where the doctrine of the sovereignty of the church is preached or practiced, it would be said that it is binding, and the minority would be called out for causing division!
The fact is that Baptist churches are not sovereign. They are independent, yes. But a body can only be sovereign if they have the power to legislate. Churches have not been given that kind of authority. We are bound by the Scriptures. In a case where the majority votes to do something opposed to the Bible, and the minority opposes it on Scriptural grounds, the minority is correct. In the case above, the majority would be in error, and the minority would be correct to stand against it. Baptism is always immersion.
Usually, since churches are independent these sorts of cases are internal meaning that they do not involve other churches. And that is the way it should be. I am pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Hortense Georgia does not need to know what is going on at every other in the country. However, there are times when other churches do get involved. Suppose the example church above carried on its error. Then, one of its members moved away and wished to join the Second Baptist Church in the next county. What should that church do? If that person got their baptism from the fictional First Landmark Baptist Church of Anytown, then Second Baptist Church would not be able to take them in by letter. They would have to be Scripturally Baptized and join that way.
This may cause a “break in fellowship” between the churches, but what caused it? On the surface, to a casual observer it would look like the Second Baptist Church was guilty of not “recognizing church authority” because they re-baptized a person from the First Baptist Church. But that really wasn’t the problem. Second Baptist was standing for the truth, and never questioned the other church’s authority but had a problem with the unscriptural way in which they used their authority in baptism. The problem was the First Landmark Baptist Church, and the course of a break of fellowship started when they drifted from the normal Scriptural procedure. Fictional First Baptist was not following the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice. There is not any warrant for pouring or sprinkling.
I love unity and fellowship between brethren and churches. But I love the truth and the Word of God more. Sometimes when you take a stand there is division. Notice the words of our Lord:
“Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” (Luke 12:51-53)
Churches ought to respect each other’s independence and authority but only insofar as they are Biblical. The Lord’s churches are obligated to follow the Lord and His Word. Period. We are not obligated to follow or submit to the unscriptural practices of other churches. This goes for unscriptural ordinations, weddings, disciplines, baptisms, etc.
Imagine if the “good” Baptist church in your “fellowship circle” began ordaining women. Would you continue that fellowship for the sake of unity, even having her over to preach? Or would you stand for the truth, even if it meant that others might not stand with you?
All confessions of faith, creeds, by-laws, traditions, feelings, fellowships, conventions and associations MUST submit to the authority of the Word of God. We cease to be Baptist the moment we allow anything (besides God’s Word) to be our standard.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” (2 Timothy 2:15-16)
Beloved reader, study God’s Word. Don’t just look at it on Sunday. Yes, in its context, Paul was writing to the younger preacher Timothy. But in its application, this is good for all Baptists everywhere. The allusion is just as Paul was accustomed to measuring the material of the tent and cutting it precisely so the tent would be perfect. Even so, the Word of God needs to be measured, and rightly divided.
Churches today need to be sure they are holding up the Bible as the ONLY standard of faith and practice like the Baptists of old. When someone asks us why we believe something or why we do something, let it never be because the preacher said, or because we have always done it. Let it always be because “Thus saith the Lord.”