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Team Baptist

One of those distinct memories of my early elementary school was P.E.  Inevitably, the sport of the day began with choosing teammates.  The teacher picked “captains,” and the captains would then alternate in choosing their teammates.  In the end, this elementary draft sometimes left you with a hodge podge of players.  But there was one thing I noticed—no matter how different the players on each team, they rallied around one another for the sake of the greater goal of winning the game.

This illustrates a great spiritual truth.  Despite many differences among Southern Baptists, I have found that we have mostly recognized that we are on the same team: our rule of faith being the Bible; our consensus statement regarding biblical doctrine being the Baptist Faith & Message; and our rallying cry being JESUS SAVES!

Perhaps this is why the SBC team morale in the last 7-10 years has been especially troubling.  It seems we have teams within the team nowadays (perhaps this is the way it has always been but it seems more evident of late).  And it seems that one of the ways of determining whose “team” you’re on is being asked questions like, “Who do you read?” or “Who do you listen to?” (referring to pastors/theologians).

This line of questions has come to me several times in recent years.  And then when they hear that I primarily listen to people with whom they disagree in some respects, then they insinuate that I have become skewed in my beliefs because of this.

Please allow me to clear the air on some of the greatest influencers of my theology.  From a very young age, I remember Sunday mornings in my home included Charles Stanley on television right after breakfast and before we left to assemble with the saints.  I like to say that I cut my teeth as a new believer on his preaching.

In my early days of college, I remember several summer revivals with Tennessee evangelist Ronnie Owens.  I can’t tell you how much God used this man to bring revival to my wandering college-heart.  I like to say that through his preaching I had root canals on several rotten teeth.

In my late years of college, I remember listening to Adrian Rogers on my morning commutes.  His preaching helped me grow in my passion for Jesus, the lost, and for expositional preaching.  I like to say that God did some additional work on my teeth that was not only corrective but even cosmetic.

Finally, it was while in seminary that I was deeply influenced through the preaching of Bob Pitman of Kirby Woods Baptist, Bud Bickers, missions professor; and Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist.  God used these men and others like them to polish my gospel teeth even further.

Ironically, throughout the years of being greatly influenced by these men of God, I have come to disagree with some of the finer points of their biblical interpretations—for example, in the areas of ecclesiology and soteriology.  I don’t disagree with them by and large but on the finer points.

Yet, I continue to have a great respect for these men and their ministries.  And yes, I still listen to them on occasion.  But no, I do not listen to them exclusively nor primarily.  I believe in a varied diet of God’s Word as long as the shepherds feeding my soul are within the realm of orthodoxy.  And yes, that means that some of the shepherds that feed me are outside of the SBC—men like R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Tim Keller, John Piper, and C.J. Mahaney.

Time and again, I hear of my fellow SBC teammates criticizing teammates like me for listening to SBCers who are Reformed in their ecclesiology and soteriology; and they seem even more disturbed that I would listen to non-SBC preachers.  Ironies of ironies, however, some such critics have no problem listening to non-SBC preachers like John Hagee.  Some will even use non-SBC evangelistic programs such as Evangelism Explosion, which was put together by D. James Kennedy.

Now I understand that there is a pocket of squirrely Reformed Baptist in the SBC.  But I can say that out of all of my Reformed acquaintances, they all love Jesus, share the gospel, and have a passion for their local flock.  Besides, there are always fringe elements.  Yes, there is a small number of squirrely Reformed Baptists.  But just as accurate, there is a small number of squirrely “Traditionalist” Baptists.

Yet, I am convinced that the majority of Southern Baptists recognize there is plenty of room under the SBC umbrella for a variety of Baptistic expressions.  And that is exactly what the Preamble of the BF & M allows for.  After all, we are on the same team.  So I say, let’s start living and loving like it in our ministries and communications.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article VI

Article VI:  The Church
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.

Unifying Principles from Article VI
Historically, Baptist have been strong on their view of the local church, and the statement made in the Baptist Faith & Message confirms this for Southern Baptists.  The unifying principles abound from article VI.  We all agree that the church is founded upon the New Covenant in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We all agree that the church is an “autonomous local congregation of baptized believers.”  We all agree the membership in the church is “by covenant in faith and fellowship in the gospel.”  We all agree that there are only two ordinances (baptism and communion).  We all agree that the church is to be operated “under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.”  We all agree that the two “scriptural offices are pastors and deacons,” though we’ll need to address this one further.  And we all agree that the office of pastor is to be “limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

There are, however two areas in which we need to clarify the doctrine of the church.  In the area of local church autonomy, we must remember that this means that local churches “have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.” (BF &M, The Preamble).  Therefore, the SBC has a right to hold the local churches accountable on doctrine and practice only so far as the BF & M demands.  This means that local churches will be similar in many ways, but not uniform.  So, we must be careful not to confuse the denomination with the local church, which leads to a second area in need of clarification.

While we all agree that the scriptural offices of the church are pastors and deacons, we must give the local church some freedom to work out their understandings of Scripture.  Please note that the biblical terms of elder/overseer/pastor each refer to one office and that the term elder is used far more than the others in the New Testament.  I have chosen to use the more familiar words to Baptists of pastor and elder.  The following models must be given a hearing in the SBC because each one is firmly congregational, even though we may disagree on the biblical accuracy of one or more (this is not necessarily an exhaustive lists since a number of variations of these can play out in a local church):

  1. Pastor/Elder-ruled:  Some churches have chosen this model in which the pastor/elder is held accountable by the congregation, but he makes the majority of decisions on behalf of the church.

  2. Pastor/Elder-led:  Some churches have chosen this model in which the pastor makes some independent decisions but is held accountable by the congregation, which has ultimate decision-making responsibilities.

  3. Pastor & Deacon-led:  Some churches have chosen this model in which the pastor/elder is held accountable directly by the deacons, and both the pastor/elder and deacons make some independent decisions but are held accountable by the congregation, which has ultimate decision-making responsibilities.  This appears to be the dominant model in the SBC at this time.

  4. Pastors/Elders-led:  Some churches have chosen this model in which a plurality of pastors/elders make some independent decisions but are held accountable by the congregation, which has ultimate decision-making responsibilities.

Out of these three, it is my understanding of Scripture that only models 2 and 4 are biblically validated, but within the boundaries laid out by the BF & M, each of these is permissible at the local church level.  Notice that I have excluded the elder-ruled model because accountability to the congregation is lessened to such a degree that one would be hard-pressed to prove that it is Baptistic as opposed to Presbyterian.

Despite what some Southern Baptists are saying, each of these models maintains congregational-rule, and we pray each of them is ultimately Christ-ruled.  No matter the model of congregational church polity adopted, there is no reason that we cannot be unified as Southern Baptists.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Recent Comments
Guest — Ben Simpson
Jeremy, concerning the leadership structure of the church, here is where we must weigh tradition with Scripture. It is clear that... Read More
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 10:44
Guest — jeremyvanatta
I believe Menikoff is right on target. Turning from Scripture to the culture for guidance on church polity will be a nightmare at... Read More
Thursday, 02 June 2011 09:44
Guest — Ben Simpson
Also, some are trying to equate elder-led with elder-ruled. Are they the same? If not, what are the differences?
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 10:47
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