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The Ephesians 4 Project: In the Bond of Peace

The purpose of The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity has been to remind Southern Baptists that we have a consensus document in the Baptist Faith & Message.  From the very beginning of this blog series, I have demonstrated from the BF & M 2000 that Southern Baptists are unified if we can conscientiously affirm this document.  The problem of late has been a certain element within Southern Baptist life that tends more toward a Fundamentalistic rather than a Baptistic understanding of Christianity.  While there is much about Fundamentalism with which I agree, the tendency of such proponents is more akin to lynch-mob Christianity than seeking “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

Nevertheless, The Ephesians 4 Project has been a success in the sense that the BF & M was upheld as a unifying document of belief.  It has been my prayer that these articles have been received as words of humility, for I have worked hard to maintain such an attitude.  We can only pray that Southern Baptists will remain steadfast in maintaining the Spirit of unity for the sake of the gospel and Christ's Kingdom.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XVIII

Article XVIII:  The Family
God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God's unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God's pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.

Unifying Principles of Article XVIII
It has been several weeks coming, but we have finally arrived at the last article of the Baptist Faith & Message.  After this article, I will post one final article that highlights some of the more notable points of unification and contention among Southern Baptists.

As for Article XVIII on The Family, Southern Baptists are in agreement on the importance of the family “as the foundational institution of human society,” as marriage between one man and one woman in a lifelong commitment, and the complimentarian view of the marriage relationship.  Further, Southern Baptists agree that “children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord."  My one concern, as with many other statements of belief in the BF & M, is that too few Southern Baptists are actually living out this doctrine of the family.  The alarming fact that most evangelical Christians are statistically identical to non-Christians in America when it comes to the family (especially regarding divorce) demonstrates that this is a genuine problem.  Despite this, Southern Baptists are united by this article of the BF & M.

Let me end this article on the last statement of the BF & M with my recurring claim throughout this series: EVERY CHURCH AND INDIVIDUAL THAT IS CONSCIEOUNTIOUSLY ABLE TO SIGN THE BAPTIST FAITH & MESSAGE EASILY FITS WITHIN THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project XVII

Article XVII:  Religious Liberty
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Unifying Principles of Article XVII
On this Independence Day holiday weekend, it is most appropriate that I post this particular article.  History is replete with examples of the blunders and abuses that occur when religion and the state become too cozy.  I think of the atrocities infamously known as the Crusades, Nazism, and various Islamic dictatorships.  This is why I am glad that the Baptist Faith & Message contains Article XVII on Religious Liberty.  Since God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but a Divine Independent, the church should be wary of promoting secular politics within its body.  The BF & M leaves no stone unturned on this issue but makes it abundantly clear that, “Church and state should be separate.”  Rather, the church should “render loyal obedience thereto [the state] in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God.”  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that our churches are to be religiously free from and yet conditionally accountable to the state.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XVI

Article XVI:  Peace and War
It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.
The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Unifying Principles of Article XVI
Few articles in the Baptist Faith & Message resound with unifying language like Article XVI.  This article unifies Southern Baptists in our joint effort to live at peace with all men and “do all in their power to put an end to war.”  As a part of Christ’s world-wide church, we have the grand responsibility of proclaiming peace and righteousness to the nations, and we must begin this task on our knees in prayer.  Surely this statement on Peace and War is sufficient for some Southern Baptists to put down their proverbial swords and take up the pruning hooks for bringing in the gospel harvest.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XV

Article XV: The Christian and the Social Order
All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

Unifying Principles of Article XV
The Baptist Faith & Message calls Southern Baptists to responsible Christian living in their particular subcultures of society.  We all agree that the “will of Christ” is to be supreme in our personal lives and that this should inevitably affect our society as the power of God’s regenerating work demonstrates the effectualness of the gospel.

According to this statement of faith, all Southern Baptists agree that some of the primary ways that the Christian should impact society are in the areas of: racism, greed, selfishness, vice, every form of sexual immorality, orphans, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, the sick, and abortion.  The key phrase in regard to how each of the items on this list should be approached is “in the spirit of Christ.”

While I do believe that Southern Baptists agree on this point, there is a handful of people in our denomination that are not practicing what they believe but seem determined to split-hairs over some of these things.  Even recently a pastor from Waco, GA, Peter Lumpkin, has been calling out Albert Mohler regarding Mohler’s past comments on homosexuality and homophobia.  The culmination came when this pastor formally addressed Mohler at the 2011 SBC.

For the record, Mohler is right.  The fact is, Southern Baptist have traditionally approached homosexuality in a homophobic way, much like they approached (and still do in many quarters) racism in a ethnophobic way.  Both of these phobic sins hinder proclamation of the gospel to these segments of our culture.  The comments made and the tactics used by some in our denomination appear to be only loosely attached to “the spirit of Christ,” yet Southern Baptists as a whole are unified in our understanding of The Christian and the Social Order.

In light of what has been said here, let us hear again the closing sentence of the BF &M with my emphases added: “In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.”  May it be so by God’s grace.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XIV

Article XIV:  Cooperation
Christ's people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ's Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.

Unifying Principles of Article XIV
One of the reasons that I am proud to be a Southern Baptist is her history of Christian cooperation, not only within the SBC itself but also with “various Christian denominations.”  The Baptist Faith & Message gives a proper balance here around which all Southern Baptists can rally.

In recent days, however, it seems some Southern Baptists have become divisive over what really should be non-divisive issues such as the following, just to name a few: single, pastor/elder-led congregationalism versus plural, pastor/elder-led congregationalism; use of church discipline versus refusal to use church discipline; consumption of alcohol versus teetotalism in regard to alcohol; and Reformed soteriology versus Arminian soteriology (perhaps more of a fence-riding form of Arminianism since Southern Baptists affirm perseverance of the saints; see the BF &M, Article V).

These divisions are regrettable and lamentable when a world of lost people remains lost.  Let us, therefore, return to a deeper sense of cooperation as Southern Baptists and preach the gospel to all the nations.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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