Are We Baptists or Just Baptistic?

It all began for me more than 20 years ago, visiting a pastor who had just begun his ministry in a nearby church; "Well, I don't think we have to wear the big "B" on our backs to be Baptist in doctrine and practice." What a shame to claim Baptist convictions but be unwilling to bear the name! The truth is that the church had a long history of interdenominationalism. It was a worldly congregation at its best and badly compromised at its worst. They jumped on every bandwagon that came down the road from Billy Graham crusades to Greg Laury and Jack Van Impe. If it was sensational, they were in it; and when it fizzled, they would simply move on to the next wave of excitement. The pastor could never use the term "Baptist" in that church without fear of losing his position. The people wouldn't tolerate it, and he lacked the courage to fight for it.

Today it is not only the appeasement of worldly congregations but also pastors who seize the role of agents of change in historically sound Baptist churches, and many of them are following the lead of John MacArthur and the movement to reform Baptist doctrine and distinctives.

In a recent issue (Vol. 10, No. 1)of The Master's Current, the official publication of Master's College, claim is laid to the heritage of Charles Spurgeon and the Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary right on the front page:

In our era of rapid change with few things being so sacred that they avoid having an update, The Master's College and Seminary have followed the example of Spurgeon and stood with the prophets and Apostles who penned the Scriptures. In seventy-seven years of teaching young people, this school still chooses to embrace the original doctrines of the early church. We are delighted to announce that there has been no shift in doctrine at The Master's College and Seminary (TMCS) since its founding in 1927 as the Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary(LABTS).

While we agree with most points of the TMCS doctrinal statement - as far as it goes- it is remarkable how such a claim can be substantiated, especially when we consider the matter of church polity. After all, MacArthur has conducted Shepherd's Conferences for years with the objective of training pastors how to convert their churches, particularly Baptist churches, from congregational polity to Elder Rule. He has done so without apology; because his conviction, though missing from his parallel with the LABTS Doctrinal Statement, is that Elder Rule is the correct interpretation of New Testament Church practice. How does he juggle these apparent difficulties? Read on:

While TMCS is no longer denominationally Baptist, it remains "Baptistic" in its theological position to the extent that the Baptist denomination continues to be faithful to biblical principles.

At this point there may be some veterans who are sidetracked by wondering how or why LABTS was handed over to John MacArthur. It is a question worthy of further investigation, but not here. Suffice it to say that LABTS at least wore the label that MacArthur immediately set aside, while taking possession of the school as well as the Robert T. Ketchum library and archives.

We need to agree that the expression "Reformed Baptist" is an oxymoron invented by those who wish to draw Baptist church doctrine and polity into a Reformation in which Baptists had no part. Reread Laurence Brown's excellent article, On Baptist Church Polity, in the previous edition of THE REVIEW before you dismiss the subject too quickly. While the London Confession of Faith is admittedly an adaptation of the Westminster Confession of Faith, there were never Baptists among the so-called "Westminster Divines" who authored the latter work. It would have been heretical to suggest such an idea.

The term "Baptistic" opens the door and builds the bridge to become inclusive with both worldly methodologies and Neo-Evangelicalism, as well as Reformed doctrine with the resulting destruction of Baptist identity, distinctives and history. This contrived connection grants license to become worldly yet ritualistic, satisfying our appetites while salving our consciences at the same time. However, in the process we will forfeit the vitality of strong doctrinal preaching and genuine, effective evangelism. If this seems remote, consider that its invitation is as near as your computer and email.

Baptist preachers have a hard time turning away from anything free. Especially when it comes to books and now, free software. So groups like E-4 make a fantastic offer; electronic books for only the price of shipping. Who would resist such a deal? When you live in Philadelphia, you learn to look every "gift horse" in the mouth. A little online research will reveal that the books and their source are devoutly Reformed. Indeed, they state they will not ever publish anything that opposes Reformed Theology.

Consider further the following reasons why we should be Baptist, not Baptistic:

1. Being Baptistic is a concession to Immaturity. Like so many young people today who want all the privileges without any of the responsibilities, some churches and pastors enjoy the doctrinal distinctions (at least some of them) but do not want to be marked as Baptist. If that is because of the way in which the term has been abused and distorted by others, then shall we also yield "Fundamentalist," or Church, or Christian or Born Again? All these and more have been disparaged by enemies of the cross, but we must press the fight to define and demonstrate them correctly. Which leads us to the next.

2. Being Baptistic is yielding up Blood-Bought Ground. Perhaps our spiritual forefathers might have escaped the threat of prison, the gallows or being burned at the stake if only they had Baptist in their subtitle instead of their name. Disowning the name dishonors those who have paid the highest price to pass the doctrines and title down to our generation.

3. Being Baptistic can be Deceptive and Dishonest. Why should we be ashamed of the name Baptist, or why should we hide who we are or what we believe? We're so busy being popular and attractive, worrying whether people like us or not, that we reject the teaching of Jesus Christ by refusing to bear the reproach of both Christ and His cross. Jesus said, "Marvel not if the world hate you...." We should be more distressed and concerned if the unsaved world embraces us and our ministries (John 15:18,19). Furthermore, by camouflaging our true identities, we gravitate towards the "Bait and Switch" techniques of used car salesmen. Indeed, the whole marketing phenomenon has cheapened the Gospel ministry to put it on par with the sale of corn flakes and razor blades! Was the Great Commission really just the Great Sales Pitch? These things rob the Gospel of its supernatural character and set aside the work of the Holy Spirit for the cleverness of men.

4. Being Baptistic produces more Confusion than Clarity. The problem is not with those who use the name but deny its principles. The problem lies with us who claim the name altogether but fail to set the record straight by preaching all that it means to be a Baptist. A so- called "Community Church" tells us nothing. It invokes neither significance nor distinction, but people deserve both. Consider, for example, going to the supermarket and shopping for meat. There are abundant packages to choose from in the freezer; but it is hard to see what's inside, and all the labels say is "meat." Not steak, not pork chops, not even hamburger--just "meat." What nonsense is this? Who would tolerate such foolishness? Every church that abandons its identity and slinks into the shadow of a generic name, trading clarity for curiosity. Every ministry that, in the name of expediency, broadens its appeal by limiting its doctrinal teaching and preaching, is seeking more people but with less Truth.

5. Lastly, being Baptistic makes the Baptist Distinctives negotiable, rather than absolute, making them plastic enough for many, like John MacArthur, to shape them to their own notions of what it means to be Baptist-like. It makes room for contemporary music and takes the decision-making power out of the hands of the people. It opens the doors to empty ritualism and vague identity. It gives license to redefining our name and associated terms. In other words, it makes them after man's image and not God's.

The saddest part of all such compromises is that, in the name of success, we suffer a worse defeat; because we have given the world a dazzling package with nothing left inside that is worthwhile. It is truly a "form of godliness" that denies the power thereof (II Timothy 3:5); "..From such turn away."

Pastor Charles L. Dear