We had an enormous amount of readers for the post entitled "Baptist Identity or Evangelical Anonymity? Part I". For Part II, I wanted the voice of an accomplished theologian and churchman to guide our way. Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, graciously agreed to pen for us the following essay.
I think you will agree his essay possesses both a decidedly Baptist conviction and a commitment to forge and develop genuine spiritual camaraderie with believers of other persuasions In addition, the passion Dr. Yarnell undeniably projects for the lost cannot be missed.
It is that precise Biblical balance that is so needed today when there are those among us who wish to pursue an unrecognizable conglomerate of ecumenical evangelicals where those ecclesiological traits we have known as distinctively Baptist stand in jeopardy of completely vanishing.
Thank you, Dr. Yarnell for your informed essay.
With that, I am...
Please read on...
Brother Peter Lumpkins has been so gracious as to invite me to complete his recent comments regarding the question, “Baptist Identity or Evangelical Anonymity?” This question is one that has come to the fore amongst Southern Baptists due in part to recent efforts by some high profile Southern Baptist leaders, who have called our people to focus upon the building of bridges.
Because I am concerned that the passion to bridge quickly every divide
(especially when unaccompanied by due regard for the necessity behind many of
those divisions) possesses the great potential to undermine our New Testament
ecclesiology, it is my great honor to join this local church leader in
affirming his major premise regarding the question at hand:
While I have no reservations whatsoever in putting my arm around people of other persuasions than Baptist within the Christian family, without hesitation calling them my brother or my sister in Christ, I'll be darned if I am going to sit back and watch Baptist identity get swallowed up in evangelical anonymity.
There is one overarching reason for the passion that Rev. Lumpkins and I share regarding the necessity of preserving our Baptist identity, which he has correctly identified as manifesting itself most readily in the doctrine of the church (i.e. ecclesiology). That one overarching reason is that, beginning with baptism, we have submitted ourselves as disciples to the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptist life is rooted in the Lordship of Christ, Who has revealed His will clearly and sufficiently in the inerrant Word of God. Baptists are disciples who congregate on the basis of a covenant as free, believing, and baptizing churches.
Like Peter, moved by the grace of God as the Word was proclaimed, I also surrendered my heart to Jesus Christ in the context of a Southern Baptist church through whom God issued invitations to sinners to repent and believe. Due to the profound way in which I came to the knowledge of sin and forgiveness, I have always appreciated the importance of possessing a truly biblical doctrine of regeneration and baptism: specifically, that spiritual regeneration must precede baptism.
Baptism may not be treated as if
it were a grand option given by Christ,
for it is actually a grand commandment
given by Christ. The baptism of believers only by immersion is not an
indifferent matter; rather, the baptism of believers only by immersion goes to
the very heart of a disciple’s submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The one who claims to know Jesus as Savior must concurrently submit to Jesus as Lord. There is no call to salvation in Christ apart from the call to submission to Christ’s will. He who teaches otherwise teaches in direct contradiction of the New Testament witness, for the confession, “Jesus is Lord,” is the only saving confession. Therefore, the person who is saved must submit as a disciple to this One Who is Lord.
And the believer’s first act of discipleship will be obeying his or her Lord by receiving baptism at the hands of a local New Testament church. At least that is what traditional Baptists believe, because we understand that the Bible is inerrant, perspicuous, and sufficient, and Christ has spoken to His churches regarding His will in that Bible.
The doctrine of biblical inerrancy teaches that Jesus Christ
has revealed His will regarding the church with perfection in Scripture. The
doctrine of biblical perspicuity teaches that Jesus Christ has revealed His
will regarding the church with utmost clarity in Scripture. The doctrine of
biblical sufficiency teaches that Jesus Christ has revealed all that we need to
implement regarding His church in Scripture. Due to the Bible’s inerrancy,
clarity, and sufficiency, we must examine closely all that He has said and
require in the church no more and no less than what He has commanded.
What, then, has Christ commanded regarding His church? First, let it be known that, without a doubt, Christ’s revelation begins with a call to believe and proceeds after belief to a call to baptism. (Dear Reader, if you are not a believer, we beg of you to submit to Jesus Christ as your personal Lord, for only He can save you from your sins! Place your faith in Him, for He died on a cross to atone for your sins and arose from the dead to provide you with eternal life. Oh, dear Reader, turn from your sins and believe in Him. By His Spirit, He extends His grace to you even now!) Again, after a person is called to salvation by Christ—in other words, is made a disciple of Christ—that person is called to submit to the Lordship of His Savior, first in the act of baptism. Hear what Scripture has to say about this baptism.
In receiving baptism at the command of Jesus, the one who has believed identifies himself or herself with the Triune God, in whose threefold singular name a person ought to receive baptism (Matt. 28:19). In receiving baptism by the hands of a minister authorized by a local church, the believer enters a local church (Acts 2:41), a church that was formed on the basis of a covenant that involves both human and divine participation (Matt. 18:18-20).
In receiving baptism by immersion, the believer witnesses publicly to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one’s only hope, and pledges to live in this new life even now (Rom. 6:3-6). In receiving baptism according to the teaching of Jesus, the believer is identifying himself with the doctrine of Jesus, Who taught the eternal security of the believer (John 6:39). In receiving baptism, all this and so much more happens. But let us consider the seven major points that proceed from the passages just mentioned, passages which detail the will of Christ the Lord.
The first reason that I am a traditional Baptist is because Baptists begin the Christian life in the only way that Jesus Christ gave to His followers--by hearing His Word, believing it, confessing it, and obeying it by receiving baptism. Second, Baptists do not baptize babies, because doing so alters the command of Christ and the orderly practice of His apostles, Who always placed conversion prior to baptism.
Third, Baptists do not baptize only in the name of Jesus, because doing so ignores the command of Christ, which was clear that baptism should be in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Fourth, Baptists do not baptize apart from the local church, because baptism involves local church membership.
Fifth, Baptists do not baptize into an illusory invisible church, because they understand that a church requires a covenant and that can only be done where two or more people (and people have visible bodies) have gathered. Sixth, Baptists do not sprinkle or pour, because they know that only immersion is faithful to the New Testament witness regarding the cross and the empty tomb of the gospel.
Finally, Baptists do not baptize those who lack the assurance of their eternal salvation, because the doctrine that one may lose one’s salvation indicates a lack of submission to Christ’s own doctrine.
These seven biblical doctrines concerning baptism speak much about Baptist identity. If we compromise these revealed teachings of Christ, we will begin to lose our Baptist identity because we will have compromised the Lordship of Christ. I am a Baptist because I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. And because I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, I must submit to His will. We may never compromise one aspect of Christ’s will, even in the name of supposed Christian unity.
This brings us to the conclusion at which Brother Peter
Cooperation must end where our bedrock convictions are compromised.
I love all those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and my heart desires fellowship with them. However, we may never compromise His Lordship in the name of His Love. Indeed, we best encourage others to dwell in His Love as we encourage one another to surrender to His Lordship.
Like Rev. Lumpkins, I have had many ecumenical experiences.
I have prayed for divine leadership with Presbyterians, cried out to the Spirit
with Charismatics, and mulled over God’s glory with Methodists. Two different
Episcopalian bishops asked me to consider conversion after hearing me preach in
an Episcopal church, because they said I was both an orthodox and intelligent
One of my doctoral supervisors was a Methodist theologian, another doctoral supervisor was an Anglican priest, and one of my dissertation readers, it may surprise some to learn, is the current Archbishop of Canterbury.
And, yes, I have interacted publicly with the theology of Pope Benedict XVI and, as a result, was recently invited to New York to meet with him in a small group. In other words, I have interacted—as a pastor, as a theologian, and as a spiritual Christian—with evangelicals and liberals in every major Christian denomination and many minor ones.
And yet, in spite of my openness to dialogging with other Christians—in spite of my eager willingness to listen, to learn, and to understand better —in spite of true heartfelt appreciation and love for these dear Christians—and, in spite of a deep desire to have spiritual communion with these fellow believers, I have yet to be convinced that Christ’s desire for unity among His followers allows for the diminution of Christ’s commands to His followers.
My conscience will not allow me to seek an ecclesial coalition “together for the gospel” with the Presbyterians (or the Methodists), because these errant believers directly disobey our Lord Jesus Christ with regard to baptism. I will not cooperate in an ecclesial way with Pentecostals, because these errant believers unduly separate believers’ baptism from the Spirit’s baptism and detract from the eternal security of the believer. I will not convert to evangelical Anglicanism, because I see no biblical reason to create a threefold ministry. And I will not cooperate with the Roman Catholics, because they have, inter alia, confused church tradition with divine revelation.
Please hear Peter Lumpkins, Malcolm Yarnell, and similar preacher-theologians, both in the Baptist churches and in the academies that belong to those churches: We love other Christian believers, and we desire to have spiritual communion with these non-Baptists. However, true communion must be based in Christ, and since He has graciously revealed His will in an inerrant, clear, and sufficient manner in the Bible, we cannot ignore Him.
We Baptists are governed congregationally under Christ, led by pastors who focus upon proclaiming the Word, and baptized as believers only by immersion. We Baptists, moreover, manifest communion with Him in the Lord’s Supper, practice redemptive church discipline, and proclaim His gospel to a world that is lost and going to hell apart from that gospel. We must not, we cannot, and we will not compromise His will for our churches, a will revealed in the New Testament.
We as traditional Baptists do seek fellowship with other Christians, especially evangelical Christians, but we can never do so at the expense of declaring His Lordship over His churches. New Testament ecclesiology is not a matter of indifference, as most evangelicals teach. Indeed, compelled by His Love to call others to His Lordship, we as Baptists invite all other Christian churches to consider the New Testament paradigm for the church.
If you can show how Baptist churches might better implement Christ’s will, we are ready to listen. Until then, we hope you will hear what God has shown Baptists about the New Testament church, even if we have not always perfectly implemented what we know the Lord has commanded
Malcolm B. Yarnell III
Fort Worth, Texas