Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Lasering Lemke - Issue 3

Issue 3 - Baptist Polity – Will Baptists hold to their traditional confessions in issues regarding the doctrine of the church, such as the appropriate practice of church ordinances and the scriptural offices of the church or will we compromise our historic beliefs in order to become more homogenized with other evangelical Christians?

Glaring omissions concerning Southern Baptist Church polity in the early days of our denomination and in the early days of Baptist History make this warning by Dr. Lemke almost irrelevant. The idea that a Southern Baptist Church today with elders is somehow out of the mainstream of Baptist history is an incredible conclusion in face of all the evidence to the contrary.

In the London Baptist Confession of 1644 the following article appears. “That being thus joined, every Church has power given them from Christ for their better well-being, to choose to themselves meet persons into the office of Pastors, Teachers, Elders, Deacons, being qualified according to the Word, as those which Christ has appointed in his Testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of his Church, and that none other have power to impose them, either these or any other."

In the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742, which is the same as the 1689 London Baptist Confession except for two additional articles concerning the laying on of hands and the singing of hymns we find this statement; “A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he entrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons.”

In my own church, the mother church of the Missouri Baptist Convention, which was founded in 1826 in Callaway County, Missouri, we find these words in the Church’s original documents; “And now upon the above articles and covenant the undersigned was constituted and pronounced a Gospel Church of Christ by elders Nineon Ridgeway, Thomas Stephens and Toliver Craig at our meeting at brother Lewis Turners on Middle River Auxvasse in the county of Callaway, Mo the 5th day of August 1826.”

In Article 12 of the original Articles of Faith we find this statement: “Article 12 - We believe that no Minister has a right to the administration of the ordinances only such as are Regularly Baptized, Called and authorized by the presbyter.”

The idea that Dr. Lemke puts forth that Baptist churches should not have elders and that pastors and churches pursuing that end in these days are somehow following “pied Pipers” from other denominations is both condescending and absurd.

The truth is, and Dr. Lemke knows this, that many flagship Southern Baptist Churches operate more like Presbyterian Churches with their boards of deacons and requirements that every item of business must be approved by the deacons before it reaches the floor in a church business meeting, than do some of the new churches espousing elder rule in our convention.

I challenge Dr. Lemke to show me a large mega church in the SBC where there is not an “unofficial board of elders” at work behind the scenes that is actually “running” the church.

Baptism is for believers only and is to be by immersion. It is a church ordinance. Dr. Lemke in his warning seems to be implying that all baptism outside of a Southern Baptist Church is alien immersion. This is a Landmark Baptist keynote doctrine. The truth is that if a person is baptized by immersion by a church of like faith and order (another Baptist church or a Bible church with baptistic church government and doctrine) then most Southern Baptist Churches have no problem receiving members on their “statements” from such churches. Dr. Lemke seems to be advocating a return to a more Landmark position with his implication that we not receive members in this fashion. By seeming to advocate re-immersions he appears to be insisting on a more stringent policy than even scripture requires.

As far as his Lord’s Supper statements, all one needs to do is go back to the first meeting of the delegates of the first meeting of the SBC in 1845 in Augusta, Ga., and discover that the FBC of Augusta practiced open communion on that Sunday when the delegates were in town and all were invited to the table. Yes, the Lord’s Supper is a Church Ordinance but the table of the Lord should not be off limits to like minded Christians who might be visiting in the congregation.

Look at the first three Rules from the original Rules of Decorum of my church in 1826.

Article 1st - The Church Shall hold a meeting for business once in each month which shall be opened and closed by public worship and the members present shall form a quorum to transact any business that shall come before them.
Article 2nd - The Pastor or Elder of the Church shall act as Moderator until the Church shall direct otherwise. It shall be his duty to keep good order.
Article 3rd - The Moderator shall invite all Baptists of Sister Churches which are in good standing to seat with us and act in council with us. That third article is the one that caught my eye. All Baptists of Sister Churches are invited to sit with us and act in council with us.

Now can you really see that church forbidding the Lord’s Supper to those visiting Baptists?

Dr. Lemke closes the discussion of this issue with the following prediction/warning:

"If the current trajectory of Southern Baptists is not redirected, key Baptist distinctives about ecclesiology and church polity will be increasingly compromised and ignored."

I fear Dr. Lemke is stuck in the 1950’s when it comes to Southern Baptist polity and ecclesiology. These distinctives that he insists that we hold on to are basically the products of the 1900’s which came out of the Southern Baptist process of institutionalizing the local church.


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