Why the most important Baptist Distinctive is “The Believers’ Church”

For four days in 2008 I took part in a conference at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg on “Congregationalism, Denominationalism and the Believers’ Church”. This brought together mostly academics but also pastors from the Baptist, Mennonite and other Brethren traditions from Canada and the Northern USA. I then spent ten days experiencing the life of First Baptist Church, Penticton. Throughout I enjoyed fellowship with my old friend Rev Callum Jones, formerly Minister of North Bushey Free Church but now Senior Pastor there, who is approaching completion of his PhD studies on Baptist Identity in the Baptist Union of Western Canada, together with his wife Catherine who is also a graduate of London Bible College. As well as discussing his PhD thesis, we enjoyed many fruitful discussions. Like me, Callum was a member and sent into ministry from Bushey Baptist Church under Tony Mason and Peter Hicks. Having been converted in our teens from non-Christian backgrounds, we are both Baptists by conviction rather than upbringing. The whole time there reminded me most helpfully that my theological understanding is not merely broadly “evangelical” but specifically Baptist. And there are at least three beliefs at the core of Baptist identity which I want to defend and affirm: the central authority of Scripture, what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be the true church, “the Believers’ Church”.

The supreme authority for faith and practice in the Christian life is the Bible, God’s inspired Word as received by the Churches and correctly interpreted. Christians are “the people of the Book”. Whatever the relativising Post-Modern Post-Christendom world around may say, we Baptists are committed to the authority, reliability and sufficiency of Scripture. And on two matters, Scripture is very clear.

Firstly, every person either is a Christian or they are not. A Christian is somebody who has been born again to a living hope, they have passed from death to life and from darkness into light. They are in Christ and there has been a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come. Either a person is a Christian or they are not. Just as either they are in England or they are not in England, but they cannot be in some strange place in between. They are either alive or dead. They cannot be “on the way to being alive.” Either they are saved or they are not saved. Either Christ is in them and their destiny is to spend eternity with Christ in glory, or it is not.

Secondly, the Bible makes clear that the true church is the gathered community of all true believers, those who are “called out” of the world to be the Body of Christ which is made up of all who are truly saved. The church is the Living Temple, the Family of God and the Household of faith. The true church is the fellowship of true Christians. It is “the Believers’ Church.”watch Cars 3 film online now

In this life, we may not be able to tell who actually is saved and who is not, who is a true believer and who is not. The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds tells us that we will not know for certain who is saved until the final judgment. The Parable of the Sower tells us that some who initially seem to be strong Christians actually will prove not to be so. Nevertheless, the true Church is defined and delimited by the company of true believers.

In Anglican churches, decision-making authority rests with the hierarchy and locally with the Parochial Church Council. Generalising, in Brethren, Pentecostal and consequently many of the New Church streams, control rests with Elders or equivalents. In contrast to all these others, each Baptist Church is are governed by the Church Meeting, which itself makes a judgment about the person faith of the members. So the whole fellowship of believers shares in the responsibility of directing the church.

We are called to welcome everybody into the life of the church: inquirers and seekers and prodigals as well as believers. But in the inclusive mixed community of the local fellowship we should never lose sight of the Biblical understanding of church. Our supreme Baptist distinctive is “the Believers’ Church.”

 

Peter Thomas April 2012

Reprinted with permission from Peter’s theology, ministry and mission blog at

www.pbthomas.com/thoughts

 

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