Baptist Theology

My book on Baptist Theology is now out, or at least I have been sent the preview copies. If you are interested, you can read the first few pages here. Amazon have it available for pre-order. In the introduction I describe the thesis of the book thus:

…I begin by suggesting that there are two foci around which Baptist life is lived: the individual believer and the local church. On the one hand, the practice of believers’ baptism demonstrates an intense individualism, a focus on the belief that God deals directly with each particular human person;on the other hand, the Baptist stress on the significance of the local congregation provides a focus on that community as the context in which God has promised to be active.Theologically, God’s work in each of these poles needs to be described Christologically and pneumatologically. Christ alone has the right to command the individual conscience, which means both that every particular person is responsible for their own religious decisions and practices, and that state interference in, or legislation for, religious belief and/ or practice should never be permitted. Faith and regeneration are always a miracle of grace, dependent on the atoning sacrifice of Christ and made actual in each individual life through the present work of the Holy Spirit; believers’ baptism is (at least) a powerful witness to this pneumatological regeneration.

Turning to the second pole, the local church, I wish to argue that the particular Baptist vision of the local church depends, theologically, on the belief that Christ’s rule over the church is experienced directly by each local congregation,and not mediated through a translocal hierarchy. Christ is directly present wherever his people are gathered – congregated – in his name, and Christ’s presence guarantees the reality and adequacy of the church. In seeking to know and discover the call of Christ on its life,however, each local church is dependent on the Spirit’s aid and guidance, which is ordinarily experienced in gathered community.This is the church meeting, and the reason for the primacy of the church meeting in Baptist decision-making is that this is the place where the church can expect the Spirit to reveal the mind of Christ.

These two poles are not in tension in Baptist theology – or, rather, they can be in particular contexts and instances, but there is no necessary tension – but neither may be lost without losing the heart of the vision. God, through the Son and the Spirit, calls indi- vidual believers into covenanted relationship in the local church, and equips them to build up one another within the local church, and to hear and obey the ongoing missional call to make every other human person a believer.This is Baptist theology.

7 Comments

  1. pneumaandlogos
    Mar 12, 2012

    Steve perhaps I need to read your book but I am struggling to find a biblical basis for the primacy of the Church meeting. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that this post should appear on a day when I have spent hours reading and thinking about this issue.
    David

  2. Steve H
    Mar 12, 2012

    Hi David,
    I think it depends what you mean by ‘biblical basis’. Is there a command/example of church meeting in Scripture? No… Is church meeting a faithful way of living out the true nature of the church as body of Christ together? Yes…

    • pneumaandlogos
      Mar 13, 2012

      Steve, it seems me that baptist ecclesiology does not have a proper place for the authority of church leaders and turns them into servants of the church meeting, perhaps you address the issue of authority in your book, if so I will have to wait until I can get it.

      • Steve H
        Mar 13, 2012

        I guess it depends what you mean by ‘authority’ (I’m seeing a theme to these answers…): Baptist leaders do not possess the power to force something to happen; they do/should possess the authority to lead, to take people with them on a journey.

        • pneumaandlogos
          Mar 14, 2012

          Hi Steve,
          I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. My reflections have come from trying to help frame a constitution for our Church here in Shoreham. Outside critics of church over the past decades have accused us of being too authoritarian (traditional baptist) whereas our New Frontiers Friends think we are too democratic. Most of our church meeting decisions are made by consensus not by voting. This means normally an issue is raised at one church meeting but the decision is not made until the following church meeting, giving time for prayer and discussion. Our Church expects its elders to lead them in the way Peter taught in ! Peter 5:1-4. I don’t think we are too far apart in our thinking on these matters.
          David

  3. John Vinter
    Mar 12, 2012

    HI Steve,

    I also struggle with the place of the church meeting in baptist practice. Reflecting on my time in ministry and my experience of meetings since leaving ministry I do not think the local congregation is adequate to discern the mind of Christ. We are happy if the discussion is on the colour of the curtains or how many sandwiches you can make from a loaf of bread but when faced with real theological issues, working out the way forward or the christian response to an issue we either shut up or the issue is resolved through a vocal minority. Maybe I have seen too many toxic meetings but I honestly think you are more likely to discern the mind of Christ through a translocal hierarchy or even a bishop.

    Goodness me I am a very BAD baptist! keep up the posts you are always making me smile and more importantly making me think!

  4. Steve H
    Mar 12, 2012

    Hi John, great to hear from you!
    I’ve posted before about our need to teach people to be Baptist. I’ve been in bad meetings – which minister hasn’t? – but I’ve also been in meetings where we’ve challenged churches to try to be open to the leading of the Spirit, and watched open-mouthed as they have risen to the challenge. I think there are various keys – moving away from the ‘one big meeting’ model to buzz groups and the like; allowing plenty of time; not demanding a decision on the night; …

    Anyway, give my best to Helen.

    Steve

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