Last week I began speaking of the Baptist Distinctives. These biblical distinctives have defined Baptist churches for hundreds of years. In fact, they are the reason why Baptist churches came into existence in the first place. Other churches did not hold to the biblical convictions outlined in the Baptist Distinctives. So, like-minded believers sought to organize their own local churches where these biblical convictions would be upheld and practiced. These churches came to be known as “Baptist” because of their conviction of baptizing (by immersion) only those who repented and believed the gospel personally. This biblical conviction is covered by the final “s” in the acrostic BAPTISTS and it stands for, “saved church membership.” These biblical convictions have defined churches which came to be known as Baptist.
This week I will deal with something that is absolutely foundational for Baptists, biblical authority (BAPTISTS). In every situation and circumstance, the Bible is the authority from beginning to end. The Bible is God’s Word. It alone provides God’s message to mankind (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). It is binding and authoritative in all that it says. In the Bible, God describes how N.T. churches are supposed to function (1 Tim. 3:14-15). God’s Word discusses pastors/elders/overseers and their responsibility to oversee, shepherd/lead, and equip the church for ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Pet. 5:1-5; Heb. 13:7,17; Acts 20:17,28; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). God’s Word discusses deacons and their responsibility to serve in caring for the church (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:8-10, 12-13). The Bible also discusses how churches are to submit to the biblical leadership of their Pastors (1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7,17; 1 Pet. 5:1-5). The Bible discusses how to confront believers who are living in sin. (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5).
The Bible discusses Christians forgiving offenses (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12-13). It urges churches to encourage fellow members to grow in “love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). Scripture encourages faithful, consistent church attendance (Heb. 10:23-25). We know what truth is and how God wants us to live from the Bible (1 John 5:3-4). Scripture says, “The entirety of Your Word is truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure forever” (Ps. 119:160). The Lord Jesus said the evidence of love for Him is obedience to His commands (John 14:15, 21). Those are clear-cut statements from the Word of God. The Scriptures are the sole authority for local churches.
Now you may wonder, why would any church not believe in and practice biblical authority? That is a very good question and the answer varies. Some churches are guided by church tradition. In such a case, historical figures and leaders set up practices and standards, which have been handed down over centuries. These churches follow tradition rather than the Bible, even if such tradition contradicts or violates Scripture. In some churches, writings of theologians and leaders from the past are the dominant content of lessons and messages and church practice rather than God’s Word. Tradition is not always bad. But, it cannot ever contradict or violate Scripture. There is inherent danger in tradition being the authority. It can be contrary to the Bible and it can be detrimental to the health of the Church. Scripture always trumps tradition.
Some Churches are guided by emotion and experience. In such a case, what one feels overrides what God’s Word clearly states. The goal is a mystical, emotional experience with God. The thinking in such churches is, “If I have experienced it, it must be true and it must be from God.” There is inherent danger involved when emotion and experience are the authority. We see from Scripture that Satan himself appears as an angel of light and his servants disguise themselves as workers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Satan is able to give people experiences. He will be able to perform, false miracles, signs, and wonders through the antichrist in the future (2 Thess. 2:9). Many have chosen to follow their emotions, seeking experiences that Scripture does not teach or encourage. The Bible informs us of the unreliability of our emotions. “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable – who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Just because someone feels something is true or right does not make it so. Just because someone wants an experience from God and claims to have had one, does not mean it was from God. Our emotions and experiences are trumped by Scripture.
In churches where experience and emotion are the authority you will hear a lot about love and everything will be directed toward eliciting an emotional response. The music, preaching, and videos will be geared toward the emotions. The question is, is it biblically accurate? John MacArthur writes, “The modern evangelical quest for relevance has created several rifts in the Church, perhaps none more visible than the divide over worship. Deep, biblical understanding of God’s Word and His character is routinely pitted against the euphoria of a vibrant musical experience. But that false dichotomy is a great injustice to the church, as it obscures the massive impact the Bible has on the reality and genuineness of true worship.” Emotions and experience cannot be the authority in local churches. Scripture trumps emotions and experience.
Some churches are guided by whatever works. In such a case, pragmatism is the authority. If it draws a lot of people and they are happy, then all is well. This mentality has been around for a long time. Proponents of this approach are continually seeking, “a silver bullet,” which will unlock the church’s success (higher attendance). They look to a style of music, preaching that pleases its hearers, and any other sort of gimmick that will attract and entertain people. In such churches biblical doctrine is minimized because it will not please a multitude of people. The lyrics of songs are focused on people and heightening their satisfaction in themselves. Biblically deep, theologically rich songs will not do because they don’t entertain people, or make people feel better about themselves. Any mature Christian who holds to the sufficiency and authority of Scripture will take issues with fluffy, man-centered, theologically light, biblically vague, and doctrinally inaccurate songs. If you don’t have a problem with such songs something is wrong.
In such churches where pragmatism is the authority, preaching is “short and sweet”. The thinking is that messages must be short to avoid upsetting people. Did you know that Ezra preached to the nation of Israel from daybreak until noon (Neh. 8:1-3)? God brought about revival through his sermon (8:7-12). Pragmatic preaching ends up being secular humanism with a a few Bible verses thrown in. Such preaching is aimed at making people feel good. The inherent danger is that God doesn’t want people to feel good about being spiritually lost and/or in sinful rebellion against Him. In fact, one of the signs of being in the end times is that churches will seek teachers who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4). It doesn’t matter what people like or want. It doesn’t matter what seems to work. What truly matters is what God’s Word says. The Bible always trumps pragmatism.
Next week I will discuss the Baptist Distinctive, “Autonomy of the local church.”