Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

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Archive for June, 2006

Baptists and their Confessions

Posted by Alethes (Truthful) Baptist on June 26, 2006

I had an interesting conversation the other day among a few friends. In discussing the recent events of the SBC, the question of creeds vs. confessions came up. Are they the same? If not, how do they differ? What are their respective functions? I did my best to answer the various questions. I have since reflected on the conversation, consulted a few sources, and now make available my thoughts on creeds and confessions.

1. Are Creeds and Confessions the Same

In a short answer: no. They are not the same. Confessions are simply what they say they are: a confessional statement of a person/church/group of churches describing their beliefs. A creed is prescriptive in nature (i.e., this is what you must believe). Confessions are descriptive in nature (i.e., this is what this particular group believes). As Baptist historian H. Leon McBeth wrote, “Early Baptists never elevated their confessions to the status of creeds . . . . Confessions include; creeds exclude. Early Baptists were careful to emphasize that confessions were merely human statements; that they might later be revised; and that in no wise could they ever approach the authority of Scripture.”


2. What is the function of a confession?

McBeth noted that Baptist confessions had two audiences: those from without and those from within. For those outside the Baptist faith, confessions "explained, defended, and clarified Baptist beliefs.” To those within Baptist circles, confessions “educated, unified, and confirmed.”

McBeth offers four uses of a confession:

1. To clarify the Baptist faith. Baptists were constantly accused of absurd beliefs and gross practices. Through confessions, Baptists addressed the larger world to defend their faith. Patiently refuting false charges, Baptists often used confessions not to proclaim “Baptist distinctives” but instead to show how similar Baptists were to other orthodox Christians. To show this similarity was, they said, the “Maine wheele that set us awork” in the London Confession of 1644.

2. To inform and educate their own members. Baptists often used confessions for instruction in the faith. Ministers and churches used the confessions to indoctrinate the lay people in the Baptist way. Thus the confessions not only expressed the Baptist faith but also helped formulate it.

3. To provide a basis of fellowship. Associations and later the general assemblies used their confessions as “constituting documents,” providing the basis for affiliation and fellowship among churches and messengers. Local churches studied the confessions to decide if they desired to affiliate with associations; churches or individuals who deviated from the faith were often dealt with according to the confession.

4. To deal with controversy. When controversy erupted in Baptist life, as it often did, Baptist usually turned to their confessions for guidance. They applealed to confessions to establish what constituted heresy, and sometimes used these standards as the basis for discipline of members, ministers, or churches. However, Baptists were careful to avoid giving the confessions too much power. In fact, efforts to use the confessions to discipline and even exclude some churches probably accounts for the decline of confessions in later English Baptist life.


In a future post, I will give my thoughts McBeth's four uses for a confession, demostrating the relevance for our current situation within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Charis humin,

Alethes (Truthful) Baptist


Posted in Baptist confessions, Baptist history, Southern Baptist Convention | 4 Comments »

The IMB Policy On Private Prayer Language

Posted by Alethes (Truthful) Baptist on June 23, 2006

A few days ago, I was reading Don Carson’s Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. I noticed a lengthy quote that speaks volumes to the current policy concerning private prayer language recently adopted by the IMB trustees. His definition of what qualifies as a spiritual gift (which agrees with Wayne Grudem’s definition) is found in 1 Corinthians 12.7: “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” That is, there is no ‘definitive’ or ‘exhaustive’ list of spiritual gifts found within the New Testament, but any and all aspects of the spiritual life that promote the common good of the Church qualifies as a spiritual gift.

What about private prayer language, though? There appears to be no express verse listing it as a spiritual gift. More over, it benefits the individual with the language and is not ‘for the common good’ of the Church. Are the IMB trustees, then, justified in rejecting mission candidates with a private prayer language? Other blogs have dismissed any such justification from the standpoint of our convention’s confession (or previously adopted confessions, for that matter). What about from a biblical standpoint?

Carson states:

These gifts are not for personal aggrandizement, but ‘for the common good.’ The peculiar expression that is used might be literally rendered ‘with a view to profiting,’ not in itself making it clear whether the profit is for the individual or the group. The broader context makes it clear that the latter is in view (see especially [1 Corinthians] 14). Even so, this clearly stated purpose of ‘spiritual gifts’ (if I may continue to use that term for the full range of the manifestations of the Spirit that Paul envisages) must not be brought to bear on the broader discussion in a heavy-handed way. As we shall see, some wish to rule out the legitimacy of any private use of tongues on the basis of this and similar texts: What possible benefit for the entire community is there, they ask, in such private tongues-speaking? Clearly there is no direct benefit: no one but God is hearing what is being said. But Paul was granted extraordinary visions and revelations that were designed only for his immediate benefit (2 Cor. 12:1-10); yet surely the church received indirect profit insofar as those visions and revelations, no to mention the ensuing thorn in his flesh, better equipped him for proclamation and ministry. In the same way, it is hard to see how verse 7 of this chapter renders illegitimate a private use of tongues if the result is a better person, a more spiritually minded Christian: the church may thereby receive indirect benefit. The verse rules out using any charismata for personal aggrandizement or merely for self-satisfaction; it does not rule out all benefit for the individual (just as marriage, one of the charismata according to 1 Cor. 7.7, may benefit the individual), providing that the resulting matrix is for the common good (34-35).

Carson has eliminated the argument that a private prayer language is disqualified from the realm of spiritual gifts. There may be no direct impact for the common good, but certainly there is the possibility for indirect impact. His example of marriage and singleness being called ‘spiritual gifts’ given by God (1 Cor. 7) is an excellent example of charismata benefiting the individual primarily and the church secondarily.

In their desire to rid the IMB missionaries of charasmatic tendencies, the trustees have no confessional leg to stand upon. In addition, they have no biblical leg upon which to rest. One wonders, then, where they derive their justification for rejecting private prayer languages. Maybe it's because “Baptists have always believed this way”.

Charis humin,

Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

Posted in Don Carson, IMB trustees, NT exegesis, Private Prayer Language | 3 Comments »

My Little Place in Blog Town

Posted by Alethes (Truthful) Baptist on June 23, 2006

I don't know if I will contribute much to what Dorcas Hawker and Villa Rica have labeled as 'Blog Town'. I hope I'm a welcomed resident, even though my annual income won't allow me to buy anything other than a cheap lot at the end of town :(. Ministry keeps me from commenting too often on the blogs of many but I have been actively and passively involved in the major issues of the Southern Baptist Convention for the last ten months. I look forward to submitting my thoughts on 'all things Southern Baptist' while always doing so in humility and meekness. There are times, I suspect, where sternness will be employed. However, like Paul, I might speak harshly now so that when we meet together I can have a different tone (Gal. 4.20).

May God be magified as we consider together how to dialogue about the Southern Baptist Convention.

Charis humin,

Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

Posted in Blog Town, humility, Southern Baptist Convention | Leave a Comment »