Friday, 22 September 2017

Eternal Security and the Early Baptists, Free(will) Baptists, & Northern Baptists

The earliest Baptists were Arminian. This is true of both Anabaptists of central Europe and the English Baptists that gave birth to Baptists in America. Thomas Helwys was the first to write a Baptist confession, and Helwys, his confession, and his congregation were all Arminian. Indeed, there is good circumstantial evidence that Helwys was influenced by Arminius and his circle.

Calvinism came to dominate Baptist circles, largely due to the influence of English Puritanism, although there remained throughout the 18th century a strong, vibrant, and theologically sound Arminian Baptist movement, led by Thomas Grantham. Calvinistic Baptists made their way to the colonies and established the very strong Philadelphia Baptist Association and other Calvinistic Baptist Associations, eventually organizing as the Northern Baptist Convention. Arminian Baptist churches were also established in the Carolinas in the early colonial period, but were poorly organized and eventually succumbed to pressures from the Philadelphia Baptist Association.

Although the Philadelphia Baptist Association’s theological commitments were strongly Calvinistic, the Calvinism of their churches quickly began to wane. As new churches were formed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, their statements of faith trended more and more toward Arminianism. At the same time, large numbers of Baptist churches that were distinctly Arminian were being organized in the northern United States, largely under the influence of Wesleyan Arminianism. They were organized in associations as Free Baptists, or Freewill Baptists.

By the early 20th century, Calvinism in the Northern Baptists had waned so much that Northern Baptists and the Free(will) Baptists merged together. This was no small matter given the sparse population, as the merger included a thousand churches and seven educational institutions, not the least of which was Hillsdale College. Individual churches could retain their own theological commitments, but generally the theological polemics were all toned down. Simultaneously, Southern Baptists also trended away from Calvinism, but while Southern Baptists urgently pressed the importance of the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional eternal security, Northern Baptists muted the point and trended toward a doctrine that believers are eternally secure so long as they persevere in the faith and not make shipwreck of it as Hymenaeus and Alexander did (1 Tim 1:18-20).

Northern Baptists eventually became known as American Baptist Churches—USA. Today, American Baptists trend toward Arminianism, but generally do not engage in theological apologetics or polemics. There are some American Baptist churches that do emphasize the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional eternal security, but these are largely due to the influence of Independent Baptist pastors who have recently pastored them.

For a well written summary of American Baptist history HERE.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Special Sundays as Outreach Tools

Every church has special Sundays, but not every church uses them to offer outsiders the excuse to attend church. I’m happy, for example, to observe Veteran’s Day in Sunday worship, but do so pragmatically, with the intention of making it a big attendance day. Most churches give some minimal recognition of the day, and then hurry on to the next item in the church bulletin. For me, however, Veteran’s Day (and other such events) is something to be exploited as an opportunity to increase attendance and to expand the scope of the ministerial radar.
We make the day special by putting on display veterans’ memorabilia —uniforms, pictures, medals, etc., for perusal before and after the worship service. As part of the service, we invite a color guard (JROTC, VFW, Boy Scouts, etc.) to present the colors in procession, with our veterans in parade. A roll call is taken, and the veterans are recognized individually. I set aside some time to discuss Just War concepts and we pray for world leaders’ wisdom, world peace, and protection of our own military personnel.

We are sure to invite the veterans’ own family members to this special service. This gives family members an excuse to attend, and the pastor gets to meet them, thereby getting them to blip ever more prominently on the ministerial radar. The same is true for the visiting color guard.
While other churches might observe Reformation Day, my churches observe All Saints Day. Baptist observance of All Saints Day entails the recognition of all those church members who died in the past year. I recruit church members to offer a short remembrance or eulogy for each one, as time permits. We strongly promote this special day. It fuels the memory of our recently departed members and urges us to follow their example in running with perseverance the race set before us. We also use the service to invite the surviving family members, thus boosting our attendance and, again, increasing the scope of our ministerial radar.

The same is true for all special events. Vacation Bible School Sunday, high school and college graduation day, baby dedications, baptisms, Thanksgiving, etc. If the church happens to have a cemetery, we will host a special community service at the cemetery on Memorial Day. Increased attendance may not be the primary purpose for observing any of these days, but the church should avail itself of the opportunity to increase attendance for each one of them. 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Statement of Faith--More than What We Believe, but also How We Live

I read many statements of faith produced by churches and individuals alike. I just came across a fresh statement of faith produced by a church. It was more than just a statement of what they believed, but also a list of implications that arise from their faith statements.

What a brilliant idea. I've adapted my own statement to fit the template, and you can see it here. I'm still revising it--leave feedback if you have suggestions, except that I'm not going to add anything about KJV-Onlyism.... ;)

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Big Theology on Narrow Shoulders: a Brief Outline of Arminian Baptist History

Here is the amazing thing about the Arminian Baptist theology espoused by Reformation Arminians like Robert Picirilli and his long time colleague Leroy Forlines.

Thomas Helwys???
Arminian Baptist theology is a Baptist theology with a long pedigree going back to the first Baptist congregation (Thomas Helwys) and Thomas Grantham--one of the best known Christian writers in 18th century England. (Arminian Baptists preceded Calvinist Baptists by a few decades.) It was imported into the colonies (Roger Williams and the first Baptist church are said to have begun as Arminian), but largely succumbed to a highly resurgent Calvinist strain of Baptists in the Philadelphia Baptist Association which aggressively preyed on disorganized Arminian Baptist churches in the south in colonial times (especially in South Carolina).

With the explosive growth of Southern Baptists after the Civil War, Arminian Baptist theology mixed with Calvinist Baptists theology to produce the Majoritarian Baptist position in SBC. Southern Baptists liked Arminian views on the extent of the atonement and election, but preferred Calvinist views on continuance in salvation (who wouldn't like a doctrine of once saved always saved?).

In 1907-1911, the Calvinistic Northern Baptists and the Free Baptists [= Freewill Baptists] in the north merged, having decided that their soteriology was compatible enough to cooperate as a unified denomination (1100 Free Baptist churches merged at that time, along with denominational infrastructures such as 7 colleges and a press). Free Will Baptists in the south were never really organized and mostly languished until their organization in 1935. 

Now, the very narrow ecclesiological swath of the modern FWB denomination preserves the much larger Arminian Baptist theology of Helwys and Grantham. That is to say, this venerable and very significant Arminian Baptist theology in its pure form is carried on the very small shoulders of a minor and mostly regional denomination of about 2200 churches. Its preservation and dissemination is largely the result of the efforts of two capable theologians, Leroy Forlines and Robert Picirilli, both octogenarians who are still very active. They were hardly known outside of their denominational context until the Calvinist resurgence of the 1990s when Arminians began desperately seeking good Arminian books to read.

But here is my point: despite the frail denominational structure that undergirds this Arminian Baptist theology, I have found the theology itself to be incredibly strong. I carried it with me through J.I. Packer's systematic courses at the graduate level, and tested it in the most rigorous exegetical courses of Fee and the Calvinist Bruce Waltke. I carried it with me to Cambridge where it was tested by my PhD supervisor and by Cambridge NT scholar Simon Gathercole. I may not have convinced those who were already committed Calvinists, but many of my peers felt that I satisfactorily presented a system that passed exegetical muster and the logical demands of a unified theological system. Forlines' overall view of Romans has survived even the New Pauline Perspective debate (indeed, he was making comments similar to E.P. Sanders for years prior to the publication of his 1987 commentary).

Click on Helwys for more info on Helwys.

For more on Reformation Arminianism click here.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Two More Points about Interim Ministry and Your Church's Health

The longer I serve in ministry, the more I am convinced of the validity and necessity of interim ministry. Contrary to popular opinion, interim ministry is not about keeping the pulpit filled or sustaining whatever ministerial momentum a church might have. Rather interim ministry is all about church health. Much more could be offered in this short blog article, but here’s a start.
In most cases, there is some shadowy unpleasantness about a pastor’s departure. Sometimes the departure is rancorous and outright painful for the congregation. A primary task of the interim minister is to help the church come to terms with its past, especially its recent past. A church may be justified in pressuring its former pastor to leave, but even in the best of circumstances, such actions—justified as they may be—creates baggage that needs unpacked and sorted.
The church that goes through a long period of serious conflict with its previous pastor is especially vulnerable to dysfunction. A recently divorced individual is likely to project dysfunctionality into the next relationship if there is no intervention between the previous marriage and the new relationship. A specially trained interim minister helps restore health into the church’s ministerial and decision-making culture so that church and newly called pastor can bond without the baggage of the previous conflict.
A congregation’s or a congregant’s general skepticism or lack of faith in church leaders can be restored when the interim minister is seen working well with leaders. The interim minister can compassionately hear a congregant’s complaints about the way the previous pastor was forced to resign, weigh the complaint, and address the issue with the church leadership as appropriate. This promotes not only good process, but also the restoration of trust between congregants and leaders. The interim minister is prone to encourage such trust.
The interim ministry can promote financial health in the church. In protracted conflict, congregants are less enthusiastic about attending services and prone to absenteeism. This adversely affects offering. A good interim minister makes alienated members feel safe about returning to church and fosters enthusiasm for worship attendance, and offerings are likely to stabilize.
A major problem with not calling an interim minister during a pastoral vacancy is that a church is prone to self-deception about its financial situation. It gets accustomed to having a financial windfall from paying minimal honorariums rather than full salaries. Calling an interim minister establishes that the church can sustain a called pastor’s salary. Besides, givers may get out of the habit of giving when a church reduces such expenditures.

Much more could be said. Churches that fail to utilize the interim minister very, very often make their next called pastor a de facto interim.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Timothy and Hard Ministry

His mother and grandmother gave young Timothy the best they could—good solid Bible teaching and training to walk in God’s paths. As an older teenager, his church family commended him to Paul as a missionary apprentice. Timothy rose to the occasion, and in Asia Minor and throughout much of the Empire we see his footsteps alongside Paul’s everywhere. Even as a young adult, Timothy earned the Pauline epithet, “my true son” and “I have no one else like him….” He represented Paul in many crises, even at Corinth. He was a witness to Paul’s sufferings and persecutions, and probably had his own share of them with Paul.
Timothy’s hardest assignment was at the church of Ephesus. Paul had heard of trouble brewing there, so he sent Timothy as his personal representative to fix the problems. Arriving there, Timothy had the authority of the Apostle Paul himself, but the church did not recognize Timothy’s authority. Instead, the fallen church leaders circumvented his authority and undermined his leadership in every way. These fallen church leaders even manipulated new converts to disrupt worship services to thwart Timothy’s leadership.
Paul excommunicated two of the ringleaders (Hymenaeus and Alexander), but they continued unabated. Timothy became heart-sick and traveled to meet up with Paul to report on the problem. Timothy’s great grief over the wayward church may be implied in 2 Tim 1:4, where Paul recalls Timothy’s “many tears.” Paul assured him of his prayers and, steeling Timothy’s resolve, he wrote, “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power….” Instead of relieving Timothy, Paul sent him back, saying, “stay there in Ephesus,” so that he could stop them from teaching false doctrine (1 Tim 1:3).
As experienced and mature as Timothy was, even he found ministry very difficult. Our church leaders often face the same kinds of conflict and grief. We can hardly bear such heavy burdens on our own. Because we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil, ministry is hard, heavy, burdensome, with much discouragement. No one in church leadership goes long without shedding many tears.

Pray for your church leaders. The apostle wrote, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you (Heb 13: 17). Those words ring ever true for today's church.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Welcoming to Worship--How to Do It


This is my format for the Welcome to Sunday worship
  • ·         Doxological Greeting
  • ·         Welcome visitors
    • Fill out the Welcome Card
    • Don’t be shy—reach out to the members
    • Exhortation
    • Post-service Fellowship
  • ·         Who We Are
  • ·         What to Expect
  • ·         Short prayer for visitors

Welcoming the congregation to worship affords good ministerial opportunities. First, it sets the tone for the worship service. This is well illustrated by the way that that radio talk show hosts or late night talk show hosts energize their audiences at the start of the program. The worst welcomes are the dull, lifeless, and unconsidered “Good morning” utterances, which are designed to elicit the obligatory response, “Good morning.” The congregation does so with equal dullness.
In contrast, our first words to the congregation should be inspirational and doxological, perhaps something like, “Blessed be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who has gathered us together in the name of his Son Jesus, who was crucified, buried, and risen from the dead in power and great glory.” The creative worship leader should prepare the welcome in advance, crafting a welcome that is appropriate for the People of God.
While worship leaders should formally welcome everyone, the emphasis should be on welcoming visitors. Visitors are often a bit unnerved by their unfamiliarity with a church. Worship leaders should speak words to reinforce visitors’ decision to attend and put their minds at ease. Be sure also to give a word of exhortation, encouraging visitors to grow spiritually or to get involved with the congregation, etc. Alert them to after worship fellowship opportunities.
Part of any welcoming is asserting to the visitors who the congregation is. Baptist theology teaches that the local congregation is nothing less than the People of God. The descriptor needs expansion. I suggest a four-point expansion, each reinforcing sermonic points. The first two points might recall
the previous week’s sermon, and the latter two might anticipate the sermon to be preached that day. Here is the “Who We Are” segment for one of my service in a sermon series on Philippians:

·         Who we are: First Baptist Church, the People of God
o   A people that has been granted the privilege of participating and sharing in the Gospel of Christ
o   A people that has been filled with a joy unspeakable, so that whether we are in chains for the sake of the gospel, or defending and confirming it, our joy overflows
o   A people united in Christ so that, despite the diversity of our backgrounds, perspectives, and cultures, we stand firm as one, contending for the gospel
o   A people confident that he who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete in until the day of Christ

The “Who We Are” segment not only introduces the congregation to the visitors, but it also casts a vision of the congregation’s identity, which is exhortational.
The Welcome should inform the congregation of anything unusual that has been planned. If it is a Communion service, make note of it; likewise, announce special speakers or musicians, etc. I often joke that we will not be handling snakes today.
The Welcome usually takes 3-4 minutes, and should be concluded with a very brief prayer for the visitors.