- Russell Moore describes the destruction of his hometown and longs for the day when Creation is restored by the Curse being reversed as the result of the work of Christ.
- Don Elbourne reports on his families safety and the destruction of his church and community.
- Al Mohler explains how concerned Christians can help by giving through the Disaster Relief arm of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
- New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is in disarray after forced evacuations.
- Baptist Press is providing up to date information on Baptist relief works for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Justification by Faith Alone
There is no controversy in stating that the doctrine of justification by faith alone was prominent in the theology of Martin Luther. Luther’s own personal discovery (or recovery) of the doctrine of justification changed his life forever. Luther himself stated the importance of this doctrine by writing “if the article of justification is lost, then all true Christian doctrine is lost.” He elsewhere called the doctrine of justification “the summary of all Christian doctrine” and “the article by which the church stands or falls.” Obviously, for Luther, this doctrine was no peripheral matter, justification is the heart of the gospel.
Luther defined justification by faith in numerous places in his writings. In his Commentary on Galatians he writes:
We also who are justified by faith, as were the patriarchs, prophets, and all the saints, are not of the works of the law as concerning justification; but in that we are in the flesh, and have the remnants of sin in us, we are under the law, and yet not under the curse, because the remnants of sin are not imputed unto us for Christ’s sake, in whom we believe.
In other words, even though we are sinners we are not under the curse of sin because of faith in Jesus Christ. In Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the apostle states a great summary statement of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in the following words: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). Luther comments:
The words ‘we conclude’ must not be taken in the sense ‘we think,’ as though there were attached to the righteousness of faith any doubt, for such doubt would be wicked. The expression rather means: We believe most assuredly and firmly; indeed, we know; or, we are persuaded (by the divine Word) to believe that sinners are justified by faith.
Clearly, Luther understood the doctrine of justification by faith to be central to his own theology.
The Sufficiency of Scripture
Another important aspect of Luther’s theology is his understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture. As Luther’s reply at the Diet of Worms in 1521 indicates, Scripture alone is the binding authority in the life of the Christian. Popes err, church councils err, only the Word of God does not err. Therefore Luther’s conscience was only bound to Scripture. In his Table Talk, Luther rejoiced in the privilege of having the Word of God:
Oh! how great and glorious a thing it is to have before one the Word of God! With that we may at all times feel joyous and secure; we need never be in want of consolation, for we see before us, in all its brightness, the pure and right way. He who loses sight of the Word of God, falls into despair; the voice of heaven no longer sustains him; he follows only the disorderly tendency of his heart, and of world vanity, which lead him on to his destruction.
Given Luther’s high view of Scripture it is no wonder that he devoted himself to translating the Bible into the language of the people.
Luther’s belief in the sufficiency of Scripture is seen in the fact that he attributed all his success in the reformation of the church to the power of the Word of God. In a sermon preached in 1522, Luther declared:
I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.
Luther gave all the credit for God’s work through him in the reformation of the church to the all sufficient Word of God. His belief in the sufficiency of Scripture resulted in a ministry which focused on preaching and writing God’s Word. The Word did it all!
The Sovereignty of God
At the heart of Luther’s theology was a deep appreciation of the sovereignty of God. When Erasmus attacked Luther in his work On Free Will, Luther responded in The Bondage of the Will with these words of thanks to Erasmus:
Moreover, I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further acount – that you alone, in contrast with all the others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like – trifles, rather than issues … you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot. For that I heartily thank you.
Luther clearly understood that the issue of God’s sovereignty (even over the free choices of his creatures) was the central issue at stake in his dispute with the Roman Catholic church. For Luther, this was no secondary matter of little importance it was the “hinge” upon which everything else turned. Elsewhere Luther admitted that God gave to mankind a free-will. But that will is only “subverted, perverse, fickle and wavering.” He goes on to say, “God … works in us, and we must suffer and be subject to his pleasure. Even as a potter out of his clay makes a pot or vessel, as he wills, so it is for our free-will, to suffer and not to work.” For Luther the will of God always ruled over the will of man. In other words, God is sovereign.
Upon studying the life of Martin Luther it would be easy to say, “What a great man!” But upon studying the theology of Martin Luther, one is forced to say, “What great truths this man believed!” Luther’s greatest legacy to the church is his teaching of these great truths which have been preserved to this day. As another German theologian, Karl Barth, who lived four centuries after Luther stated, “What else was Luther than a teacher of the Christian church whom one can hardly celebrate in any other way but to listen to him?”
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in a small Saxon town named Eisleben. He was born the son of Hans and Margarethe Luder (later changed to Luther). His father was a miner who, although not rich, became owner of six foundries through his hard work. However, his parents desired a better life for Martin. They wanted him to become a lawyer and escape life as a peasant. Luther enrolled at the University of Erfurt, earning a Bachelor’s degree in 1502 and a Master’s in 1505. He was preparing to study law further when a decisive turning point came into his life “on a sultry day in July of the year 1505.”
On the fateful day of July 2,1505, a young Luther was traveling from his home in Mansfield back to the University at Erfurt. During this journey, he was caught in a terrible thunderstorm. Fearing death from a stroke of lightning, Luther cried out in terror to the patron saint of miners these words, “Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk.” As Luther’s most famous biographer, Roland Bainton, so eloquently stated it:
The man who thus called upon a saint was later to repudiate the cult of the saints. He who vowed to become a monk was later to renounce monasticism. A loyal son of the Catholic Church, he was later to shatter the structure of medieval Catholicism. A devoted servant of the pope, he was later to identify the popes with Antichrist. For this young man was Martin Luther.
In one sense, this event is the real beginning to the story of Martin Luther. Luther became “a loyal son of the church” and the rest is history.
Exactly two weeks after the thunderstorm experience (July 16, 1505), Luther threw a party for his classmates in which he announced that he would join a monastery the next day. At the party, Luther gave away his law books and master’s cap. The next day Luther presented himself at the Augustinian monasteries’ gates without the blessing of his father.
Shortly after entering the monastery on July 17, 1505, Luther took his monastic vows and begins his monastic duties. Luther later boasted that if ever a monk could have gotten to heaven through monkery, it would have been him. He prayed, fasted, kept vigils, and almost froze to death in unheated chambers. His fear of God drove him to punish himself. Historian Bruce Shelly notes that, “He sometimes fasted for three days and slept without a blanket in freezing winter. He was driven by a profound sense of his own sinfulness and of God’s unutterable majesty.” However, despite all his efforts to the contrary, Luther could never find peace with God through “monkery.”
Luther was ordained a priest on April 4, 1507 and less than a month later on May 2, Martin celebrated his first mass. This normally joyous occasion was actually a dreadful event for Luther. He was so terrified by his awareness of both his sinfulness and the holiness of Christ that he was nearly petrified and could barely complete the mass. Martin’s father, Hans, had attended the mass and afterward mocked and rebuked his son. This event drove Luther deeper into a sense of despair and forsakeness.
When Luther could find no relief for his tormented soul in the monastery at Erfurt, he was ordered by his superior, Johan Von Staupitz, to the monastery at Wittenberg in 1508. There he was allowed to study the Bible at the University of Wittenberg at which he received a second B.A. in Bible in 1509. Eventually, in 1512, Luther would receive his doctorate in theology. He then became a faculty member in theology at the University of Wittenberg.
It was while teaching the Bible at Wittenberg that Luther became exposed to the gospel resulting in the famous “tower experience.” In August 1, 1513, Luther began lecturing on the book of Psalms. In the fall of 1515, he began lecturing on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The Epistle to the Galatians was taught during 1516-1517. It was sometime during this period (August 1, 1513 and 1517), while studying Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, that Luther experienced the peace of justification. His description of this experience is glorious:
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. . . . Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself reborn and to have gone through the open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.
These are the words of a man set free from the futility of works righteousness. His days of terror are over, but much controversy is still to come.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the castle church door at Wittenberg. This event is still celebrated today by Protestants as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Luther was responding to the selling of Papal indulgences in a nearby town by a monk named Tetzel. Tetzel represented Albert of Mainz, who had received authority fo the indulgences from Pope Leo X. Albert of Mainz was seeking a second bishopric and the title of Archbishop. Leo X wanted to build Sistine Chapel of St. Paul’s Basillica. Both of these goals required money and the selling of indulgences became the means to the ends. When Luther heard that Tetzel was selling indulgences nearby, he challenged him to a debate by posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door. When they heard about the Theses, Tetzel, Albert and Leo X were all outraged. After seeing the Theses, Pope Leo famously and pejoratively said of Luther, “Luther is a drunken German. He will feel different when he is sober.”
Interestingly, Luther had no intention of spreading his concerns among the people. His Theses were written in Latin, the language of scholars, and was simply an invitation to debate. Some, however, translated the document into German and other languages and began printing them on the recently invented Guttenberg press. As Bainton states the surprising attention which Luther received about the Ninety-Five Thesis, “Luther … was like a man climbing in the darkness of a winding staircase in the steeple of an ancient cathedral. In the blackness he reached out to steady himself, and his hand laid hold of a rope. He was startled to hear the clanging of a bell.”
The next two years (1518-1519) were filled with debates with Roman Catholic theologians. In the most famous of these debates: Ausburg with Cardinal Cajetan and Leipzig with Johann Eck, Luther was persuaded to admit that he denied the authority of church councils and of the Pope.
During 1520, Luther took his case to the German people by the publication of three pamphlets: To the German Nobility, Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On Christian Liberty. With these publications and Luther’s comments in his disputes with Cajetan and Eck, the stage was set for the Diet of Worms. On June 15, 1520 a papal bull was issued known as Exsurge Domine for its first two Latin words. It begins, “Arise, O Lord, and judge thy cause. A wild boar has invaded thy vineyard.” The bull stated that Martin Luther’s books “are to be examined and burned.” Luther himself was given “sixty days in which to submit.” Upon reception, Luther burned the papal bull publicly on December 10, 1520. The die is cast, next stop Worms.
Early in 1521, the new emperor, Charles V, summoned Luther to appear before the imperial diet of Worms in the spring of 1521. Luther attended, being assured of protection by his elector, Frederick the Wise. It was on April 18, 1521 that Luther was asked at Worms to recant his books which were contrary to the teaching of the church to which Luther gave this heroic response:
Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, not embellished: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand. May God help me, Amen.
As Martin Luther left the stunned Imperial Diet it was clear there could be no turning back.
Although Luther had been guaranteed safe conduct by his Saxon elector, Frederick the Wise, this pledge would expire soon. Since Luther had been condemned by the Edict of Worms, citizens would be required to bring this heretic to justice. A dramatic plan now unfolded to protect Luther. On May 4, 1521, Luther was whisked away by a band of horsemen armed with crossbows. The intent was to make others believe that Luther had been kidnaped or killed. In reality, Luther was taken to an almost abandoned Wartburg Castle for his own protection. Although, as biographer Stephen Nichols has noted, that by 1521 “Luther had accomplished more than most do in many a lifetime,” God spared his life for yet more accomplishments during his next twenty-five years.
Among the accomplishments of Luther’s later years includes: publishing the first hymnal in 1524, marrying Katherina Von Bora on June 13, 1525, writing the great theological work The Bondage of the Will in 1525, writing the first mass delivered in the German language in 1526, composing the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in 1527, writing the Small Catechism in 1529, and producing the first translation of the Bible into the German language in 1534. Any single one of these accomplishments (with the possible exception of marrying Katherina Von Bora), would have made Martin Luther a historically significant individual. Combined together and adding the events leading up to and including the Diet of Worms make Martin Luther one of the most significant individuals who has ever lived. As Luther’s own Katherina mourned her husbands death on February 17, 1546 in a letter to a relative: “For who would not be sad and afflicted at the loss of such a precious man as my dear lord was. He did great things not just for a city or a single land, but for the whole world.” Indeed, Luther’s impact extended beyond any single city or land for now over five hundred years latter his life is still effecting the world.
In tomorrow’s post, I will briefly examine the theology of Luther. Stay tuned . . .
In his book, Whitney presents “the Spiritual Disciplines of Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning” (17). However, the author admits that his list is my no means exhaustive and many others qualify as Spiritual Disciplines. These are all to be cultivated by the Christian, “for the purpose of godliness” (17).
In the first chapter, Whitney explains his purpose for writing the book by asserting the necessity of discipline in the Christian life as a means of obtaining godliness. He attempts to steer clear of any legalistic connotations of the word “discipline” by presenting the disciplines as the means to the end of Christlikeness. Since to be like Christ is the Christian’s hope and joy, the disciplines are transformed from drudgery to the glorious vehicle God provides that enable us to pursue holiness. Whitney begins and concludes the introductory chapter by referring to “Kevin,” a six-year-old enrolled in music lessons. If Kevin sees no purpose in the lessons, they become drudgery. But, if Kevin is allowed to see a performance by an accomplished musician, his desire to obtain the mastery of the instrument displayed by the virtuoso transforms the lessons from drudgery to delight (15-16, 24).
Presenting the disciplines as a delightful means to godliness is a theme that pervades all thirteen chapters of this book. By building on the works of those who have gone before him in the articulation of the need for disciplines, Whitney places himself in the ongoing conversation among evangelicals on this important topic. The awareness that the author has of others who have written in this field is evident by the ease with which he refers to their works. Also, his ability to interweave quotations and illustrations from the Puritans and other forefathers of the Evangelical tradition creates an atmosphere of credibility that permeates the book’s pages.
The book begins with a chapter which sets forth the author’s arguments for disciplines in the Christian life and concludes with a chapter exhorting the reader to perseverance in the disciplines. In between are eleven chapters presenting the ten disciplines of: Bible Intake, Prayer, Worship, Evangelism, Serving, Stewardship, Fasting, Silence and Solitude, Journaling, and, Learning. Each chapter begins with a quotation by a church leader (from the past and present) extolling the virtues of discipline in the Christian life. Whitney then provides argumentation for each discipline; quotations and illustrations from church history supporting the use of the discipline; and, practical suggestions for application of the discipline to your life. The concluding chapter of the book closes with two consecutive convicting questions: “Will you ‘discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness’?” and “Where and when will you begin?” (249). In these ways Whitney presents a compelling case for the use of the spiritual disciplines in the life of the Christian.
Consistently throughout the book, Whitney uses quotations and illustrations from prominent figures in the history of the church, as well as, contemporaries who have authored in the field of disciplines for the Christian. These insights from the past and present serve to fortify a frame-work which securely supports the arguments made in each chapter. Equally noteworthy is the saturation of this volume with Scripture. Nearly every page has a Scripture reference noted and they are not the obligatory “proof-text” type of reference which is all too common in contemporary Christian literature). The flow of Whitney’s work suggests that as an author, he is saturated with the Word of God to such a degree that it is obvious as you read these pages. Spurgeon spoke of John Bunyan’s blood as being ‘bibline,’ Whitney’s conversancy with Scripture indicates that the same could be said of him.
The fact that Whitney considers himself to be a recipient of the heritage of Protestantism, particularly the Reformed, substantially influences the way he presents his material. It is for this reason he seems comfortable continuing this dialogue with them throughout his book. Someone who did not share the theological beliefs of the men (and women) mentioned by Whitney as influential (pp.11-12, 17) would not be able to write a book on this topic in exactly the same way.
Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life is a book to be recommended to those interested in pursuing godliness. It’s practical instruction is both an encouragement and challenge for Christian living in the 21st Century. It is believed that if you prazctice the disciplines suggested in this book, in the spirit with which it was written, you will steer clear of legalism and will begin progressing toward the goal of godliness in your personal life.
Carroll, B. H. “Creeds and Confessions of Faith.” In Baptists and their Doctrines, eds. Timothy and Denise George, 79-105. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995.
Johnson, W. B. “The Gospel Developed” (1846). In Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, ed. Mark Dever, 161-245. Washington, D. C.: Center for Church Reform, 2001.
Love, J. F. “The Statement of Belief by the Foreign Mission Board.” The Religious Herald (July 8, 1920): 7, 15.
Mullins, E. Y. “Baptists and Creeds.” In The Axioms of Religion, eds. Timothy and Denise George, 186-191. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997.
Noel, S. M. “Circular Letter on Confessions of Faith.” In Treasures from the Baptist Heritage, eds. Timothy and Denise George, 139-148. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996.
Pendleton, J. M. Baptist Church Manual. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1966.
Reynolds, J. L. “Church Polity or The Kingdom of Christ” (1849). In Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, ed. Mark Dever, 295-404. Washington, D. C.: Center for Church Reform, 2001.
Hall, David W., ed. The Practice of Confessional Subscription. Oak Ridge, TN: The Covenant Foundation, 1997.
Hinson, E. Glenn. “Creeds and Confessions in the Christian Tradition.” Review and Expositor, 76 (1979): 5-16.
Nettles, Tom J. “The Health of Confessional Christianity.” The Founders Journal, 49 (2002): 5-10.
________. “On the Other Hand: The Decline of Confessions.” The Founders Journal, 49 (2002): 11-15.
________. “Confession: A Union of Heart between Sheep and Shepherd.” The Founders Journal, 49 (2002): 16-22.
________. “Creedalism, Confessionalism, and the Baptist Faith and Message.” In The Unfettered Word: Confronting the Authority-Inerrancy Question, ed. Robison B. James, 138-154. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1994.
O’Brien, Robert. Stand With Christ: Why Missionaries Can’t Sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002.
Pool, Jeff B. “‘Sacred Mandates of Conscience’: A Criteriology of Credalism for Theological Method Among Baptists.” Perspectives in Religious Studies, 23 (1996): 353-386.
________. Against Returning to Egypt: Exposing and Resisting Credalism in the Southern Baptist Convention. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998.
Thornbury, John F. “Baptists and Confessionalism.” Reformation & Revival Journal, 7 (1998): 105-118.
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
________. “Baptists, the Bible, and confessions.” The Southern Seminary Magazine, November 2000, 13-15.
________. “The Church: Baptists and Their Churches in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.” In Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, ed. Mark Dever, 19-42. Washington, D. C.: Center for Church Reform, 2001.
_______. “Who Are the True Baptists? The Conservative Resurgence and the Influence of Moderate View of Baptist Identity.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 2005, 18-35.
Yarbrough, Slayden. “Is Creedalism a Threat to Southern Baptists?”Baptist History and Heritage, 2 (1983): 21-33.
Southern Baptists have a message for a lost world, or they ought to abandon altogether this whole scheme of foreign missions. . . . The things contained in this Statement are the very things which we preach from Sabbath to Sabbath, which we use in calling sinners to repentance, which probably every church in the South has adopted in its confession of faith, which every association of the nearly one thousand in the South requires of any church whose messengers apply for seats in the association, and which our two seminaries require, and much more besides, of every professor that holds a chair in them. This Statement is not, therefore, something new, but that which is new and revolutionary is criticism of such a statement of Baptist faith. (1)
This has been the majority position held by Baptists historically in regard to confessions of faith. May God grant to Baptists today a similar passion to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”!
Baptists used confessions of faith in another practical way. Confessions were not only used as a means of expressing unity, they were also used to protect against error creeping into their churches or institutions. On July 31, 1856, James P. Boyce gave the Inaugural Address at Furman University in which he called for “Three Changes in Theological Institutions.” One of these changes involved confessional integrity, which required professors to sign a doctrinal statement to which they agreed to teach in accordance. In his Address at Furman, Boyce stated the responsibility of that institution’s trustees to preserve doctrinal truth by use of a confession of faith:
It seems to me, gentlemen, that you owe this to yourselves, to your professors, and to the denomination at large; to yourselves, because your position as trustees makes you responsible for the doctrinal opinions of your professors, and the whole history of creeds has proved the difficulty without them of convicting errorists or perversion of the Word of God – to your professors, that their doctrinal sentiments may be known and approved by all, that no charges of heresy may be brought against them; that none shall whisper of peculiar notions which they hold, but that in refutation of all charges they may point to this formulary as one which they hold “ex amino,” and teach in its true import – and to the denomination at large, that they may know in what truths the rising ministry are instructed, may exercise full sympathy with the necessities of the institution, and look with confidence and affection to the pastors who come forth from it. (1)
Boyce understood creeds to be necessary to fulfill the trustee’s responsibility to their denomination in whose place they acted. Without a confession of faith, protection against false teaching would be impossible.
E. Y. Mullins was the fourth president of the seminary which Boyce helped found, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mullins also saw the need of confessions of faith to protect the beliefs held by Baptists. Mullins argues that confessions do not violate an individual’s rights, but rather preserves the right of the group:
Baptists have always insisted upon their right to declare their beliefs in a definite, formal way, and to protect themselves by refusing to support men in important places as teachers and preachers who do not agree with them. This group of self-protection is as sacred as any individual right. If a group of men known as Baptists consider themselves trustees of certain great truths, they have an inalienable right to conserve and propagate those truths unmolested by others inside the denomination who oppose those truths. The latter have an equal right to unite with another group agreeing with them. But they have no right to attempt to make of the Baptist denomination a free lance club. (2)
Not only have Baptist seminaries historically used Confessions of Faith to protect against false teaching, so to have Baptist mission boards. Contrary to popular opinion, the recent decision to require doctrinal agreement by missionaries of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is not a new thing! James F. Love, who served as the executive secretary of the Foreign Mission Board (currently the International Mission Board) from 1914 to 1928, wrote in the July 8, 1920 edition of The Religious Herald concerning the mission boards “Statement of Belief.” This statement was adopted during the Board’s annual meeting in June, 1919 (3). Love described the reason for the adoption of this Statement as a responsibility to Southern Baptists:
The Foreign Mission Board is . . . appointed to secure the proclamation of a Christian message. The men who compose it will not consent that young and immature people . . . shall revise the historic and generally accepted faith of Southern Baptists and set up for this message some bit of rationalism or irrationalism with which some teacher or school has inoculated them. The denomination chooses the Board and makes it responsible for these matters and it will not delegate its responsibility. (4)
As you can see, Southern Baptists have always used Confessions to ensure that they were not supporting teachers and missionaries financially whom they could not support theologically. Tomorrow I will post some a concluding summary of all four posts, as well as a bibliography for studying this topic.
(1) James P. Boyce, “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,”in Treasures from the Baptist Heritage, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996),129.
(2) E. Y. Mullins, “Baptists and Creeds,” in The Axioms of Religion, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997),189-190.
(3) J. F. Love, “The Statement of Belief by the Foreign Mission Board,” The Religious Herald (July 8, 1920), 7.
(4) Ibid., 15.
Baptists not only viewed their confessions as summaries of Scripture’s teachings, they also used them in practical ways. One way confessions of faith were used by Baptists was to show where true unity existed. S. M. Noel, in his “Circular Letter,” asked a series of rhetorical questions to demonstrate the necessity of a confession of faith to “preserve the unity”:
Are we to admit members into the church and into office, are we to license and ordain preachers without enquiring for their creed? Shall we ask them no question in regard to principles or doctrines? Shall we receive license and ordain candidates, upon a general profession of faith in Christ requiring of them this only, that they agree to take the Bible for their guide? Can we do this and still expect to preserve the unity, purity and peace of the church? (1)
The obvious answer to Noel’s questions is “No!” Confessions of faith are necessary to “preserve the unity, purity and peace of the church.”
J. L. Reynolds, in his Church Polity, also acknowledged that Christian unity requires a clear summary statement of Christian doctrine. Reynolds argues that it is appropriate to have a written confession of faith to show agreement about the nature of Christianity:
The right of a Church to frame for itself a summary of Christian doctrine is evident from the nature of its organization. If “two cannot walk together except they be agreed,” much less can professors of Christianity constitute a harmonious and efficient body, unless they concur in their views of what Christianity is. If it be proper for them to have correct views, it is proper to express them; and if it be proper to express them orally, it is equally so to express them in a written form. Again, each member of a church is bound to bear his testimony to the truth. (2)
E. Y. Mullins described the limits of cooperation as the extent to which we agree doctrinally: “Practical cooperation is, after all, a fine test of doctrinal fellowship, and doctrinal fellowship is a fine test of the limits of practical cooperation” (4). Then, to be sure he was understood, Mullins adds the following example: “If a man holds consistently the Unitarian view of Christ’s person, he cannot long cooperate with those who hold the deity of Christ” (5). Agreement upon the great doctrines of the faith is essential to unity, fellowship and cooperation. Confessions of faith provide the instrumentality to express this unity. Monday I will show how Confessions of Faith were used by Baptists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to protect against false teaching. Stay tuned . . .
(2) J. L. Reynolds, “Church Polity or the Kingdom of Christ,” in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, ed. Mark Dever (Washington, D. C.: Center for Church Reform, 2001), 337.
(3) Ibid., 342.
(4) E. Y. Mullins, “Baptists and Creeds,” in The Axioms of Religion, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997), 190.
(5) Ibid., 190-191.
Baptists have never exalted a confession of faith above Scripture. On the contrary, Confessions of Faith were used to summarize what Baptists believed the Scriptures taught. S. M. Noel, moderator of the Franklin Baptist Association in Kentucky, wrote a circular letter in 1826 that was sent to all the churches in his association. In this letter, Noel defended the historic Baptist use of confessions as a summary of Biblical teaching: “By a creed we mean an epitome, or summary exhibition of what the Scriptures teach.” Noel also notes that when one affirms a confession of faith “he simply declares by solemn act how he understands the Bible, in other words, what doctrines he considers it as containing” (1).
A little over twenty years later, J. L. Reynolds wrote Church Polity in which he argued that a confession or creed “is a digest of the whole” of Scripture. Reynolds continued by stating:
A creed is not intended to supersede the word of God, as the standard of faith and practice; for it derives its validity and authority solely from its agreement with that word. It is a standard or rule of faith only in a secondary sense, and only to those who adopt it as the exponent of their views. It does not create, it simply expresses the truth; and is to be viewed, not in the light of an authority but a testimony (2).
Confessions were only seen as authoritative to the degree that they accurately reflected the teaching of Scripture. The ultimate allegiance of Baptists was to the Word of God, but they saw confessions as helpful summaries of Biblical truth.
B. H. Carroll, founding president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, defended the use of creeds and confessions of faith in his treatise “Creeds and Confessions of Faith.” There he argued that everyone has a creed because a creed merely summarizes what you believe:
There never was a man in the world without a creed. What is a creed? A creed is what you believe. What is a confession? It is a declaration of what you believe. That declaration may be oral or it may be committed to writing, but the creed is there either expressed or implied (3).
Since confessions of faith are declarations of what one believes, anyone who believes anything has one.
Another president of a Baptist seminary who defended the use of confessions in Baptist life was E. Y. Mullins. Mullins served as the fourth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at approximately the same time Carroll was serving as the president of Southwestern at the beginning of the twentieth century. Mullins, in his essay “Baptists and Creeds” (probably written between 1920 and 1925), defended confessions of faith as our attempt to summarize New Testament teaching: “The New Testament, of course, is our final standard and authority. Our confessions are simply our effort to state what the New Testament teaches. They are all to be tested and estimated according to the New Testament” (4).
Clearly Baptists have historically viewed Confessions of Faith as tools to summarize in digest form essential truths of Scripture. Tomorrow I will show how Confessions of Faith were used by Baptists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to express unity. Stay tuned . . .
(1) S. M. Noel, “Circular Letter on Confessions of Faith,” in Treasures from the Baptist Heritage, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 140.
(2) J. L. Reynolds, “Church Polity or the Kingdom of Christ,” in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, ed. Mark Dever (Washington, D. C.: Center for Church Reform, 2001), 337.
(3) B. H. Carroll, “Creeds and Confessions of Faith,” in Baptists and their Doctrines, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 81.
(4) E. Y. Mullins, “Baptists and Creeds,” in The Axioms of Religion, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997),187.
- Confessions of Faith summarized the essential teachings of Scripture in a topical manner.
- Confessions of faith expressed unity among those who were truly one in the truth.
- Confessions of faith protected churches and institutions from those who did not adhere to those doctrines commonly held by Baptists.
Timothy George (founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and editor of Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms) argues that Baptists have used Confessions of Faith throughout their history: “The idea that voluntary, conscientious adherence to an explicit doctrinal standard is somehow foreign to the Baptist tradition is a peculiar notion not borne out by careful examination of our heritage” (1). An examination of Baptist history reveals that many Baptist leaders have promoted the use of Confessions of Faith for individual churches, associations, and institutions (seminaries and mission boards). These Confessions were used to summarize essential Biblical beliefs, express unity, and protect from error. In the days ahead I will provide evidence for each of the above assertions as proof that Confessions of Faith are vital to a healthy Baptist identity. Stay tuned . . .
(1) Timothy George, “Introduction,” in Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 3.