Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Theological Middle of the Road: More on the Idea and Practice of Baptist Moderates


My last post generated an interesting exchange with an interlocutor describing himself as one of the "militant moderates." He credited me for cleverness, but faulted my reasoning in the descriptions of moderates as often quite ill-moderate in temperament. So, it seemed that a more substantive reflection might be in order. Here are my observations after stumbling through the maze of conflicting theological labels.

Baptist moderates typically see themselves as orthodox Christians who hold firmly to an evangelical understanding of the Gospel. Some of them emphasize social aspects of the faith more than some of their more conservative brethren do (in their opinion). Others want to encourage members of the progressive left to keep up their doctrinal and practical explorations in the hope that we can learn something of value from them. What truly distinguishes the moderate is the commitment to freedom. They often proclaim, in Voltaire-like echoes, that they will defend to the death your right to be wrong, whether you are to the left or the right of them. Against the left and the right, they oppose the "fundamentalist" spirit of exclusive claims to truth and the frequently expressed desire to exclude or marginalize one's opponents.

Instead, they want everyone to be present at the table in the hopes that we can all exhibit the humility and openness necessary to learn from one another in a spirit of Christian comity. From the right we can learn the value of "conserving" what has proven important and valuable in our tradition; from the left we can learn from a progressive "openness" to the Spirit of the Living God who still moves among the churches.

They aver that what made Baptists Baptists traces to the idea of freedom. Indeed, their reading of Baptist history celebrates as the central genius a commitment to freedom. For moderates freedom is the big idea that brought Baptists out of the British/European theological morass. They see emphasis upon boundaries as contrary to the Baptist ethos.

IMHO, the error of the moderates derives from their misunderstanding of history, both Christian and Baptist. All basic forms of church polity (Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational) have the advantage of being rooted in the Biblical record and operating with common-sense checks and balances. Trying to absolutize one value (e.g., freedom) without the counterbalance of agreed upon boundaries and the comprehension of other truths risks the entire enterprise.

With respect to Baptist history, which of our original Baptist forbearers would they have us emulate? The ones behind the First London Confession of Faith ( 1644), Second London Confession of Faith (1677), Philadelphia Confession of Faith & Catechism (1742), or maybe the 1858 Abstract of Principles with its Calvinistic emphases and insistence upon very strict boundaries for fellowship? These freedom loving Baptists did not seem to shrink from insisting on fairly specific doctrinal affirmations for Baptist clergy and congregations in order to remain in fellowship with the larger association.

Only in our "have it your way" era of "Burger King" theology has it been seen as unbaptistic to draw such boundaries. It simply will not do to proclaim the Baptist value of “freedom” without also affirming some boundaries of agreed upon beliefs and practices. Such an attempt is fundamentally “unbaptistic” and contrary to the spirit and the practice animating our Baptist founders. Without a balance of values, all we have left is the sad plea of a Rodney King “theology”: “Can’t we just get along.”

27 comments:

Amill-Presup said...

Appeals to emotion, all.
Still, but for your tongue firmly planted in cheek, your description of moderates is fairly accurate.

Your summary, though, contradicts the meat of the piece. You describe (accurately) the moderate's role of encouraging the lefties to maintain Orthodox doctrine and the fundies to try not to be so ungodly (unchristly?) mean. But then, at the end, you suggest that moderates elevate freedom above all other virtues (in fact, to the exclusion of all others). Um, no. As you already pointed out, it's a liberal trick to promote freedom without accountability to Scripture. It's a fundie trick to promote Sound Doctrine without any understanding of freedom (have a look at Romans 14). We moderates are kind of a BOTH/AND.

Spin it all day and all night...couch it with unexplained and unsupported qualifiers like “(in their opinion),” and mock us till you're blue in the face--it doesn't change the fact that both sound doctrine and soul liberty are at the heart of being Baptist. You went to a liberal seminary and did a pendulum over to the right. I went to a fundie seminary, but consciously kept myself from the over-corrective that would have landed me in la-la-lib-land. Being a moderate is nice...not having to walk around with one hand tied behind my back.

BTW, the First London Confession, being essentially just a rehash of the Westminster (with a tiny "oh yeah, but with believer's baptism"), I don't think you have to wait for 1858 to get Calvinistic emphases.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

"BTW, the First London Confession, being essentially just a rehash of the Westminster (with a tiny "oh yeah, but with believer's baptism"), I don't think you have to wait for 1858 to get Calvinistic emphases."

Agreed. That was my not too subtle point. If our "freedom loving" forebearers could specify not just evangelical fundamentals but Calvinist specificity as a test for fellowship in BAPTIST congregations, you moderates can "spin it all day and all night...couch it with unexplained and unsupported qualifiers . . . and mock us till you're blue in the face--it doesn't change the fact that" confessional boundaries have played and can yet play an important place in Baptist life. The fact that we had a pretty lame statement from 1992 that the VF crowd would honor only in the breach created this problem leading to withdrawal and denominational decline.

". . . it's a liberal trick to promote freedom without accountability to Scripture. It's a fundie trick to promote Sound Doctrine without any understanding of freedom (have a look at Romans 14). We moderates are kind of a BOTH/AND."

Actually, I think that the evangelicals/conservatives are the ones who promote BOTH/AND. You are correct about the libs and the fundys. And, if moderates had made more common cause with the conservatives in the ABC, there would not be so many regions in decline, one formally withdrawing, and several others opting out de facto while pretending to stay in for the spoils when the implosion happens.*

"You went to a liberal seminary and did a pendulum over to the right. I went to a fundie seminary, but consciously kept myself from the over-corrective that would have landed me in la-la-lib-land."

Actually, if you label/libel my seminary, known as perhaps the premier "evangelical seminary" in America, as "liberal" perhaps my comments about ill-moderately tempered moderates was correct in my first piece. Only someone with a fundy mindset would jump to the "L" word for a school self-consciously advertising itself as "evangelical." [Yes, here my tongue IS firmly in my cheek! But, if the shoe fits anyhow . . .]

*This is a matter of empirical accuracy, not a disputed point. Outside the men's restroom at the Denver bienniel on the last day of the 2005 convention, an exec explained to me that PSW was foolish to fight or to withdraw. He intended to stay "in" formally, ignore VF entirely, and stay just far enough inside the system so as to be eligible to collect the $$$ (i.e., spoils) when the whole thing folds in a few years.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

BTW, the "in their opinion" was not meant as mocking. I think that generally speaking, moderates typically do a much better job of emphasizing the holistic Gospel than conservatives do (e.g., justice issues such as poverty and violence). However, my point was not to get stuck with someone challenging my facts, so I simply tacked on the "in their opinion" to remove it from the realm of facticity and indicate that it was a belief of the moderates which may or may not be true.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Dear Amill-presup,

My comments about absolutizing freedom come from my reading of the self-proclaimed "moderates" on some of the Baptist message boards. In numerous threads, any suggestion of confessional boundaries of ANY kind is slammed in the most angry and hostile tones possible. You may want to maintain a balance of BOTH/AND. However, those writing the most as "Baptist bloggers" and "Baptist" message boarders do not seem to share your sense of proportionality and balance.

Amill-Presup said...

> Actually, I think that the
> evangelicals/conservatives are
> the ones who promote BOTH/AND.
> You are correct about the libs
> and the fundys. And, if
> moderates had made more common
> cause with the conservatives in
> the ABC, there would not be so
> many regions in decline, one
> formally withdrawing, and
> several others opting out de
> facto while pretending to stay
> in for the spoils when the
> implosion happens.**

Hmmm... If "Evangelical/Conservatives" are "the ones who promote BOTH/AND," as opposed to "the libs and the fundies," would that not place you between the two and, therefore, moderates after a fashion? OH NO!!!

> Actually, if you label/libel my
> seminary, known as perhaps the
> premier "evangelical seminary"
> in America, as "liberal" perhaps
> my comments about ill-moderately
> tempered moderates was correct
> in my first piece.

Actually, I don't even know which seminary you went to. I only know what you've told me about it. Like a couple of weeks ago when you went through a laundry list of liberal trash that you were taught in seminary and explained that it was representative of what was taught there. So I guess the "shoe fits," but it's both your shoe and your mouth.

As far as using the very early Baptist confessions as proof of confessional borders for fellowship (sorry I missed that last night; it was late and I was tired), I really don't think you can go back to England and the Particular Baptists for continuity of associational/conventional structure. We find our roots here in America. Like most Baptists, I look to Rhode Island as setting the vision in that sense (although, I look to Dr. Clarke and Newport, rather than that Rog-guy who was Baptist for like twenty minutes.)

**Yep! You're right! Something is no longer contested once there's "bathroom hearsay" to back it up! Zow-eee! It's settled then!

Dennis E. McFadden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dennis E. McFadden said...

"Actually, I don't even know which seminary you went to. I only know what you've told me about it. Like a couple of weeks ago when you went through a laundry list of liberal trash that you were taught in seminary and explained that it was representative of what was taught there. So I guess the "shoe fits," but it's both your shoe and your mouth."

Amill-presup - your fundy spirit remains along with your problem with reading carefully what others write. My "laundry list of liberal trash" (posted at 6:32 p.m. in response to your comments on that day) listed Westmont and Fuller as my theological alma maters at the head of the "laundry list." Sorry you missed it. But having volunteered it (along with my actual name), I thought A.P. would get it. You might check your shoe size again.

"Hmmm... If "Evangelical/Conservatives" are "the ones who promote BOTH/AND," as opposed to "the libs and the fundies," would that not place you between the two and, therefore, moderates after a fashion?"

Now who is equivocating? We both know that the term "moderate," selected in part I suspect because it sounds so cool and balanced between the extremes and extremists, encompasses a constellation of characteristics and affirmations. Baptist Evangelicals (that I know anyhow) are generally pretty moderate in their temperaments, probably in part because they went to Evangelical seminaries rather than fundy ones or liberal ones. I don't know many angry evangelicals, but a whole lot of fundy and liberal ones. Most of us were taught to avoid both meanness and latitudinarianism. I must have flunked that class! :) But, yes, my friends are quite "moderate" even though they would NEVER become "moderates."

"I really don't think you can go back to England and the Particular Baptists for continuity of associational/conventional structure. We find our roots here in America."

OK. Fair enough. Let's look at the expectations of the Philadelphia Association and their determination of what doctrinal beliefs were necessary for fellowship in the Association. Or, consider the "American" Abstract of Principles in 1858. It was intended to capture what they believed in common and to be used as a regulating document signed annually by all that taught at Southern. If it accurately captured the beliefs of the day as it claimed, was embraced by "freedom loving Baptists," and is still in use today, perhaps the sense of boundaries is not as foreign to Baptist thinking as you suggest. I'm not harping on Calvinism here. Even the General Baptists had doctrinal statements of acceptable beliefs (none of which would allow for AWAB, for example).

"**Yep! You're right! Something is no longer contested once there's "bathroom hearsay" to back it up! Zow-eee! It's settled then!"

Sarcasm unnecessary here. My point that some of the "loyal" ABC regions are not so loyal has been challenged as to my truthfulness by some in the ABC.

My point was simply to reference that it came from a principal (Executive Minister of one of the larger regions) in a specific extended conversation with me at a point in time rather than from gossipy hearsay. We were in the main hallway between the entrance and the biennial activities (outside the restroom) during the 15 minute conversation that afternoon. I believe that an EM can speak somewhat authoritatively as to his own "strategy" in engaging VF.

The point was that even if TM left alone, other regions (at least this one) have left de facto while remaining "part of the family" de jure. This partially explains the strange losses of funds that run beyond what the loss of PSW would explain.

Thanks again for your thoughtful engagement with my post. I hope that these clarifications will prove helpful. May the Lord bless your ministry on this Lord's Day. I'm off to deal with the Sermon on the Mount, part 10.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Hey Amill-presupp--

I just noted an interesting comment from an ABC moderate on one fo the Baptist forums. He wrote:

"John quite clearly refers to Jesus as the "Word of God." And So, the use of specifically calling the Bible "the Word" (particularly in English with a capital W) bothers me. I'm afraid that someone might confuse Jesus as THE Word of God incarnate and the words of God in scripture.

I'll also note that I just don't hear the Bible referred to as "the word" in ABC circles so, it always strikes me as a bit foreign to my ears. We usually tend to say "Bible", "Holy Bible", "Holy Scriptures", "Scriptures" etc."

Is this reflective of your own "moderate" theology? I'm still trying to reconcile your explanations of the "moderates" with what I read on the moderate forums by people calling themselves moderates.

Amill-Presup said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amill-Presup said...

I have no idea why all the smart quotes showed up as weird Russian-looking characters... so here's a re-post so you don't get a headache trying to translate it. ;)

> Amill-presup - your fundy spirit
> remains along with your problem
> with reading carefully what
> others write. My "laundry list
> of liberal trash"
> (posted at 6:32 p.m. in response
> to your comments on that day)
> listed Westmont and Fuller as my
> theological alma maters at the
> head of the "laundry list."

Yeah, I don't memorize your posts. Sorry, I've got some other stuff going on that chews into my "post memorizing" time. And the fact remains that you did present your alma mater as a liberal school in explaining your journey to the right. And, yes, I would consider Fuller to be pretty liberal. And it's only "libel" (as you put it) if it's not true.

> OK. Fair enough. Let's look at
> the expectations of the
> Philadelphia Association and
> their determination of what
> doctrinal beliefs were
> necessary for fellowship in the
> Association. Or, consider
> the "American" Abstract of
> Principles in 1858. It was
> intended to capture what they
> believed in common and to be
> used as a regulating document
> signed annually by all that
> taught at Southern.

I've always seen the South as a little heavy on requirements and central authority, a little top-down, a little less Baptist (much like some formerly ABC-affiliated regions). The SBC's life since the split has definitely confirmed what the Northern Baptist churches had always suspected (and, yes, I do realize that it was the North's requirements of "doctrinal purity" that led to the split...but that had more to do with social injustice than simple soul liberty). Therefore a document rooted in SBTS at right about the time of the split doesn't factor into a discussion about American Baptist polity and the associational principle as far as I'm concerned.

> Sarcasm unnecessary here. My
> point that some of the "loyal"
> ABC regions are not so loyal has
> been challenged as to my
> truthfulness by some in the ABC.

No, I deem sarcasm necessary there. Admit it; it was funny.

> I'll also note that I just don't
> hear the Bible referred to
> as "the word" in
> ABC circles so, it always
> strikes me as a bit foreign to
> my ears. We usually
> tend to say "Bible", "Holy
> Bible", "Holy
> Scriptures", "Scriptures" etc."
> Is this reflective of your
> own "moderate" theology? I'm
> still trying to
> reconcile your explanations of
> the "moderates" with what I read
> on the moderate forums by people
> calling themselves moderates.

I'm a 5-pt Calvinist creationist with a solid record of voting for George W Bush thrown in just for good measure. I don't have "moderate theology" in any area that I can think of except the balance between needing a doctrinally pure church and needing real soul liberty and local church autonomy. Again, I describe myself as a moderate in regards to associational principle and the current environment of shrill polemics.

Apparently the culture in my region is entirely different from yours. And I suspect not too many people from my region are bothering with blogs, etc. To be a moderate in MI means not wanting to dissolve the office of G.S. (or in some areas, one is a moderate if he doesn't want to dissolve the G.S. himself). Everyone here calls the Bible the Word of God. Even
those who are quite liberal in the Detroit Baptist Convention. Essentials of the faith are not usually the deal-breakers around here. I can think of maybe two ABC pastors that I know in the region who could not sign on to all five of the fundamentals (thus making them lower-case "f" fundamentalists). If those are the liberals, then yes, we moderates around here are not the caricature that you see in blogs by self-proclaimed "moderates" and then apply to me with a broad brush.

2:11 PM

Dennis E. McFadden said...

". . . fact remains that you did present your alma mater as a liberal school in explaining your journey to the right."

Actually, if memory serves me you concluded my school was "liberal" after you had previously accused me of coming from a far right school. The list of non-fundamentalist ideas which you call "liberal trash" were/are taught to the majority of TM pastors since that is the school most of us call mama. I provided them to demonstrate that those of us in TM are not a bunch of looney fundys with separatistic agendas. See, even a moderate like you thought they were to the left!

And there dear A.P. is my point. Most of the conservatives I know in TM are not angry or schismatic. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, do not noticeably drag our knuckles on the ground when we walk, and have learned to use our opposable thumbs in typing online and holding our forks while eating. Our friends to the left of us (libs and, if the quotes I read are characteristic of the whole, many moderates) AND to the right of us (e.g, people who really did attend fundy seminaries) seem to have plenty of anger to go around. My post which caused you so much consternation simply took that observation in a humorous/satirical direction.

Sorry to have offended you. Really. My point, as always, is to reflect upon theology and culture from an evangelical and Baptist perspective. At times, I become defensive of my colleagues in TM who have been unfairly stigmatized by ABC folks to the left of us. But, my true desire is not to "stick it to" you or any other sisters or brothers elsewhere in the Baptist family.

After reading a couple of years of the kidns of things I quoted to you, however, is seems more difficult to believe that the so-called moderates are in the same group with a prince like you :)

Dennis E. McFadden said...

BTW, last time I checked didn't MI 's board vote a couple of years ago to recommend dismantling the OGS by a vote of 19 or 20 to 1? And, Mike is hardly a moderate. Last conversation he and I had over lunch he was lamenting the dozens of congregations he might lose if VF didn't get its act together.

As to Fuller, Richard Mouw would probably call it libel if you called FTS a "liberal" school. He still thinks he is president of an evangelical place.

And, yes, your sarcasm was funny. As was the line: "I've got some other stuff going on that chews into my "post memorizing" time."

"I'm a 5-pt Calvinist creationist with a solid record of voting for George W Bush thrown in just for good measure."

Me too.

It would be interesting to dialogue with you on how you think we can best honor doctrinal purity and soul liberty. Openly gay clergy in lots of top positions may be soul liberty, but it hardly comports with doctrinal purity.

Amill-Presup said...

> And, Mike is hardly a moderate.
> Last conversation he and I had
> over lunch he was lamenting the
> dozens of congregations he might
> lose if VF didn't get its act
> together.

Yeah, that's my point. Mike's a conservative (and a good friend of mine... and there hasn't been an official vote about any of this stuff yet. We're waiting on a three-year study by a "denominational relations committee" to be compiled). My point is that the tone is so conservative here (in our blue state) that being a moderate in relation doesn't make me the kind of self-proclaimed moderate you're apparently reading on blogs. I'd argue that most of us who are not of the "something better change at VF or that's the end of the ABC" are anything but the kind of false moderates that you've been reading in the past few years...

(BTW, if I were Mike, I'd have signed at Parchment Valley as well...)


> As to Fuller, Richard Mouw would
> probably call it libel if you
> called FTS a "liberal" school.
> He still thinks he is president
> of an evangelical place.

Well, De Nile ain't just a river in Egypt... Then again, I don't believe that a school needs to be "fundie" to teach about JEPD while teaching that Moses did write the Penteteuch (and teaching about all sorts of other liberal theories, while affirming traditional biblical understanding of Scripture and worldview). To me, that's what a solid conservative school looks like.

Amill-Presup said...

BTW, interesting tidbit: it was a good friend of my father-in-law who took the above picture of the poor dead rodent (often titled "winner of the 'not my job' award" as it travels the Net) right here in Michigan on his way to work as a DM for K-mart.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Amill-presup -

Dialogue with you has been a delight! Thanks for the fair criticisms and the funny sarcasm. I still think we talked past each other on a number of substantive points, however.

My guess is that what a "conservative" looks like in MI may be somewhat different from what I am accustomed to here on the left coast. Most of us were schooled in a VERY non-fundy seminary environment, enjoy the reality of being not simply numerically the majority but virtually the entire show (VERY few libs and VERY few fundys), and came to our issues with VF along a different trajectory from some other regions.

Frankly, most regions are so mixed (with REAL liberals, REAL fundys, and a majority in the middle), that no EM dare do much of anything to rock the boat in either direction for fear of losing support needed to keep the region going. I keep hearing of KJV-only ABC churches. That would almost have been an oxymoron in any of the three regions in CA. In fact, based on what you have professed to believe, you would be among the MOST conservative folks in the old PSW.

PSW's split with VF was not engineered by SBC-esque takeover artists, certainly not by people who wanted power or position for themselves. Nor was it done by angry fundys. Dale Salico was Mr. ABC when he came here a decade ago. He was a typical Gordon-Conwell grad with conservative theology and cooperative genes. Comparing him to Mike Williams, I would have said then that Dale would have been the less likely of the two to lead an ABC withdrawal. Our beef with VF had more to do with the "in your face" promotion of active gay clergy as the face of the denomination. (BTW, check out the blog and comments on this issue last week over at BaptistLikeMe http://baptistlikeme.blogspot.com/).

So, perhaps the "conservatives" over here are not so conservative as the fundys over your way? And, perhaps people even less conservative than you appear as crazy fundy schismatics to VF because of the unique differences in regions and the issues pressing in on them???

This deserves more dialogue. However my day job awaits and the problems of trying to secure approval for a $35 million projected expansion of our community.

What was my mantra again? The one to keep me from thinking I completely left the ministry to become a bureaucrat? Oh, yeah. Luo, lueis, luei, luomen, luete, luousin. :)

Amill-Presup said...

And don't forget yiqtol, tiqtol, eqtol....

God bless...

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . and qatal, qatalta, qatalti too!

God bless you too. (Thanks to the Internet, I think your identity is known now. But your secret is safe with me).

Dr. Danny Chisholm said...

I know that the moderate label is generally understood in Baptist life, but still prefer the designation as a "traditional" Baptist. Having nothing to do with worship styles, it refers to someone who cherishes historic Baptist distinctives and freedoms, which have been at the heart of what it means to be a Baptist.

I don't sense that fundamentalists have this posture, particularly as they possess an antagonistic spirit and have to have something to fight about (or against).

Amill-Presup said...

Dr. Chisholm,

Well put.

-Z

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Danny and Amill-presup,

I agree with you both about the antagonistic spirit of fundamentalism. My point was that in this part of the country, we took so much for granted. The vast majority of us saw ourselves simply as "conservatives" or "evangelicals," with very little of the eastern "mainline" ethos and almost NO fundy constituency. Hence, our ethos was shaped without a reaction to anyone (except perhaps Valley Forge).

I have, however, noticed that most of my colleagues in the southwest see themselves as "evangelical Christians" first and baptists (with a small "b" only secondarily). Almost none of us ever attended a Baptist school, have grown up in the ministry with a somewhat "complicated" relationship with Valley Forge, and are quite distant geographically from any vital ABC school or headquarters.

"Moderate" has been tainted by the use in the SBC where it refers to a particular partisan REACTION to the resurgence/takeover. For folks like you two, it seems to capture the sense of one who is orthodox but non-fundamentalist. The semantic fields overlap but include some distinct differences, IMHO.

Thanks for your time to interact. I appreciate it!

roy said...

as a late comer here... who would call myself (if I had to) a moderate although many others would tag me as liberal...

The place where I see the conservatives and even more so the fundamentalists misreading Baptist history is in their understanding of the confessions. In my take, they are descriptive rather than prescriptive documents. They represented the consensus of the gathered Baptists and could be used for discipline because the signers had articipated in their production and agreed to their terms. The difference is subtle but important. They also were written "in pencil," that is to say there was always room for revision and they were revised through the years.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Roy,

Thanks for the helpful distinction. As always, whether we agree or not, you are my very favorite interlocutor. You disagree in just about the most winsome way possible.

I do think, however, that when you read the records of discipline in the early Baptist associations, the originator's may have agreed to the terms, but some of the followers did not and were disciplined accordingly.

The historically more recent "Abstract of Principles" devloped for Southern Seminary was intended to be a statement of where the churches were and what they expected their professors to profess. Even today, granted it is post resurgence/takeover, Southern's profs are expected to affirm the confession.

In the most recent SBC convention, much energy was expended on the implications of the Baptist Faith and Message document and its role in Baptist life. Yes, it came in forms tailored to the needs of the moment, 1925, 1963, and 2000. But, the debate was whether it was sufficient for hiring decisions in SBC affiliated boards and entities or whether the seminaries, for example, might ADD even more stringent stipulations!!!

Unless you want to make the rather cheeky argument that 1.3 million Baptists are intinstically superior to 16 million Baptists, it would seem difficult to sustain the argument incessantly advanced by progressives and (some) moderates, that Baptists don't do confessions or at least they don't require anything because of them.

From the earliest days of the Baptists in America, to the Philadelphia Association, to the Abstract of Principles, and to the BF&M of 2000, real Baptists have committed descriptions of the core of the faith to paper. Perhaps they have always been written "in pencil," but boundary defining documents they have been.

Whether prescriptive or descriptive, they were used to establish when a congregation or potential ordinand strayed outside the boundaries of the common faith. And, by means of disaffiliation of the church from the Association or failure to give the ordinand an affirmative vote, I do not see how the argument of the left can be sustained historically.

roy said...

Dennis, I would make the cheeky argument that 1.3 million Baptists (or likely a much smaller number than that) are superior to 16 million "Baptists." It seems to me that the SBC left the Baptist tradition long ago. Just because they still have the name does not mean they are faithful to the tradition. As to whether or not anyone still holds it... that is a different question.

I still want to make a differentiation between "we believe this" vs. "you must believe this." As for ordinands, I'd be surprised that many were not affirmed because of lack of uniformity with a then current confession. I would expect the issues were much more subtle than any reflected in the confessions. Church disaffiliations are a history with which I'm not that familiar. The few stories that I do know of from the earlier history of Baptists were over issues that were not reflected in the confessions and make little sense these days but I've only read a few of those records.

My first pastorate was Pennepack Baptist Church, the founding church of the Philadelphia Baptist Association. We had what I believe was the earliest surviving Baptist record book in the US so I did get to read some of the early records. It is at the Baptist Historical Society now.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Roy,

There is a troubling circularity to the argument. REAL Baptists are all about freedom, therefore any group that does not adhere to my a priori definitions of freedom cannot be REAL Baptista. Take the argument far enough and you have grounds for arguing that there is only one REAL Baptist in the world . . . YOU.

If you want to dismiss everybody but the Roger Williams Fellowship, that is your right. However, it seems like a tendentious (and probably pretentious) argument to rule out of hand most people who go by the name "Baptist" in the world today.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Roy,

Sorry for the curt tone to the last note. You are one of my heroes on the Baptist freedom side of the debate.

I do wonder, however, if the forefathers we honor so lavishly (e.g., Roger Williams) would subscribe to the radical individualism that seems to dominate so much of the "Baptist principles" side of the argument. Yea, ole Roger was an independent sort. What was he, a Baptist for all of about four months?

I was doing some casual reading in Baptist history and came across the case of Elhanan Winchester. Winchester had barely settled into his pastoral duties at the Baptist
Church of Philadelphia before rumors began to circulate that he was secretly "advocating the doctrine of the universal restoration of sinners." Less than six months into his pastorate, he was publicly accused of heterodoxy.

In the resolution, signed by 92 persons, including Baptist pioneer Morgan Edwards, it criticized Wincheste3r, saying that he brought "the great disorder and confusion of our church, and wounding the hearts of many of our brethren CONTRARY TO OUR CONFESSION OF FAITH, we whose names are underwritten, do in the most solemn manner, for a real conviction to duty, seriously protest against the same as the most dangerous heresy” (THE LIFE AND WORKS OF MORGAN EDWARDS
by Thomas R. McKibbens, Jr., & Kenneth Smith). The "confession" (my emphasis) was the Calvinistic Philadelphia Confession of Faith.

The Winchester affair lasted for four ugly years filled with loud denunciations and lawsuits by both sides. The Association's "Council of Ministers," charged with the task of investigating the situation, sided with the excommunication of pro-Winchester members.

My point, Roy, is not to subscribe to such practices today, merely to suggest that our "freedom loving" Baptist forebearers were no more idylic than the so-called "first century" church. And, from the beginnings, they took their confessions pretty seriously, employing them in excommunications, not only of pastors but of church members.

Amill-Presup said...

Looks like his dog has finally stopped barking.

What's up, Dennis? You on sabbatical or something?

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Amill-presup,

With my 54th birthday on the 4th, three married sons, one married daughter, and three grandsons in the Midwest, my wife, younger daughter, and I have been doing the family thing on vacation in the Midwest. Expect my return to barking early next wseek if not sooner.

Thanks for asking!