A forgotten, but surprisingly prescient, approach to questions regarding the necessity and future of Baptist denominational identity can be gleaned from the words of John A. Broadus (1827-1895) when he addressed the American Baptist Publication Society’s 1881 meeting in Indianapolis.
Broadus, one of the founding professors and later president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s first seminary, titled his sermon “The Duty of Baptists to Teach their Distinctive Views.”
This is the fourth article examining Broadus’s sermon. Read the previous articles:
- Healthy denominationalism or denominational ultraism?
- Are some commands in the Great Commission more important than others?
- Are the most useful churches the ones strongest in their denominational convictions?
In the main portion of his sermon, Broadus listed four specific reasons why Baptists should teach their distinct views:
- It is a duty we owe to ourselves.
- It is a duty we owe to our fellow Christians.
- It is a duty we owe to the unbelieving world.
- It is a duty we owe to Christ.
Considering his third reason, “It’s a duty we owe to the unbelieving world,” Broadus explains that his motive, along with all Christians, is for “unbelievers to accept Christianity.” Broadus argues that “they are more likely to accept it when presented in its primitive simplicity” (5). The Baptist reliance on the Bible alone for the composition of their distinctives allays any skeptic’s questioning of any corruption that took place in the history of Christianity. Broadus states,
We can say to the skeptical inquirer, “Come and bring all the really ascertained light that has been derived from studying the material world, the history of man, or the highest philosophy, and we will gladly use it in helping to interpret this which we believe to be God’s word;” and we can change our views of its meaning if real light from any other sources requires us to do so. There is, surely, in this freedom no small advantage for attracting the truly rational inquirer (6).
By this, Broadus asserts that Baptists have no need to fear any examination of the truth of the Bible. If Baptists believe the Bible is true and authoritative, then this recognition fosters “an instinctive feeling that they must stand or fall with the real truth and the real authority of the Bible.” Broadus argues that trust in the Bible produces a feeling of freedom that is “most healthy and hopeful,” and this hope is made available to unbelievers, in part, through Baptists teaching their distinctive views (6).
Broadus’ thoughts here are helpful and provide a compelling reason for why Baptists should labor to ensure their distinctives are constructed from only the Bible. When Baptists have grown enamored with their own extrabiblical traditions or even errors, the unbelieving world takes note. One need think only of the Baptist defense and continued practice of slavery in the southern United States only a century ago to realize that distorted views of biblical teaching in one area affect one’s ability to proclaim effectively the central message of the Bible to the world that needs to hear the message. The same holds true for the petty squabbles of local Baptist churches over truly nonessential items that are not part and parcel to biblical Baptist distinctives.
Many have been led astray by churches caught up in major controversy over such items as reserved seating for church patriarchs, meeting location or service time differences. The lost world needs Baptists who “do all things without grumbling or questioning” that they “may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,” among whom they “shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14-15). For it is only when Baptists are building their distinctives on the foundation of trust in the truth of the Bible that they are in a position to give hope and help to an unbelieving world .
Jason G. Duesing is vice president for strategic initiatives and assistant professor of historical theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This article is adapted from his contribution to “Upon this Rock: The Baptist Understanding of the Church” (B&H Academic, 2010). Dr. Duesing writes regularly at jgduesing.tumblr.com. Follow him on Twitter @JGDuesing.
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