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 fifth 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?
- Are unbelievers most helped by believers who trust the Bible?
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 fourth reason, “It is a duty we owe to Christ,” Broadus says it is “one full of solemn sweetness.” When Jesus gave the commission to his disciples recorded in Matthew 28, he did so “under the most solemn circumstances . … He met the eleven disciples by appointment on a mountain in Galilee … and uttered the express injunction.” Broadus concludes that Baptists have a duty to teach their distinctive views as “a matter of simple loyalty” to Christ (6). He explains,
The things of which we have been speaking are not, we freely grant, the most important of religious truths and duties, but they are a part of the all things which Jesus commanded; what shall hinder us, what could excuse us, from observing them ourselves and teaching them to others?
For Broadus, teaching and obeying Jesus’ commands of an external nature are akin to a Roman soldier who takes an oath of complete allegiance to the empire. He does not then proceed to obey selectively only the commands of his superior officer that he prefers. Rather, he obeys all the commands. Broadus then reminds his audience that he had yet to quote the final portion of Jesus’ commission. The end of Matthew 28:20 reads, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” As a parting word, Broadus asks, “Shall we neglect to teach as he required, and then claim the promise of his presence and help and blessing?” (6).
Broadus’ appeal to one’s loyalty to Christ and his commands, whether primary and internal or secondary and external, strikes a chord not often heard in the present day. Yet, the simplicity of his argument serves as its greatest strength. If the New Testament speaks clearly to any aspect of local church governance, operation, structure, health, or practice, then followers of Christ, of whatever denominational persuasion, have to come to terms with whether or not they will obey his commands. Of first importance are the commands to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). However, the secondary commands, such as “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25) are also important. If Baptists agree with Broadus that their distinctives are biblical and true, then they owe it to Christ to teach and obey them.
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.