Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 40 - Baptists Describing Themselves (Video)

No. 40. >> One of the things I read about the Baptist churches down in Cheyenne is that they often describe themselves in interesting ways. There are Foot-Washing Baptists, Free Will Baptists and lots of others. How did there get to be so many? >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: Josh, that's really a good one. I'll tell you, one of the things I've found, again, during my ministry in Tennessee, was it could be bewildering trying to figure out all of these different Baptist communities. And they would have the funniest names. In fact, we had on our street -- on Old Hickory Boulevard we had one group that was a missionary Baptist church. And then right next to it was a group that had split from it that was called an anti-missionary Baptist church. Well, I thought: Good grief. Anti-missionary? What's this mean? And what they meant by this was they were opposed to any kind of centralized authority outside of the congregation. That is to say a missionary society which would have its own treasury, which would not be answerable to the local congregation. But in fact, would operate independently of the congregation. This group said: No, congregations are missionary societies in and of themself. Therefore, we have anti-missionary Baptists. They really meant anti-missionary society Baptists. But you get the point. Well, it took a little bit of time to begin to get the feel for that. At the same time, there were all of these different communities that were approaching things in all of these different kinds of ways. And it really did provide me with challenges but also opportunities. To clarify in my own mind and to clarify for the people of my congregation just what was going on in Baptist theology. And again, like I said before, I saw that as one of the great blessings of being in the area where we found ourselves. That is to say we had repeated opportunities to confess the Gospel in the most clear and repeated fashion by virtue of the fact that we simply found ourselves in these kind of circumstances. Challenging, yes. But tremendous opportunities there, as well. But to do so effectively required us to become familiar with these varieties of Baptists. And I talked about one big distinction a little bit earlier. Namely, the distinction between Particular and General Baptists. And I mentioned the fact that oversimplifying perhaps a bit, Particular Baptists were characterized in the early colonial history of America. And since that time there has been a transition to the point now where General Baptists tend to predominate. What do I mean by that? Well, again, Particular Baptists tended to emphasize election. Predestination. They had strong Calvinistic themes in this respect. The difference for them was when you were judged likely to be one of the elect, you indicated that then by your willingness to be immersed as a public profession of your sin. That was the general pattern for many of the early Baptist communities here in America. But, as time progressed, the character of the Baptist communities began to change theologically. And in very important ways. Specifically the move towards the General Baptist position. Later on many of these would be called Free Will Baptists. And the effect of the Arminian movement and the shift from Calvinism to Arminianism will become very apparent on its influence on the transition of the Baptist churches in this respect. We'll talk about that in some detail a little bit later on. But at this point let me make it clear within the context of the Baptist tradition. What happens is that people begin to ask a very basic question of the Particular Baptists. Namely, why do you teach election? The answer: Because the Scriptures teach it. It talks about God's choosing of some and leaving of others. The response often given in this context is: If that is the case, then why is it that there are so many places in the Scripture where a response is called for on the part of the human subject? For example, when Peter preaches at Pentecost, the people are cut to the heart and they cry out: What must we do to be saved? To which Peter replies: Repent and be baptized. They take this as the pattern for the Christian life. It's not that they deny double predestination initially. It's simply that they don't see it as useful in preaching and moving people to the point of baptism. Let me put that another way. Election as a hidden act of God as we've already discussed always left people with a big question mark. Am I one of the elect or am I not? If I am one of the elect, when will God come to me with an effectual call? You know, that was a real problem for the Calvinists. And it continued to be a problem for Baptists, as well. When will God call me? How will I know when this happens? What can I look to give me some sense of assurance that this has happened? Again, all these questions, questions, questions. What the General Baptists began to say is: Don't worry about the election. Don't worry about that question of predestination. It's not functioning, shall we say, in your hearing of the Gospel and what happens within that context. Rather, simply listen to the message that is preached. Repent and be baptized. If you hear that, you understand it, you accept that, then simply assume that having been baptized, that is repenting, being baptized, that your sins are, indeed, forgiven. And you can be considered one of the elect. Let me put it a different way again. They take election out of the front end of the conversation and they move it to the back end of it. Within this contextual still find many Baptists who hold to this kind of position. In fact, they'll say: When you hear the Gospel preached, when you have accepted that Gospel, when you've repented and been baptized, your sins are forgiven, you then will persevere. That is to put it a little bit differently and perhaps in a little more familiar fashion: Once saved, always saved. This is within the context of this transition from Particular to General Baptists. On the other hand, there were those as time moved on who began to say: Why speak of election at all? What is the necessity of this speculative theological technical point when, in fact, simply look at what the Scriptures say? For example, once again, in Peter's Pentecost sermon. What does he say? If you are elect, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins? No. Does he say repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and you will be one of the elect? No. He simply says: Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Therefore, said these folks, it is simply the matter of the presentation of the Gospel in the clearest possible terms, appealing to the hearing subject to act, to do something. Here we have a key move. This is the origin of the Free Will Baptists who say human beings are morally neutral subjects who have the ability to choose between good and evil when those are presented with equal clarity. Why, you say then, do so many people fall into sin? Why does everybody fall into sin? The answer of the Free Will Baptists: Because of the prevalence of evil. We are born into a situation in which we learn to sin. And our propensity always is to sin. Therefore, we need the proclamation of the Gospel, repent, in the clearest possible terms to snap us out of ourself absorption. To hear the demands of the Gospel. And to respond by virtue of our own free act. If it is not a free act, say these people, then it is not binding. And that is much true in terms of reprobation as it is in terms of election. To put that another way, they would say: Election, reprobation are neither -- neither of them are valid. Because they are both compelled by virtue of a higher force. And no one can be held culpable when they are compelled to carry out something by that higher force. The higher force being, of course, God and his election. Thus, say the Free Will Baptists, the key to the transaction of salvation is the free human act of accepting the offer of the Gospel. That is the heart of it. How does one then seal the deal, if you will? By submitting obediently to the Lord's dominical command. Namely, to be baptized. And thereby publicly to profess that you have faith in what the Scriptures say regarding him. And that you have willingly placed yourself under his authority. Now, what I just described to you there, that transition from Particular to General Baptists, takes a mere 250 years. It's a slow transition. With much overlap. And the lines of division are not clean at all. There are even General Baptists who still have particular emphases. There are Particular Baptists who are moving towards the general emphases. There are Particular, General, Free Will, Foot-washing, all of these different kinds of Baptists. And at various points in time they will write down their faith. They will articulate it. And they will make confession of that. In fact, there are a number of Baptist confessions. Which is always a surprising thing to a lot of my Baptist friends. In church they are told: We have nothing but the Bible to which we turn. When, in fact, over the course of Baptist history, there have been any number of different confessions that have appeared that have made their way to a greater or lesser extent into the Baptist tradition. And to which a greater or lesser extent continue to be upheld today. What they do demonstrate, these Baptist confessions? What they do demonstrate is this theological transition from an older Calvinism Particular Baptist thought to a more General Free Will Baptist thought. Largely completed in terms of that transition by about the year 1900. So that today in most cases you may -- you would find in Baptists an appeal to the will, an appeal to a person's will that they make the decision to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. But still there is that remnant, that remnant of the old Particular perspective. That at times says: And then once you've done that, you can never lose your faith. Once saved, always saved. It's an interesting mix. And that's part of the Baptist way. Again, the principle of autonomy. Each community putting together its confession within its community within its context. Great variety, great distinctions, even to the point where sometimes you have missionary and anti-missionary Baptists not only on the same street but right next to one another. It really leads to some interesting conclusions. And ones that always make it a difficult thing to keep track of all of the different Baptist churches. And no doubt in Wyoming you've seen the same kind of thing as I've seen it in Tennessee, as well.