Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 41 - Baptist Confessions (Video)

No. 41. >> I'm surprised to hear that Baptists have confessions. The ones I've talked to here in LA have always said that they have only the Bible. This is very intriguing to me. Can you tell me a bit more about Baptist confessions? >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: Your experience is very similar to mine, Nick. When I was a kid, the friends that I had who were Baptists were oftentimes very critical of us Lutherans for the various creeds and confessions that we had. For example, I would bring them to church with me. And we would read the Nicene Creed or read the Apostles' Creed. And they would be stunned. Well, they were kind of stunned that we were reading the liturgy in the first place and that it was so formal. It seemed very Catholic to them. But the use of creeds was very surprising. And when I would introduce them to my Augsburg Confession and show that to them as we discussed theology and religion and so forth, they would always say: But that's a humanly authored document. It's not binding. It doesn't have the same import as the Scriptures. To which I would always respond: I agree. It's not equal to the Scriptures. It doesn't have the same import in and of itself. But what makes it a useful document is, of course, the way it accurately reflects what the Scriptures teach. And that was a very difficult point for them to grasp. And we would always struggle on that particular point. I didn't get their position. And they didn't get mine. And then later on when I was in college, I did a little more study of the Baptist story. And I began to find that the claim that there were not Baptist confessions of faith was, in fact, not accurate. And that over time a number of different texts had been introduced by the Baptists for use in their various churches. And those uses were of a variety of purposes. For example, in some cases when Baptists were being persecuted, they would articulate their confession over against the established churches. The London Confession, for example, is an example of this. It says: This is who we are over against the Church of England. Years later that confession is picked up by Baptists in Philadelphia where it's used with a two-fold thrust. One is to define themselves over against the existing churches, particularly Lutheran, Presbyterian and Anglican in Philadelphia. But also then to tie them in historically speaking with the earlier Baptist communities. And this I find to be a very, very interesting development. For again, the argument oftentimes, as you've heard it, Nick, is we don't need creeds. We simply have our Bible. Now, that to me introduces an interesting element into the whole discussion. One I've thought about a little bit over the years. The plea and appeal to the Bible and the Bible alone has an ahistorical character to it. That is to say we can kind of do away with everything that's happened in the history of the church, leap completely over it and make a direct return to the Scriptures and what they say and what they describe in the First Century. Well, that seems to me to be a very nearsighted and parochial attitude. Namely to say that we don't need the history of the church. We know everything we need to know. And we can ignore the way God has been at work in his people throughout time. One of the most important things I've learned from Luther over the years is respect for the church. And the Holy Spirit's continued working in the church through time, even with all of the fallibilities and foibles that characterize human existence. For example, in a very important document that appears in the "American Edition of Luther's Works", Volume 41, Luther takes up the theme of church history. It's in a little piece called "Against Hans Worst." And in this document he takes on the Roman Catholics and lays down a challenge. He says this: You have accused us of being innovators and disrupters of the church and its history. Its theology and its practice. He says: Let's put that to the test. Let's see who is the innovator in this and who is not. Then he steps through the development by the Roman Catholic Church of a whole series of new teachings and practices. I'll give you a couple of cases in point. He says: What about the practice of clerical celibacy. Does the Bible demand this? If you look back at the early church, it's not a demand that the early church required its priests to be celibate. However, later on in the history of Roman Catholicism, suddenly that is decreed to be a requirement. If the early church was wrong on this point, then why doesn't Rome condemn it? In fact, what they are guilty of is an innovation in this respect. They've come up with something new. Other examples would be things like the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215, which demanded that the laity not receive the chalice. That the laity in the Holy Communion only receive the host. Now, Luther says, you look at the Scriptures. They say very clearly: Jesus said take and eat. Take and drink. So in this case, the Roman Catholic Church goes against the very words of Christ's institution. Who is the innovator is his question. What do we find in the Lutheran Church? We do not demand celibacy of our priests. We allow them to marry as the early church did. Why? Because there is no prescriptive command in the Bible that says priests must be celibate. Thus, in Christian freedom, our priests may be single or married. The same thing is true of the Lord's Supper. Even more intensely in this respect. We Lutherans commune in both kinds because the Lord says himself: Take and eat. Take and drink. Who is the innovator? Who is the one departing from the church? Well, within the Baptist tradition you do have this ahistorical perspective that sometimes can creep up. And which sometimes can allow for the development of all sorts of unusual practices and perspectives. And some of the confessions that we'll look at here in class will indicate that. In fact, the argument I was making in your previous question, namely, what is the difference between General and Particular, Calvinist and Free Will Baptists, that there was a transition over time. In fact, perhaps has as part of its roots in the ahistorical, acreedal perspective that some Baptists have. That is to say without a mooring, an anchor to which you can attach yourself, your boat can float all over the place, which sometimes does happen. And so we'll look at how that happens. Whether with the Philadelphia Confession, the New Hampshire Confession of 1831 where you see a very mild Calvinism. You can see them beginning to compromise on their theological principles. And then into specific statements of faith by the Southern Baptist Confession in the mid 1850s. And then later on in the 20th Century where you see the transition being completed. So that the confessional statements of the Baptist tradition actually demonstrate this drift from Calvinism to Arminianism. From Particularism to Generalism. It's a fascinating process. And I think you'll find it very interesting.