Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Baptists Believe, Part 2

In part 1 of What Baptists Believe, I wrote about some important differences between Baptists and other denominations, and especially about the difference between Baptists and Roman catholics.

In this post, I'm going to write about a very important Baptist distinctive - the one distinctive that probably separates us the most from Roman catholics. Please don't think that I'm bashing Roman catholics or that I think we're better than them - that's not it at all, but there are some very important differences to note - the biggest being the authority of the Scriptures.

We Baptists believe the Bible to be the authoritative revelation of God. The Old Testament was a partial revelation and the revelation was completed with the New Testament, thus we take the New Testament as the final and all-sufficient authority in all areas of doctrine, life, and polity (how we're organized and run). We have no creed or any other document that we recognize as authority over us - just the Bible. This is something for which we've historically been criticized, misunderstood, and even fiercely persecuted for.

Three of our major beliefs about the Bible are that:

1. The Bible is divine in origin. This means that it's not something that some people one day decided to write, but was conceived in the mind of God. The Bible was written in 3 different languages, over a period of about 1,500 years, by around 40 different men, many who had never met each other and who didn't even live at the same time as each other - and yet there's one consistent storyline throughout every book of the Bible - so clearly there is no way that anyone yet God could have come up with it.

2. The Bible is absolute in its authority. When the Bible speaks, there's an end to all controversy because it is supreme in its authority. For example, when science says something that contradicts the Bible, science is assumed to be wrong - not because of a blind faith in the Bible but because throughout history, the Bible has constantly proved to be more accurate and factual than science. The Bible has never been proved wrong by science; actually, science has only more and more verified the accuracy of the Bible.

Science on the other hand has been proven wrong many times over - such as when science had "proven" that humans could not safely travel in cars at speeds higher than around 20 - 30 miles per hour. Anybody who's ever been on a highway knows that in that case, science was wrong. In the end, when there is a conflict between what the Bible says and what humans say, we take our stand and say that we will trust God over humanity.

3. The Bible is all-sufficient in its message. In all areas of faith and practice, the Bible is the answer. Everything we need to know about life and Godliness and about eternal life is revealed in the Bible. Because the New Testament is the completed revelation of God, we also believe that the gift of prophecy has ceased because there is no need for further revelation. The Bible tells us all we need to know about the past, the present, and the future.

This belief of authority of the Scriptures stands in stark contrast to what other religious groups hold to. For example, Roman catholics believe that the catholic church is the supreme authority - even higher than the Word of God, the Bible. That doesn't mean they reject that the Bible has authority; it's simply inferior to the word of the Pope and the dogma of the church. Both the Council of Trent in 1564 and the Vatican Council in 1870 sealed this belief that the catholic church is the highest authority and that the word of the Pope is infallible and is supreme even over the word of God as found in the Bible.

Other religious groups believe that the Bible is only partially authoritative - that in essentials relating to salvation, it has authority but in non-essentials such as how to live day to day, it lacks any authority.

Still other groups would claim that authority for life lies in the conscience of the believer; basically an attitude of "if it feels good and right, do it" and that the Bible is accurate and has authority in someone's life only in the areas where it agrees with one's preconceived notions and beliefs. In other words, if someone believes something is right, that's what matters; if they happen to find a Bible verse that someway might support their belief, that's fine and dandy but basically irrelevant.

The problem with both partial authority and the authority of the individual is that there's no standard and so there would be utter chaos and confusion if everyone was free to decide for themself what was right and wrong. Murder might be wrong to one person but might be perfectly fine to another. If there's no standard, nobody would have the right to say murder is wrong.

Baptists hold that the Bible alone is the authority for the believer, but one might ask why the Bible is so reliable. Well there are four great reasons why:

1. The unity of the Bible. As was mentioned before, it was written by dozens of men in vastly different areas of the Palestine, was written over an incredible length of time, and was written by men from all different walks of life - shepherds, fishermen, kings, peasants, a tax collector, a doctor, and a religious man who was a murderer of those who didn't believe the same as he did. There is simply no way they could collaborate in producing this one book; they all wrote independently but the finished product formed one complete record with one incredible storyline. Certainly a book like that would have some claim to authority.

2. The history of the Bible. No other book has a history as scandalous, violent, controversial, famous, and repressed as the Bible. No other book has been banned and burned like the Bible. No other book has been the cause of murder for the men who translated it into other languages, courageous men like William Tyndale. So many scholars like Voltaire claimed that the Bible is irrelevant and would be forgotten in their generation, yet year after year the Bible continues to be the all-time best selling book. As a matter of fact, only about 100 years after Voltaire wrote his ridiculous claim, a Bible society had its headquarters in the same town where our friend Volty wrote wrote his fallacious, ridiculous prophecy. Certainly a book with that kind of history would have a claim to authority.

3. The message of the Bible. No other book, religious or secular, has the message that's found in the Bible. It reveals the character of God, it reveals the character of humanity, it presents a standard for living, and it discusses the afterlife. No other book in all of the history of literature could claim to hold the message that the Bible holds. Certainly the uniqueness of the message of the Bible compared to all other literature would merit its claim to authority.

4. The influence of the Bible. Similar to the uniqueness of the Bible is the influence of the Bible. No other book has had a worldwide impact like the Bible has. It has transformed societies, brought comfort in despair, encouraged the downtrodden; everything that is good in society has its roots in the Bible. Monarchs and Americans Presidents alike have declared the importance of the Bible's influence in society; Andrew Jackson said that the Bible is "the rock upon which our Republic stands" and Woodrow Wilson spoke of the supremacy of the Bible in American affairs. This is why from the time that pilgrims landed on the shores of New England to the inauguration of modern day Presidents, the Bible has taken center stage. Certainly such an influential book would have a claim to authority.

So clearly we Baptists have great reason to place such authority in what God says, in the Word of God, in the Scriptures - in the Bible. But what how do we respond to such a book?

If we accept the Bible as our sole authority for life and Godliness, then we'd better know what it teaches. We should recognize how intensely interesting the Bible is and read it daily, being consumed by the incredible message and intrigue of the Scriptures. The message of the Bible is the hope of the world, so not only should we know it, we should make it known through public preaching and personal teaching.

The Bible is our sole authority for life and Godliness and it's message is the only hope of the world, so let's know it and make it known.

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