Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What Baptists Believe, Part 3

In part 1 of this blog series, we talked about Baptists and our relation to other Christian groups, then in part 2 we talked about how we Baptists believe in the authority of the Scriptures, how they're the final, all-sufficient guide for life and Godliness.

In this third part, we'll talk about something called people and a doctrine called Soul Competency.

The Bible clearly lays out three truths about each individual:
1. Individual worth. Each and every person, no matter how young or old, born or unborn, handicapped or not, has supreme worth (meaning they're the most valuable of all creations on earth) and has dignity simply because they are created by God. Genesis talks about God creating humanity in His image - meaning we are all created with will, intellect, desires, passions, sense of humor, etc. Simply put, all humans are valuable because God is valuable and He created us with value.

2. Individual salvation. The Bible also teaches that salvation is a personal matter, not a corporate matter; in other words, God saves people on a one-on-one basis, not in groups. Yes, Jesus Christ died for all people in all times (sorry Calvinists, I don't hold to Unconditional Election) - but He never lost sight of the individual. To me, that's an amazing thought that when Jesus was dying, He was thinking of humanity as a whole but also of every person in all of history, individually.

Jesus talked about the joy in Heaven over one person who repents, and James also talks about how God doesn't want anyone on earth to live on earth and in eternity after death without personally knowing Him. So each person must on their own - not because of their parents and not because of religion or culture - must consciously and intentionally choose to make Jesus Christ their personal Savior and Lord.

3. Individual responsibility. This is a theme found throughout the whole Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we see that each individual is accountable for themself and responsible for their choices made in this life, and that God will hold each person accountable on an individual basis for how they lived their life.

Because of these three things, you see why we in America and we as Christians have simply had no choice but to stand against the totalitarianism of Asian, European, and South American lands in the last century and even today. That the individual has no worth except what he contributes to the state is wrong because it devalues humanity and it devalues God in Whose image humanity was created in. This is why American forces have, since the Revolutionary Way days, fought against tyranny and oppression: the intrinsic worth of all humans.

Because of these 3 things mentioned above, we Baptists believe in two doctrines called Soul Competency and Soul Freedom.

Soul competency is simply defined as the ability of each person to personally deal with God on their own. This is perhaps our fundamental principle as Baptists, but it's important to note that it is competency under God, not apart from God. Apart from God, we humans could not even breathe! We are competent under God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. Two facts imply this competency, as was mentioned above:
1. Each soul is created by God and possesses God-given abilities.
2. Each individual is held accountable to God, because God would not hold someone accountable if they were not competent to deal with God on their own.

There are also two vitally important truths that emerge from this doctrine of soul competency:
1. Each person can read, understand, and interpret the Bible for themself (with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, of course). Nobody has to tell you what to believe or not believe. This stands in stark contrast to what Roman catholics believe; the belief of the catholic church is that individuals are incapable of reading and interpreting the Bible on their own. As we look at history, it can be seen that many, many people died at the hands of the Roman catholic church because they believed that everyone can and should be able to read the Bible for themselves.

Some Protestant denominations don't hold the same view as catholics, but they do emphasize studying the cathechism over the Bible. They study the Scriptures in light of the catechism instead of vice versa as it should be.

2. Each person can approach God on their own. You are a priest unto yourself, totally competent to deal directly with God without the intervention of anyone else (1 Timothy 2:5, Revelation 1:5-6). Nobody can take your place in approaching God and nobody can obey God for you. Sure, you can be taught and persuaded, but just like how only you can prevent forest fires, only you can deal with God for yourself. No priest or parent can intervene for you.

Any and every to intervene with God on someone's behalf (like infant baptism or confession) is a direct violation of the Word of God, is a denial that each soul is competent to deal with God on their own, and is a violation of the rights of an individual. The way to God is open to everyone through Jesus Christ alone, and to intervene (no matter how good your intentions are) is simply wrong. When Jesus Christ died and the temple veil was torn in two, it signified that the way to God through Christ is now open to everyone - no human priest needed because Jesus is our priest.

Interestingly, this belief in soul competency and soul freedom really puts us in major disagreement with the Roman catholic church, which holds to sacerdotalism (the belief that people need priests to go between them and God; priestism). The catholic church believes that the soul is actually INcompetent and that the work of Jesus on the cross was not enough to redeem and that only human, priestly, catholic hands are competent for salvation.

This is also why sacramentalism (the idea that sacraments automatically earn salvation) is wrong. There is no power in baptism or communion or any other sacrament to wash away sin or to give any sort of spiritual blessing or benefit. This doesn't mean the ordinances of baptism through total immersion and the Lord's Supper are useless, just that they are purely symbolic.

Finally, rituals and ceremonies have their place, but not if they become empty and are done out of habit instead of a heart of worship. We Baptists are opposed to any church or person assuming the authority that belongs to the Scriptures alone, or intervening between a person and God. We strongly oppose any sort of church structure that calls for someone somewhere to tell a church what to do.

As each person is competent and free to deal with God for themself, on their own, so each local church must be free and competent to deal with God on their own, answering to no human authority, pledging ultimate allegiance to Jesus Christ alone. While churches and Christians should cooperate for the work of God on earth, each person and each church must remain free to deal with God on their own, in their own way, with no one getting in the way or telling them how to do it.

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