In Ecuador, what is it that makes a Baptist a Baptist? Is it our traditions and practices brought to us by the first Baptist missionaries who arrived in 1950? Our programs and literature? Our contextualized understanding of Scriptural mandates and doctrine? Exactly what is it that determines if one is truly an Ecuadorian Baptist, or more identified with some other group of evangelical believers?
I have observed with interest in recent weeks a resurgence amongst many of my Ecuadorian Baptist brethren the expressed need to clearly identify what it is we believe as Baptists. In an evangelical world that is fragmented almost beyond recognition, many are wanting to define positions on a number of contemporary issues, including: church polity, same sex marriage, the church's involvement in social ministries, Christians in the political arena, education, the role of the State within church convictions, Baptist distinctives, role of women in ministry, etc.
One of the earliest attempts to define who Baptists are is the London Baptist Confession 1644/1646. While too long to quote in its entirety, I pulled a few of the articles that caught my attention. As I read this document many of their original convictions mirror my own. After each article are my own comments in italics. Some of my observations are particular to our own context here in Ecuador and not necessarily issues in other parts of the world.
BEING thus joined, every church hath power given them from Christ, for their wellbeing, to choose among themselves meet persons for elders and deacons, being qualified according to the word, as those which Christ hath appointed in His testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of His Church; and that none have any power to impose either these or any other. Acts 1:23,26,6:3,15:22.25; Rom.12:7,8; 1 Tim.3:2,6.7; 1 Cor. 12:8,28; Heb.13:7,17; 1 Pet.5:1,2,3, 4:15.
"...choose among themselves" seems to be the pattern of those early Baptists who preceded us. The current practice of importing trained professionals from outside the congregation seems foreign to the wording in this article. As is the idea of home-grown plural "elders and deacons" which is in contrast with the more common "Senior Pastor" model which seems to be the norm today.
THAT the ministers lawfully called, as aforesaid, ought to continue in their calling and place according to God's ordinance, and carefully to feed the flock of God committed to them, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Heb.5:4; John 10:3,4; Acts 20:28,29; Rom.12:7,8; Heb.13:7.17; 1 Pet.5: 1.2,3.
"...ought to continue in their calling and place..." means to me that if they are a school teacher, they are to continue in that profession and not abandon it for the ministry. Our modern idea of having full-time professional church ministers seems out of tune with this earlier confession of Baptist belief and practice.
BAPTlSM is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed upon persons professing faith, or that are made disciples; who upon profession of faith, ought to be baptized, and after to partake of the Lord's Supper. Matt.28:18,19; John 4:1; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:37.38, 8:36,37,etc.
"...to be dispensed upon persons professing faith..." is the only prerequisite for baptism. In many Baptist contexts, especially in Ecuador, other prerequisites are often added to that of "professing faith"--usually in the insistence that the person requesting baptism be legally married (not living in adultery/fornication) before consideration is given to their profession of faith.
THE person designed by Christ to dispense baptism, the Scripture holds forth to be a disciple; it being no where tied to a particular church officer, or person extraordinarily sent the commission enjoining the administration, being given to them as considered disciples, being men able to preach the gospel. Isa.8:16; Eph.2:7; Matt.28:19; John 4:2; Acts 20:7,11:10; 1 Cor.11:2, 10:16,17; Rom.16:2; Matt.18:17.
The administrator of baptism are disciples. No where in Scripture is baptism tied to a particular church office. Our modern practice (especially overseas where this is an issue) of only ordained, recognized church leaders being the only ones authorized to baptize seems to contradict not only our Baptist forefathers but Scripture itself.
CHRIST hath likewise given power to His Church to receive in, and cast out, any member that deserves it; and this power is given to every congregation, and not to one particular person, either member or officer, but in relation to the whole body, in reference to their faith and fellowship. Rom.16:2; Matt.18:17; 1 Cor.5:4,11,13;12:6;2:3; 2 Cor.2:6,7.
Again, what caught my attention is that "power" is in the body of believers, and not in any particular sub-group or special persons like it is in many Baptist churches here in Ecuador (usually the pastor.)
AND although the particular congregations be distinct, and several bodies, every one as a compact and knit city within itself; yet are they all to walk by one rule of truth; so also they (by all means convenient) are to have the counsel and help one of another, if necessity require it, as members of one body, in the common faith, under Christ their head. 1 Cor.4:17, 14:33,36,16:1; Ps.122:3; Eph.2:12,19: Rev.2:1; 1 Tim.3:15, 6:13,14; 1 Cor.4:17; Acts 15:2,3; Song of Sol.8:8.9; 2 Cor.8:1.4, 13:14.
While meeting in various geographic locations around the city, the "several bodies" are to "have the counsel and help one of another..." How I wish we could get back to this basic practice of understanding that we are all one in Christ and in need of one another. We are to be there for one another and not separate ourselves from our brothers in our own mini church kingdoms.
Also such to whom God hath given gifts in the church, may and ought to prophecy [viz., teach] according to the proportion of faith, and to teach publicly the word of God, for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the church. 1 Cor. 14:3, etc.; Rom 12:6; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11; 1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Thess. 5:19, etc.
This is nothing more than direct teaching from Paul out of I Corinthians 14. Yet we have taken away from the people to publicly prophecy/teach and hired out professionals to edify, exhort, and comfort the church.
Comments? Oberservations? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.