Paul’s strong emphasis on the central points of Christ’s person and work is designed to elevate the thinking of Timothy above the concerns any might have for safety and acceptance in this life, if at the same time it means proving untrue to Christ. We must remember—see the eternal covenantal purpose of God as centered on Jesus Christ—so that nothing in this life can draw us away.
One specific concern that Paul has is the power of physical and political intimidation to make us forget. He already has admonished Timothy not to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me his prisoner” (1:8). The “testimony of our Lord,” in light of this context could refer to the words of Jesus in Mark 8:38 where Jesus is explaining what is involved in denying oneself, or losing one’s life for the sake of Christ, in order to follow Christ. “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
That Paul in this instance has in mind physical persecution for the gospel as the challenge to the professing Christian is clear when he states, “for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal” (9). His suffering was well-known by Timothy (3:10, 11). Paul admonished him, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2:3).
Paul had a two-fold purpose in referring to his various sufferings for “my gospel.” One, his suffering sealed in his experience the absoluteness of the gospel. He was willing to lose all including life because of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.” He even desired to know “the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:8, 10). He was, in fact, at that moment contemplating that soon his life would be taken for he knew that “the time of my departure has come” (4:6). Nothing, therefore, could dissuade Paul from his clear and convinced proclamation of the finality, absoluteness, and consummate truthfulness of “Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, as preached in my gospel.” He had come to believe, embrace, cast the very essence of his existence on the truth of the proposition that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). If the former enemy, willing to imprison and kill those who believed the gospel had changed so radically that he now gladly suffered imprisonment and the prospect of a martyr’s death, who could doubt the certainty of his conviction? Who, but the most irrational skeptic, could deny the truth of Paul’s message?
The gospel will not fail; it will prevail, and its power will be manifest in the faithful suffering of his people.
Second, Paul not only used his suffering to glory in the truth of the gospel, but also its power. “The word of God is not chained, imprisoned, or bound in any way” (9). The divinely-ordained harmony in the use of means in service of absolute sovereignty must be contemplated with reverence when we read, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of the elect, those who are chosen, so that they also, along with me, may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (10). Elect in Christ in eternity past, saved in Christ in this present age, secured in Christ for undiminished joy for the eternal age yet to be. The gospel will not fail; it will prevail, and its power will be manifest in the faithful suffering of his people. Even in the face of heresy, Paul can affirm, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His.’”(19).
The gospel proceeds into the world through suffering, succeeds through suffering, and gives power to endure suffering. The gospel certainly will succeed, and Christ will lose none of his sheep; not a one for whom the Shepherd has died will fail to enter the sheepfold. But such certainty arises and is perfected in suffering: Christ suffered and died; the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church; and believers will choose eternal life in Christ even in the face of the threat of death for believing. “How unworthy it is,” Calvin proposes, “that we should think more of the fleeting life of this world than of the Holy Name of the Son of God.”
Paul summarizes this amazing integration of certainty secured through endurance by means of a confession or hymn called a “faithful saying” used in the apostolic church to teach this truth. It has a memorable pattern of rhyme and rhythm in Greek. Responses and results of true belief are set in parallel with responses and results of faithlessness to Paul’s gospel. The one whose faith arises from the electing purpose of God endures; the one left to his own faculties, will wilt under pressure.
For if together with him we die, also together with him we live;
If we endure the load, we will also reign with him.
If we shall deny him, also that very one He will deny.
If we prove to be without faith, He remains faithful,
For to deny Himself he is unable.
Dying with Christ refers to His propitiatory substitution for his people and implies their willingness to share his earthly suffering. Atoned for objectively and suffering experientially means that we attain the resurrection of the just. The other points of the confession naturally follow. It ends with the strong affirmation of the unperturbed eternal decree of God and the immutable truthfulness of his threats toward unbelief.
The gospel proceeds into the world through suffering, succeeds through suffering, and gives power to endure suffering.
This hymn also is reminiscent of the words of Jesus when he commissioned and instructed the twelve prior to their mission including warnings about persecution: “Whoever confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32, 33). Jesus words were meant for the hearer and the preacher, of whom one was Judas. Remarking on this passage in 2 Timothy, Calvin wrote, “His threat is directed to those who from terror of persecution give up their profession of Christ’s name.” The admonition that has led to this sobering discussion is “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, according to my gospel.”
In discussing this passage with a PhD student from SBTS, Michael Carlino, he sent the following response after looking at both the language and the entire theological context of the hymnic confession. I found his remarks helpful and faithful to the text. “It would seem irresponsible exegetically to suggest that God will be faithful to the faithless by granting salvation in 13, because Paul is explaining in 13 why God is just and good in denying the apostate. For God to not deny the one who doesn’t endure/denies him, would be for God to deny his own character/nature. And it would then take away from the glory of verse 11, which promises that those who share in Christ’s sufferings will indeed reign with him. For, if God can deny himself and grant salvation to the apostate, the elect who endure unto death have no confidence in God’s trustworthiness. In other words, Paul is teaching that God’s denying of the apostate flows from God’s immutable character, just as the assurance of God’s receiving of his saints flows from God’s immutable character.”
Those who are apostate, those who fall away from what they have professed, have never had the root of the new birth. That heaven-wrought transaction shifts the affections from the world to the glory of God as seen in Christ. Something else—arising from threat, covetousness, intellectual fascination, or flattery—has shown that their most abiding affection is for the world and not Christ. Paul assures us that “He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Again, we see what a pervasive and existentially profound theological admonition Paul gives in saying, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, according to my gospel.”
This article is part 5 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ.
Join us at the 2024 National Founders Conference on January 18-20 as we consider what it means to “Remember Jesus Christ” under the teaching of Tom Ascol, Joel Beeke, Paul Washer, Phil Johnson, Conrad Mbewe and Travis Allen.
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By Ryan Denton — 10 months ago
Duty is a loaded word with many implications. It implies an obligation of action despite obstacles or trials that stand in the way. Duty assumes resistance. It assumes doing something regardless how I may feel on any given day.
In a way, duty is the antidote to pragmatism or a superficial happiness. It is the attitude that says no matter what the outcome, I will do this or that, because it is my duty. No matter how I feel, no matter what the results are, I will do it anyways because it is my duty to do so.
Now, assuming our specific duty is biblical, we have no reason to fear this word. On the contrary, we have every reason to lean into it. It is a good word. No—it is a necessary word. There is a reason why the writings of the Reformers and Puritans are saturated with the word. They realized that regardless of all odds, obstacles, or feelings, they had a responsibility before God to carry out the tasks and behavior which He had assigned to them: whether in the sphere of family, work, church, finances, or even diet and recreation. There is not a realm that exists in which God has not laid before us certain duties. Not so that we can be saved, but because in Christ we have already been saved and there are now expectations of us as His people when it comes to living our lives as “new creations.” An obvious and helpful example of one of these Christian duties comes in the form of evangelism.
Duty as a Compelling Motive
“Duty” as a motive for evangelism may come across as coarse or even legalistic. We typically like to think of other motives when it comes to evangelism, such as seeing people saved or growing our churches. These are noble and biblical motives, sure enough, but they aren’t the only motives. They aren’t even the best motives. There are times when such motives won’t be enough.
For instance, some days we are not euphorically bursting with love for the lost, especially when they have rejected our efforts in hostile or demeaning ways. Our love for the lost is important, but love is a feeling that is prone to fade in and out depending on our circumstances. Also, because we are people who still struggle with sin, including selfishness, evangelizing merely because we love the lost would be a flimsy and even irresponsible foundation upon which to build. We need something else. Likewise, when it comes to the motive of seeing our churches grow through our evangelism. This is something we all desire. But to what ends? What if plain and simple gospel proclamation isn’t “working”? What if our churches aren’t growing despite our consistent evangelism efforts? The temptation will be to either throw in the towel and quit, or to water things down to make the gospel more palatable to the masses. This is where the word “duty” comes in as a protective measure against such temptations.
Duty as an Emboldening Motive
The very nature of evangelism requires such a word as duty. This is because in several respects, evangelism is different from any other Christian practice. It entails intentionally speaking to a lost person about Jesus and sin, even though at present, as far as we can tell, the person has no love for Christ or hatred for sin. And despite our modern assumptions about man, biblically speaking, unless they are being drawn by God, we are sharing Jesus with someone who doesn’t want to hear about Jesus. Evangelism is sharing the good news of Christ with a lost person, and then calling that person to repent and believe the message—not exactly the most pleasant circumstance, at least from the world’s perspective. What other Christian duty is like this? Evangelism is confrontational, uncomfortable, and a catalyst for awkward tension, regardless of how respectfully and gently we do it.
The uniqueness of evangelism can be seen when we compare it to worship services, another Christian duty. If the government were to tell us we can no longer maintain corporate worship of the Lord, that does not terminate our duty of corporate worship. So it is with evangelism. Even if it were illegal, we would still be obligated to do it. In both scenarios, the way we worship or the way we evangelize may be different from how we would ordinarily do things, but we would still do it, hopefully. But there is one remarkable difference about evangelism that can’t be said about regular worship with the saints. I point this out in my book, 10 Modern Evangelism Myths (RHB, 2021):
How would Christians in the West respond if it suddenly became illegal to meet together for church or study the Scriptures or attend prayer meetings? Would we do it anyway? Yes! This scenario is not exactly hypothetical. Such an attempt is likely on the horizon in the West, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes to evangelism, things are much different. It is possible to meet in secret when it comes to worship and Bible studies, without society knowing it. But evangelism necessarily involves the unbelieving community knowing what we believe, including the offensive parts, since it is the unbelieving persons of society we are called to evangelize.
Even when evangelism is seen as offensive, distasteful, politically incorrect or illegal, we are still called to do it. This will expose us to harassment and danger, which is why the word “duty” is so essential. It implies doing something despite the difficulty which that thing will cause. And isn’t that what makes evangelism so difficult? It necessarily brings about conflict. This is not to say we must intentionally seek conflict when evangelizing. We shouldn’t be rude or obnoxious. On the contrary, we should be respectful and aware of the contexts in which we are evangelizing. But even if the person we evangelize gets converted, there will be conflict between the new believer and his old way of life, including his relationships. And if he doesn’t get converted, there will now be conflict between himself and us, whether it is open hostility or something more subdued. When it comes to the gospel, there is no neutrality. And hence, when it comes to sharing the gospel, it will cause a response, whether unto salvation or further condemnation, and all because we opened our mouths about Jesus.
Isn’t this why we get nervous before we evangelize? Perhaps nervous is too soft of a word. This is why we get downright terrified. This is why we all have difficulty evangelizing. The flesh doesn’t want the conflict. We recoil from pushback or looking foolish. We’re afraid we won’t have answers to their possible objections. And yet, despite our flesh or the conflict of evangelism, we must do it anyways. Why? Because we are commanded to do so by our Lord. It is His method for saving souls. “Faith comes by hearing.”
Not only do we see this example of obedient evangelism in the Acts of the Apostles, but throughout the early church as well. They too likely withered at the thought of conflict, especially knowing it would likely result in their death, torment, or loss of property. But time and again, in spite of intense and present threats, we see them evangelizing. What was their secret? Yes, the Holy Spirit. Yes, prayer. Yes, a supernatural devotion to Christ. All of these things are critical. But it was also their sense of duty. Speaking of the early church’s evangelism, one historian comments, “The conflict was inevitable, the direct result of the genius of Christianity. A Christianity which had ceased to be aggressive would speedily have ceased to exist. Christ came not to send peace on earth but a sword; against the restless and resistless force of the new religion the gates of hell should not prevail. But polytheism could not be dethroned without a struggle; nor mankind regenerated without a baptism of blood. Persecution, in fact, is the other side of aggression, the inevitable outcome of a truly missionary spirit; the two are linked together as action and reaction.”[i]
What was the result of such evangelism? Yes, scores of martyred Christians. Yes, many tense and awkward conversations. But also scores of new converts. The growth of the early church came mostly through ordinary Christians sharing the gospel in their everyday environments, despite the conflict it would bring: “Where, then, could believers make contact with unbelievers to win them over? Surely the answer must somehow lie where the Christians themselves direct our attention…in quiet obscure settings of every day.”[ii] Or again, “Being excluded from the normal social gatherings, their points of contact with non-Christians lay quite inevitably at street corners or at places of employment, or in the working quarters of dwellings.”[iii] “Evangelizing in private settings” was one of the most influential contexts for bringing about conversions to the Christian religion “en masse.”[iv] Kenneth S. Latourette confirms that “the chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession…but men and women who carried on their livelihood in some purely secular manner and spoke of their faith to those they met in this natural fashion.”[v]
Duty as a Universal Motive
Hence, we see that the duty to evangelize is not only for ministers, but it is for all who name the name of Christ. We also see how important every Christian is to the work of evangelism, whether they are ordained ministers or not, and how God uses His people in every walk of life to add to His church. Believers are called to profess the name of Christ to the lost. Backlash against such a message has always been the norm, but so are conversions. We must not be silent about our Lord. We may lose friends or look silly because of it. But we must not be ashamed of the gospel. This is one way to understand Christ’s promise that “everyone who acknowledges me before men I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33). Christ is here speaking of people who deny their Lord as an attempt to protect themselves from harm. Even in a climate where we are not actively being killed for our faith, we are still persecuted through societal isolation, loss of job, friends, or even family whenever we take seriously the command to evangelize the lost. The next verse promises that Jesus did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword (Matt. 10:34).
To know that every Christian should be evangelizing can cause disturbance and shame for many Christians. Most of us feel inadequate when it comes sharing the gospel. But consider the demoniac, who was told right after his conversion to go and tell all about what Jesus had done for him (Mark 5:19). He knew enough of the gospel to share it with others. His sense of duty to Christ drove him on to do it. His feelings or emotions wanted to go with Christ across the lake. His allegiance to Christ’s command helped him overcome such feelings and catapulted him into what must have been an awkward and challenging mission field. These people had just demanded Christ leave their region. They had seen this man naked and crazed. They had lost property on account of his demons being exorcised. This was no easy task that Jesus put him up to. Yet there he goes, telling everyone what great things Jesus had done for him. Why? Because Christ had told him to do it. It was his duty to do it. So, he does it.
Duty as Pure Motive
Evangelizing without a sense of duty can also lead to pragmatism. When we are governed more by emotions or even “success,” we make the cross less offensive, our churches more worldly, and our evangelism less gospel-centered. In the West today, Christians often have the mindset that if we are going to be relevant in the culture, we must keep quiet outside our homes and churches about the gospel, or at the very least, come up with ways and methods that will allow evangelism to be inoffensive. Christians today are often so plagued by the fear of what outsiders think of us that we assume evangelism is not done properly if it creates any kind of scandal or outrage from the unbelieving world. This would be a mark of woeful ineffectiveness. Again, this is not to say we should be rude or intentionally brash or scandalous. Not at all. Rather, it is assuming that the truth is offensive in a culture that despises truth. It assumes that the perishing still thinks the cross is foolish. But in attempting to accommodate our evangelism to the culture, we have lost the appeal of being a savor of death to the dying (2 Cor. 2:16).
Christians who want to accommodate evangelism to the culture disregard the fact that this was never Christ’s approach, nor was it the way of the early Christians. George Whitefield, John Wesley, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards and even William Carey were all considered scandalous renegades by the church their community for their refusal to compromise with current evangelism practices. They were seen as “zealots.” They were see as radicals. But they were men compelled to evangelize by a sense of duty. They were willing to be fools for Christ’s sake, even when the church was embarrassed by them. Consider John Ryland’s response to the criticism of William Carey by other clergymen in their day: “I am almost worn out with grief at these foolish cavils against some of the best of my brethren, men of God, who are only hated because of their zeal.”[vi] Michael A.G. Haykin notes that one of the hurdles William Carey had to overcome was “the lack of support by fellow Christians in England.”[vii]
Reproach and scoffing are the responses we should expect when it comes to biblical evangelism. In some contexts, so are arrests, confiscation of property, or loss of life. In fact, why would we assume any other response? The world’s eyes are veiled to the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3). There are none who seek God (Rom. 3:11). But a church culture that sees salvific success as the most important reason to evangelize will also claim that any approach that brings conflict or polarization must necessarily be jettisoned—especially if there is no “one” who is saved. The underlying motive behind such an approach, whether or not it is acknowledged, is a fear of man and fear of conflict. Such fear is normal, but it doesn’t mean it is correct. What must drive us onward to evangelize is our duty to Christ, even when afraid of man or conflict.
It is one thing for the world to hate the Christian, especially for his bold evangelism. Christ Himself told us we should expect it. But why do Christians shy away from confrontation? The answer is easy. We are still in the flesh. We are prone to want to protect ourself from looking dumb or losing friends, even if this means to not evangelize. The flesh is still very powerful. Therefore, duty is essential. Consider examples from the Scriptures. R. C. Sproul notes that “Jesus’ life was a storm of controversy. The apostles, like the prophets before them, could hardly go a day without controversy. Paul said that he debated daily in the marketplace. To avoid controversy is to avoid Christ.”[viii] Do we think that Paul, the prophets, or even Christ delighted in being harassed, maligned, and eventually killed for what they believed? Surely it wasn’t an enjoyable situation to be in much of the time, if ever. So what drove them to keep pressing on, regardless of ill health, prison or loss of life? Duty. What must drive us on to evangelize, even when we don’t feel like it? Duty. Even when it might cause outrage or social inconveniences? You got it. Duty.
Duty as a Transcendent Motive
There are many biblical motives for doing evangelism: our love of Christ, our love for our neighbors, our desire to see our churches grow, our passion to see God’s kingdom advance on earth. But notice these all have to do with some type of emotion: love, desire, passion, etc. Emotion is not a bad thing. God has wired us to be creatures who experience and are influenced by emotions. But emotions can be fickle and unreliable. Other times, especially when it comes to evangelism, emotions such as fear can drive out more proper emotions such as love for our neighbor. Fear is a powerful force that can utterly quench any drive to do evangelism. And in such moments, it is duty which must carry the day. We evangelize because our Master tells us to do so, regardless of our feelings about it or the pushback it may lead to. Even if we feel unequipped or inadequate—and we always are—we must evangelize because it’s our duty to do so, trusting God will use our weak and fallible attempts to do great things for His name.
The power of Christianity has always been its bold, uncompromising gospel proclamation. It has proclaimed the gospel directly into the teeth of the fiercest, most ruthless societies ever known to man. And despite the persecutions such action brings upon the church, Christians have always dug in and preached even harder. The early Christians were considered aggressive and imprudent by the surrounding culture, even while other religions were taking steps to avoid persecution. There has always been a relentless zeal for gospel proclamation among God’s people. Some periods of church history demonstrate this more brightly than others, but it has been there, somewhere, even in the darkest ages. But it wasn’t boldness for the sake of being bold that drove them on. It wasn’t recklessness for the sake of recklessness. It was because the Master had told them to do it, regardless of how they felt or what would be the outcome. We must have the same mindset.
Evangelism is a duty we have to Christ. As society in the West becomes more and more like ancient Rome, it is important we are equipped with not only a passion for evangelism, a love for the lost, and a desire to see God’s kingdom advance on earth—it is also necessary we are equipped with the time-honored weapon of remembering that evangelism is a duty, no matter the consequences, and no matter how we feel.
[I] Herbert B. Workman, Persecution in the Early Church (Bloomington, IL: Clearnote Press, 2014), 39.
[ii] Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1984), 37.
[iii] MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire, 40.
[iv] MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire, 29.
[v] Kenneth S. Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity (New York: Harper, 1944), 1:230.
[vi] Cited in A. de M. Chesterman, “The Journals of Daniel Brainerd and of William Carey,” The Baptist Quarterly 19 (1961-62): 151-52.
[vii] Michael H.G. Haykin, The Missionary Fellowship of William Carey (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2018), 5.
[viii] R. C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992), xv.
By Hannah Ascol — 2 years ago
The following sermon was delivered at Kettering, in 1803, at a time when the UK was being threatened with invasion by Napoleon. Andrew Fuller was a leader of the Particular Baptists of England and instrumental in the formation of the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen (later known as the Baptist Missionary Society and today as BMS World Mission)
“And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” — Jer. 29:7.
In the course of human events, cases may be expected to occur in which a serious mind may be at a loss with respect to the path of duty. Presuming, my brethren, that such may be the situation of some of you, at this momentous crisis—a crisis in which your country, menaced by an unprincipled, powerful, and malignant foe, calls upon you to arm in its defence—I take the liberty of freely imparting to you my sentiments on the subject.
When a part of the Jewish people were carried captives to Babylon, ten years, or thereabouts, before the entire ruin of the city and temple, they must have felt much at a loss in determining upon what was duty. Though Jeconiah, their king, was carried captive with them, yet the government was still continued under Zedekiah; and there were not wanting prophets, such as they were, who encouraged in them the hopes of a speedy return. To settle their minds on this subject, Jeremiah, the prophet, addressed the following letter to them, in the name of the Lord:—“Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon: Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished: and seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”
I do not suppose that the case of these people corresponds exactly with ours; but the difference is of such a nature as to heighten our obligations. They were in a foreign land; a land where there was nothing to excite their attachment, but every thing to provoke their dislike. They had enjoyed all the advantages of freedom and independence, but were now reduced to a state of slavery. Nor were they enslaved only: to injury was added insult. They that led them captive required of them mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” Revenge, in such circumstances, must have seemed natural; and if a foreign invader, like Cyrus, had placed an army before their walls, it had been excusable, one would have thought, not only to have wished him success, but if an opportunity had offered, to have joined an insurrection in aid of him: yet nothing like this is allowed. When Cyrus actually took this great city, it does not appear that the Jews did any thing to assist him. Their duty was to seek the welfare of the city, and to pray to the Lord for it, leaving it to the great Disposer of all events to deliver them in his own time; and this not merely as being right, but wise: “In their peace ye shall have peace.”
Now if such was the duty of men in their circumstances, can there be any doubt with respect to ours? Ought we not to seek the good of our native land; the land of our fathers’ sepulchres: a land where we are protected by mild and wholesome laws, administered under a paternal prince; a land where civil and religious freedom are enjoyed in a higher degree than in any other country in Europe; a land where God has been known for many centuries as a refuge; a land, in fine, where there are greater opportunities for propagating the gospel, both at home and abroad, than in any other nation under heaven? Need I add to this, that the invader was to them a deliverer; but to us, beyond all doubt, would be a destroyer?
Our object, this evening, will be, partly to inquire into the duty of religious people towards their country, and partly to consider the motive by which it is enforced.
I. Inquire into the duty of religious people towards their country. Though, as Christians, we are not of the world, and ought not to be conformed to it; yet, being in it, we are under various obligations to those about us. As husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, servants, &c., we cannot be insensible that others have a claim upon us, as well as we upon them; and it is the same as members of a community united under one civil government. If we were rulers, our country would have a serious claim upon us as rulers; and, as we are subjects, it has a serious claim upon us as subjects. The manner in which we discharge these relative duties contributes not a little to the formation of our character, both in the sight of God and man.
The directions given to the Jewish captives were comprised in two things; “seeking the peace of the city,” and “praying to the Lord for it.” These directions are very comprehensive; and apply to us, as we have seen, much more forcibly than they did to the people to whom they were immediately addressed. Let us inquire, more particularly, what is included in them.
Seek the peace of the city. The term here rendered peace (שלם) signifies not merely an exemption from wars and insurrections, but prosperity in general. It amounts, therefore, to saying, Seek the good or welfare of the city. Such, brethren, is the conduct required of us, as men and as Christians. We ought to be patriots, or lovers of our country.
To prevent mistakes, however, it is proper to observe that the patriotism required of us is not that love of our country which clashes with universal benevolence, or which seeks its prosperity at the expense of the general happiness of mankind. Such was the patriotism of Greece and Rome; and such is that of all others where Christian principle is not allowed to direct it. Such, I am ashamed to say, is that with which some have advocated the cause of negro slavery. It is necessary, forsooth, to the wealth of this country! No; if my country cannot prosper but at the expense of justice, humanity, and the happiness of mankind, let it be unprosperous! But this is not the case. Righteousness will be found to exalt a nation, and so to be true wisdom. The prosperity which we are directed to seek in behalf of our country involves no ill to any one, except to those who shall attempt its overthrow. Let those who fear not God, nor regard man, engage in schemes of aggrandizement, and let sordid parasites pray for their success. Our concern is to cultivate that patriotism which harmonizes with good-will to men. O my country, I will lament thy faults! Yet, with all thy faults, I will seek thy good; not only as a Briton, but as a Christian: “for my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will say, Peace be within thee: because of the house of the Lord my God, I will seek thy good!”
If we seek the good of our country, we shall certainly do nothing, and join in nothing, that tends to disturb its peace, or hinder its welfare. Whoever engages in plots and conspiracies to overturn its constitution, we shall not. Whoever deals in inflammatory speeches, or in any manner sows the seeds of discontent and disaffection, we shall not. Whoever labours to depreciate its governors, supreme or subordinate, in a manner tending to bring government itself into contempt, we shall not. Even in cases wherein we may be compelled to disapprove of measures, we shall either be silent, or express our disapprobation with respect and with regret. A dutiful son may see a fault in a father; but he will not take pleasure in exposing him. He that can employ his wit in degrading magistrates is not their friend, but their enemy; and he that is an enemy to magistrates is not far from being an enemy to magistracy, and, of course, to his country. A good man may be aggrieved; and, being so, may complain. Paul did so at Philippi. But the character of a complainer belongs only to those who walk after their own lusts.
If we seek the good of our country, we shall do every thing in our power to promote its welfare. We shall not think it sufficient that we do it no harm, or that we stand still as neutrals, in its difficulties. If, indeed, our spirits be tainted with disaffection, we shall be apt to think we do great things by standing aloof from conspiracies, and refraining from inflammatory speeches; but this is no more than may be accomplished by the greatest traitor in the land, merely as a matter of prudence. It becomes Christians to bear positive good-will to their country, and to its government, considered as government, irrespective of the political party which may have the ascendency. We may have our preferences, and that without blame; but they ought never to prevent a cheerful obedience to the laws, a respectful demeanour towards those who frame and those who execute them, or a ready co-operation in every measure which the being or well-being of the nation may require. The civil power, whatever political party is uppermost, while it maintains the great ends of government, ought, at all times, to be able to reckon upon religious people as its cordial friends; and if such we be, we shall be willing, in times of difficulty, to sacrifice private interest to public good; shall contribute of our substance without murmuring; and, in cases of imminent danger, shall be willing to expose even our lives in its defence.
As the last of these particulars is a subject which deeply interests us at the present juncture, I shall be excused if I endeavour to establish the grounds on which I conceive its obligation to rest.
We know that the father of the faithful, who was only a sojourner in the land of Canaan, when his kinsman Lot with his family were taken captives by a body of plunderers, armed his trained servants, pursued the victors, and bravely recovered the spoil. It was on this occasion that Melchizedek blessed him, saying, “Blessed be Abraham of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thine hand!”
Perhaps it will be said, This was antecedent to the times of the New Testament; Jesus taught his disciples not to resist evil; and when Peter drew his sword, he ordered him to put it up again; saying, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
You know, my brethren, I have always deprecated war, as one of the greatest calamities; but it does not follow, hence, that I must consider it in all cases unlawful.
Christianity, I allow, is a religion of peace; and whenever it universally prevails, in the spirit and power of it, wars will be unknown. But so will every other species of injustice; yet, while the world is as it is, some kind of resistance to injustice is necessary, though it may at some future time become unnecessary. If our Saviour’s command that we resist not evil be taken literally and universally, it must have been wrong for Paul to have remonstrated against the magistrates at Philippi; and he himself would not have reproved the person who smote him at the judgment-seat.
I allow that the sword is the last weapon to which we should have recourse. As individuals, it may be lawful, by this instrument, to defend ourselves or our families against the attacks of an assassin; but, perhaps, this is the only case in which it is so; and even there, if it were possible to disarm and confine the party, it were much rather to be chosen than in that manner to take away his life. Christianity does not allow us, in any case, to retaliate from a principle of revenge. In ordinary injuries it teaches patience and forbearance. If an adversary “smite us on one cheek,” we had better “turn to him the other also,” than go about to avenge our own wrongs. The laws of honour, as acted upon in high life, are certainly in direct opposition to the laws of Christ; and various retaliating maxims, ordinarily practised among men, will no doubt be found among the works of the flesh.
And if, as nations, we were to act on Christian principles, we should never engage in war but for our own defence; nor for that, till every method of avoiding it had been tried in vain.
Once more, It is allowed that Christians, as such, are not permitted to have recourse to the sword, for the purpose of defending themselves against persecution for the gospel’s sake. No weapon is admissible in this warfare but truth, whatever be the consequence. We may remonstrate, as Paul did at Philippi, and our Lord himself, when unjustly smitten; but it appears to me that this is all. When Peter drew his sword, it was with a desire to rescue his Master from the persecuting hands of his enemies, in the same spirit as when he opposed his going up to Jerusalem; in both which instances he was in the wrong: and the saying of our Saviour, that “all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” has commonly been verified, in this sense of it.
I believe it will be found, that when Christians have resorted to the sword in order to resist persecution for the gospel’s sake, as did the Albigenses, the Bohemians, the French protestants, and some others, within the last six hundred years, the issue has commonly been, that they have perished by it; that is, they have been overcome by their enemies, and exterminated: whereas, in cases where their only weapons have been “the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony, loving not their lives unto death,” they have overcome. Like Israel in Egypt, the more they have been afflicted, the more they have increased.
But none of these things prove it unlawful to take up arms as members of civil society, when called upon to do so for the defence of our country. The ground on which our Saviour refused to let his servants fight for him, that he should not be delivered into the hands of the Jews, was, that his was a kingdom “not of this world;” plainly intimating that if his kingdom had been of this world, a contrary line of conduct had been proper. Now this is what every other kingdom is: it is right, therefore, according to our Lord’s reasoning, that the subjects of all civil states should, as such, when required, fight in defence of them.
Has not Christianity, I ask, in the most decided manner recognized civil government, by requiring Christians to be subject to it? Has it not expressly authorized the legal use of the sword? Christians are warned that the magistrate “beareth not the sword in vain;” and that he is “the minister of God, a revenger, to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” But if it be right for the magistrate to bear the sword, and to use it upon evil-doers within the realm, it cannot be wrong to use it in repelling invaders from without; and if it be right on the part of the magistrate, it is right that the subject should assist him in it; for otherwise, his power would be merely nominal, and he would indeed “bear the sword in vain.”
We have not been used, in things of a civil and moral nature, to consider one law as made for the religious part of a nation, and another for the irreligious. Whatever is the duty of one, allowing for different talents and situations in life, is the duty of all. If, therefore, it be not binding upon the former to unite in every necessary measure for the support of civil government, neither is it upon the latter; and if it be binding upon neither, it must follow that civil government itself ought not to be supported, and that the whole world should be left to become a prey to anarchy or despotism.
Further, If the use of arms were, of itself, and in all cases, inconsistent with Christianity, it were a sin to be a soldier:but nothing like this is held out to us in the New Testament. On the contrary, we there read of two believing centurions;and neither of them was reproved on account of his office, or required to relinquish it. We also read of publicans and soldiers who came to John to be baptized, each asking, “What shall we do?” The answer to both proceeds on the same principle: they are warned against the abuses of their respective employments; but the employments themselves are tacitly allowed to be lawful. To the one he said, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you:” to the other, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages.” If either of these occupations had been in itself sinful, or inconsistent with that kingdom which it was John’s grand object to announce, and into the faith of which his disciples were baptized, he ought, on this occasion, to have said so, or, at least, not to have said that which implies the contrary.
If it be objected that the sinfulness of war would not lie so much at the door of the centurions and soldiers as of the government by whose authority it was proclaimed and executed, I allow there is considerable force in this; but yet, if the thing itself were necessarily, and in all cases, sinful, every party voluntarily concerned in it must have been a partaker of the guilt, though it were in different degrees.
But granting, it may be said, that war is not, in itself, necessarily sinful; yet it becomes so by the injustice with which it is commonly undertaken and conducted. It is no part of my design to become the apologist of injustice, on whatever scale it might be practised. But if wars be allowed to be generally undertaken and conducted without a regard to justice, it does not follow that they are always so; and still less that war itself is sinful. In ascertaining the justice or injustice of war, we have nothing to do with the motives of those who engage in it. The question is, Whether it be in itself unjust? If it appeared so to me, I should think it my duty to stand aloof from it as far as possible.
There is one thing, however, that requires to be noticed. Before we condemn any measure as unjust, we ought to be in possession of the means of forming a just judgment concerning it.
If a difference arise only between two families, or two individuals, though every person in the neighbourhood may be talking and giving his opinion upon it; yet it is easy to perceive that no one of them is competent to pronounce upon the justice or injustice of either side, till he has acquainted himself with all the circumstances of the case, by patiently hearing it on both sides. How much less, then, are we able to judge of the differences of nations, which are generally not a little complex, both in their origin and bearings; and of which we know but little, but through the channel of newspapers and vague reports! It is disgusting to hear people, whom no one would think of employing to decide upon a common difference between two neighbours, take upon them to pronounce, with the utmost freedom, upon the justice or injustice of national differences. Where those who are constitutionally appointed to judge in such matters have decided in favour of war, however painful it may be to my feelings, as a friend of mankind, I consider it my duty to submit, and to think well of their decision, till, by a careful and impartial examination of the grounds of the contest, I am compelled to think otherwise.
After all, there may be cases in which injustice may wear so prominent a feature, that every thinking and impartial mind shall be capable of perceiving it; and where it does so, the public sense of it will and ought to be expressed. In the present instance, however, there seems to be no ground of hesitation. In arming to resist a threatened invasion, we merely act on the defensive; and not to resist an enemy, whose ambition, under the pretence of liberating mankind, has carried desolation wherever he has gone, were to prove ourselves unworthy of the blessings we enjoy. Without taking upon me to decide on the original grounds of the difference, the question at issue with us is, Is it right that any one nation should seek absolutely to ruin another, and that other not be warranted, and even obliged, to resist it? That such is the object of the enemy, at this time, cannot be reasonably doubted. If my country were engaged in an attempt to ruin France, as a nation, it would be a wicked undertaking; and if I were fully convinced of it, I should both hope and pray that they might be disappointed. Surely, then, I may be equally interested in behalf of my native land!
But there is another duty which we owe to our country; which is, That we pray to the Lord for it. It is supposed that religious people are a praying people. The godly Israelites, when carried into Babylon, were banished from temple-worship; but they still had access to their God. The devotional practice of Daniel was well known among the great men of that city, and proved the occasion of a conspiracy against his life. King Darius knew so much of the character of the Jews as to request an interest in their prayers, in behalf of himself and his sons. My brethren, your country claims an interest in yours; and I trust that, if no such claim were preferred, you would, of your own accord, remember it.
You are aware that all our dependence, as a nation, is upon God; and, therefore, should importune his assistance. After all the struggles for power, you know that in his sight all the inhabitants of the world are reputed as nothing: he doth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? Indeed this has been acknowledged, and at times sensibly felt, by irreligious characters; but in general the great body of a nation, it is to be feared, think but little about it. Their dependence is upon an arm of flesh. It may be said, without uncharitableness, of many of our commanders, both by sea and land, as was said of Cyrus, God hath girded them, though they have not known him. But by how much you perceive a want of prayer and dependence on God in your countrymen, by so much more should you be concerned, as much as in you lies, to supply the defect. “The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
You are also aware, in some measure, of the load of guilt that lies upon your country; and should therefore supplicate mercy on its behalf. I acknowledge myself to have much greater fear from this quarter than from the boasting menaces of a vain man. If our iniquities provoke not the Lord to deliver us into his hand, his schemes and devices will come to nothing. When I think, among other things, of the detestable traffic before alluded to, in which we have taken so conspicuous a part, and have shed so much innocent blood, I tremble! When we have fasted and prayed, I have seemed to hear the voice of God, saying unto us, “Loose the bands of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke!” Yet, peradventure, for his own name’s sake, or from a regard to his own cause, which is here singularly protected, the Lord may hearken to our prayers, and save us from deserved ruin. We know that Sodom itself would have been spared if ten righteous men could have been found in her. I proceed to consider,
II. The motive by which these duties are enforced: “In the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”
The Lord hath so wisely and mercifully interwoven the interests of mankind as to furnish motives to innumerable acts of justice and kindness. We cannot injure others, nor even refrain from doing them good, without injuring ourselves.
The interests of individuals and families are closely connected with those of a country. If the latter prosper, generally speaking, so do the former; and if the one be ruined, so must the other. It is impossible to describe, or to conceive beforehand, with any degree of accuracy, the miseries which the success of a foreign enemy, such as we have to deal with, must occasion to private families. To say nothing of the loss of property among the higher and middle classes of people, (which must be severely felt, as plunder will, undoubtedly, be the grand stimulus of an invading army,) who can calculate the loss of lives? Who can contemplate, without horror, the indecent excesses of a victorious, unprincipled, and brutal soldiery? Let not the poorest man say, I have nothing to lose. Yes, if men of opulence lose their property, you will lose your employment. You have also a cottage, and perhaps a wife and family, with whom, amidst all your hardships, you live in love; and would it be nothing to you to see your wife and daughters abused, and you yourself unable to protect them, or even to remonstrate, but at the hazard of being thrust through with the bayonet? If no other considerations will induce us to protect our country, and pray to the Lord for it, our own individual and domestic comfort might suffice.
To this may be added, our interests as Christians, no less than as men and as families, are interwoven with the well-being of our country. If Christians, while they are in the world, are, as has been already noticed, under various relative obligations, it is not without their receiving, in return, various relative advantages. What those advantages are we should know to our grief, were we once to lose them. So long have we enjoyed religious liberty in this country, that I fear we are become too insensible of its value. At present we worship God without interruption. What we might be permitted to do under a government which manifestly hates Christianity, and tolerates it even at home only as a matter of policy, we know not. This, however, is well known, that a large proportion of those unprincipled men, in our own country, who have been labouring to overturn its constitution, have a deep-rooted enmity to the religion of Jesus. May the Lord preserve us, and every part of the united kingdom, from their machinations!
Some among us, to whatever extremities we may be reduced, will be incapable of bearing arms; but they may assist by their property, and in various other ways: even the hands of the aged poor, like those of Moses, may be lifted up in prayer; while their countrymen, and it may be their own children, are occupying the post of danger. I know it is the intention of several whom I now address freely to offer their services at this important period. Should you, dear young people, be called forth in the arduous contest, you will expect an interest in our prayers. Yes, and you will have it. Every one of us, every parent, wife, or Christian friend, if they can pray for any thing, will importune the Lord of hosts to cover your heads in the day of battle!
Finally, It affords satisfaction to my mind to be persuaded that you will avail yourselves of the liberty granted to you of declining to learn your exercise on the Lord’s day. Were you called to resist the landing of the enemy on that day, or any other work of necessity, you would not object to it; but, in other cases, I trust, you will. “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
 Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc., ed. Joseph Belcher, vol. 1 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 202–209.
By Tom Nettles — 7 months ago
The Southern Baptist Convention is an associational structure of churches. Is purpose is to carry “into effect the benevolent intentions of our constituents, by organizing a plan for eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort for the propagation of the gospel.” The assumption behind the union was that each participating churches would be a “regular Baptist church.” No Baptist church is forced to join an association of churches nor forced to stay. No association may exert authority over the internal affairs of a local church, but it may determine the terms of membership in the association. The church is autonomous; the association is autonomous. The church may select its own officers, receive and discipline its own members according to its understanding of Scripture, and choose to affiliate with other churches of like faith and order. An association of churches may govern its internal affairs according to the will of the associating churches and may adopt a confession of faith that expresses its understanding of the Scriptures. It may receive or reject churches into its associational structure on the basis of that confessional statement. A local church may not demand that an association of churches allow its participation while it holds doctrines out of accord with the association’s confessions. A church may not demand that an association change its confession to allow for its participation while dissenting from its doctrine. A church disagreeing with the confessional stance of an association may continue its autonomy independent of the association.
When the Philadelphia Association received queries from churches, a committee appointed to investigate the question would answer with pertinent Scripture and frequently would refer to a section of their confession of faith. In 1724, for a question on the Sabbath, one element of the response was “We refer to the Confession of Faith, set forth by the elders and brethren met in London, 1689, and owned by us, chap. 22, sect. 7 and 8.” In 1727 a question on marriage evoked the response “Answered, by referring to our Confession of faith, chapter 26th in our last edition.” A question about laying on of hands referred to the Confession in chapter xxvi, section 9. A question in 1735 about church membership of a person too far away to attend was answered by invoking the Confession of faith, chapter xxvii, and the Treatise on Discipline.
In 1743, the association heard discussion about a theological dispute that had developed in one of its member churches concerning the eternal generation of the Son. After the discussion, one person, Joseph Eaton, “recanted, renounced, and condemned all expressions, which he heretofore had used, whereby his brethren … were made to believe that he departed from the literal sense and meaning of that fundamental article in our Confession of faith, concerning the eternal generation and Sonship of Jesus Christ our Lord.” At the same meeting a “brother Butler” wrote an acknowledgement, “I freely confess that I have given too much cause for others to judge that I contradicted our Confession of faith concerning the eternal generation of the son of God, in some expressions contained in my paper, which I now with freedom condemn.”
When Baptist associations opened formal correspondence with other associations, they determined their doctrinal purity through examination of their confession of faith. The Philadelphia Association minutes from 1788 read, “A letter and minutes which contain the sentiments of the Stonington Association, were received. From which it appears, that they have adopted the same printed Confession which this Association has heretofore approved. We shall therefore cheerfully concur with them in maintaining a mutual correspondence.”
OK, well, you get it. No need to multiply instances. The confession was important and no article would have been inserted unless there was good reason to believe that all the churches should affirm their conscientious acknowledgement of the biblical doctrines so stated. A denominational confession necessarily includes doctrines deemed of secondary importance in relation to historic orthodox Christianity. If the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed were all that we should confess, and we certainly should confess them, we would have no denominations, but we would have constant disagreement between and even within churches about those things that seem to be secondary—not saving truths—but still vital for the health and unity of local churches AND vital associational structures, as well as personal obedience to the Lord. Among these are the mode and meaning of baptism—surely anyone can see that this could rise to the level of a first order issue–, the number, authority, and qualifications of the officers of the church, and the manner of church discipline.
An essay on the relation of local churches to an association appeared in the minutes of the Philadelphia Association in 1749. After affirming the autonomy of each local church, and the right and obligation to administer the biblical ordinances, receive and discipline its membership, set apart its officers “independent of any other church or assembly whatever,” it discussed the autonomy and powers of an association, or confederation of churches that unite on a voluntary basis. Though not a “superior judicature,” there is nevertheless a power that the association has over itself. “For if the agreement of several distinct churches, in sound doctrine and regular practice be the first motive, ground and foundation or basis of their confederation,” the essay premised, and then drew the inference, “then it must naturally follow, that a defection in doctrine or practice in any church, in such confederation, or any party in any such church, is ground sufficient for an Association to withdraw from such a church or party so deviating or making defection, and to exclude such from them in some formal manner.”
Baptists have never believed that baptism, the Lord’ Supper, or the calling and setting apart of church officers are minor matters for they are part of divine revelation and are given in order to bring the church to a “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). These are the doctrines that distinguished Baptists in their seventeenth-century emergence from English Puritanism and Separatism. Within the framework of the broader Christian confession of creedal orthodoxy and Protestant evangelicalism—both affirmed clearly by Baptists as necessary for true Christian faith—issues of church order and officers might be considered secondary or even tertiary, but for the distinctive identity of Baptists they are primary. Baptists consider their views of baptism, church membership, the continuing mandate of the great Commission, ecclesiastical non-establishment, and the qualifications of local church officers as essential elements of our quest for the purity and spiritual power of local churches.
Acceptance of regulating confessions of faith and even so-called creedal affirmation are not foreign to Baptist convictions in protecting their commitment to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). James P. Boyce famously argued extensively for a governing confession in the founding of a theological seminary: “Let subscription to it[the confession of faith] on the part of each Theological Professor be required as an assurance of his entire agreement with its views of doctrine, and of his determination to teach fully the truth which it expresses, and nothing contrary to its declarations.” He also stated with conviction and clarity that it fit well—even necessarily—in the stewardship of a local church. After allowing for the broad spectrum of biblical understanding and doctrinal maturity of the members of a local church In light of the hopeful reality of the presence of recent converts, Boyce proceeded to argue, “But I cannot grant that such a test is without due warrant from Scripture even in the Church. The very duties which God enjoins upon the Churches, plainly suppose the application of every principle involved in the establishment of creeds” [Boyce, Three Changes 1856].
The same we find in B. H. Carroll, the founder of Southern Baptists’ second theological seminary. Carroll fully agreed with Boyce’s view of the stewardship of revealed truth through adherence to a confession and applied it to his attempt to give “safeguards” to the seminary. He also believed that hearty and hardy confessional adherence was fitting, in fact, required for a church. “A church with a little creed is a church with a little life. … the fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness.” Carroll continued, therefore, with the warning, “Shut off the creed and the Christian world would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but none the less deadly.” When confronted with the claim of some that individual liberty would be challenged by the requirement of creedal authority, he responded, “We are entitled to no liberty in these matters. It is a positive and very hurtful sin to magnify liberty at the expense of doctrine. A creed is what we believe. A confession of faith is a declaration of what we believe. The church must both believe and declare.” Contemplating that Christ came to bear witness to the truth and that apostles would teach and write under the inspiration of the Spirit of truth, Carroll insisted, “To Christ and the apostles, false creeds were the most deadly things, and called most for the use of the knife.” The setting aside of men to the gospel ministry must conform, therefore, to this Christological and apostolical concern for truth: “The limit of ordination examination on doctrine is the maximum of church creed on doctrine. … Unless ‘the faith’ is a needed creed of definite vital truth, there is no basis for examination looking to ordination and no standard up to which the convert must be developed” [Carroll on Ephesians 4].
One of the favorite tactics of the so-called and self-styled “moderate” wing of the Convention during the years immediately preceding and then during the conservative resurgence involved implying a dichotomy between adherence to strict orthodoxy and personal religious experience. One writer in 1978 warned against a growing tendency to “Creedal Subscription” and characterized the developing conflict as one between scholastics and pietists. He characterized the scholastic as the person who “wants to make the confession compulsory lest the faith become lost,” and the pietist as the one who “wants to make the confession optional lest the freedom for the vitality of faith become lost.” [Walter Shurden, R & E, Spring 1978, 231]. Pietism, not scholasticism, the writer implies, should be the model for promotion of Baptist unity and mission
Another looked to positive lessons to be learned from American mystics who consistently asserted that “formal creedal authority was much less significant than the inner reality of the divine presence.” This heightening of inner experience disconnected from dogma “may be extremely useful” in providing “a unity beyond denomination and dogma which is the foundation of the Church universal, the mystical body of Christ.” [William Leonard, R & E, Spring 1978, 277.]
Then in the midst of the fray, soon following the Glorieta Statement issued in 1986, a prominent Moderate spokesman pitted “scholarship” against “confirmation and indoctrination,” “authentic education” against “brainwashing,” “personal religious experience” against a “memorized religion,” and authentic education” against “indoctrination of students with predigested teachings.” [Roy Honeycutt, Risking the Arm, Convocation Address, September 1987] In his infamous convocation sermon for the fall of 1984, Roy Honeycutt saw the “cosmic Christ” as making us free from any attempts at uniformity, particularly confessional uniformity, but asserted, “Communities such as this seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention should affirm not stifle or otherwise restrict pluralism.” Instead of uniformity, “we need to rediscover authentic, New Testament pluralism as an essential quality of the church on mission with God.” Certainly, we are not back to the practice of conceding that confessional infidelity is a sign of spiritual maturity, a deeper grasp of the mind of Christ, and educational superiority.
We know that this present concern about a confession of faith’s usurpation of the rights of conscience and the autonomy of a church is prompted by the question of the ordination of women to the office of elder/bishop/pastor-teacher. Again, the precedent of Baptist exposition on this issue shows that no assertion of lack of clarity either exegetically, ecclesiologically, or doctrinally need make a strong stance unwarranted. Carroll wrote in his exposition of 1 Timothy, commenting on 2:11-13 along with 1 Corinthians 14: 34, 35, “The custom in some congregations of having a woman as pastor is in flat contradiction to this apostolic teaching and is open rebellion against Christ our king, and high treason against his sovereignty, and against nature as well as grace. It unsexes both the woman who usurps this authority and the men who submit to it. Under no circumstances conceivable is it justifiable.”
Likewise in his commentary on 1 Timothy in the American Commentary series, Hezekiah Harvey, considering the text carefully in the setting of Paul’s argument concerning creation, fall, and redemption says, “The passage plainly denies to woman the office of the ministry, or the function of prayer and instruction in the public assemblies of the church, on the ground that such an office, as it involves authority over the man, is inconsistent with the divinely-constituted nature and position of woman as subordinate to man.” Then again, after more detailed exposition he reconfirms, “These reasons [the ones Paul has given in the text], founded on the original constitution and nature of the woman, are plainly valid in all places and in all ages; and the rule excluding woman from the office of the ministry in the church, of which they form the ground, is consequently universal and perpetual.”
Neither exegetically, confessionally, nor ecclesiologically should this issue be a point of controversy among Baptists. The Bible is our sole authority; the confession gives clear expression to a coherent, canonically derived understanding of the Bible’s teaching; The churches obey the text in order to be found sincere and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness.