Need for Ecclesiology and the Believers’ Church: Article Critique

christian-doctrine

Against the backdrop of America’s Industrial Revolution, Jason Duesing compares President Theodore Roosevelt’s call-to-action in conserving the nation’s natural resources[1] to, “The people of God needing to take action to preserve and protect the doctrine of the church.”[2] America was growing at a rapid rate, yet Roosevelt had the foresight to recognize the immediate threat if changes were not made. Similarly, Duesing seeks to show, “Believers, acting under various constructs – from liberalism to ecumenism to even evangelism – have also engaged in ‘old wasteful methods’ with regard to the ‘natural resources’ of the doctrine of the church.”[3] The purpose of this critique is to assess Duesing’s proposed solution to overcoming indifference and his call to awaken evangelicals toward both ecclesiology and the believers’ church.

SUMMARY

            Duesing begins by establishing the widespread doctrinal deterioration that has plagued the local church and contributes this breakdown of the Great Commission[4] to the local church not protecting the gospel message, internal disputes, and attacks from outside the church. Where parachurch organizations thrived in evangelistic outreach efforts, the local church has become sterile in reproducing disciples, even within close proximity. Duesing then proposes the only way the true biblical gospel message will make it to the next generation is the believers’ church.

As the first champions of the believers’ church, since the Constantine Synthesis, Duesing acknowledges the Anabaptists were, “The pioneers of ecclesiological conservatism in an age not of ecclesiological indifference, but of ecclesiological intolerance.”[5] This distinction separated them from the Magisterial Reformers who Leonard Verduin asserts, were primarily only concerned with, “The Anabaptists’ desire to move beyond Church reform to complete restoration of the church to its New Testament origins.”[6] Duesing demonstrates, “The Magisterial Reformers were not looking to make many ecclesiological changes, [but were concerned with] the economic and political ramifications of separating the church from the state.”[7] While the Anabaptists sought to conserve doctrine, Duesing contrasts, “The Magisterial Reformers sought to make membership contingent upon baptism as an infant, [and] just as the State carried the sword for the purpose of maintaining and establishing justice, so too did the Church support the sword for the purpose of maintaining and establishing the truth.”[8] Ultimately, the Anabaptists recognized, “The only way to accomplish biblical purity in the Church was to separate completely from the existing institutions and establish a believers’ church, [which] no longer supported the use of the sword and refused to call for the death penalty even for those with divergent doctrinal views.”[9]

STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES

            Duesing does a worthy job demonstrating the state of affairs within the local church and the need for doctrinal reform. The gospel message has become so diluted and religion in general has turned more into an environment of pleasing people, rather than training and equipping disciples to fulfill the Great Commission. The formation of the believers’ church was truly a radical paradigm shift, rooted biblical teaching. This writer agrees, “For the sake of preserving what is essential for salvation for the next generation, a new call is needed to awaken evangelicals from a state of indifference toward ecclesiology and the believers’ church”[10]

By only briefly touching on the decline of the church, Duesing’s call on believers to see “Ecclesiological Conversation as a Christian Duty” does not paint as vivid of a picture had the failure of maintaining a pure church been better demonstrated. For example, H. Leon McBeth illustrates how, “The eighteenth century proved devastating for the General Baptists, [due] to theological problems, antiquated church practices, and failure to recruit new leaders of stature.”[11] Had this been included in Duesing’s article, another comparison could have been made to the eighteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution changed the way people lived and the Intellectual Revolution challenged the way people viewed God, the universe, and themselves.”[12]

CONCLUSION

            Duesing’s use of America, standing on the precipice of its own demise by reckless indifference sets the stage for a solid argument for the need of ecclesiological conservation and a movement towards the believers’ church. Duesing is right, doctrines must be upheld and biblical principles must never be compromised, even for the sake of unity, and the Anabaptists are a great example of what is sometimes needed to form a pure church rooted in biblical teaching.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Duesing, Jason G. “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving.” A White Paper from the CTR, Fort Worth, TX: Center for Theological Research, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006. http://www.baptisttheology.org/baptisttheology/assets/File/BelieversChurch.pdf (accessed April 6, 2017).

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

Verduin, Leonard. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Sarasota, FL: The Christian Hymnary Publishers, reprint 1997.

[1] Theodore Roosevelt, “Conservation as a National Day,” in Conferences of Governors (Washington: G.P.O., 1909), 3-13.

[2] Jason G. Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” A White Paper from the CTR (Fort Worth, TX: Center for Theological Research, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006), 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew 28:16-20

[5] Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” 3.

[6] Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Sarasota, FL: The Christian Hymnary Publishers, reprint 1997).

[7] Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” 3-4.

[8] Ibid., 4.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” 5.

[11] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 170.

[12] Ibid., 151.

Importance of Knowing Church History

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     It is important to study Church history, because one must know where they came from to determine where they are headed and history is His story. Past performance is generally the best indicator for future behavior. Some refer to this as the principle of the path as it does not matter how far you have traveled or fast you have gone if you are headed in the wrong direction. History is full of good and bad decisions and impossible circumstances, but when surrendered over to God, they all can be used for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.

God can use anyone and anything to accomplish His plan. Also, without a true understanding of the past, not only are we blindly accepting what people have told us; we too are asking those we attempt to evangelize to do the same thing. We are only human and in our fallen state, we are bound to make mistakes and history best shows what took place after mistakes were made. People either rise up, or they conform and we alone decide if the fiery trials we face are going to burn us or purify us. Another important reason to understand church history and practice sound biblical exegesis is our congregations’ understanding will rarely be greater than our own. Without sound teaching and an understanding of church history, we become the lid to those around us, causing them not to grow in their wisdom and understanding of history and God’s Word.

The value of examining the past is vital, since those who forget the past are often condemned to repeat it. Humanity’s pride and lust for sin has caused a schism between the righteousness of God and the fallen state of man. As a result, Jesus Christ became the atonement of sin and has now become our mediator, as He sits at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf. Still though, people like Milan Kundera think,  “People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.” George Orwell best illustrates this principle when he said, “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.” Historical revisionism is something every Christian must be aware of because everything God stands for, Satan will either try to counterfeit, pervert, or destroy. This knowledge will be crucial in establishing a sound foundation from which we can build our faith and ministry on.