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.

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Four Views of Baptist Origin

Baptist_history

Leon McBeth cites four views pertaining to the sources of Baptist origin: (1) the outgrowth of English Separatism, (2) the influence of biblical Anabaptists, (3) the continuation of biblical teachings throughout the ages, and (4) the succession of organized Baptist churches through the ages.[1] Proponents believing the outgrowth of English Separatism to be the origin of Baptists minimize any role or influence Anabaptists may have played in England before 1600 and instead focus on the diversities between Baptists and Anabaptists. McBeth, illustrates, “They maintain that every distinctive Baptist belief and practice is inherent within Puritanism/Separatism.”[2]

Supporters of the Anabaptist influence view set out to link Baptist origins to the influence of biblical Anabaptists. McBeth highlights, “Most of them acknowledge that Baptists emerged through English Separatism, but they believe Anabaptism both on the Continent and in England prepared the way for Separatism.”[3] Anabaptists can be difficult to classify because the name was associated with a diverse group of believers ranging from extreme mystics, like the Quakers, all the way to extreme rationalists. Some historians contend, “Baptists originated largely in response to the Anabaptist movement, [and] Anabaptists influenced the early Baptists at two points: (1) in preparing the way for Separatism and (2) by leading some to go beyond Separatism to believer’s baptism.”[4]

The latter two views are often both labeled under successionism. McBeth demonstrates, “While almost all recognize that early Baptists were related to the Separatists, disagreement centers around what preceded the Separatists.”[5] This third group looks to trace a continuity of Baptist teachings from New Testament times to the present, asserting the origin of Baptist-like faith and practice never completely died out. Thomas Crosby claimed, “that Baptist principles not only root in the New Testament but also can be traced through various groups since then.”[6]

Arising in the nineteenth century, the final argument for the origin of Baptists goes a step further than the previous. Sometimes referred to as the Jesus-Jordan-John (JJJ) theory, this view contends that Baptists originated with John the Baptist, Jesus, and/or baptisms in the Jordan. McBeth explains, “This theory assumes that John the Baptist represents a denominational affiliation and that Jesus formed a Baptist church and promised in Matthew 16:18 that Baptist churches would never vanish from the world.”[7] There are multiple variations of belief in this view ranging from the premise that: (1) organic succession can be proven and that it is essential, (2) succession is essential and does exist, but cannot be proven, or (3) succession can be proven, but it is not essential.[8]

While each view has merit, it seems the most convincing views pertaining to the origin of Baptists are explained by both the continuation of biblical teaching and that Baptists emerged from the Separatist movement. Tracing Baptist succession back to the New Testament is an admirable attempt to demonstrate provenance, but is seemingly impossible to prove and also unnecessary. While Anabaptist influence is still often debated, McBeth demonstrates, “the earliest Baptists recognized their Separatist background, but later historians obscured that heritage under layers of successionist theory.”[9] In the wise words of William T. Whitley, “For the sources of Baptist life, one must look not to the Anabaptists, but to the Scriptures and the desire for reform…” This new view of Scripture and recognition of what God was calling His followers to do arose as the Separatists moved away from the state church, ultimately leading to the formation of Baptists.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

[1] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 52.

[4] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 53.

[5] Ibid., 49.

[6] Ibid., 57.

[7] Ibid., 59.

[8] Ibid.

[9] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 50.