In the last issue of the Herald, Denton Lotz reflected on the challenges facing Baptists in 2007. This concludes the article.
Several years ago I asked Baptist historians to present some thoughts on the “ecclesial function of the Baptist World Alliance.” Because of our history and ecclesiology, there was not much the historians could say except, “Baptist ecclesiology is basically local autonomy.” I believe the question of the nature of the church is really one of the great challenges confronting Baptists in the 21st century.
In the 19th century, the idea of “local autonomy” was sufficient to keep Baptists together when combined with the understanding of “voluntary associations.” However, is our Baptist ecclesiology sufficient to meet the challenges of the 21st century?
Urbanization, technology, education and travel have changed the way we view the world and one another. As a result, many Baptists have conflict over how the local church should be governed. Since Baptists have always affirmed the democratic principle, our church government has tended to be a church of the people. But today democracy is changing, and not always for the good.
Multi-nationals and pressure groups have more to say than the people. Likewise in the church there are multi-national pressure groups that, using democratic means, take over local churches and even denominations, all in the name of defending God. Churches are split, believers disenfranchised, and the nature of the church's mission is changed.
On the local level conflict often takes place over whether the church should have deacons or elders or over the authority of the pastor. The sad reaction is that many Baptists are leaving our churches for others.
How is the local church related to the association, the nation and the world? How do we do missions? How do we support the aid and development tasks which are an ever-increasing challenge? How shall we work together in ministering to those infected with HIV/AIDS? How does the local church relate to the BWA? What is the call of Christ to unity in John 17, and what does this mean in our relations with other Christians? Who speaks for the church on doctrinal and moral issues? What type of discipline can the local church and national convention/union exercise? How do we remove leaders from office who are immoral and maintain leadership positions only for financial benefits or to hold on to power?
6. Preaching, worship and liturgical practices
In reaction to sometimes dead worship expressed in meaningless liturgies, Baptists in the 18th and 19th centuries replaced such liturgies with “free” worship. Prayers, hymns and biblical preaching became the new liturgy. Congregational participation in worship through hymns, testimonies and prayers gave opportunity for spontaneity.
With urbanization, a more liturgical tradition became evident in Baptist churches worldwide. Every generation, however, experienced the need for “renewal of worship.” Revivals brought new hymns and new forms of worship. But probably at no time in Baptist life has there been more conflict over the form of worship than today.
The sad consequence of these so-called “worship wars” has been their effect on young pastors and preaching. Gone are the days of great oratory. Today we are told preaching needs to be conversational and relational. Traveling all over the world I have had opportunity to observe preaching on every continent. I have concluded that wherever there is biblical preaching with intellect and passion, people respond positively.
On the other hand, many young preachers do not have any idea of communicating the gospel in the cultural setting in which God has placed them. But probably the greatest negative effect on preaching has been the spiritual state of the young minister. Buffeted by secularism and conflict within the church, many have lost their spiritual moorings and their passion for preaching.
Young pastors need to be encouraged to develop their spiritual life. We must encourage that type of preaching which has a passion to bring men and women into the presence of Christ.
7. The Emerging Church, Christian tradition and doctrine
In reaction to empty churches where the youth have disappeared, a new movement called “the Emerging Church” has appeared. Its goals are wonderful—basically to bring the younger generation of 20- and 30-year-olds back into the church. Leaders of this movement maintain that the church needs to be more inclusive and less exclusive. The church needs to emphasize love and compassion and less doctrine.
We are moving out of the Enlightenment into a new period called postmodernism. Enlightenment thinking was rational. It produced the scientific revolution. The technology of our day is a result of Enlightenment thinking. Today Enlightenment thinking has fallen on bad times and postmodernism seems to be the philosophy of the day—for secular universities, that is!
Postmodernism has no absolutes. The same young student who can protest the killing of seals can at the same time defend the killing of a baby in a Stone Age tribe if that is part of the tribe's culture. The question becomes how to win people with this type of thinking for Christ? Emerging Church leaders believe that the answer lies in a whole new understanding of the church and doctrine.
The positive aspect of this Emerging Church movement is that it confronts postmodern men and women and is concerned about bringing them into the kingdom. The questions surrounding this movement are very profound, including questions concerning doctrine and tradition and the authority of the early Church Fathers, as well as others such as: What about Scriptural passages that seem to limit today's culture? How do we reach the alienated and secular society? What is the meaning of worship for today?
Baptists have always said that we are non-creedal, but we also have affirmed statements of faith. Basic Christian doctrines such as the trinity, divinity of Christ, the resurrection, the Kingdom of God, the Second Coming, etc., cannot be swept under the rug. The truly New Testament missional Church will confront today's culture with the same word as the Apostle Paul, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” But then who defines that gospel? I am not an expert on the Emerging Church but I do believe we need to confront the questions posed by the Emerging Church. We need to be involved in its critique of postmodernism and learn all we can from Emerging Church leaders as to how better to proclaim the gospel. We must beware that it does not lead us down the path that the social gospel did in the 1920s, where compassion replaced faith and doctrine and eventually a new reformation had to come to renew the church.