Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

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Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Sunday, February 19, 2006

To Address Some Concerns (Part I)

Why a Baptist Seminary?

More than a year and a half ago, I first broached the idea of my possibly attending seminary to a group of trusted Christian men. These friends were cautiously positive about the idea, and promised to support me in prayer. As that hard-to-define sense of call began to firm over the next few months, I actively began investigating seminaries. Eventually, I settled on Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary.

Having committed to a course of action, a seminary, and thus the theological outlook of that particular denomination that runs the seminary, I nevertheless began to face some concerns held by other friends of mine. I do thank God for this, as it demonstrated their Christian concerns for my spiritual well-being. It is a good thing to be sharpened by others, and we are all called to exercise Christian discernment, even on behalf of others. Nevertheless, I feel I owe these people an explanation.

This series of posts has several aims, then, but one of them is NOT to complain that others disagree with me or to belittle their Christian responsibility to speak their convictions. Rather, I hope to accomplish several things:

1. First, explain why I chose a Baptist seminary...

2. ...and a Southern Baptist one at that.

3. I will (graciously and lovingly, I hope) address one particular approach or manner, in which some concerns were expressed, that I considered very inappropriate.

4. I'll talk about a particular concern raised with me about Southern Baptists and tongues.

5. Finally, I'll address another particular concern about the SBC view of women in ministry, and how this impacted my decision.

Why a Baptist Seminary?

I have seen people pick a Bible college or seminary rather carelessly, seemingly on the assumption that if the place has a seemingly Christian statement of faith, it's safe to attend. I believe that the choice of seminary or Bible college, for one who has the call of God on their life, requires prayer, discernment, and careful investigation. Furthermore, it requires knowing one's own spiritual walk. It requires a knowledge of one's own theological views. And finally, the school should be one that has high standards of education, and be recognized in the Christian community as such.

And so I began, even before I became aware of a call to ministry, to figure out who I was as a Christian.

So why a Baptist seminary? After all, this came as a surprise both to my own circle of friends (mostly charismatic / Pentecostal) and to my family (mostly infant-baptist Reformed). Thus, my answer has to address two issues: baptism, and why I didn't choose a charismatic school.

The answer on baptism is quite simple. First, I was baptized as an adult at 23, after coming to the conclusion that believer's baptism is the Biblical model. Why? Many reasons:

First, no example or command to baptize infants is given in the New Testament.

Second, baptism does not save or regenerate a person. Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone. Thus, I don't agree with those who think that infants are somehow made more likely to be saved by baptism.

Third, when Christ gave the Great Commission, He commanded us to make disciples and baptize them. The fact that Christ mentioned discipleship first is significant. An infant simply cannot be a disciple, for discipleship implies awareness and understanding of faith. Infants have neither until they grow up.

Fourth, when the apostles baptized, a clear connection between baptism and repentance (and other evidence of salvation) can be seen (Acts 2:28, 8:36-38 [even without the disputed verse 37], 9:17-18, 10:47-48). In many cases, baptism is explicitly administered as a clear response to the work of the Spirit in a person's life.

Fifth, those who argue that baptism has replaced circumcision as a seal of the covenant forget that the New Covenant involves circumcision of the heart, and that those so circumcised are the true Israel. Or, put another way, while the Abrahamic Covenant was with a man and his physical descendants, the New Covenant is with his spiritual descendants. Circumcision was therefore tied to ethnicity, while baptism is tied to faith. Jesus and Paul spent much of their time disabusing Jews of their notion that ethnic membership in the covenant guaranteed them God's favour - why should members of the church then adopt the same idea regarding their own physical descendants? To me, it defeats the point.

A more detailed defence of believers' baptism can be found elsewhere easily. Suffice to say, I'm with the Baptists on this one.

So why a specifically Baptist seminary, instead of one that more resembled my Fredericton church in its beliefs (specifically about the charismata?)

Well, first, I'd make a pretty bad Pentecostal. See, I've never spoken in tongues. I've never been tempted to. I am convinced that tongues are utterly unnecessary for salvation (remember, by grace through faith!) and that there is no Biblical reason to expect that every believer, or indeed even most believers, should speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30). Paul commands us to seek the higher gifts - and if you read his letters, he compares tongues with prophecy, preferring the latter. In short, tongues is not high on my priority list, and to those who measure spiritual maturity by tongues-speaking, read Paul again.

Furthermore, a keystone of Pentecostal theology is the idea of a second and subsequent "fillings" of the Holy Spirit. I believe every true believer is filled with the Holy Spirit at conversion (indeed, before conversion, for without the Spirit no one can even believe in Christ at all - 1 Corinthians 2:14). Once the Spirit is there, He's there to stay. But Pentecostals generally believe salvation is a state that can be lost. I disagree.

See, salvation is the Lord's work. No one can be saved at all unless the Father draws him to Christ (John 6:44). All those so given to Christ will come to Him (John 6:37) and those who come to Him will never be cast out (John 6:38-39) - for this would violate the Father's will and make Christ a failure. And all of these who come to Christ WILL be raised to eternal life on the last day (John 6:44).

In short, it's God who saves. Since a person's decision is not the decisive factor (though it is a step in the process) then salvation is by God's grace alone. And if grace makes one "saved," then grace will keep one "saved." Or in other words, if one's sin wasn't an obstacle to salvation at time of conversion, why would it reverse it later?

I'm not saying that a Christian can sin with impunity. On the contrary, persistent sin is evidence that one is not saved at all! (1 John 1:6, 2:4-6, 3:6). But there's my point - behaviour is evidence only. It is not a contributor to salvation. Again, this is because salvation is a work of God, not man.

By now, discerning readers can guess I'm a Calvinist. That's not a popular position in Pentecostal circles.

I did briefly consider a Christian Missionary Alliance seminary. However, I could not have signed their confession of faith (unlike my present seminary). They believe physical healing is a provision of the atonement, which I disagree with (God's concerned with sin, and a quick look at the Bible shows that many Godly people never had healing) and they make premillennialism a requirement of fellowship. Not only am I not a premillenial, but I think that making ANY end-times scheme a test of fellowship is wrong.

Eventually, I settled on Baptists for the following reasons:

1. The theological position I resemble most closely is that of Reformed Baptists.

2. Baptists believe in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture (that is, that the Bible is true in all it teaches, and that it is all a Christian needs to be fully equipped for ministry.) I find many mainline churches don't believe the first part; I fear many charismatic and evangelical churches downplay the second.

3. Baptists are warmly evangelical and committed to sharing the Gospel.

So why Southern Baptists? That's the next post.

4 Comments:

Blogger Erin said...

Jeff, I do think it is great that you know what you believe and why you believe what you do. I am challenged to know why I believe what I do... It says in the Bible that we should always be able to give people an answer as to why we have the hope that we do. I need to have a better answer for people and I am working on that. We always need to remember to be gentle, and I am glad that you respect the views of others. :)

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Betty said...

Wonderful insight! Lovely to know how you went about making your choice :) Good to see your posting again Jeff!!!!

6:36 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

For those interested, there is a formidable movement of Ex-Pentecostals.

Here is the forum:

http://p212.ezboard.com/bexpentecostalforums

Here is the most popular Ex-Pentecostal blog:

http://ex-pentecostal.blogspot.com/


Here is the main Ex-Pentecostal website:

http://expentecostals.org/

I encourage all Pentecostals and former Pentecostals to read each site with an open mind to find out a new way of looking at things and challenge your mind.

Peace, and Love.

9:55 AM  
Blogger jul said...

I just commented on another post of yours, but I can't resist telling you that you would love Soveriegn Grace Ministries I think. We have been part of a Soveriegn Grace Church for 7years now and are actually about to leave, but it sounds like it would be an almost perfect fit for you. Have you ever checked into them? I realize they don't have a real seminary (just a one year pastor's college) but it would definately be worth visiting one of their churches or conferences sometime if you have get the chance or if God so allows, to be theologically correct lol.

6:51 PM  

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