An Analysis of Generational Journalistic Gullibility (or the Lack Thereof)

An Analysis of Generational Journalistic Gullibility (or the Lack Thereof)

Let me begin by saying: I am not using the term “gullibility” in a derogatory or intentionally offensive manner. Being gullible just means to be easily persuaded, which is not always a bad thing. Young children are often easily persuaded by their parents, and this is normal. A person may be easily persuaded by their most trusted friend. There is nothing wrong with this, per se. Gullibility occurs within the contextual framework of trust. If a group of people live closely with one another, spending their lives with one another, undergoing lifechanging experiences with one another, they are also likely to be gullible toward one another.

My Observation

Anachronistically, not statistically, I have gathered there to be two rather different responses to the current flow of information which comes by way of mainstream media. Before we begin, however, know that this opinionated observation transcends democrat or republican, blue or red, Biden or Trump. This is an observation of something seemingly occurring across both sides of the aisle, and it tends to do so along generational lines, although not perfectly.

For example, I have observed the silent generation, that generation following on the coattails of the greatest generation, seems to be either much less trusting of contemporary news media or at least less aware of what the news media currently reports on. The boomers, following the silent generation, tend to almost entirely embrace what the media reports and has an erudite ability to articulate social media and the interfaces required to use it. They are almost as in touch with the modern flow of information as are gen x and millennials. Of course, gen x’ers and millennials, not to mention their successors, i.e. gen z, are inundated not merely with a flow of information, but also various digital means of engaging that flow, all of which make Facebook look like the first wheel ever invented. But millennials and gen z seem to be much more reluctant to accept what the mainstream media says, writes, or shouts. They appear to be much less united on the issue of media credibility.

Assuming these observations are accurate to any extent, what would explain them? If these observations hold true for the general mean of even just one city or state, one should at least ask, Why? Since this is my experience, I have put some thought into answering that very question.

My Theory

Again, I should reiterate, lest I be misunderstood, that I am not claiming my observations to be universally applicable. Nor do I think that my theory will hold, or even be helpful, in every instance where these observations are made. I am a pontificating pastor forced to consider the causes of things for the good of my family and congregation. I am just a guy wrestling with the same issues we all face with the aim of glorifying God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Thus, I only ask that you at least consider what I have to say.

My theory revolves around generational, circumstantial, and psychological factors. That said, it is a lot more complex than this article makes it seem, and I could probably write an entire book on it. As I look at generations and their respective circumstances, so too will I mention the psychological effects from those circumstances. For example, the psychological effect of sparse access to mass media is probably less attentiveness to it. A mind with lousy media exposure is less conditioned to give attention to it.

The silent generation is either skeptical of contemporary news media, or aloof from it, because they hardly had access to such a thing, except perhaps by radio or print. They were not conditioned to “watch the news” and accept “journalistic reports” every week, let alone every day, hour, or minute. If they did receive the news, it was through newspaper once a month or so, or it was over the radio for 30 minutes in the evening. But even radio news wasn’t nearly as accessible as contemporary news. Radios were generally not portable, and if they were, they were on the back of a G. I. in Korea or Vietnam. The silent generation simply was not inundated with news, nor were they particularly conditioned to search it out throughout their day. Even if they wanted to, they probably wouldn’t succeed.

Their successor generation, on the other hand, the boomers, had much more access to the mainstream news. However, they were also the generation taking their first steps at the beginning of the space race while living under the threat of nuclear war… during the inception of the tech age. Tech dominated the boomer imagination in the 1970s with popular movies like Star Wars, and shows like the Jetsons and Lost in Space, beginning back in 1962 and 1965 respectively. For some reason, industry usually follows pop culture. And there was a looming excitement among boomers at the prospect of constantly developing technology. They went from CBs to bag phones, and from bag phones to cell phones; from records to 45s, from 45s to 8-tracks, from 8-tracks to cassettes, from cassettes to compact discs, and from compact discs to MP3s and cloud music like Pandora and Spotify. The boomer generation is a generation that has been subject to a level of never-before-seen Heraclitean change, almost for the entire duration of its existence. The psychological effect of this circumstance? A mental conditioning for technological advancement to be received as a desirable common good.

Perhaps the most important circumstantial change was the invention of the personal computer (PC) which arrived in the early 80s. The addiction to tech began with the PC and only progressed from there on out, reaching a climax in the “iPhone age,” which only emerged out of a tight tech race between the largest tech companies in the world in the early 2000s. The race between Jobs and Gates was only the first of many to come. And it was exciting! As tech developed, portable PCs in the form of tablets and phones were next on the horizon. Voice came first, then texting; and, just as lightning strikes, general internet access in the palm of the human hand became normal. Boomers were primed to accept this technology with glee because of the excitement produced by pop culture as early as the 60s, and the pattern of their own generational experience was nothing but technological development after development and a general adaptation to it. Their minds, at the level of imagination, were cultivated for the reception of this new technology, which explains their rapidly growing and continual dependence upon it, keeping pace with their children and their children’s children.

However, there is a two-pronged variable in the boomer generation. The media boomers found themselves exposed to in their earlier lives was both scarce and, in large part, real journalism. They received their news through mediums of either radio, television, or newspaper. And if they received it on television, it was only for an hour a day. Moreover, the news outlets were forced to report the main events affecting the country and the world because they didn’t have the luxury of 24/7 channeling, let alone constant accessibility through mobile devices and social media. The dynamics of how media was produced then versus how it is produced and disseminated now are almost entirely different. Yet, even so, boomers were generally primed for a seamless transition from the news of yesteryear to the “news” of today because of the factors mentioned above (among others).

Mix all the above in with the concept of the “cool parent” (also spurred on by pop culture, usually Disney), and eroding ethics put on steroids by the sexual revolution in the 50s and 60s, and we have the general mass of boomers making an effort not to coach their kids with regard to the new tech, but to embrace it for them, supply them with it, and follow them in eating the fruit from the technological tree. This tech is, after all, what we’ve all been hoping for! Moreover, media is, for the most part, reliable since it only ever reports national and world news. At least, it used to when it only had an hour’s worth of mass visibility per day! But because of the need for production to meet ever-increasing demand paired with the prospect of new technological ability, the current landscape boasts countless ways to receive media. This leaves conventional news outlets vying for dominance by using their now-24/7 channeling and web & app presence advantage as means to retain an audience through whatever catches the most attention. And little retains attention more than bad news, especially bad news that elicits the reactions of mass hysteria and fear.

All of this makes for an unassuming boomer generation caught off guard by the progress of the ensuing technological revolution, not to mention an ever developing slip in political and journalistic ethics motivated by all sorts of greed on the back end. Boomers do not usually question the news media, but this is because they weren’t accustomed to doing so since they grew up in an age of generally honest reporting. The most scandalous events were along the lines of JFK’s assassination or Watergate. Politicians and journalists were in a healthy competition with one another, and they rarely walked hand and hand down the same road. If they did, it was because there was a common enemy, like Lee Harvey Oswald, the Vietcong, or the Russians. This is why it should be no surprise that mainstream media appeals so often to Russian antagonism. They know their most faithful demographic has been conditioned in the 70s and 80s to loath the Russians and anyone in bed with them. Take an obscure political situation and oversimplify it with the terms Russia or Russian collusion, and you will control the narrative in the minds of those who grew up in constant fear of a Russian-caused hot war.

This is how the new mainly functions now, upon sentiment and emotion rather than upon the facts of the matter. The main hinge points, of course, are the unstoppable rise in media consumption, media competition to feed that rise in consumption, and at the political end, the Bush’s and the Clintons with the need for large-scale media coverups or distractions for shady drug deals in central America and endless wars in the Middle East. But I digress. This is not, after all, a history lesson, but a proposed explanation of what’s going on with COVID news and those who most dogmatically follow it. Long story short, the news has changed in both its form and matter, and the transitional generation spanning that change was the boomers, who had been conditioned to embrace it all.

The gen x’ers aren’t far behind the boomers in terms of their level of trust in the media. However, they, as well as many millennials, seem to be less dependent upon centralized media and more trusting and influenced by decentralized media coming through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Gab, and the latest TikTok. These platforms feature private citizens with first-hand video camera surveillance, personal experiences, etc. This has made it more difficult for centralized media to control a narrative, and it has also introduced a level of distrust, especially among millennials, because the two sources of information, centralized and decentralized, are often at variance with one another; hence the cross-platform mass censorship beginning late last year just after the election.

There has also been an emphasis placed upon the natural sciences and the scientific method in public schools, which I believe has had an affect on the millennial mind. The sentiment is often: If I can’t see it, I won’t believe it. This has led to an inevitable, and perhaps inadvertent, skepticism of information sources. Moreover, Christians, the largest religious demographic in our country, adhere to a competing source of authority often opposed to what modern media heads promote, the Bible. For these reasons and more, the country has been split down the middle by people who generally accept centralized media, and those who do not.

Conclusion

At this point, I am confident there is enough here to at least consider and think about. I will set down my pen and write another day, Lord willing. However, I humbly invite you to consider these things with me. Ask the simple question, Why do I believe what I believe? If you cannot answer that question, it may be time to either find out why, or find an alternate (defensible) belief. I find that personal experience is often the best crucible for testing the claims of any media outlet. If the news app on my phone reports a Godzilla attack on Kansas City while I all the while look at a Godzilla-free Kansas City skyline, I’m going to believe my experience of Kansas City over what my news app says about Kansas City.

Ad fontes.

 

The Monogamous Marriage of Christ and His Church Defended, from Baptist History

The Monogamous Marriage of Christ and His Church Defended, from Baptist History

The teaching that Christ has one Church is integral to a right understanding of the Person of Christ. Christ must have one Bride only. Moreover, His body must not be divided, fragmented, or depreciated in any way which would imply multiple faiths, Spirits, etc (cf. Eph. 4). It must also be said that this one body and Bride is not an earthly, visible institution, but an invisible, presently inaugurated reality received by faith in the present, to be seen with glorified eyes in the eschaton. Or, to put it positively, the one Bride of Christ presently instantiates, or becomes visible, only in local assemblies or churches.

Yet, the one Church of Christ comprises the whole of the elect people of God at all times and in all places. To deny the one Church of Christ comprised of all the elect, at all times and in all places, without qualification, is to deny Christ a monogamous betrothal to a single Bride, to affirm His body is still broken (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Mk. 10:8; 1 Cor. 6:16), and to deny the definite or limited atonement, contra Ephesians 5:25-27.

Below, it will be proved that Baptist history testifies to this common conviction. And while we Baptists have historically put much more practical emphasis on the local church, the unquestionable commitment to a single Bride of Christ may be clearly seen in the documentation below. Many of the document titles double as links to digital versions of source documentation. What is not linked is still sourced underneath the quotation. This symbol (*) corresponds to important commentary or clarifying subject-matter also viewable underneath the relevant quotations.

That Baptists Have Always Affirmed One (catholic) Church, Body, and Bride, We Affirm by the Following Proofs— 

Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528):

The church is sometimes understood to include all the people who are gathered and united in one God, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and have confessed this faith with their mouths, wherever they may be on earth. This, then, is the universal Christian corporeal church and fellowship of the saints, assembled only in the Spirit of God, as we confess in the ninth article of our creed (Nicaea). At other times the church is understood to mean each separate and outward meeting assembly or parish membership that is under one shepherd or bishop and assembles bodily for instruction, for baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Balthasar Hubmaier, Balthasar Hubmaier, (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1989), 351-352.

The Schleitheim Confession (1527): 

The ban shall be employed with all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk in His commandments, and with all those who are baptized into the one body of Christ and who are called brethren or sisters… 

In the breaking of bread we are of one mind and are agreed [as follows]; All those who wish to break one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ, and all who wish to drink of one drink as a remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, shall be united beforehand by baptism in one body of Christ which is the church of God and whose Head is Christ.

Whoever has not been called by one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one Spirit, to one body, with all the children of God’s church, cannot be made [into] one bread with them, as indeed must be done if one is truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.

Hubmaier, Balthasar; Denk, Hans; Simons, Menno. The Anabaptists: Excerpts from the writings of various authors (Anabaptist Writings Book 2) . Solid Christian Books. Kindle Edition.

The Writings of Menno Simons (1496-1561):

But we teach and maintain by the word of the Lord that all true believers are members of one body, are baptized by one Spirit into one body (I Cor. 10:18) and have one Lord and one God (Eph. 4: 5,6).

All who are born of God, are partakers of the Spirit of the Lord, and are called into one body of love, according to the Scriptures, are ready by such love to serve their neighbors, not only with money and goods, but also, according to the example of their Lord and Head, Jesus Christ, in an evangelical manner, with life and blood.

Hubmaier, Balthasar; Denk, Hans; Simons, Menno. The Anabaptists: Excerpts from the writings of various authors (Anabaptist Writings Book 2) . Solid Christian Books. Kindle Edition. 

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith (1632):

VIII. We believe in, and confess a visible church of God, namely, those who, as has been said before, truly repent and believe, and are rightly baptized;* who are one with God in heaven, and rightly incorporated into the communion of the saints here on earth. These we confess to be the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, who are declared to be the bride and wife of Christ, yea, children and heirs of everlasting life, a tent, tabernacle, and habitation of God in the Spirit, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ Himself is declared to be the cornerstone (upon which His church is built). This church of the living God, which He has acquired, purchased, and redeemed with His own precious blood; with which, according to His promise, He will be and remain always, even unto the end of the world, for consolation and protection, yea, will dwell and walk among them, and preserve them, so that no floods or tempests, nay, not even the gates of hell, shall move or prevail against them-this church, we say, may be known by their Scriptural faith, doctrine, love, and godly conversation, as, also, by the fruitful observance, practice, and maintenance of the true ordinances of Christ, which He so highly enjoined upon His disciples.* I Cor. 12; I Pet. 2.9; John 3.29; Rev. 19.7; Titus 3:6, 7; Eph. 2:19-21; Matt. 16.18; I Pet. 1.18, 19; Matt. 28.20; II Cor. 6:16; Matt. 7:25.

*This represents an error in Anabaptist thought which was rejected by later Baptists in that the one church of Christ is not visible, but invisible, cf. 2LBCF, 26.

*Some may want to argue the local church is assumed throughout the Dordrecht Confession. However, this is unlikely since, in the article above, “the church” under consideration will never be prevailed upon by anything, including the gates of hell—which no doubt occurs from time to time with regard to local churches. Yet, the one Bride of Christ is preserved in all ages.

A True Confession (1596):

XVII. That in the meantime, besides his absolute rule in the world, Christ hath here in earth a spiritual Kingdom and canonical regiment in his Church ouer his servants, which Church he hath purchased and redeemed to himself, as a peculiar inheritance (notwithstanding manie hypocrites do for the tyme lurk emongest the) calling and winning them by the power of his word vnto the faith, separating them from amongst unbelievers, from idolatrie, false worship, superstition, vanitie, dissolute lyfe, & works of darkness, &c; making them a royal Priesthood, an holy Nation, a people set at liberty to shew forth the virtues of him that hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light, gathering and writing them together as members of one body in his faith, loue and holy order, vnto all general and mutual duties, einstructing & governing them by such officers and lawes as hee hath prescribed in his word; by which Officers and lawes hee governeth his Church, and by none other.

A Short Confession of Faith (1610)

22. Such faithful, righteous people, scattered in several parts of the world, being the true congregations of God, or the Church of Christ, whom he saved, and for whom he gave himself, that he might sanctify them, ye whom he bath cleansed by the washing of water in the word of life: of all such is Jesus the Head, the Shepherd, the Leader, the Lord, the King, and Master. Now although among these there may be mingled a company of seeming holy ones, or hypocrites; yet, nevertheless, they are and remain only the righteous, true members of the body of Christ, according to the spirit and the truth, the heirs of the promises, truly saved from the hypocrites the dissemblers.*

*Here the one Church of Christ is put for “congregations… scattered in several parts of the world.”

Propositions and Conclusions Concerning True Christian Religion (1612-1614):

65. That the visible church is a mystical figure outwardly of the true, spiritual invisible church, which consisteth of the spirits of just and perfect men only, that is of the regenerate (Rev. i. 20, compared with Rev. xxi. 2, 23, 27).*

*This is a document prepared by English Baptists living in Amsterdam. It represents a positive development from some of the Anabaptist documents in that it carefully distinguishes between the visible and invisible church, a distinction made in the Scripture itself, cf. Eph. 5:25-27; Heb. 12 with Rev. 1-3.

John Spilsbury (1593-1668):

And lastly, I do believe that there is an holy and blessed communion of Saints, that God of his grace calls such as belong to life by election, unto the fellowship of his Son by the Gospel, of which matter, God by his word and Spirit joins them together in his Covenant of grace, and so constitutes his Church… 

The First London Baptist Confession (1644/46):

That Christ has here on earth a spiritual Kingdom, which is the Church, which He has purchased and redeemed to Himself, as a particular inheritance: which Church, as it is visible to us, is a company of visible saints, called and separated from the world, by the Word and the Spirit of God, to the visible profession of the faith of the Gospel, being baptized into the faith, and joined to the Lord, and each other, by mutual agreement, in the practical enjoyment of the ordinances, commanded by Christ their head and King.

The Faith and Practice of Thirty Congregations Gathered Together According to the Primitive Pattern (1651):

58. That it is the good pleasure of God, which hath given gifts of his grace to the Saints or Church of God,* that some of the gifted men should be appointed, or set apart to attend upon the preaching of the word, for the further edifying of the Churches, that they may be enabled to stand against all oppositions according as necessity requires, to the glory of God and their comfort. Eph. 4. II, 21.

*The “Church of God” is here put for all the Saints. They then utilize the plural “churches” which strongly implies an invisible church comprised of all saints which instantiates in several local churches.

The True Gospel-Faith (1654):

That all ought to avoid the hearing of any Teachers so as to learn of them, except believers dipped, and making of marriages with any out of the Church lest they be drawn from the truth.  2 Jno.10 v.; I John 4.6; I Cor.7.39; Deut.7.3,4; 2 Cor.6.14,15.*

*The use of “church” in this context must be generally or universally applied since it is extremely unlikely marriages would have been limited only to within local congregations at this time.

Midland Confession of Faith (1655):

9th. That Christ is the only true King, Priest, and Prophet of the Church. Acts ii.22-23; Hebrews iv.14, etc; viii.1, etc.

15th. That persons so baptized ought, by free consent, to walk together, as God shall give opportunity in distinct churches, or assemblies of Zion, continuing in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers, as fellow-men caring for one another, according to the will of God. All these ordinances of Christ are enjoined in His Church, being to be observed till his Second Coming, which we all ought diligently to wait for.

Somerset Confession of Faith (1656):

THAT this man Christ Jesus suffered death under Pilate, at the request of the Jews (Luke 23:24.), bearing the sins of his people on his own body on the cross (I Pet. 2:24), according to the will of God (Isa. 53:6), being made sin for us, (2 Cor. 5:11) and so was also made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13, 14; I Pet. 3:18.), that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:11), and by his death upon the cross, he hath obtained eternal redemption and deliverance for his church. (Col 1:14; Eph. 1:7; Acts 20:28; Heb. 9:12; I Pet 1:18, 19.).

The Second London Baptist Confession (1677/89):

1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32).

Hercules Collins (1646-1702):

That is, as he is the Head, and the Church the Body; as he is the King, the Church the Kingdom; for Christ, as Man, is God’s Elect; yea the Head of Election and Predestination: he was fore-appointed to be the Head of a Holy Glorious Mystical Body, the King of a Glorious Kingdom, Captain of a Glorious Company, the Bridegroom of a Glorious Bride… *

*Historically, the mystical body is to be distinguished from the visible body.

The Philadelphia Confession (1742):

The catholic or universal church, which, with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace, may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

John Gill on Hebrews 12:23 (1697-1771):

and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven; by the “church”, is not meant any particular, or congregational church, nor any national one; but the church catholic, or universal, which consists only of God’s elect, and of all of them, in all times and places; and reaches even to the saints in heaven: this church is invisible at present, and will never fail; of which Christ is the head, and for which he has given himself: now the persons, that belong to this church, are styled the “firstborn”; who are not the apostles only, who received the first fruits of the Spirit; nor the first converts among the Jews, who first trusted in Christ; but also the chosen of God, who are equally the sons of God, and born of him; are equally loved by him, and equally united to Christ, and interested in him: they have the same privileges, honours, and dignity, and shall enjoy the same inheritance; they are all firstborn, and are so called, with respect to the angels, the sons of God, as Christ is with respect to the saints, the many brethren of his: and these are said to be “written in heaven”; not in the earth…

Gill, John. Exposition on the Entire Bible-Book of Hebrews (John Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible 58). Grace Works Multimedia. Kindle Edition.

The New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833):

Of a Gospel Church We believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by his laws, and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his Word ; that its only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.*

*The Sandy Creek statement also implies a distinction between the visible and invisible church.

Treatise of Faith and Practices of the Free Will Baptists (1834):

The Church of God, or members of the body of Christ, is the whole body of Christians throughout the whole world, and none but the regenerate are its members.

Abstract of Principles (1858):

The Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church, which is composed of all his true disciples, and in Him is invested supremely all power for its government. According to his commandment, Christians are to associate themselves into particular societies or churches; and to each of these churches he hath given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which he hath appointed. The regular officers of a Church are Bishops or Elders, and Deacons.

Compend of Christian Doctrines Held by Baptists: In Catechism (1866):

What is the church of Christ? His “calling” or followers taken collectively, or any number of them personally associated for his worship and glory. 1 Cor. 1: 2; Rev. ii: 7; Col. i: 18-24.

B. H. Carroll on Ephesians 5:25 (1843-1914):

“Christ loved the church,” that is, He loved the people who were to be given to Him—all of them. In eternity a joy was set before Him—a future reward.*

B. H. Carroll, Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews, (Nashville: The Broadman Press, 1942), 166-167.

*Carroll here admits the general use of the term church has in view all of Christ’s elect people. Unfortunately, he later circumscribes this church to a particular chronology by making it eschatological only. But this of course does not comport with Ephesians 5:26, which assumes the bride, in the here and now, is being sanctified. Carroll later rightly notes that while all the elect is the whole church, the visualisation of it takes place only in particular or local churches (cf. John Gill for sharper, more sensible categories).

Is the Term “Universal Church” Neoplatonic?

Is the Term “Universal Church” Neoplatonic?

Sadly, there is no “yes” or “no” answer to this question without some qualification.

The question is charged, because if someone says, “yes,” they can easily be accused of following a heathen philosopher rather than the Bible. But if they say, “no,” then if Plato was right about something, truth being objective no matter who says it, they would in effect deny the truth spoken. If Plato said, “the sky is blue,” assuming it indeed was, is the fact that the sky is blue to  be rejected simply because Plato stated it? Absolutely not. As Christians, we have no business endorsing informal fallacies (like the genetic fallacy) in our epistemology (our method of knowing).

The term universal is to be seen in formal contrast with the term particular. These terms, like them or not, represent concepts all people engage at every moment in their lives. To reject the terminology and what it represents simply because Plato used it would be absurd, since to do so would be to reject truths independent of Plato, i.e. things which are true no matter what a person thinks about them, says about them, etc. (Even if such truths were uttered by that terrible, wicked Plato guy).

Now, what does it mean to say something is universal? There are a few ways the term could be used, but for ease of explanation it is a general idea, essence, or form applicable to many diverse or distinct things. For example, if I said, “The automobile is a modern marvel,” I am using the automobile in a general sense. Automobile, in that sentence, is a universal since I am not denoting any one automobile in particular, but the automobile in general, the idea of it, the form of it, its essence, etc. I am naming the genus without enumerating particular species of automobile. It’s basic taxonomy which, if rejected, actually collapses all the sciences and makes science in general impossible, including the science of theology.

Taxonomy is not original to Plato, though he was one of the more erudite thinkers to first systematize a realist position, which I would argue just is what the Bible assumes through and through. But realism’s truth doesn’t depend on Plato. After Plato, his pupil, Aristotle, departed from his teacher’s extreme realism—where the universal is radically separated from the particular, i.e. in the world of the forms (and this did lead to Gnosticism). Instead, Aristotle thought of the universal, the essence, or the form as being formally joined with the particulars themselves, such that we come into contact with the universal through the particular, e.g. by means of sense perception. For Plato, the essence of a thing was in heaven, not in the thing. Aristotle saw this as a problem. If the essences of things are in heaven (the world of the forms), then we wouldn’t be able to know what any one particular thing is in itself. We’d all have to be agnostics concerning the true identity of the most basic things around us. Bridging the gulf between the universal and the particular was Aristotle’s homework.

Aristotle, contra Plato, believed a substance (a particular thing) obtained whenever form actualized matter. And for this reason, the form of a thing and the thing are inseparably joined. This is opposite both Docetism and the later Gnosticism.

So, there are two players which heavily influence the general thought patterns of people living at the dawn of the New Covenant era. To give you an idea of how influential this language was and is, the categories found in realism, especially moderate realism, are absolutely essential in the systematic orthodox understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity and the incarnation of the Son of God. In fact, to deny the universal and the particular as categories altogether would be to utterly destroy our ability to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity in any sensible fashion, i.e. one divine essence subsisting in three distinct relations. To deny the universal (unity) and the particular (plurality) as categories altogether is not only to reject common experience, but to also reject any hope for making sense of what the Scriptures teach.

So, is the “universal church” a synthesis between heathen metaphysics and Christian ecclesiology? Not any more than the terms we use to speak of the Trinity or the incarnation (homoousioshypostasis, etc.) are adaptations of heathen philosophical terminology. If the doctrine of the universal church is heathen on the basis of its appropriation of the category “universal,” then all of Christian prolegomena, theology proper, and Christology are amalgamations of heathen and Christian thought. But this is not so! All truth is God’s truth. Thus, if the categories universal and particular are true, then they are not true because of Plato or Aristotle, they are true because of the one true God who has made Himself known through what has been made (Rom. 1:18-20).

The doctrine of the universal church, while perhaps easier to articulate with creaturely categories like “universal” is not original, not even in part, to Plato. Linguistically, it redeems Aristotle’s correct observation that the form and particular are joined. For this reason, we should understand the universal church not as a visible institution on earth, but a universal which instantiates in distinct local assemblies. This is especially apparent in Hebrews 12:22-23, when it says—

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect… 

As much as those who deny the present existence of the universal (general) church, gathering, assembly by relegating this text to a future-only state of affairs, we need only follow the verbs, i.e. “you have come,” is in the perfect tense. This is very much a present reality, though not yet consummately visible to us. It’s an already/not yet kind of thing: “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him (Heb. 2:8).”

To conclude, if there be any doubts concerning the appropriation of terminology used in the heathen world for the sake of theological articulation, then I would invite you to consider the fact that the whole of Scripture appropriates preexistent human language which would have been interchangeably used in heathen or pagan culture. This is true in both Old and New Testaments. But this doesn’t mean the Bible depends on heathen culture to do what it does. It means God uses familiar language in order to break into His world through special revelation, which we can only understand if it’s put in our terms. And God, far from leaving the language in its pagan context, actually redeems it and un-perverts it, as it were. To deny the validity of terms on the basis of heathen use would be to invalidate all 66 books of the canon.

It is well known that the term elohim was a term used to denote pagan “deities.” Even the Bible itself does this (Ps. 82:1; 86:8). Scripture redeems that term and applies it to the one true God. The method of the Bible is not to flee from language just because it has been perverted through pagan use. The method of the Bible is to redeem good words. Paul in Colossians 2:3, says it is Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” If one were to read Cicero’s De Finibus, which precedes Paul by about 100 years, they would find this very same phrase. Yet, while Cicero says, “all wisdom and knowledge are hidden in moral virtue (para.),” Paul, who was apparently familiar with Cicero, redeems that phrase by telling us all knowledge and wisdom are hidden in Christ, who is Himself the very perfection of virtue. It would have made a strong appeal to the Colossian Christians at that time. Obviously, Paul appropriates heathen terminology in Acts 17 during his Mars’ Hill discourse. We should be careful about anathematizing words and concepts used in the heathen world simply because they were used in the heathen world. In doing so, we might throw the truth-baby out with the bad heathen bathwater.

Finally, we have to understand that Jesus was not fearful of the leper. Why was this so? Because Jesus was not corrupted by the leper, the leper was purified by Jesus. When we escape terms simply because they’ve been perverted by pagans, we refuse to put this principle into practice. Gratia naturam perficit; grace perfects nature. Nature does not corrupt grace.

Landmarkism & Why I Do Not Subscribe

Landmarkism & Why I Do Not Subscribe

This article is a response to Landmarkism. The tone is irenic. I am indebted to men who espouse Landmarkism for much doctrinal fellowship, friendship, and sound counsel.

Landmarkism is an ecclesiological (doctrine of the church) position. Landmarkers typically hold two key distinctives: (1) the Baptist church is the only true church; (2) there is no such thing as a universal church. Period.

It appeared in the 19th century under the influence of well-intentioned men like James Robinson Graves, Ben Bogard, and Amos Cooper Dayton. It was largely in response to the downgrade, which reached a boiling point in the 19th century. Some historians allege it was the downgrade that contributed to Charles Spurgeon’s ill-health, and ultimately, his premature death! The downgrade consisted of many compromises in Christian orthodoxy, and it transcended denominational lines. One of the central doctrines at stake was the inerrancy of the Bible. Both conservative Baptists and Presbyterians combated the threat of a Schleiermachian-influenced liberalism.

In my opinion, Landmarkism sought to retreat, rather than combat, liberalism by claiming exclusive ecclesiological rights for Baptist churches… without much argument. A denial of the universal church only ensured that no one, except Baptist congregations, could rightfully think of themselves as “the church.” Consequently, rather than dousing the already agitated theological landscape through careful theological thought and skillful polemics, Landmarkism opened yet another front in the war already plaguing evangelicals. Graves was disciplined out of his Baptist church for being schismatic, and Dayton was forced to resign from the Bible Board.

Despite the good intentions behind this position, I cannot endorse it in good conscience. For more on Landmarkism, see my video here:

 

In this brief article, I would like to present various problems/obstacles Landmarkism encounters. Below are three glaring issues I see in the movement, which I perceive to be insurmountable:

It Cannot Account for General Uses of the Term Ekklesia (Church) In Scripture

In Ephesians 5:25-27, Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” 

What is the church? To say, “the church, in this context, really means the local church only,” is to forfeit the plain meaning of the words.

There must be one bride of Christ. Our Lord, after all, is not an adulterer! Therefore, this church must be one. Landmarkers may respond, “The bride is eschatological, or future, to us, but not present (cf. Rev. 19; 21).” While this is a positive departure from the original position, since it at least grants a universal church (albeit future only), it cannot account for the language of Ephesians 5:26, “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.” The bride cannot be future only, since Christ washes and cleanses her in the here and now.

If Consistently Held, It Ends In Admitting Satan Prevails Upon Christ’s Church Frequently

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Local churches close their doors all the time. Oftentimes, it’s because sin has prevailed upon the congregation in some way. Either the congregation divides over doctrine, or cultural practice, or it slides into apostasy. This is precisely what Christ said would not happen to His church.

There needs to be a category preceding the local church which can help account for this seeming discontinuity between the one infallibly victorious church on the one hand and failing local churches on the other, and I believe that category is given to us here in Matthew 16 and in Ephesians 5, which is nothing short of the general assembly (cf. Hebrews 12). Landmarkism removes this category from ecclesiology and so cannot account for failing local churches in light of Jesus’ promise.

What About Christians Who Do Not Belong to a Baptist Church?

Landmarkers will frequently admit there can be Christians who are not part of the Baptist church, which, remember, is local only. But if we return to Ephesians 5:25, we see that the very object of Christ’s atoning work is the church, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…” If the only church is the local church, then Ephesians 5:25 is telling a half truth. Either Christ died for His church and then some (indefinite atonement, not in the text), or He died exclusively for His church (what the text expressly declares). If the former is true, then limited atonement is false (1 Pet. 5:13; 2 Jn. 1; Is. 45:4). If the latter is true then the church cannot be local only. There are, after all, saints who no longer worship in local churches, i.e. those in heaven.

Conclusion

Now, I do not want to be misunderstood here. I fall in line with mainline Particular Baptist orthodoxy on this locus of theology, namely, that while there is a catholic or universal church, it is most certainly not a visible institution as Rome perceives it to be (cf. 2LBCF, 26.1; Savoy 26.1). Rome, contrary to its name, is not catholic at all, but is apostate. To understand the universal church as a present, visible institution on earth is a fatal ecclesiological error, and it has led to the mistake of sacral society-like establishment of church-state governments.

I also want to be very clear about my personal policy on ecumenism. Landmarkism is not the only way to avoid inviting Presbyterians or liberal Lutherans from taking over my church’s pulpit! I have confessional standards which serve as a kind of rubric for who and who I would not allow into the pulpit at the church I’m blessed to serve. Remaining doctrinally pure by no means requires we deny the existence of Christ’s one bride which has a present subsistence, albeit not a visible institution.

I hope this helps to parse my own thoughts on this issue. I want to again reassert my gracious tone and hearty love for those who would disagree with the preceding content. I personally do not see this particular issue as a test of fellowship. Ut ferrum ferro acuite. May iron sharpen iron.

John Lightfoot on Circumcision as a Seal (Romans 4:11)

John Lightfoot on Circumcision as a Seal (Romans 4:11)

This is part 1 of a series on baptism I’ve been writing.

John Lightfoot was a 17th century paedobaptist theologian. He was a member of the Westminster Assembly and vice chancellor of Cambridge. He is especially known for his rabbinic scholarship, the capstone of which was his work Horae Hebrai, or A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica.

He played a role in the Particular Baptist’s own defense of credobaptism. He wasn’t the only paedobaptist resource the Baptists would appeal to. John Owen was another. There were several key angles in the disagreements between credobaptists and paedobaptists, but at least one worth mentioning with respect to Lightfoot. The Particular Baptists rejected fleshly circumcision is a sacramental seal of the covenant of grace under the old testament. Conversely, paedobaptists, seeking to preserve the unity or continuity between old and new covenants, saw the old covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace. For them, this meant that circumcision, being a sign of the old covenant, simultaneously served as a sign and seal of membership in the covenant of grace (Rom. 4:11).

However, the Particular Baptists saw a substantive difference between the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision and the covenant of grace. While fleshly circumcision was a condition (Gen. 17:14) and sign of old covenant membership, it was not a sign and seal of membership in the covenant of grace. For the Particular Baptists, those two covenants were/are actually and truly two distinct covenants. In their appendix on baptism, which should be placed at the back of the 1677/89 Confession, they say:

If our brethren do suppose baptism to be the seal of the covenant which God makes with every believer (of which the Scriptures are altogether silent) it is not our concern to contend with them herein; yet we conceive the seal of that covenant is the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in the particular and individual persons in whom He resides, and nothing else… 

In demonstration of their catholicity on this point, they would often appeal to paedobaptists who believed something similar, a la Owen and Lightfoot. In the above mentioned appendix, they quote Lightfoot at length in response to the paedobaptist argument from Romans 4:11. Below, I have transcribed verbatim what they reproduced from Lightfoot in the Confession’s appendix—

Circumcision is nothing, if we respect the time, for now it was without use, that end of it being especially fulfilled; for which it had been instituted: this end the Apostle declares in these words, Romans 4:11 σφραγῖδα etc. But I fear that by most translations they are not sufficiently suited to the end of circumcision, and the scope of the Apostle whilst something of their own is by them inserted.

… 

Other versions are to the same purpose; as if circumcision was given to Abraham for a Seal of that righteousness which he has being yet uncircumcised, which we will not deny to be in some sense true, but we believe that circumcision had chiefly a far different respect.

 

Give me leave thus to render the words; And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the Righteousness of Faith, which was to be in the uncircumcision, Which was to be (I say) not which had been, not that which Abraham had whilst he was yet uncircumcised; but that which his uncircumcised seed should have, that is the Gentiles, who in time to come should imitate the faith of Abraham.

 

Now consider well on what occasion circumcision was instituted unto Abraham, setting before thine eyes the history thereof, Genesis 17.

 

This promise is first made unto him, Thou shalt be the Father of many nations (in what sense the Apostle explaineth in that chapter) and then there is subjoined a double seal for the confirmation of the thing, to wit, the change of the name Abram into Abraham, and the institution of circumcision. v. 4. Behold as for me, my Covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the Father of many Nations. Wherefore was his name called Abraham? for the sealing of this promise. Thou shalt be the Father of many Nations. And wherefore was circumcision instituted to him? For the sealing of the same promise. Thou shalt be the Father of many Nations. So that this is the sense of the Apostle; most agreeable to the institution of circumcision; he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the Righteousness of Faith which in time to come the uncircumcision (for the Gentiles) should have and obtain.

 

Abraham had a twofold seed, natural, of the Jews; and faithful, of the believing Gentiles: his natural seed was signed with the sign of circumcision, first indeed for the distinguishing of them from all other Nations whilst they as yet were not the seed of Abraham, but especially for the memorial of the justification of the Gentiles by faith, when at length they should become his seed. Therefore circumcision was of right to cease, when the Gentiles were brought in to the faith, forasmuch as then it had obtained its last and chief end, & thenceforth circumcision is nothing.

Baptist Orthodoxy, Creedal Christianity, & Catholicity

Baptist Orthodoxy, Creedal Christianity, & Catholicity

The excuses for deriding Baptists are legion. The London Baptists of the 17th century were assailed by Prebyterian paedobaptists for being Anabaptistic, or for supposedly believing that rebaptism was necessary, contrary to several instances of clarification. The derision received by those Baptists, who had quite well crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s theologically speaking, was not deserved for several reasons, one of which was the overabundance of clarification the paedobaptists received throughout their correspondence with the London Baptists: That they were, in fact, not Anabaptists, despite some obvious similarities.

Over the last one-hundred years or so, criticism of the Baptist tradition has shifted away from sacramentology toward a more general ecclesiological criticism, not altogether unrelated to the regulative principle of worship (RPW). It is no secret that Baptist churches, especially in the United States, have become laughing stocks in the eyes of serious alt-traditional laypersons and theologians alike. The reasoning for this ranges from the arbitrary implementation of “programming” to female Sunday School teachers to ordination of female “pastors” and, perhaps the eldest criticism of these last hundred years—a tendency to privatize the interpretation of the Scripture thereby neutering catholicity and openly rejecting creedal theology of any sort. And while the latter has most certainly informed the former aberrations of Baptist practice in America, it exists in sleeper cells within the most conservative circles of Baptists, from the Reformed Baptists to the independent fundamentalists to the Landmarkian tradition of Baptistic thought (all of these may overlap in various ways, FYI). To be clear, I’m not blanketing these groups, but only saying the rejection of creedal Christianity does lurk in all of them, either explicitly or implicitly, as assumptions.

It is the rejection of catholicity and the accompanying anti-creedalistic, “my only creed is the Bible,” mentality that serves as contemporary modern-day laughing stock material for serious theologians from other theological traditions, from Presbyterianism to Anglicanism to Lutheranism.

A Qualifier

Now, I couldn’t care less what individual Presbyterians and Lutherans think about my tradition, nor do I mind the jesting (sometimes, it’s even fun). But the fact is, some of them do make a valid point about the practical behavior of Baptist churches today. Baptists are even pointing this out about themselves, e.g. Drs. Craig Carter, Matthew Barrett, James Dolezal, et al. As a Baptist, I myself can say that there are conservative and liberal Baptists whom fail to obey the Apostle when he writes, “But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another (1 Cor. 12:24-25).” Nor do they follow in the creedal tradition of the Apostles. Nor do they take care to follow the implications of the Apostle Peter’s words, “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Pet. 1:20).”

I will elaborate below on some of these observations, but there is a fundamental concept lacking in the general Baptist milieu, and that is the concept of orthodoxy and what makes the orthodox, well, orthodox. Our 17th century forerunners understood orthodoxy and the resulting catholicity very well. One of the several goals of the Second London Confession was to demonstrate a measure of catholicity between the Particular Baptists and their paedobaptist brethren.

A final qualification: When I mention fundamentalism henceforth, I am not referring to the very needful late 19th to early 20th century fundamentalist push-back against liberalism. The Princeton fundamentalists, for example, were good, theologically astute men. And there were Baptists in their ranks from C. H. Spurgeon to B. H. Carroll as well. Also, I am not referring to the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. In terms of holding to essential Christian teaching, every Christian ought to be a “fundamentalist.” I am instead referring to the independent Baptist fundamentalism of the 50s and 60s, which began with good intentions. But because of their theological pre-commitments (or lack thereof), that movement has ended in a gross confusion of law and gospel. Much of its preaching does not consider the text of Scripture, but (ironically) man’s opinion about what Scripture says—and this has a lot to do with the error(s) to be discussed below.

The Intention of the 2LBCF Framers

If you purchase and read the reprint of the confession and catechism from Solid Ground Christian Books, you will find a preamble titled, ‘To the Judicious and Impartial Reader.’ It is in this originally included document that the framers of the confession make known their intentions. They say, “We did… conclude it best to follow their example in making use of the very same words with them both in these articles (which are very many) wherein our faith and doctrine are the same with theirs.”

There is a running joke in theological circles, and with many online, about the plagiarism of the Second London Confession, which is only a revision of the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession of Faith. We Baptists, unapologetically, copied the confessions of the independent congregationalists and the Presbyterians. But it wasn’t because we were trying to be funny or intentionally unoriginal (well, maybe the second thing a little), it was because we were trying to maintain catholicity. Their further explanation makes this clear when they clarify their method, which was “to manifest our consent with both [documents] in all the fundamental articles of the Christian religion, as also with many others whose orthodox Confessions have been published to the world on the behalf of the Protestants in diverse nations and cities.”

Most of the Second London merely repeats (in substance) what the Savoy and Westminster say. There are obvious differences in the chapters on the church and baptism. And there is some practical illumination added which did not exist in the other two. Yet, I would venture to say that what defines (but does not determine, a function which belongs to Scripture alone) Particular Baptist orthodoxy is the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677/89).

The Modern Baptist Rejection of Confessions and Creedal Statements

“No creed but the Bible” is a popular sentiment among Baptists. I will first demonstrate how this statement is, on its face, illogical and objectively false. Secondly, I will examine the claim in light of the Baptist orthodoxy of the 17th century. Thirdly, I will attempt to show how, “No creed but the Bible,” leads to things like unfettered church programming, bad doctrine, female ordination, and the contemporary influx of cultural Marxist thinking we now deal with today (not to mention all the LGBTQ stuff).

First, the claim, “there is no creed but the Bible,” is irrational. That statement alone is a creedal statement which is not found in the Bible. To say, “there is no creed but the Bible,” is to adopt a creed and thus become the very thing the statement is supposed to avoid in the first place. It’s self-refuting.

Second, our Baptist forerunners did not speak in terms of “no creed but the Bible.” A diligent student will not be able to find that kind of language in extant Baptist literature preceding the last 100-150 years. It is easy to find, however, the authoritative subjection of councils and creeds to Scripture in Baptist thought, “The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined… can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit (2LBCF, 1.10).” But this is hardly a Baptist distinctive. This same paragraph is found in the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration, neither of which were Baptist. I do not know any Christian, excluding Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, who would deny this statement. The highest churches in Protestantism from Anglicanism to Lutheranism agree with this. Yet, all of those traditions are creedal. I will explain below what it means to be creedal in connection to the meaning of catholicity (little “c”) below.

Third, “no creed but the Bible” has made provision for what the Apostle Peter denounces as private interpretation. This has led to an utter neglect of creedal Christianity and catholic doctrine. It has made the individual mind the supreme judge of interpretive decisions. Essentially, Baptists have entered into a vacuum of theological thought. And they get to determine how to fill that vacuum. Sometimes, by God’s grace, they turn out okay (usually by relying on creeds and confessions, but not overtly admitting they do so). But other times, they end up forcing one of their members to shut down a business for legalistic reasons, or they come up with clinically insane doctrine that would make a 17th century Baptist vomit all over the London cobblestone sidewalks.

The fruit of “no creed but the Bible” is a downplaying and broadening of confessional statements, i.e. the BFM, 2000 in concert with the corrupt cooperative program; and an outright rejection of any kind of human accountability or authority, i.e. Beth Moore fighting her heart out for “women pastors,” regardless of the counsel she’s received or the historical orthodoxy of her own professed Baptist tradition. “No creed but the Bible” has brought about some pretty rotten fruit, from Billy Graham to the “Jesus Movement” of the 1960s and 70s, and the subsequent empire of Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel enterprise. It’s brought about charismania, rampant hypocrisy, and the church growth movement. It’s birthed forth rock concerts in church services and “digital church.” And of course, the emergent church of the 90s and early 2000s is another offspring of “no creed but the Bible,” or at least the principle sentiment behind it. All this considered, either Baptists spawned Pentecostalism, or Pentecostalism has influenced modern Baptists. It’s a “chicken/egg” conundrum that some historian somewhere will probably one day solve.

Creedal Christianity & Catholicity

Creedalism and catholicity are everywhere either asserted or exemplified in the Bible. For example, Paul recites a creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7—

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.

There are those, of course, who deny the creedal nature of this statement. But there are several reasons leading one to conclude, beyond all doubt, that these verses indeed included an early creed which predated Paul’s ministry. The words for received and delivered refer to receiving traditions from elders and passing them on to others. For more reading on the creedal nature of this passage, visit this link.

Paul passes on a creedal statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:16 which he calls “the mystery of godliness,” something equated to the gospel itself elsewhere. This text was no doubt something easily committed to memory, a summary of the essential faith, “God was manifest in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.”

The response, of course, is that these creeds are inspired by God whereas the Nicene or the Apostles’ Creeds are not. This is true, but this does nothing but make these creeds infallible. It does not forbid us from making creeds in like manner anymore than the existence of Psalms or the epistle to the Hebrews prevents us from singing hymns or preaching sermons. In fact, it sets an infallible, authoritative precedent for the construction of creeds and confessions of faith, and actually obligates the church to follow the same method in point of practice. This just is the biblical way.

These creeds are to be used as a tool to maintain catholicity. I have to be careful here because the word catholic is often associated with Roman Catholicism. However, Rome does not own that term, nor do they have sole rights to its meaning. In fact, the term was used long before Rome was what it is today. In the Nicene Creed, we read, “ We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” And when this creed was framed, Roman Catholicism in no wise looked how it looks now. Balthasar Hubmaier, an Anabaptist leader in the 15th and 16th century, calls it “the universal church.” Interestingly enough, he goes on to exposit the doctrine of the universal church from the Nicene Creed (cf. Hubmaier, Catechism). Thus, the creedal expression and the concept of catholicity are consistent themes throughout Christian orthodoxy, even being found in the Anabaptists—who some consider to be fringe Baptists.

Modern Baptists have gotten away from all of this, whether it be the modern fundamentalists or the more liberalized and contemporary sectors of the SBC. Both extremes share one thing: a “no creed but the Bible” mindset. It’s “them and their Bibles” and there is no accountability for their interpretation, their application, or their teaching on the Scripture. There is no fundamental meaningful doctrinal standard for modern Baptists, and that’s why “Baptists” are all over the board in these recent days. The term “Baptist” has nearly lost all meaning.

I propose that the solution is a return to creedal and catholic Christianity, in the same spirit with which our Baptist forefathers penned the Second London Confession of Faith. It is pretty bad when Anabaptists, who are often considered fringe Baptists by many serious theological thinkers, are more orthodox than most modern Baptists. And if I had a decision to make between most modern SBC or “fundamentalist” churches on the one hand, and Hubmaier’s church in the 16th century on the other, I’d probably be going to Hubmaier’s church where at least I can be sure historical, creedal and catholic Christianity is taken seriously.