Historic Baptist Traditions?
There is a tendency by “recognized scholarship,” (anybody can be a “recognized scholar” – just spend your time correcting the King James Bible and you’ll get “recognized”) or in “mainstream Christianity” (whatever that is) to lend credence or credibility to a doctrine or teaching based on the “godliness” of the man, or group of men, who ascribed to it in the past. In other words, because it is something that has been “traditionally” taught (Matt. 15:3) by good, godly, dedicated Christians throughout history, it must be true.
Five-point, TULIP Calvinistic scholars especially like to refer to what other good, godly, dedicated, etc., five-point Calvinists have traditionally taught for two reasons: 1) the Calvinists are prolific writers, so they have an abundance of material to sift through and waste their lives analyzing; 2) Calvinists worship their own intellects (which is how their perverted [Isa. 47:10] minds get twisted up into pretzels on the doctrines of election, foreknowledge, and the “sovereignty of God”), so they are eager to worship other men’s intellects that remind them of their own intellects. As many Calvinists are Baptists and carry King James Bibles, it becomes important to warn the Bible-believer against their unscriptural ideologies. The handling of ancient creeds and statements of faith by the Calvinists and other heretics gives those documents an air of authority that is extremely over-blown.
Baptist statements of faith (“historic” or otherwise) are irrelevant when it comes to any discussion of the truth of the word of God. It makes no difference what any group of men happen to agree upon beyond what the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts 15, and certainly not after the close of the New Testament canon. If the Bible is truly our Final Authority, then creeds, statements, declarations, canons, etc. may have historical value when it comes to researching what folks believe (or used to believe), but they carry no weight whatsoever in determining proper Biblical doctrine. That’s IF the Bible is truly our Final Authority (and you know where WE stand). If it is not, then the discussion is over. Anything goes, and everyone’s opinion counts.
The Baptist “distinctives” (A membership made up of born-again believers; the autonomy and independence of the local church; no infant baptism under any circumstances; the eternal security of the believer; the priesthood of all believers) are correct because they are BIBLICALLY correct; not because good, godly men historically believed them. The Baptist “tradition” is right only when it represents what most closely lines up with scripture, where It speaks of a New Testament local church. Personally speaking, that’s about as far as my allegiance to “Baptists” goes. I’m a Baptist so far as the Baptists go along with the word of God; but if the Baptists say one thing and the Bible says something else, the Baptists can go take a flying jump at the moon.
Take the statements of faith of the Waldenses, for example. It is acknowledged that the Waldenses, the Albigenses, and many others throughout church history suffered and died for their faith in Jesus Christ and are to be commended for their courage in martyrdom. On the other hand, suffering and being a martyr for Christ has nothing to do with doctrinal purity. After all, Origen (250 A.D.) was prepared to die for Jesus Christ. He denied the fleshly pleasures of life, believed God wrote the Bible, that Christ was the virgin-born Son of God, that He died on the cross and rose again the third day, and will one day return in judgment. Of course, at the same time, he believed in the transmigration of souls, no literal hell, no physical resurrection, the universal salvation of all men after a time in purgatory, and that one could earn eternal life by good works. This man who was prepared to sacrifice himself for Jesus Christ was also the father of Bible corruption and the one responsible for the Alexandrian line of manuscripts, from which come all the new versions of the Bible. What do we learn from this?
We learn that Christian men can be scripturally and spiritually right in one area (even admirable in many ways), and completely and diametrically opposed to God and the Bible in another. Are we supposed to follow men and believe them simply because they were willing to die for their faith? If so, we should all become muslims.
Martin Luther was a great man. His actions sparked the reformation; he believed in justification by faith; and he went against the pope (calling him “Your Hellishness,” and “most Hellish Father”). He also remained a Catholic to the day of his death. He believed in sprinkling babies, and is quoted as saying he wished he could light his woodstove with the Book of James. Because he was right about a couple of things, should we follow his example in everything?
John Calvin was also a great reformer...who burned a guy (Servetus) at the stake for disagreeing with him, and sprinkled babies in the Roman tradition all his life.
The point is, a man, or group of men, or a statement of faith produced by a group of men, are right only where they agree with the Bible. Where they disagree, we don’t have to pay attention to them any more than “the man in the moon.” Church creeds or statements of faith are not anywhere connected with final authority, unless you’re a Roman Catholic.
The Bible-believer should know what the scriptures say, and believe what the scriptures say, exactly how the scriptures say them. Finding out what a certain group of believers thought the scriptures taught or meant anywhere from 500 to 1000 years ago means next to nothing. Granted, it may be interesting reading in pursuing research about the history of the church. But the age of these statements of faith and the personalities who believed them have nothing to do with how correct or incorrect the doctrines promoted in them may be. “Historic Baptist tradition” and the positions of “a thousand Baptist churches” are absolutely irrelevant in deciding a correct, scriptural position on anything. The Apostle Paul didn’t say, “What saith the traditions of the elders?” He said, “What saith the scripture?” (Gal. 4:30; Rom. 4:3). A cursory reading of the New Testament would deter even the most unassuming of believers to stay “afar off” from most of the “traditions of the elders.” (See Matt. 15:3; Matt. 15:6; Mark 7:8, 9, 13; Col. 2:8.)