Church In The Power of the Spirit (3)
AUTHORITY OF THE CHRIST
The written authority for believing and acting as Baptists do is the Bible, which is their written guide in matters of belief and behaviour. The Baptist Union of Great Britain declares that the Lord Jesus Christ ‘is the sole and absolute authority in all matters retaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.’ Speaking of Baptists, McClendon said that ‘The foundation of the church is not democracy but theocracy, not the rule of spiritual commoners or of spiritual aristocrats, but only the “devouring fire” from the throne of the God of peace.’ In McClendon’s words, Jesus ‘is the center of the community, its stylist and living authority.’
Jesus is the personal authority of faith, but Deweese says that ‘Baptists view the entire Bible as the sole written authority for their faith.’ Therefore, as Wright says, the Bible should be read ‘through Christ who is the clearest revelation of the Father and from this core a theology of the Triune God emerges in the light of which the individual texts of Scripture may be understood in true perspective.’
In other words, the Bible is the message that testifies to the Jesus who alone is Lord. The Bible has authority, but its authority is that its writings reveal and testify to God’s Christ and show him to be the focal point of history. In so doing the Bible makes plain that it, too, is the servant of Christ and not his master. The center of the message is the person and work of Jesus Christ. ‘The Bible is the authoritative interpretation of this event.’ Said Webber.
The Baptist Union of Scotland recognises that ‘even Reformed and other conservative Christian theologians have allowed that while Jesus is the one mediator between God and humans, we cannot rule out Messiah’s freedom to express mercy through unusual means in the world at large (dreams, visions, insights, general revelation and common grace etc).’ Jesus is the Christ is Lord; the Bible is not God.
Moltmann saw the traditional church as declining and said that ‘when traditions are imperilled by insecurity, the church is thrown back to its roots. It will take its bearings even more emphatically than before from Jesus, his history, his presence and his future. As the church of Jesus Christ is fundamentally dependent on him, and on him alone.’ Even more strongly he proclaimed that ‘it is only where Christ alone rules, and the church listens to his voice only, that the church arrives at its truth and becomes a free and liberating power in the world.’ The authority of Christ who is Lord has a direct bearing on the form of church that is manifest at any time. ‘As Christian theology, theology has to remind the church of the lordship of Christ and has to insist that the church’s form be an authentic one.’ Moltmann was firmly centred on Jesus who is the Christ who is Lord.
PRIESTHOOD AND MINISTRY OF ALL BELIEVERS
According to Haymes, Baptists believe that ‘every Christian is commissioned to share in the work of God.’ Central to this is the need of people for conversion to Christ and in this way for them to become Christ’s disciples. Every Baptist ministers to other people with the gifts given by God, and every Baptist, as a part of the church, has the authority to operate on God’s behalf. This means for Beasley-Murray that no mediator priest is needed for we are all priests; ‘in spiritual terms we are all equal before God.’
Baptists are to be witnesses under God so that the gospel that is about Jesus might reach to the furthest corners of the earth, and the name of Jesus be glorified. But the work of God in the world can only be done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in his power. Baptists recognise that only the Holy Spirit can change a person on the inside – doctrine, theology and good intention cannot achieve it.
Thus Baptists must make disciples, not merely seek converts, and discipleship involves the whole person and therefore the whole person’s lifestyle; this in turn impacts the world as Christian community demonstrates social justice and true love for one another. ‘Making disciples involves the church,’ as Beasley-Murray pointed out, and ‘Jesus calls his followers not to make converts, but to make disciples – disciples baptised into the body.’
Moltmann certainly believed in the priesthood and ministry of all believers. ‘Basically, all Christians participate in the kingly service of the Son of man and are witnesses of his liberating rule in their ecclesiastical life, as well as in their social one.’ That equality in the Son crossed every human barrier and prejudice for Moltmann, who made no distinction between any human beings.
As well declaring equality in gifts, callings and function, Moltmann also made clear his position that women have an equal belonging in the church and its leadership, when he declares that ‘inhumane barriers dividing men and women from one another can be broken down, and the power of male domination in the church, and the powerlessness of women, will be made plain.’ In this he is more Baptist than many Baptists.
What, then, shall we say in response to Moltmann? He may ask why the Baptist Churches are not as he described. He may ask why the idea of democracy has so infected Baptist Churches that it has reduced the church leaders to ‘yes men’. (And I mean ‘men’) He may also ask how Baptist Churches can marginalise women to such a massive extent as they do. He may well ask why so many Baptist churches aren’t Baptist at all. So do I.
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