On Christian Unity and Baptist Identity

Christian Unity

In John 17:20-23, Jesus prayed for the unity of all those who would believe in the preaching of the Apostles. That’s us. Christians today can know that Jesus prayed for them, and specifically, Jesus prayed for unity.

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Jesus says,

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (ESV)

Jesus prayed that the Christians who would come after the original apostles would be one. That they would not be fragmented. That they would not be divided. And he gives us the reasons why he prays this– “that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Our unity as believers is a testimony to a watching world that Jesus is authentically who he said he was.

He goes on. Jesus says, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, they may be one even as we are one.” Jesus here says that he has already done something to achieve the unity that he is praying for. He has given them glory. Now, this seems a bit ambiguous. What does it mean that Jesus has given “glory” to believers? While I can’t say with certainty, it seems likely that he is talking about the Holy Spirit. Believers are filled with the Holy Spirit that was given at Pentecost. They are indwell by him. So this is what Jesus says that he has already given them in order to accomplish the unity that he prays for.

Now, I don’t want to be too critical, but I have heard someone preach on this text before and the way they applied it, they said that this is the one case where believers get to answer Jesus’ prayer. I think that is dead wrong. According to the second thing Jesus says in the prayer, Jesus answered his own prayer by giving believers his glory, i.e. the Holy Spirit.

Now, if that is the case, then why do we have so many denominations and theological camps within Christianity. Did Jesus’ prayer fail? Absolutely not! I think one thing that can shed light on how this can be is the Nicene Creed. Concerning the Church, this ancient creed states,

 We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

Now, this creed needs explanation:

  1. First of all, it could be confusing that the creed uses the word “catholic.” However, Protestants have always affirmed this creed. The reason is that the word “catholic” means universal. By affirming this confession, Protestants do not admit any hierarchical authority as the Roman Catholic Church claims. When we say we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, we understand this with the original meaning of “universal.” So when I, or Redeemer Baptist Church, confesses that we believe in a “catholic” church, we mean that there is one universal and invisible body of Christ that is made up of all believers–everyone who Christ saved from creation until Jesus comes again are included in the “catholic” or universal church.
  2. Next, we believe in “one” church. While it may seem the contrary, because we have so many denominations, in this universal sense we believe there is only one Church. All who Christ died for are united in one body–the Church. The one Church is the body of Christ who Jesus laid his life down for.
  3. Third, we believe in a “holy” church.  This also may seem to be at odds  with our experience. How can we say we believe in one “holy” church when there are so many hypocrites? Isn’t that one of the most frequent charges leveled against Christians? Unbelievers don’t want anything to do with the “Church” because it’s filled with hypocrites. However, Christianity, from the beginning has been about grace. Jesus has washed his bride. To become a Christian we confess our sins, and throughout our entire lives as Christians we live out a life of repenting. But we ARE objectively holy. If we have believed on Christ, experienced the new birth, and cling to him as our only hope, Jesus has washed our sins away. He has set us apart for himself to that we belong to him alone. We may still be sinners, but he calls us saints because he has made us holy by his own work–and not our own.
  4. Finally, we believe in an “apostolic” church. This does not mean we believe in some kind of apostolic succession, that there is a hierarchy that has been passed down to us by the apostles with the Pope as its head. No, Protestants believe that we are “apostolic” because we believe in the TEACHING of the apostles. The Gospel that was preached by the apostles, that is preserved in the New Testament, is what establishes us as a church. Apart from the teaching of the apostles we would be no church of Christ.

So, on the basis of the Nicene Creed and the Protestant understanding of it, I believe that the Church is one. We may have different confessions of faith that express our denominational distinctives. We may have convictions that separate us from other Christians, but in spite of how it looks on the outside, we are united on the basis of the new birth, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the work of Christ on the Cross.

Baptist Identity

So, why is Redeemer Baptist Church a Baptist Church? If we believe we are unified with all true believers, why aren’t we non-denominational? Why do we put Baptist in our name? Shouldn’t we just be about Jesus?

Here is my answer:

I don’t have any hostility toward non-denominational churches. They are filled with true believers and they are my brother’s and sisters in Christ, but the truth is, there is no truly non-denominational church. They may not have any other group of Christians that they associate with in a denominational sense, but they believe something. If they don’t they aren’t Christian. They have to confess what they believe about God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. They have to make a choice, are they going to baptize babies or not? What they decide about that as a church will automatically put them into one camp or another. All pastors should aim to teach in a coherent manner, and churches need to be clear about what it is that they profess. So, to claim to be non-denominational is either to hide who you really are by refusing a label, or it is to be so watered down that you don’t have any clear convictions.

Stating clearly what we believe is essential for unity. If a church doesn’t clearly state what they believe, they will have people who believe all kinds of things want to join. They end up with a wide diversity of belief all under one roof trying to worship together. This is a recipe for disunity. What happens when the pastor preaches something that not everyone agrees with? You may have some that agree, some that disagree and hold one position, and others that disagree and hold another. It is a powder keg ready to split the church.

On the other hand, when a church is clear about what they believe, then they are poised for real unity. When someone is visiting the church and they like the worship and the preaching and they decide they may like to join, they are given a copy of the church’s statement of faith. They are told, “This is what we believe as a church.” The person can read through it and say, “I agree with this. I want to join,” or they may say, “I don’t agree with this. I’m glad you told me before I joined.” Or still yet they may say, “Well, I don’t agree with this, but I can live with it,” and at least that way they know what they are getting into before hand and they don’t try to change what the church clearly professes together.

So for this reason, I believe a robust confession and clearly teaching what you believe is essential to preserving true unity within a local congregation.

The confession of faith for Redeemer Baptist Church is the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000. This is what we profess to believe, and it is a profound basis for peace and unity.

Power Wash: Mission Panama

At Redeemer Baptist Church, we are excited that this coming week we will be hosting a team of Illinois Baptists to bless the community of Panama.

We believe that we should be a church that makes the community noticeably better. We are just starting, but we want to so involve ourselves with the community of Panama, that if we were to cease operating we would be missed in the community. We believe that one way we can do this is by giving something to the community with no strings attached.

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One thing that we realize is necessary to to this is we have to look for real needs in the community. We shouldn’t just come up with our programs that we think will be attractive and expect people to come and support us simply because we are a church. Rather, we should go to where the need is. As we began preparations for planting Redeemer, I met with Ken Wilson, a church planting catalyst for Illinois Baptists. He had driven around the community with this very idea in mind. “What are the needs of the community?” When we met together, he shared that one of the things he saw was that there were several houses that needed to be power washed. He shared that he could get a team of Illinois Baptists to come and power wash houses as a way to bless the community. I loved the idea from the beginning. It was a way we could give to the community with no strings attached.

Now the time is here. This Sunday a team will be arriving to help us. Our people will be busy feeding them. We have reserved a shower trailer, usually reserved for disaster relief, to use for the team, and they plan to stay on cots in our classrooms. They worship with us this Sunday night, and they will be with us until Wednesday.

I look forward to the opportunities this week will bring. We will get to meet new people and bless our community with the love of Jesus.

I will post a follow-up after the team is gone to share how things go.

Why I Am a Southern Baptist

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Why am I a Southern Baptist? When I think of this question, I have many answers that race through my head. I don’t know if I could ever come up with a comprehensive answer, but this post will seek to give a summary.

  1. I am a Southern Baptist because that’s the tradition that God placed me in. Now I admit, that’s not a lot different that saying I was born one, but I mean a lot more than that.

A. First off, I have a long heritage of Southern Baptists in my family. On my father’s side, his great grandparents by the name of Blaylock were charter members of the Baptist Church in Sorento, Illinois. My Grandpa File was converted at Smith Grove Baptist Church, the same church where my father was, and also myself. On my mother’s side, my great-great-grandfather, Edmond Brown, was a Southern Baptist pastor, not only in the same association that I serve in, but even the same church where I pastor in Woburn, IL. He left a great heritage with several descendants pastoring in SBC life. On that side of my family there was an unbroken line from him down to me of faithful Southern Baptists. So I have a significant family heritage, but it isn’t just that.

B. Second, I grew up attending an SBC church. From before I was born, I attended Smith Grove Baptist Church in Greenville, IL. I crawled around the nursery there, and I learned Bible stories, watched puppet shows, and went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School there. I was saved and baptized there. While in the youth group, I surrendered to preach there. I preached my first sermon at 15 years old, and they ordained me when I was 22 years old.

C. Third, I have an SBC education. Not only did I have the education of Sunday School, VBS, Mission Friends, and RA’s, but when it was time for me to leave for college, I knew I wanted to attend an SBC school. I went to Southwest Baptist University where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Bible. While there I went on two mission trips to India with the school, and I went one summer to serve as a Summer Missionary with the Home Mission Board (It changed it’s name to the North American Mission Board that very summer). I pastored my first church while in college. Dunnegan Baptist Church was a Southern Baptist Church about 30 minutes from the school. I then went off to seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I earned a Master of Divinity in Biblical and Theological Studies. I loved the biblical languages, but just as much, I loved church history–especially Baptist History. Then if that were not enough education, I went and did a Master of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I concentrated in Systematic Theology–specifically ecclesiology. I also wrote a thesis on John Gill, a pastor who was one of the predecessors to Charles Spurgeon. Then, after spending three years doing bi-vocational youth ministry in an SBC church, I decided to pursue a PhD. While I never finished it, I lived for about 2 years on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and took about half the coursework toward the degree. So, my educational pedigree after high school has been completely within Southern Baptist Schools.

So, the first main reason why I am a Southern Baptist is that it is all I have ever known. Now, that isn’t exactly a very persuasive reason if I’m trying to convince someone else why the Southern Baptist Convention is so good, but I have to be honest. The first reason why I am a Southern Baptist is that I stand in the stream of a tradition that goes much farther back than myself. And, I would argue, it is a good tradition to be a part of.

2. While all these factors of heritage had much to do with shaping my outlook, I cannot stop here. Let me give some theological reasons as well.

A. First, I am a Southern Baptist because of the Conservative Resurgence within our denomination. That is, before I was born, the Southern Baptist Convention was headed in the wrong direction. While the grass roots churches were conservative, the seminaries and other agencies were drifting. I will not labor to tell the whole story here, but in short, in 1979 Southern Baptists began to elect presidents of the convention who pledged to only appoint trustees who held to the inerrancy of Scripture. Over the course of the next decade and a half, there were many battles, but the conservatives recovered the denominational schools. I can’t say what I would be like if this resurgence had not taken place. I believe in Biblical inerrancy. I believe that the Bible is God’s word and that it is authoritative for our faith and practice. If this had not been recovered in our seminaries, maybe I wouldn’t care about these things, so maybe there is some circular logic here. However, I would say that I am happy to be a Southern Baptist today because the Battle for the Bible was won.

B. Second, I believe in Southern Baptist doctrine. In the year 2000, Southern Baptists adopted a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message, our confession of faith. While I’ve heard some men argue that part of what it means to be a Baptist is that you can believe what you want to and we don’t require submission to a creed, I think that is an over simplistic way to view the use of confessions of faith in Baptist life. Many have said, we have no creed but the Bible, but for a denomination who claims to have no creed, we sure have published a lot of them. The London Confession, the Second London Confession, the Philadelphia Confession, the Charleston Confession, the New Hampshire Confession, the Abstract of Principles, the Baptist Faith and Message originally in 1925 and revised in 1963 and in 2000. Now it is true that the denomination cannot force any church or any individual to believe something; however, it is often forgotten that no individual can force a church, association, or denominational body to tolerate their belief if it is outside of confessional standards.

In short, I am a Southern Baptist, theologically, because I do agree with the Baptist Faith and Message in total. I don’t think there is a single article in it that I disagree with. I would happily sign my name on it affirming that I believe every word it contains.

C. Third, I am a Southern Baptist because of the heritage of the convention. Now, there are definitely some dark parts to the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. Particularly, Southern Baptists broke away from Baptists in the North over the issue of slavery. So, the men who founded the Southern Baptist Convention were sinners and they were blind to things that we look at today and are amazed at how they could get things so wrong. However, the founding Southern Baptists were predominantly men who believed in the Doctrines of Grace that were shared by the Particular Baptists of England.

While some deride these doctrines as something un-baptist, they do so either ignorant or hostile to history. While Baptists have had diverse streams with regard to predestination and the foreknowledge of God, it is outright slander to accuse someone of being un-baptist for holding the very doctrines that are contained in the Second London Confession of Faith from 1689–a Baptist Confession.

3. Finally, there are practical reasons why I am a Southern Baptist.

First, is what we call the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program (CP) began in 1925, and it is the main way that Southern Baptist churches cooperate together. It is a unified system of giving. Churches give to the CP to support missionaries both internationally and in North America. They also support theological education through our six Southern Baptist seminaries. Before the CP existed, each agency had to travel from church to church competing to raise funds. Since the CP began, the Southern Baptist Convention has grown to become the largest missionary sending agency in the world. Southern Baptists understand that we can do more together through cooperation than we ever could on our own.

Second, is our basis for cooperation–the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). One of the things that I think makes the BFM so great is that it is both comprehensive enough to have adequate parameters for orthodoxy, while it is also general enough that it allows room for good faith disagreement. The Baptist Faith and Message is not a maximalist document. It does not spell out every fine point of doctrine. It is more of a minimalist document. With regard to issues like the doctrines of grace and end times, it spells out what is essential, while leaving room for intramural debate on the fine particulars. I have heard some complain that the BFM was too weak, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Yes, believers and churches should work out what it is that they believe on the particulars on many issues, but if we required everyone to agree on every minor issue, we would never be able to hold a consensus together for cooperation.

More could be said. I’m sure that there are many reasons that I have left out, but this was never meant to be comprehensive. In short, I am a Southern Baptist because that is the tradition that God planted me in, I have embraced it for myself, and I love being a part of a denominational family where we can cooperate to do great things together.

Good Works Glorify God

I want to say something about what we want Redeemer Baptist Church of Panama to be. We want to be a church that connects with the community. We don’t want to be merely a meeting place for people who drive in from outside of Panama. We want to reach people in the community we are located in.¬† We also don’t want to be viewed as building a personal kingdom–that is, we are not merely trying to get people in the doors so we can finance what we want to do and boast about our numbers. Instead, we want to help make the community noticeably better because we are there.

So how can we do this? Some of it we are already beginning.

  • We have invited an already existing addiction recovery group to come form a new group in our building. This is purely a service to the community. We would love it if some of the people who get help decide to come to worship with us, but it’s OK if they don’t. We just want to give to the community with no strings attached.

 

  • We volunteered to help with the community Easter Egg hunt sponsored by the VFW. Lot’s of churches will hold their own egg hunt, but we don’t have the resources, and even if we did, we wouldn’t want to compete with what is already good in the community. So, we approached the local VFW and just asked how we could help. I, Jerad, stuffed eggs and hid them. This may not seem like much, but it is just a small step toward building trust and being seen as a church that wants to be a blessing to the community.

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  • We have invited a team from the Illinois Baptist State Association to come help us on a major project this June. We want to do something that will address a real need in the community, so we have invited people from the community to sign up for us to come power wash their houses. Again, this doesn’t sound all that “spiritual,” but our aim is that we want to show that we love the community because we love Jesus. Matthew 5:16 says, “. . . let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We want people to “see our good works,” and we want this to cause them to bring glory to God. Will everyone who we wash a house for come to our church? Of course not. We would love it if some do, but that isn’t our aim. We want to do good works that bring glory to God.

Reflections on Our First Month

Well, we launched on November 27th with 16 in attendance. Five of those were my wife and kids and me, and we also had my mom and grandfather. So we didn’t start with a giant crowd. We sent a mailing out to 3 surrounding zip codes, and while there wasn’t a major response, we did have one couple that came as a result of the mailing, and they have continued to come. We have now met 6 times, and on all but two of those occasions there has been a new face. That is encouraging.

Enough about numbers. What have we done? Well, we launched during the season of Advent. So, we sang Christmas songs and I preached on the Old Testament expectation of the Messiah. Our first week we looked at Genesis 3:15 and God’s promise to Eve that she would have a descendant that¬† would crush the serpent’s head. The next week we looked at God’s promise to Abraham that he would have a descendant who would bless all nations. The next week we looked at 2 Samuel 7 and God’s promise to David that he would have a son who would sit on his throne forever. We had to cancel on December 18 because of the weather conditions. I had planned to spend some time on Isaiah 7 and God’s sign that a virgin would be with child who would be called Immanuel. However, on Christmas day we read this passage as a supplemental Scripture reading. On Christmas day we met and I preached from Matthew 1 and the account of the angel who visited Joseph. We saw that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the previous promises that we had looked at.

Since Christmas has now passed, we have started covering other territory. Since we are a brand new church plant, I felt that we should spend some time looking at some of the core convictions that we want to make a priority at Redeemer. So on January 1, we looked at how Jesus said that he would build his Church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. Our conviction is that a new church is going to come about because of a work of God, not merely through human instrumentation. On January 8, I preached on 2 Timothy 4:1-5, on Paul’s instructions to Timothy that he must “preach the Word.” As a pastor and church planter, I am committed to expository preaching. I will eventually settle down into a book and preach through the biblical books as series. I am also committed to be sure that the point of the sermon comes from the biblical text itself. Too often preachers come up with what they want to say and then use the Bible as a proof text. My aim is to let the Bible speak for itself.

Stay tuned for more news on what’s going on at Redeemer Baptist Church of Panama. You can check out the sermons by clicking on the sermons tab above.

A New Church and a New Name

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God has been moving in Panama, Illinois. There hasn’t been some miraculous sign or miracles or healing, but God has been moving.

Grace Fellowship Baptist Church was planted several years ago as a mission from Sorento Baptist Church, and before that another Baptist church had been planted in Panama as a plant from the Baptist Church in Donnellson, IL. Each time, God moved in the hearts of people that there needed to be a Baptist Church in this community. There were good days. I look on the wall behind the baptistery and I see evidence of a great ministry back in 1965. At that time Roger Ellsworth was the pastor when he was only 16 years old. The evidence that I speak of is a map of the community with color coded dots all over it. reThis young 16 year old preacher left behind evidence that he strategically canvased the entire community to share Christ with every household there. Those were good days, but times change, and for one reason or another the church declined, and at some point they closed their doors.

Time passed, and people from the community and the surrounding areas again felt the need for a Baptist Church in Panama. Doug McCracken and others began as a mission from Sorento Baptist Church. Esther Williams, Doug’s daughter recalls that the days that they were a mission were some of the best days she remembers there. Eventually, they constituted as a church and called themselves Grace Fellowship Baptist Church. Again, there were good days, and there were days of decline. Changing demographics and culture have caused many rural churches to decline. This is common and sad. About three years ago, Grace Fellowship voted to closed their doors as a church.

The remaining members still had a heart for the community. They desired to serve it through a clothing ministry and a food pantry; however, these types of ministry take a lot of labor, and they did not have the laborers to keep going. They have also maintained a ministry to the children of Panama. On Wednesday nights, several children from the community come to fellowship in a safe place and study the Bible. However, they longed to see a church come and be planted there once again. For a while Calvary Baptist Church in Hillsboro tried to help out. They would send a preacher and some musicians to try to get something going, but that too came to an end.

In September, 2016, Joe Lawson, Director of Missions for the Rehoboth Baptist Association contacted Jerad File, pastor of Woburn Baptist Church to see if he had interest in planting a new church in Panama. Jerad’s position in Woburn is bivocational, and he had been working full time in addition to pastoring the church. Jerad was very interested in the challenge, and in the opportunity to put more of his time into ministry. Jerad met a few times with the church planting team of the Rehoboth Association, and eventually met the remaining members of Grace Fellowship. It seemed clear to all who were in attendance that the time was right, and Jerad accepted the commission from the Rehoboth Association to work to plant a new church in Panama.

Beginning October 1, Jerad began visiting the community of Panama. He would visit the Nu Way Deli regularly to eat meals and to meet people in the community. He has come on Wednesdays to participate with the children’s ministry that had already been going on and to meet the children and their families. And lately, Jerad has also been doing door to door work within the community delivering homemade cookies and inviting people to come to their first services.

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The new church will be called Redeemer Baptist Church of Panama. While this is a new church, it is clear that God has already been at work in the community. Once again, God has placed the need for a Baptist Church on the hearts of many people in the surrounding area. The first service that will launch Redeemer Baptist Church will be November 27, 2016. Since Jerad pastor’s two churches, the primary worship time for the new church plant will be at 6 pm. Since the date for the launch is the first Sunday of advent, the worship will use the songs of Christmas and the sermons will be focused on the promise of the Messiah in anticipation of Christmas.