I’m not the lonely pastor theologian slogging away thinking deep theological thoughts, unappreciated and in obscurity. I’m currently not lonely, not a pastor, and not a theologian and my goal was just to try and hack it on Mondays (thanks, Adrian, for that line). But I do wonder why we stalwart conservative, Bible-believing, inerrantists seem to care so little about ecclesiology.
We’ve got elders-ad nauseum in our churches these days, a sea change from forty years ago, back when I knew everything as a seminary student. The Baptist Faith and Message Statement doesn’t even contain the term “elder,” although we all understand that it is a synonym for “pastor;” thus, BFM ecclesiology includes only the two offices, pastor and deacon. Best this humble, hacker and plodder, semi-retired pastor can surmise all elders have given Southern Baptist churches is a greater degree of authority for the first-among-equals elder, the senior pastor. Seems too many SBC pastors got tired of deacons interfering with them.
We’ve also had a revival of what is aspirationally called church discipline, another overlay into a congregation designed to control rather than discipline the sheep.
We seem to be still sticking with immersion for the time being, although these churches that find mass, spontaneous baptisms to be profitable seem to cheapen the ordinance to the place where it has little value.
But it’s the Lord’s Supper that is the strangest subject of ecclesiological neglect. Here’s what the Baptist Faith and Message Statement says about it:
[Baptism] is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
My experiences are likely not the norm for the almost 50,000 Southern Baptist congregations and I have a bit of residual Landmarkism in me, probably from the atmospherics of my seminary time in Memphis.
I have lately raised the question of baptism being a prerequisite for taking the Lord’s Supper in my circles and was surprised to have been argued with, looked askance at, and treated with mild disdain for even asking.
Is this position, the one clearly stated in the BFM, archaic and a long-discarded practice?
I’ve never heard of any association, state convention, or the SBC attempting to exclude any church that practices the Lord’s Supper in such a way that baptism is not a prerequisite. At every level of SBC life we’ve formally and deliberately excluded churches that have female pastors, clearly prohibited in the BFM. The requirement of baptism for the Lord’s Supper is no less clear. Why the selective treatment? Sexism? Is it that far too many churches practice wide open communion (“Fie on the BFM! Here’s your gluten-free bread and fake wine.”) to tackle that bit of ecclesiastical discipline among our churches?
Well, there is an argument, it’s not particularly Biblical, for established, widespread practices being left alone regardless of the BFM. After all, we’ve got these multi-site churches with satellites or franchise locations. That’s old news. Besides, they work, and pragmatism is THE favorite theological principle for Southern Baptists. The thinking Southern Baptist who is serious about congregationalism might see the bishopric lurking in the shadows on these. Best not to think about it, I suppose.
Are there any SBC leaders, theologians, professors who have attempted to address current practices of the Lord’s Supper in our churches? We’ve got the Lord’s Day Alliance that addresses Sabbatarian matters (and which is seen as the religious equivalent of the Flat Earth Society). We’ve got an entire SBC organization, the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that puts out all those important sounding Statements. Their task seems to be to keep females out of pulpits but they dress it up pretty good. I know of no similar organization that attempts to keep the cup and bread out of the hands of the unbaptized as prescribed by the BFM.
So, how about my wonderful Voices colleages, commenters and contributors. Do you follow the BFM on this? Is it something that causes you any concern? Do you address the matter casually (“I remind you that the Lord’s Supper is for baptized believers”) and leave it at that? Do you go through the motions with a wink and a nod?
I’d just like to see one SBC church brought up before their association for violating the BFM on the Lord’s Supper. I’d give that the same odds as the giant lottery drawing of last night.