Editorial Introduction: Baptist Theology & Polity -- By: Steve W. Lemke

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 05:2 (Fall 2008)
Article: Editorial Introduction: Baptist Theology & Polity
Author: Steve W. Lemke


Editorial Introduction: Baptist Theology & Polity

Steve W. Lemke

Affirming Baptist Distinctives

How important are the distinctive beliefs of Southern Baptists? At the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, we believe that standing strong on our core beliefs is crucial not only in maintaining our Baptist identity, but also in remaining faithful to the Scriptural teachings which are the source and authority for these distinctive doctrines.

In 1917, the founding faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (then named Baptist Bible Institute) crafted a confessional statement known as The Articles of Religious Belief, since the school was founded before the first Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement was written in 1925. Every faculty member through the years at NOBTS has signed the same book affirming the confessional stance articulated in these documents. Article 10 of The Articles of Religious Belief, entitled “Baptist Loyalty to Distinctive Baptist Doctrines,” asserts the need for affirming Baptist beliefs.

We believe that Baptists stand for vital and distinctive truths, to many of which other denominations do not adhere, and that we cannot compromise these truths without disloyalty to the Scriptures and our Lord. We believe that we should co-operate with other denominations insofar as such co-operation does not affect these truths, but no union with them is possible, except on the basis of acceptance in full of the plain teachings of the Word of God.

The Articles of Religious Belief were written in an era which took Baptist distinctives very seriously, as was evidenced in the classic work edited by J. M. Frost and published in 1900, Baptist Why and Why Not. This “Baptist distinctives” literature, which was the focus of the dissertation research of Stan Norman, founder of the Baptist Center, sought to delineate the “lines of demarcation” between Baptists and other faith traditions. However, in our pluralistic age, strong ecumenical pressures are being brought to bear to minimize Baptist distinctives and to maximize our identity with other faith traditions. Much of the “name brand loyalty” that Baptists once accorded toward their denomination and its entities has evaporated. Events such as the “Together for the Gospel” conferences intentionally seek to join hands with believers across denominational lines, highlighting points of agreement and downplaying denominational distinctives.

What are the pressure points that could lead to compromising Baptist identity? Two of the key issues that have arisen recently which could possibly lead to a blurring of Baptist distinctives are the lean toward Reformed perspectives and th...

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