By Ron Halbrook
Many Baptists have been embroiled in a controversy in recent years over the inspiration of the Bible. Some among them are teaching that the Bible is inspired in part, in a way, in a sense – but not fully, completely and entirely. Errors of historical fact, science, geography, and the like are included in the Bible, they say. From that view, they deny the account of Adam and Eve, miracles such as manna from heaven in the record of the Exodus, and the story of Jonah. Jesus defended every one of those events as literally true (Matt. 19:4; Jn. 6:32; Matt. 12:40). Jesus taught that every “jot” and “tittle” of the Old Testament was the inspired Word of God, and that people who reject any part of it are wrong, “not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matt. 5:17-18; 22:29-32; Jn. 10:34-35).
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible reflects the character of the One who inspired it – holy, pure, infallible, inerrant, and all-sufficient. We commend all Baptists who uphold this divine principle! They are right on this matter without a shadow of a doubt. But, if they are right on this great principle of truth, then they are wrong for not putting it into practice. If the Bible is the inspired Word and perfect plan of God, we must follow it in all things. To follow another way is to imply that the Bible way is not perfect, not sufficient, and not literally true for all ages of man. Why do Baptists who uphold the Bible as fully inspired reject the Bible pattern of teaching on the following points?
1. God planned, revealed, and authorized the local church as all-sufficient for the worship and work ordained for his people as a church (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:10-11; 4:7-12). Baptists reject that plan of God as perfect, infallible, and sufficient when they create human organizations such as “conventions” which plan and coordinate programs for the local churches to support. Controversy over the Bible’s inspiration has emerged in the Southern Baptist Convention and its related institutions – an organizational structure which by its very existence contradicts the divine origin and perfection of Scripture.
2. God gave each local church a plan to manage all its affairs under the leadership of men designated by three words meaning the same thing: elders (or presbyters), overseers (or bishops) and shepherds (or pastors). Each church had two or more of these leaders (Acts 14:23; 20:17,28; Tit. 1:5). Deacons were ordained as special servants for special jobs (Acts 6:1-7; Phil. 1:1). Strict qualifications were revealed for these two offices – elders who lead, and deacons who serve (I Tim. 3; Tit. 1). The work of a preacher is simply to proclaim God’s Word, a separate ministry from that of elders and deacons (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).
God’s plan is inspired, infallible, and inerrant, but Baptist churches and preachers reject it. “Not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God,” as Jesus said, a Baptist preacher will eliminate God’s plan of a plurality of elders or pastors in the local church, then usurp the name and office of a “pastor” to himself alone, and recognize deacons as a formal “board” with authority God never gave them. Why do people defend the Bible as the God-inspired rule, then refuse to follow it as the final, absolute, and inspired rule?
3. God called people who left sin and obeyed the gospel “believers” and “disciples” to indicate their focus on Christ -and then “Christians” to indicate that they belonged to Christ (Acts 11:26). Christ himself was to be exalted above the names of the men he saved and the doctrines he revealed, so his people were taught to wear his own “worthy name” and not the name of a man or a doctrine (Jas. 2:7; 1 Cor. 1:10-13). Sectarian, divisive names devised by men were strictly forbidden as carnal and sinful. God’s perfect and inspired Word speaks of “Christians” and “churches of Christ,” but men who defend the Word as inspired depart from it in order to embrace the sectarian terminology of “Baptists” and “Baptist churches” (Acts 11:26; Rom. 16:16). If we follow the Bible only as infallible, we will be Christians only in name or identity.
4. God authorized worship “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). All Christians were to participate, “teaching and admonishing one another. . . singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). God’s plan for our worship was holy, pure, and sufficient as he revealed it in Scripture. He did not reveal mechanical instruments such as harps and horns in the New Testament pattern. Nor did he authorize worship such as harps and horns in the New Testament pattern. Nor did he authorize worship as a spectator sport with the many entertained by the few in a solo, duet, quartet, or orchestral performance. On the one hand Baptists defend the Bible pattern as perfect and true, but on the other hand they depart from God’s pattern of truth by introducing human innovations into New Testament worship. If they are right, they are wrong.
5. The Bible speaks of those who have “fallen from grace” and who “depart from the faith” (Gal. 5:4; 1 Tim. 4:1). We accept God’s Word as eternal truth when we accept his grace. We fall from his grace when we reject and depart from his Word as eternal, infallible, inerrant truth. Baptist preachers misuse passages which speak of faith as a living and active principle in the human heart, and they stress the security for the believer promised in these passages (such as Jn. 10:27-30). Many Baptists teach once-saved-always-saved, once-in-grace-always-in-grace no matter what sins a person might commit. The Bible teaches no such security as that. Security relates to a living faith and “faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:26). We can leave the realm of genuine faith – “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). The Bible is infallibly true when it warns that we can lose our faith in the faith.
6. The church God planned and revealed was a spiritual fellowship with a spiritual mission – preaching the gospel to save the lost (1 Tim. 3:15). God’s plan for the church’s mission was perfect and final (Jude 3). Many Baptist churches have joined the trend toward social activities, recreation, entertainment, ball teams, parties, suppers, secular education, day-care centers, and gyms. This trend implies that the Bible pattern for the church’s mission is flawed, imperfect, and insufficient. Is God’s plan perfect or not?
7. The conditions of pardon or remission of sins in the New Testament included faith in Christ, repentance of sin, confession of Christ as Lord, and immersion in water (Jn. 3:16; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 10:8-10; 1 Pet. 3:21). The New Testament is a perfect revelation of the gospel – we dare not add to it or take from it (Gal. 1:8-9; Rev. 22:18-19). Baptist preachers preach often from John 3:16 on faith but commonly ignore Mark 16:16 (“he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”), Acts 238 (“repent . . . and be baptized . . . for the remission of sins”), Acts 22.16 (“be baptized, and wash away thy sins”), and 1 Peter 3:21 (“baptism doth also now save us”). Baptist doctrine puts salvation before baptism, but the gospel of Christ clearly puts salvation after baptism. If Baptists are right on the inspiration of the Bible, they are wrong for not preaching the plan of salvation which it reveals.
Baptist churches are right to insist upon the divine inspiration of the Bible, but the Bible does not mention the Baptist Church and many of its doctrines. It is not the church we read about in the Bible – the church of Jesus Christ. We love our Baptist friends and neighbors. We plead with them to act on their faith in the inspired Word by obeying the gospel in its original purity, by forsaking all sectarian names and organizations, and by following the New Testament pattern in all things. If we believe, preach, and practice exactly what is written in the New Testament, we can be the very same church as is revealed in the New Testament.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 9, pp. 266-267
May 5, 1988