I remember a friend telling me about some people he looked up to spiritually and how those people “changed the rules” throughout the years of their ministry.
“Changing the rules” meant they had certain standards, opinions or personal preferences that they passed on as doctrine (teachings of the Bible) or better known as living a certain way in order to be considered “godly”. These opinions and standards were adopted by my friend and his family as the gospel truth and passed down to others that they ministered to. However, through the years the people my friend looked up to spiritually changed and so did their opinions about certain standards and practices. Things that used to be taboo were now tolerated and enjoyed. I remember my friend saying, “Why do they get to change the rules all of a sudden?”
(I should insert an example here, but I fear that some will get to caught up with that “one thing” instead of considering the big picture and purpose of this apology.) Perhaps they “changed” because they realized that their standard wasn’t biblically consistent, or maybe it was just impractical for the real world, or could it be that they recognized they were in violation of Mark 7:7, which states “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” I remember reading this a few years ago – wondering if I have ever been guilty of the same sin of the Pharisees in Mark 7. Have I ever taught a personal preference as if it were a doctrine of the Bible? Sadly, I’m afraid I have.
In my zeal to be holy and desire to “help” other people be like Jesus, I have preached personal standards over scripture. However, through the years, God has opened my eyes to this and I have attempted to course-correct my teachings to accurately reflect the Bible. With this, I worry about previous damage I may have inflicted, as I have not always had the opportunity to go back and apologize to those who sat under my preaching, counsel, and influence.
Today, I want to do just that. I want to apologize for not being a Baptist. Before you get too angry with me, keep reading.
You see as a Baptist, we I believe in Baptist Distinctives which are as follows: (Feel free to skip this paragraph if you have ever completed a Baptist History course in Bible College)
1.Biblical Authority-the Bible is the only rule of our faith and practice.
2.Autonomy of the local church-each church should be self-governed with Christ as the head.
3.Priesthood of the believer-each believer has equal access to God as a believer/priest according to 1 Peter 2.
4.Two Offices-Pastors and Deacons are the only offices for the local church.
5.Individual soul liberty-Every person has the individual right to worship and live for God as they see fit. We are all individually responsible, and will individually give an account to Christ according to 2 Corinthians 5:10.
6.Saved and baptized church membership-In order to be a member of a church you must be saved and baptized by immersion after your salvation.
7.Two ordinances-The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are the only rituals God outlined for the church to practices.
8.Separation of church and state-The state should stay out of the business of the church. Federal enforcement of any religion would only produce fake and phony religious people.
These are the eight historical distinctives of Baptists. As a firm believer, it may seem simple enough to follow these eight distinctives, but on many occasions in my life, I have been guilty of not practicing #1, #2, #3, and #5. Let me explain.
#1 Biblical Authority. I took my own personal standards for dress, entertainment, music, etc. and strictly took them for-black and white truth. If anyone disagreed with my stance, I viewed them as unbiblical, ungodly, and as someone who was grieving the Holy Spirit. The truth is, I was guilty of usurping the Bible’s authority in the lives of other Christians. Jesus never intended for me, or anyone else, to preach personal standards as doctrine. It is loading down Christians with additional “man made” rules and guidelines, and it is unfair and downright wrong. Does this mean that I don’t have personal standards of holiness? Of course not. It simply means that I should allow the Bible to speak into people’s lives, and if my standards differ (whether I deem it above or below other people’s standards), I should not view or treat another believer as a compromising, ungodly reprobate. As a Baptist, I should have known better. I should have let the Bible be the final authority instead of taking it upon myself to be the final authority. I believe I was not acting as a true Biblical Baptist in moments like this. I want to truly apologize to people on which I imposed my own personal standards that God gave me for my life. I want you to have standards of holiness in your life, but I want them to be the standards that God gives you.
#2 Autonomy of the Local Church. From time to time, people ask my opinion of another church or ministry. I must confess that at times I have been quick to judge and voice opinions, based on my personal standards, on how I thought that church or ministry could improve. I also know that other ministry leaders have been guilty of taking on a position, practice, or attitude that was not motivated by the Spirit after being pressured by outside ministries or pastors. I am guilty of this myself. Instead of being motivated by the Holy Spirit or being led by God into a ministry or position, we can sometimes base ministry decisions on the fear of who might call us compromisers or denigrate us at the next pastor’s fellowship.
Along with you, I believe churches should be autonomous and directed by the head-Jesus Christ. I believe each body of believers can make choices, independent of one another, and that their decisions on preference-based ministries, positions and standards might differ from mine…and that’s okay. However, there were times in my past where I didn’t agree with that.
There were times in the past where I haven’t been a very good Baptist, but I’m working on it. I am working on not just saying churches are autonomous, but also practicing this belief. It is my desire to fellowship and co-labor with Bible-believing churches who understand the big picture of the gospel ministry, but may not always see eye-to-eye with me on preference-based issues.
#3 Priesthood of the Believer. A good Baptist believes that every believer is a priest and has just as much access to God as any other believer, but sometimes we don’t wait for other Christians to talk with God about an issue in their life. Instead of God speaking to them, we are quick to instruct them on the core-values of being a Christian. This makes us more comfortable because they mimic our own current position of sanctification, and possibly short-circuits a believer’s ability and opportunity as a believer-priest to commune with God and establish personal convictions and standards of their own. It borders on violating Mark 7:7 yet again.
I want to help as many believers as I can to get close to God, but that cannot happen when I act as their mediator or try to make them carry my armor into battle. (1 Samuel 17:38-40)
I am all for helping new and old believers alike to grow in their walk with God, but as a facilitator, I feel I’ve been guilty of pulling people off God’s path and attempting to direct them down a path more suited for me. I have prayed and asked God to forgive me for this. I also pray regularly that he will work through me to help others be the priest God designed them to be.
#5 Individual Soul Liberty. This is closely connected with #3, but contains some differences that I believe are worth discussing. Romans 14:12-So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. At the end of the day, even after I preach what I believe is the truth, I need to allow people the space and grace to make their own decisions, and to follow God down the path they believe God is carving for them. If someone chooses to listen to a different song than I do or use technology where I would not, I need to be okay with that. They can still be my friends, and we can still partner in our work and serve our Lord together. There is no need for me to label them as a heretic. Even in situations that clearly disobey scripture, if I write them off and turn my back on them completely, I have forfeited the ability to help them to grow spiritually in God’s word.
Is it possible that the Holy Spirit would lead someone to a different position/standard than me? Will we get to the Judgment Seat and hear Jesus say, “if you all did it just like Matt, you would have been perfect to”? Absolutely not! Even though I believe I’m right in everything I am doing for the Lord (if I didn’t believe that I should desire to change my position), I’m not perfect, and I’m not getting an A+ at the Judgment Seat of Christ, so I need to approach people and their preferential differences with a little more lateral-love (give others space to be different and godly all at the same time). Is it possible? Yes, it is and I am ready to be the example of this or at least attempting to.
This apology letter is from me and to anyone who I may have burdened with an extra-biblical rule. Maybe even one God called me to carry but not you.
I also want to apologize for times that I preached, modeled, or enforced the truth absent of true Biblical love.
When I was in my twenties, specifically, I was so consumed with calling out anyone who played on the edge of Biblical error, heresy, and worldliness, when I should have exemplified Christ-like love, patience and grace. As a Resident Assistant in college, anytime sometime went against the rules (walking on the grass even!) they got demerits-EVERY Time! No exceptions! Anytime they stepped off the sidewalk, I saw it as complete and utter rebellion. It ranked right up there with devil worship. I’m sorry for not loving you grass-walkers more. I’m sorry for not showing any grace…ever.
When I was a coach, I remember chewing a guy’s head off because he threw a plastic bottle out the bus window as we drove back from a team activity. I pulled the bus over, ran to the back, and discussed with him (very loudly mind you) as to why it was a horrible testimony for Christ to litter. In the moment, it never dawned on me that my testimony was worse than his was, on that given day. I want to apologize to all of you bottle-tossing litterbugs for being so concerned about outward perfectionism over inward holiness and Christlikeness.
Early in my ministry, I remember preaching a message on music and shortly after that night, I received a letter from a lady in our church congregation that basically stated, “We know what you believe, now back off and let us make up our own mind.” I didn’t appreciate the letter at the time, but she was right. I’m sure she was familiar enough with my habits enough to know that I would be looking to enforce the truth I had just preached. I would be looking for violators and impatiently beating them back from the edge of “doctrinal” compromise. It would have been more effective for me to graciously preach truth in a way that demonstrated my love for people, thereby, opening a door of communication that allowed me to impact them for righteousness. I acted more like the Queen of Hearts from Alice In Wonderland shouting “off with their head” towards anyone who dare to differ with me.
I really do believe it came from a desire to please God in holiness (I think this was the same misguided desire of the Pharisees in Mark 7) and help others do the same. Today, I’m striving to live out 1 Corinthians 13 and couple the truth I present with clarity and Christ-like charity. The verse I quote repeatedly is “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” Meekness means that the Holy Spirit controls my words, responses, attitudes, and actions. Instructing means I’m taking time to lead people in God’s word not my way.
I want you to understand that it is my desire to be a Baptist in the truest sense of the word, but I’m afraid I have failed to be a real Baptist at times. As I work to improve my practice, please pray that God will work through me to continue to elevate the message of the Bible over my personal standards, as well as allow other people and churches to follow God and his teachings through the Holy Spirit instead of inserting undue and unbiblical pressure to be like me. Also, for all those guys who resided in Spurgeon Dorm and may still grimace when you see me on Facebook, please forgive me for trying to make you like me instead of like Jesus.
Sincerely attempting to be a Baptist,
P.S. If any of my English teachers are reading this, please forgive me. My improper use of the English language is no reflection on your performance as an educator.