Fundamentalists have an advantage in the Baptist war of words. They have it all down in black and white. Their priestly rulers have taken great pains to lay out rules and dogmas as clear paths for the sheep to follow. So, ask any of them what they believe and they can immediately whip out a pamphlet or a chart that defines their creed in minute detail. Never mind that it is a man-made document such as Jesus warned against. Never mind that it carries an aura of infallibility that Free Church tradition must reject. Never mind that it generalizes about profound issues, oversimplifies eternal mysteries, and whitewashes biblical enigmas and ambiguities. It is for them a flag to wave and a banner under which to unite with other militant crusaders. And it is smooth enough for the glib, the gullible, and the naive to swallow whole without gagging.
Non-fundamentalists have honest qualms against such pretentious-ness, and this usually prevents them from claiming to know all the answers. Such words as “inerrant,” “perfect,” and “absolute” do not flow lightly from their lips. Not being dogmatic, catechismic, or creedal animals, they are constrained from denying any room for disagreement within their fellowship of faith.
Having said all this, it must be conceded that religious orthodoxy is a vital concern. One cannot believe just anything and still fit into a specific religious sect, political party, or philosophical society. In every organization there must be some parameters of belief, some bedrock principles, some definition of true faith, or else the whole system collapses like a body without bones.
Some travellers with an inner compass may get along very well when the pole star is obscured, but others make their way better when the skies are clear enough to permit celestial navigation. Just so, it may be alarming to simple believers when old certitudes are subjected to scrutiny or seem to be missing from the faith. Thus, it becomes necessary, even despite an intense aversion among traditional Baptists to formalized statements of faith, to agree upon an abbreviated checklist of the essential principles generally shared among them.
Guidelines can be helpful to those looking at a group from the outside or for those within who are lacking clear direction. It is necessary
that essentials be affirmed and set forth succinctly without wordy embellishments, for to overdefine is to fabricate a new creedal straitjacket. Never to be taken as final, authoritative, dogmatic mandates, never to serve as tests of fellowship, never to prohibit newer and better ideals and insights of spirituality, very broad guidelines can be useful in marking off the boundaries of no-man’s land.
Progressive Baptists, now excluded from the Southern Baptist Convention, have taken a stand for freedom of religious expression that is alarming to some conservatives. These more cautious believers are concerned lest an exercise of liberty should turn into license and a slide into unbelief. They fear that the abandonment of biblicism can result in eventual apostasy from the faith. Thus, ordinary Baptist folk need some assurance that the essentials of true Christian faith are still intact in the Moderate camp. As stated by one Baptist professor, there is a need to define “the doctrinal parameters toward the left.”*
Accordingly, it is suggested that the following broad statements as to the ultimate boundaries of the progressive movement should be offered as a means of calming these concerns. Moderate Baptists are not true religious liberals, and the statements presented on the next page should bear that out.
* God’s Last And Only Hope by Bill J. Leonard, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990, p. 127.
TRUE LIBERALISM DEFINED AND LIMITED
1. True liberalism is the denial of the deity of Christ.
Views such as those held by Unitarians are not Christian, much less Baptist. The early creeds of Christendom are not inerrant, but in their treatment of Christology they are still good guides for orthodox belief.
2. Belief in the deity of Christ must not degenerate into a denial of His humanity.
This is the old heresy of Docetism. The Bible says that Jesus was Deity incarnate - but emptied of the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.
3. The Baptist denomination is Bible-based and, therefore, con-servative by nature.
Because of their biblical basis, Baptists maintain that God has influenced history through sometimes miraculous, sometimes inspirational, and sometimes merely human actions and motivations. This viewpoint requires assent to the essential validity of scriptural reporting of real events. To rightly interpret these accounts is the task of scholars and also the priestly privilege of all believers.
4. The Baptist denomination must continue to stand for a regenerate church membership.
The traditional practice of baptizing mature individuals after their spiritual conversion is the best insurance for maintaining a regenerate membership. If any congregation departs from this, it is no longer a Baptist church.
5. Doctrines not related to correct Christology or the voluntary profession of faith in Christ are peripheral.
Extreme, radical, or subsidiary doctrines should not count as tests of fellowship in Baptist churches.
6. While Baptists should be conservative in doctrine, they are free to be liberal in church methodology and in secular politics.
In the church, new methods should be used in order to reach people and minister to their needs, as long as these methods are in agreement with orthodox doctrine. In politics, there should be latitude in the application of Christian principles to allow checks and balances to operate between exteme positions.
7. Ethical absolutes should be maintained as rules for normal living, but exceptions to the rules must be allowed in very special cases.
In exceptional cases, the church or the individual is accountable only to God. The rules in exceptional cases are: “What would Jesus do in this circumstance? What is the lesser of evils in this case? What is the mandate of love in this situation?”