"To testify the gospel of the grace of God." Acts 20:24
**PUBLISHED AS A MISSION PROJECT OF PILGRIMS HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH**
THE AMERICAN BAPTIST ASSOCIATION OR
ORTHODOXY STARTS AND STOPS HERE
By Jarrel E. Huffman
One is reminded of God's Word to the patriarch Job: "Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding" (Job 38:4). Job had complained of his lot, and had more or less blamed God for his situation. Thinking he understood all matters, Job was brought to his senses by the intervention of God. After this great humiliation, he exclaimed, ". . . therefore have I uttered that I understood not . . ." (Job 42:3).
Men, sad to say, always have a tendency to see themselves in a better light than those who look on the situation. Job, as noticed, thought he had searched all the possibilities, and felt that there was no way that he could be wrong. It is an easy thing in religion to put blinders on and be oblivious to one's surroundings.
In Baptist life each group fancies themselves to be the "standard of orthodoxy." Such act as though that truth originated with them. The following "ditty" describes these self-appointed "standard bearers":
I built a little fence,
And closed myself right in;
Outside were all the heretics;
Inside were all my kin.
This well describes those who exalt themselves above the people of God. Such feel that they have "canned" truth under their own specific label. In other words, as the title suggests, "Orthodoxy starts and stops here." Having been apart of this group for many years, I can speak by experience, not hearsay. For example, I remember preaching a series of messages at the third church I pastored on the subject, "What Landmark Baptists Believe." Of course, what I meant was, "What Landmark Baptists in the A.B.A. Believed." I received a lot of "amens," and was congratulated on the subject matter. Much I said was true, but the "spirit" of the messages was narrowed by a previous bias.
No one on earth is completely free from prejudice and bias. We are all products, in one sense, of our own particular environment. The majority of people remain with the religious group in which they were raised. This is understandable. A break from one's religous moorings is very difficult. And in most cases, especially when truth is at stake, the move cannot be made without the providence and power of God.
Many Baptists are like those that Jesus condemned for their "know-it-all" spirit: Matthew 23:29-31 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Specifically, these were the Pharisees, the vaunted "separated ones." They made their boasts of loving the prophets of old--Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel and the rest. They made a special effort to build tombs for them and to keep their sepulchres shined up in the cemeteries (verse 29). And these also boasted that had they been living in the days of these great prophets, that they would not have been partakers in their murders (verse 30). Yet, Jesus declared that these very hypocrites were the "children of them which killed the prophets" (verse 31).
The Churches which composes the American Baptist Association had their beginning around 1905. The leaders, for the most part, had come out of the Southern Baptist Convention, including the beloved Ben M. Bogard. And as is usually the case, what one comes out of immediately becomes heretical. The cry for many years was: "We oppose Conventionism because of the board system of missions and their program of tithing." O.K. Now let us see where this group is by the year 1996 (about 91 years after the fact). Most within this group preach tithing, as they should. Having discovered it was a Bible doctrine, not just a part of the "Convention machine," tithing is now generally accepted. But what about the "American Baptist Association"? Has it grown from its humble beginnings? Is is a para-church affair? Is it not just a miniature S.B.C.?
Let us investigate the matter of "orthodoxy."
I. WHAT IS ORTHODOXY?
Well, the etymology of the word is not difficult to ascertain. The word is composed of two Greek words. Orthos means "straight," and doxa means "opinion." Hence, the word means "to cut a straight path." The word is the opposite of heterdoxy (another opinion or path from the norm).
So, it is one thing to "claim orthodoxy." It is something altogether different to "live orthodoxy." The Pharisees of Jesus' day were "orthodox" among the varied groups such as the Sadducees. They held to the traditions of the fathers (Mark 7). They were very particular and fastidious to "dot all I's" and "cross all T's" correctly. In fact, they were so "orthodox" (in the line of truth) that they missed, rejected, and killed the ONE WHO WAS TRUTH (John 14:6).
My library is filled with books authored by the "fathers." I love these books and enjoy reading history and doctrine. But no book of man is inspired. And if one is honest, there are skeletons in every closet. History, written after the fact, has a way of saying what one wishes that others had believed and done. Good books are a blessing, but if they become the standard of "orthodoxy," great problems arise. Remember that the Pharisees could quote verbatim many of the O.T. books. But that fact did not make them "orthodox."
Orthodoxy, then, is not one's own little isolated group which measures itself by itself (2 Cor. 10:12). Religious inbreeding, even among Baptists, leads to ridiculous positions which are totally opposite to the founders. It is as though that one either says or things, "I know where truth is: we have it and you don't." This is the spirit of Pilate who ignorantly asked, "What is truth"? (John 18:38). Had some of these supercilious Baptists of our day been present, they would have gladly given him a course in their own brand of truth!
Orthodoxy is the straight line of truth as given in the Holy Scriptures. It is subject to no man's ruler or measuring device. It is unchangeable and continues the same as the ages roll. Credal declarations, pulpit demonstrations, and editorial diatribes alter truth not one iota!
II. WHAT IS THE AMERICAN BAPTIST ASSOCIATION?
First, this association is composed of a loose-knit group of churches which came out of the old General Association around 1905. Ben Marcus Bogard was one of the Convention leaders who led in the formation of this association. For years he was the leading light among this group. I admire Brother Bogard and revere his memory. It was under his ministry that I was converted in 1944. So there is no animosity here.
Second, this association is composed of churches scattered throughout the United States, primarily in the southern states. This group has missionaries scattered across America and in many foreign countries.
Third, the churches which compose this association have an annual meeting in which elected messengers from the churches meet to discuss business for the churches. This messenger body meeting votes on the missinaries nominated by the churches, sets salaries, elects officers such as moderator, clerk, etc. This association continues throughout the year in the practical sense, as certain ones are elected who function through the year.
Fourth, the churches of the A.B.A. are overwhelmingly Arminian in their theology. Not liking the words "Arminian" and "Calvinism," these usually declare themselves "Biblicists." This kind of reasoning, however, answers nothing. In practice many of these churches have a tendency toward "Semi-Pelagianism," rather than "Arminianism."
Fifth, the churches composing the A.B.A. generally fancy themselves to be "orthodox," and all others less so. In most places they receive the baptism of the Fundamentalist Baptists, the Southern Baptists, the B.M.A. Baptists (Baptist Missionary Association). In some locales, as California, most SBC baptism is rejected. They will not receive Free-Will Baptist, General-Baptist, or Primitive-Baptist baptism. Nor will they receive baptism, generally, from those who label themselves Sovereign-Grace Baptists. Along this line there is another little "ditty" I have composed which fits the situation:
"Sitting on my pinnacle,
Looking to and fro;
I wondered where the people were,
And saw them all below."
That is to say, to the average member in a church fellowshipping with the A.B.A., every other Baptist (of whatever stripe) is seen downhill. For, to these formers of "orthodoxy," anything outside the pale of the A.B.A. is downward! This is not mere fanciful reasoning on my part; it is the usual practice of this group of churches. For instance, someone wants to start a work in some northern state. The attitude is, "There are no scriptural churches in the whole state." What is meant by this is that there are no "A.B.A." churches in the state. This in itself is quite a statement, but is the usual practice of these churches. In other words, ORTHODOXY STARTS AND STOPS HERE!
Sixth, the churches composing the A.B.A. are strong on the local, visible church, and rightly so. They are be commended for holding the true position on the nature of the Lord's ekklesia. They are also strong on the matter of "church perpetuity." Certainly this is a Biblical teaching based on the promise of Jesus in Matthew 16:18. But here's where the rub comes in. To trace one's genealogy back to Christ means going through the "fathers." The early American Baptists who adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith (John Clarke, etc.) were overwhelmingly Calvinistic. The majority of the prominent theologians in the past century in the Baptist ranks were Calvinistic--A.H. Strong, J.B. Moody, J. P. Boyce, B. H. Carroll, and others. Even J. R. Graves, the darling of the A.B.A. group was a 4-point Calvinist (or Fullerite, as was J.M. Pendleton). Let me here insert a footnote: when I entered Seminary in 1956 all young preachers were given free copies of all of J.R. Graves' books. This included the work on "Seven Dispensations." Graves made no secret of his Calvinistic leanings!
Not only were the early American Baptist Churches Calvinistic, but the English Baptists, from which the American Baptists came, were Calvinistic. These had adopted the First London Confession of 1646 and the Second London Confession of 1689 (almost exact with the Philadelphia). This means that John Gill, Charles Spurgeon, and the leading lights among the Baptists in England were Calvinists.
Now the problem is: "How do you go through these groups in the search for church perpetuity without acknowledging their beliefs?" Much the same way that the Pharisees kept their traditions. You take what you like and reject the rest. First, you keep people in the dark on these matters. Second, you denounce Calvinism as Hardshellism. Third, you say that the "fathers" were in error on these points, but the Baptists of today are more enlightened. This may wash with the non-student of the Bible and history, but it will not wash with those who want to be honest.
III. SOME INTERETING QUESTIONS.
Most Baptist groups are inconsistent when it comes to the matter of exhanging church letters or receiving baptism from other Baptist Churches. In every case, they are a rule to themselves. They have established the standard--this one is "right" and that one is "wrong." We fellowship "here," but we don't fellowship "there." Individual churches, of course, have to set certain guidelines by which they fellowship, grant and receive letters, accept baptisms, etc. But there should be a system of consistency.
First, "On what Scriptural basis are the baptisms of other Baptist groups either accepted or rejected?" If this is on mere personality, the claim is invalid. I know of churches that split over personalities--both believing exactly the same thing doctrinally. But they would not exchange letters, etc. A good case in point here goes back to the division with the A.B.A. around 1950-51. The split formed two separate groups which still exist--the A.B.A. and the N.A.B.A. (Northe American Baptist Association). This groups is not known as the B.M.A. (Baptist Missionary Association). Later, I pastored a church in Missouri, and we fellowshipped with churches in the St. Louis area. I remember vividly that the A.B.A. churches would not fellowship, exchange letters, or receive baptisms from the N.A.B.A. group. They were the same people, with the same doctrines, and generally the same practices. BUT BECAUSE OF PERSONALITIES THEY REFUSED TO EXCHANGE LETTERS! In other words, the N.A.B.A. churches were looked upon as far beneath the standard of orthodoxy! REMEMBER THE LITTLE DITTY GIVEN BEFORE:
"Sitting on my pinnacle,
Looking to and fro;
I wondered where the people were,
And saw them all below."
That is, "We are the standard of orthodoxy. Anyone else wearing the Baptist name (not in our particular group) is suspect." Many within the framework of the A.B.A. are like the witness who was called to testify. When the bailiff held out the Bible and asked, "Do you sware to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" the witness was flabbergasted, and said: "Don't you know me? I always tell the truth."
Second, "Where is the consistency in taking the letters and baptisms from S.B.C. , B.M.A., and Fundamentalist (Bible Baptist) Churches, and rejecting those from churches which hold the doctrines of the forefathers in the faith?" Well, there is no consistency here. And well the old adage fits, "Consistency, thou art a jewel." I suppose it is o.k. with many to be consistently inconsistent. Remember what Jesus said (Matt. 23:29-31). The Pharisees said, "We love the prophets. We garnish their tombs. We would not have killed them had we been living then." Jesus' answer was that their ilk were exactly like the ones who did kill the prophets. And why did they kill them? Because of what the prophets said from God!
Third, "If every way from us is down, how did we get on the pinnacle to start with?" Church groups who claim this superiority are usually "Johnny-come-latelys," who evolved, withdrew, or came out of other established Baptist works. Contrary to popular thought, God did not create the A.B.A. or any other group in Genesis 1. In other words, here is how the reasoning goes: (1) We came out of another group; hence, we have their baptism; (2) But they are not as scriptural as we are; thus, we cannot exchange letters or receive their baptisms; (3) In fact, in some cases these churches are heretical. Now there is some good reasoning for you!
Fourth, "Why are doctrines hated now that our forefathers loved?" Specifically, I refer to the following called the "doctrines of grace." (1) Total Hereditary Depravity and Spiritual Inability of the Sinner. Most all Baptists, on paper, will give mouth service to this doctrine--if you let them explain it to suit the brethren; (2) Unconditional Election by God in eternity, based on nothing but His good pleasure (Ephesians 1). This doctrine is today rejected by the vast majority of Baptists, who of course, trace their roots through the American Baptists and English Baptists. Must be quite a thorny trip through these woods, as most were thoroughly Calvinistic! (3) Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption. Christ made a definite atonement for those chosen by the Father (John 17). Again, overwhelmingly the Baptists of the present are thoroughly Arminian, and believe in conditional election (if indeed any election at all). (4) Irresistible Grace or Effectual Calling. That God the Holy Spirit does effectually apply the redemption wrought by Christ for the elect to them experientially (Eph. 2:1). This doctrine evokes yells, catcalls, and utter denunciations from modern-day Baptists. (5) Perseverance and preservation of the saints. That God keeps His own from falling. While many modern-day Baptists love this truth, they have just rejected the truths which confirm such (Romans 8:28-38). Oh, well, if you are at the top of the pile on your own little pinnacle, who cares about the opinions of others?
IV. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS.
First, this article is not sent out to merely criticize. It is meant, however, to show utter inconsistences in the practice of some Baptists.
Second, this article is not advocating that any local church fellowship or not fellowship, receive letters or not receive letters, or receive or reject baptisms. This matter is up to each local church. But, again, should there not be consistency? Do we have a right, under God, to set ourselves up as "standards of orthodoxy," and reject those outside the "unbrella" as heretics? Again, this little ditty is fitting:
"I built me a little fence,
And closed myself right in;
Outside were all the heretics,
Inside were all my kin."
This reminds me of the days of my "superior" (ignorant) thinking. When pastoring in Missouri years ago, a preacher brother from a B.M.A. (then the N.A.B.A.) church attended one Sunday morning. Afraid that he might be a heretic of the worst sort, I did not ask him to preach. Of course, had he been a member of an A.B.A. church, no thought would have been given to the matter. It's always good to know that someone is checking just how you cross your "t's" and dot your "I's."
Third, this article is not an attempt to make any one group either orthodox or herterodox. The Scriptures do this. I am merely attempting to point out the spirit of "Pharaiseeism" which prevails among Baptists of our day. When a church rejects baptism from a church that believes what the forefathers taught, something is bad wrong in Zion!
Fourth, this article is an attempt to unmask hypocrisy. And if such exists, in any Baptist group, it needs unmasking. Jesus seemed to detest hypocrisy from the religionists of His day as a great sin. Some groups are so enthralled and captivated by their own worth, they they can almost be heard answering the question: "Who is called by God to love truth, exalt truth, and promulgate truth?" WE ARE! Be that as it may, the Judge is at the door. And He judges according to truth, not what we say about truth!
Prepared: February, 1996
Sovereign Grace Baptist Church
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Last updated on Friday, March 04, 2011