Theology of the Irish Baptists
The Baptist World, August 18, 1910.
"A SIMPLE-HEARTED PEOPLE."
(Part of an address delivered before the recent Baptist
Union of Ireland by its new president, Rev. S. J. Reid.)
The Baptists are the simple-hearted of the Lord's children, They have his plain commands, and they feel the joy of full obedience. They believe in individuality and simplicity in corporate church life. They have the message that is most in harmony with the modern democratic spirit, and meet with as glad a response in Russia as in America, in Germany or South America, and have a whole gospel for the whole world. We believe that every soul is directly responsible to God, and that no priest or minister, church or council has any authority
whatever. There is only one Law-giver in Zion. He is both what God is and what man ought to be. All, therefore, which we should believe and live and be is summed up in him. But the New Testament is the divine portrait of him, and the clearest knowledge of him is possible only through it. We are, therefore
JUSTIFIED IN TAKING BAPTISM AS OUR CREED
when we are thinking of a creed expressed in words. All too frequently have men regarded religion as a matter of intellectual assent to certain carefully drawn propositions, and however the conscience rebelled, outward conformity was regarded as satisfactory. But Christ regards it as a man's personal heart attitude toward a personal God, our heavenly Father. That is the biblical conception. The true attitude is maintained by Jesus, and we, learning the secret from him, not by any rule of thought, but by coming through faith into possession of his Spirit, are brought into the same right relationship to God. To make light, as some do, of baptism seems to us undue levity. "Believers' baptism," says one, "might be made to serve all the purposes of a creed and have none of its difficulties. It sets forth Christianity at once as a revealed, an historical and an experimental religion. Everything distinctly Christian is enshrined in the baptismal word
- into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Believers so baptized are a constant procession of witnesses to the cardinal facts upon which our faith rests. Christ died and Christ rose again. If he did not, baptism is meaningless. In Christian baptism men and women declare that Jesus lives, and that by faith they know him even unto salvation.
"Believers' baptism accords well with the modern spirit in its intense ethical demand. It sets forth as nothing else can that between the believing soul and habitual sin there stands the cross of the Eedeemer, and it points the way to the new and holy life incumbent upon all who have named his name and depend upon his grace. Does our conception of the church lend itself to the exaltation of Christ better than any other?"
SPIRITUALITY OF THE CHUECH
To this we answer "Yes" without any hesitation. No other Christian body has so insistently stood for the spirituality of the church. It is said that the Puritan movement sought to make the church more spiritual by purifying formularies and its ceremonies, but left membership to nationality. The Separatist movement sought to escape the secularizing state, but still allowed the unregenerate to enter the church as infants. The Baptist movement
alone insisted on a believing church, and hence on the supremacy of Christ. For us, therefore, the church is a company of regenerate men, who, being in touch with God, are themselves full of happiness, courage and zeal and ready for every crusade against sin and misery. This is the essence of the church's power to save. We cannot be satisfied with anything less than a church such as came into being under the guidance of men who were so near to Jesus that they were able to incorporate his spirit in their institutions. We believe that the spirit of Christ is only free to move and rule in the church composed of believers. Baptism is universally regarded as the door into the church; therefore, Baptists achieve their object of securing the spirituality of the church by granting baptism only to those who gave evidence by their choice and testimony of being members of the body of Christ.
BAPTISTS A BIBLE PRODUCT
We believe that to make Baptists we must sow the Bible in the lands of the world. Sow the Bible and up will spring Baptists. The Baptists are not the product of some great personality, such as Wesley and Methodism, or General Booth and Salvation Army, but in all lands where the Bible is read they have come into being - and in many lands spontaneously
- the simple outcome of people trying to build up New Testament churches. The Baptist churches of Germany largely owe their origin to Oncken, who was a colporter of the Scottish Bible Society. The first Baptist church in Austria was founded by Millard, another Bible Society agent. The Hungarian Baptist churches sprang from the activities of H. Myers, at first a Bible colporter. The churches of Bulgaria were formed by people quite ignorant of the existence of Baptist churches, and basing their action solely on what they found in the New Testament. Mr. Alexander, minister of the church in Urma, Persia, tells us that his church was founded in the same fashion; and, further, we learn that Baptist churches stretch today across Russia to Harbin, in the Far East. And how have they come into existence? Surely we have a good clue in the fact that in the second half of the last century Dr. Baedeker went twice from west to east of Siberia distributing copies of the New Testament, and that since his time the Bible has been allowed a wide circulation in the czar's dominions.
The great thing is to be sure of our individual relationship to God. We hold the competency of the soul Godward, and our oneness
is not brought about by outside ecclesiastical pressure, but is due to the inner spiritual life. Christianity is life, eternal life - the life of Christ and human experience - the inner fellowship of the spirit of man with the Spirit of God. It is wholly a personal relation, a vital union of man with God through Jesus Christ. It is not dependent on any external agency, not even the Bible. There were Christians of the noblest type before the New Testament was written. Christianity is not the religion of a book - it is the religion of Jesus Christ, and the Bible is the book of Christianity. How much Jesus Christ is to us we cannot tell. Adequate expression is impossible. Jesus wrote no books, yet he was an author, and wrote himself in the hearts of his disciples, and he still continues to write his autograph on our hearts. But we, because of our principle of the spirituality of religion, admit no authority in matters of the soul, except that of the Lord Jesus himself. The Bible, then, becomes of authority only if we see in it the authority of the Master, otherwise it has no authority over us. Because the Bible speaks to us with the authority of God, teaches the essential spirituality of religion, reveals fully the will of God, we accept it as our rule of faith and practice. Therefore we not only seek to know what the Bible teaches, but to
conform to its teaching, to walk in the light of its truth, to comply with its revelation of the divine will and to obey the precepts and commands of the Lord therein recorded.
LOYALTY TO THE SCRIPTURES
This loyalty to the Scriptures explains the unity of the Baptists, which, in view of the fact that we have neither an authoritative creed, nor an elaborate ecclesiastical system, has occasioned wonder in the minds of many outside our fold. What is surprising to others occasions no astonishment to us, for the New Testament teaching must unify and bind together all who submit to its power. Baptists are anxious, above all things, for a widespread and thorough-going study of the Bible. The more God's book is understood the better will our position be appreciated. Every man who goes to the Bible to learn its message with open mind and heart, and a determination to respond to its appeal and yield to its teachings is in danger of becoming a Baptist. By Baptist we mean a believer in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, whose religion is spiritual and apostolic in its simplicity; a believer in the spirituality of church membership; in the democracy of church government; in the coordination of the ordinances that they are for believers only; in the individualism of redeeming
grace; and, first and last, in Jesus of Nazareth, as Alpha and Omega, foundation and corner-stone, keystone and door, the Lamb of God by whose own personal power alone the church is sustained, fed and led through the wilderness of the world.
THE BAPTIST OUTLOOK
The Baptist denomination is justified in expressing its conviction that it is the church of the future. It is of the people and for the people. Without comparatively great expenditure in lives or money, Baptists have grown more rapidly and spread more widely in the last century than any other denomination. The principles whereby they have flourished have undergone no change, the conditions are more favorable than ever, and the people awaking to their opportunities. Baptists preach the whole evangel in the order laid down by the Head of the church. We exalt the Christ of the cross, and vow our absolute obedience to his divine Kingship, and our day must come so surely as his must. Baptists are in line with the foremost thought in the democracy of the hour, and the principle "of democracy is stirring every throne in Europe, and is the explanation of the commotion in Eussia, in Portugal and Spain. The day of an educated and intelligent democracy has already appeared,
and the people are surely pressing forward to greater liberties. The very spirit of Baptist principles is liberty - liberty to worship God according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of Holy Scripture. Where liberty is, there is the Spirit of God, and a free people take into the whole being the privileges of their liberties. The principles which we maintain are the principles of liberty interpreted in terms of the spiritual life.
As we have said,
DEMOCRACY IS THE SURE DRIFT OF THE NATIONS
All the States in North and South America are republican in government. It is worthy of notice that Baptist principles find rapid development in countries nominally Roman Catholic as soon as civil and religious liberty are granted to the people. Within recent years the spread of our prinicples has been most marked among Boman Catholic nations. Baptists, therefore, do not fear democracy, and, with the growth of political and religious freedom, have every confidence in the future.
The spirituality of the church and the necessity for a regenerate membership, for which Baptists have always stood firmly and unflinchingly, will become an urgent demand in the near future. Man is a spirit and God is a
Spirit. Men grow weary of forms and ceremonies which do not give life. The elaborate ceremonial, the mysterious rites and awful sacraments belong to the church of the Dark Ages, and must disappear with the coming of light. We shall never get back again to the glamor of Borne. The "dim, mysterious light" and the subtle appeal to the senses shall never again fill the mind of humanity with paralyzing awe. All attempts to solve the problems of our modern life by means of external or social redemption will inevitably fail. When the material well-being is placed first on the program the emphasis is wrong. There is much to be done for the suffering and hungry poor. God knows their need is acute. By the application of the beloved old gospel is the surest and swiftest method in the end. Regeneration includes reform. Reform cannot include regeneration. And as all the needs of humanity will be recognized, so spiritual life shall be placed at the center as the primary, vital and essential requirement of life. Science has abandoned its materialistic basis, and Huxley, Tindal and their disciples are succeeded by men of equal attainments who recognize and acknowledge the spiritual in life.
When the Christian churches grow weary of offering entertainments to the people, and the people are weary of being amused, there shall
arise a cry for life and food. Perhaps the first whisperings of that cry have already made themselves heard. Baptists shall hail with great joy the coming of the people for the Bread of Life, for their conceptions of the church as a spiritual brotherhood finds them ready to accept the call to service.
With the progress of enlightenment and education comes the demand for simplicity and reality in worship. It seems that simple apostolic Christianity has now a far better chance than at any other time since the beginning of Christianity. The better understanding of the Bible, and the greater inclination of people to judge truth for themselves all favor the cause of the Baptists. It is our strong conviction that if it were possible for the present race of Baptists to disappear, yet so long as the Bible is accepted as the Word of God, new Baptist peoples would continue to spring up. And we know the Bible is being circulated over the world in increasingly large numbers every year. The first chapters of the Acts contain
THE BAPTIST ORDER FOR CHURCH LIFE
Beginning with the repentance and regeneration, the individual reaches the joys of happy service. All the world may read there the apostolic procedure and find it practiced today within the Baptist denomination. The unit of
a Baptist church is the redeemed soul, and with us the individual is too important to be lost, in the mass. We contemplate the future with joy, we can see that every movement toward a simpler, more democratic, more spiritual and more personal religion is a movement in the direction of New Testament teaching, and a movement toward the Lord and Saviour, in whom we live and move and have our being. We believe in the triumph of his gospel. Many kingdoms remain to be conquered and many souls to be won before "the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever!" -
Irish Baptist Magazine.
[From The Baptist Message, SSB/SBC, 1911, pp. 191-202. This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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