Dear Members and Friends of IBCZ,
In this week’s Newsletter, we reprint an article by Dr. Gerhard Venter which was published in the most recent IBC magazine, Highlights*.
Most Christians, especially those in positions of leadership, are familiar with the fact that Jesus prayed for His followers’ unity (John 17:20-21 – it’s best to look at these verses against the background of the context of the whole prayer in John 17). Apart from wanting to please our Lord Jesus in this regard, there are plenty of other references in the New Testament about the need to strive for unity among followers of Jesus, such as we find in Philippians 2:2, 2 Corinthians 13:11, and Ephesians 4:1-6, to name just a few.
The question, however, is not whether we know or understand that we should be one in Christ, but rather how we express this unity given the reality of differences among Christians in their understanding and application of their faith. The fact is that there are so many beliefs, creeds, theological interpretations, denominations, and more that it seems impossible to accept or embrace every expression of Christianity “out there” as part of what we can tolerate or identify with! No wonder there are literally hundreds or thousands of groupings and networks where Christians and local churches find a “home:’
Based on our own understanding of our faith and practice, it seems logical that we will somehow associate more closely with those with whom we can journey together, while not necessarily rejecting those with whom we have very little in common.
Baptists have a long history where people of similar conviction and practice form local churches, associations, and worldwide networks – an expression of their need for cooperation, support, accountability, and vision to extend the Kingdom of God. One important characteristic or strength of Baptists since the early 17th century is that they were able (broadly and generally) to emphasize certain basic principles of what they believed, without becoming prescriptive in what local churches should do or believe.
There are probably many reasons why Baptists should enjoy and celebrate unity, not only among themselves, but also with other like-minded Christians. Let me highlight just two.
- EMPHASIS ON PRINCIPLES RATHER THAN RULES
Many groups require adherence to a set of rules, statements of faith, creeds, or similar behaviour in order to enjoy the privilege of belonging to their organization or group. Baptists, however, avoid these ways of conformity by emphasizing some basic principles (beliefs, guidelines) without dictating how these principles should be applied.
We can enjoy the unity prayed for by our Lord Jesus Christ by majoring on the majors, rather than nitpicking on the minors. There are some basic teachings in the Word of God that determine whether we are truly saved and belong to Christ. It’s worth highlighting these, rather than becoming prescriptive about beliefs that do not determine our status as followers of Christ.
Baptists share the “standard” non-negotiables with other Christian expressions, such as our belief in the triune God and salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
- Dr Gerhard Venter was the Principal of the Cape Town Baptist Seminary in South Africa, has been an IBC Pastor and now serve as an Interim pastor in our Convention. (Part two of this article will be printed in next week’s Newsletter)
* Used with permission from IBC.
Preacher: Tim Faulkner, General Secretary of the International Baptist Convention