We live in a day that is permeated by a sort of conspiratorial Gnosticism, where to some, nothing is ever believed to be what it has been established as being and everything is viewed with suspicion and skepticism. This sort of thing manifests itself in every aspect of American life. Social media has made it many times worse. People are inherently gullible and easily duped if the argument for something is produced well enough. Often the official take is questioned, an alternate theory is introduced as being a true but suppressed fact, and some sort of nefarious villain is to blame! An extreme example of this would be the resurgence of “flat earth” as a cosmological model. Proponents of this question the fact that Earth is a globe, promote a flat planet surrounded by an ice wall, and then blame “NASA” as the villain who has pulled the wool over the eyes of the world. Of course, none of that is remotely true but it doesn’t stop such from spreading like wildfire online, duping many who give such nonsense the time of day.
I know, I know, that’s an extreme example. But as I said, this happens in most – if not all – areas of society right now; whether history, politics, science, or medicine… and especially religion. Couple our desire for mysterious entertainment with the fact that humans are naturally superstitious and you have the root of many religious errors and movements.
Let me just state up front that reality is reality. There is absolute truth. We’re exhorted in scripture to hold fast that which is true. When something is true, it ought to be embraced and anything else is not even to be considered. That doesn’t make us closed minded, it makes us wise. Sometimes men will come along boasting that they like to “think outside of the box,” but when it comes to the truth, anything outside of the box is error. Novelty is great when inventing technology but not so when it comes to religion. God doesn’t change. His word doesn’t change. Therefore theology proper shouldn’t change. This is a simple concept.
The good news is that churches have great tools at their disposal to help them keep a bearing on that which we consider nonnegotiable. What might these be? The most crucial of these tools are our statements of faith. Have you ever noticed how similar Primitive Baptist statements of faith are, regardless of era or location? This is for good reason. These articles express things that one must agree or submit to in order to even join a Primitive Baptist church. When ministers are ordained, they’re questioned in front of witnesses and must answer in accordance with these articles to be granted their credentials as an elder. For churches to have fellowship, their articles must not contradict. And if a church was to split 50/50 over core doctrine and that dispute result in a court case, the side whose beliefs are reflected in that officially organized body’s “Articles of Faith” has the stronger legal case and would be entitled to the church name, history, and property.
You’ll notice that most Articles of Faith begin with a statement on God. A Primitive Baptist statement will be Trinitarian. The next is usually a statement on the Bible, commonly affirming the Old and New Testaments are the word of God and the only rule for faith and practice. “Wait a minute!” I can hear a scoffer say… “You said we need a statement of faith but then said these Articles affirm scripture as the only rule.” Yes. Those ideas are not contradictory. Please vacate the seat of the scorner, sir. The Bible is our only rule, but what we believe the Bible to teach is shared in statements, articles, books, blogs, and most commonly sermons. Back to statements of faith, following a position on God’s identity and the word of God, you generally have statements about salvation, church membership (via baptism upon believers by the proper administrator), communion, Heaven, and Hell. And again, these are not up for discussion.
Sometimes I’ll catch wind of men who scoff at the existence of these. I always wonder what they’re really up to. Literally – there is ZERO in the Articles of Faith from Flint River Primitive Baptist Church that I take issue with. Likewise, there is ZERO from the Articles of Faith of Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church (where I was raised) that I take issue with. Why? Because those reflect ideas required to be a Primitive Baptist and I am a Primitive Baptist. I’m here on purpose because what I believe the Bible to teach more closely aligns with the official (yes – official) doctrinal positions of the Old School Baptists. If I disagreed, I’d go elsewhere. You thought I was here for your charming personality? Haha…no sir, I’m here because I agree with the doctrines and practices of this people.
Back to the occasional push to change or drop these altogether. A couple of decades ago, a group of No-Hell churches wanted our people in Alabama to abandon the Articles of Faith each church held and come together in fellowship. They perceived, rightly, that these expressed doctrines were firmly held, set in stone, and formed a barrier between that fringe and the mainstream of our people. Well, good! We don’t fellowship No-Hellers. That’s a heresy. Mind you, No-Hellers claim to believe the Bible, they just have an easier time with an abundance of words, explaining away texts about the eternal punishment of the wicked. Your run of the mill PB statement of faith was so concise and clear that they couldn’t twist them, so they wanted to remove them to have fellowship with our people.
When someone joins Flint River, I try to meet with them to at least go through the Articles of Faith and Rules of Decorum. When you join a church, you are submitting to both. Submission is not something Americans like, and preachers aren’t even an exception. But you’re agreeing to submit to these established documents, again documents that even carry legal weight. I meet and review these because I want them to know 1) what our church is founded upon that is NOT to be reconsidered or questioned, and 2) how we function and how business is handled. Both are crucial. Regarding the Articles of Faith for Flint River, they were adopted at our founding from the Elk River Association in 1808, and have existed basically unchanged since our constitution. There are other churches in town nearly as historic, such as First Baptist of Huntsville, who have changed their statements of faith so drastically over the years that they’re not even recognizable as a historic Baptist document anymore. In the 1950s, the congregation at Flint River felt so strongly about these positions that they installed a 7′ granite monument in the church lawn with this statement of faith engraved on the face of it. Literally, these doctrines are set in stone.
If you are inclined to think that too restrictive, oppressive, or strict, let me just remind you that this is how society functions. For example, as a conservative I am quick to defend a person’s Constitutional rights, whether free speech, bearing arms, the right to privacy, a fair trial, etc. Having laws in a country is what ensures order, equity, and even peace as laws are enforced and crime is punished and thereby deterred. Having an official “Articles of Faith” document prevent heretics from taking a church, can enable a congregation defrock a renegade pastor, and provide a quick way for newcomers to know exactly what a congregation stands for. Also, the historicity of our statements of faith depict something wonderful: We’re not a cult! Baptist history is indeed messy and anyone who says otherwise either hasn’t studied it or is in denial. But unlike the cults of the world, we didn’t just spring into existence with no historical connection. We follow a rich heritage of theology and worship from godly saints who went before us.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a question: If someone has an axe to grind against the expression of these bedrock principles in the form of a statement of faith, I just have to wonder what they’re up to. What’s the agenda? Why be among a people if you find fault with and want to alter their most fundamental, agreed upon doctrines? Some things should not be up for discussion. These are the ancient landmarks, and we’d be wise to leave them in place where we found them.