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TEXT: Jude 3
SUBJECT: Our Confession of Faith #1: Introduction
Grace Baptist Church was founded on December 26, 1965, at which time the New Hampshire Confession of Faith was adopted as a fair summary of those things most surely believed among us.
The Confession was drawn up in 1833 and well-received by most Baptist churches in America for more a hundred years. Its theology is strikingly orthodox and evangelical, and somewhat Reformed. Except for its article on the Sabbath, I agree with every word of it, and believe it has served the people of God very well.
But when I became the pastor of Grace Baptist Church, I was somewhat dissatisfied with not. Not because of what it said, but because I did not think its emphases were the same as the church's. Thirty years ago--and still--this is a Reformed Baptist Church, a people who love the Doctrines of Grace and have made them the centerpiece of our church life and witness.
Why these doctrines and not some other? Because the Doctrines of Grace infuse the Gospel with life and vitality. I believe one can preach the Gospel without them, but the Gospel he preached would be anemic, alive, but not healthy.
The Gospel is a robust and red-blooded thing! And nothing makes that more evident than the Doctrines of Grace, Man's Helplessness and God's Almighty Intervention to Save Us Through Christ.
These things are in the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, but not as prominent as I and the others thought they should be back in the mid 1980s.
So I had the happy assignment of looking for a new confession of faith. Not that our doctrine had changed, but we wanted a summary of doctrine that not only taught what we believed but with the same priorities.
Two Baptist Confessions of Faith were turned to first and studied with care. The lesser known Confession of 1646/7 and the better known London Confession of 1688 (which is a Baptist version of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith).
Both are outstanding, and I encourage you to read them and learn from them, as I have. But, back in 1985, choosing one of the other sent a message loud and clear to our sister Reformed Baptist Churches.
If you chose the older Confession, you were supposedly against the Sabbath and many labeled you Antinomian (against the Law of God).
If you chose the younger Confession, you had to impose the Sabbath on church life forbidding people to go to a restaurant, watch a football game and other things that seem innocent to me.
This put me in a fix. The one thing I didn't want to do is to write a new confession of faith, as if one young man knew more than the thousands of learned and godly pastors and theologians of the past who carefully prepared the great confessions and had them ratified by devout churches all over the world.
I looked for quite some time, and then I found what I was looking for in a book by William Lumpkin, called Baptist Confessions of Faith.
Most of them were British and American, or derived from the two, and I found one that put us in the mainstream of Reformed Baptist Theology without also offending good brethren who disagree on the Sabbath question.
Its called The Midland Confession of Faith, published in 1655, to declare the faith of the Reformed Baptist churches in the midlands of England at the time.
Like other summary statements of Bible doctrine, it doesn't cover everything and is no substitute for the Bible itself. Still, it's a fine document, and one I'm thankful to confess with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I ought to tell you that I changed a few words back in the 80s to make it more readable, but the changes have not affected the meaning.
As a Preamble, I wrote, and the church adopted the disclaimer--
This Confession of Faith defines our teaching position; it does not limit our church membership or our fellowship with other Christians.
In other words, you don't have to believe every word of this Confession to belong to Grace Baptist Church or to have our cooperation in ministry. In fact, I know of only one other church that has adopted it, and much to my delight, they got it off our website! It is the church Ken Jones served for many years, Greater Union Baptist Church of Compton California.
Unlike the other English Confessions I noted, the Midland is pretty short, only sixteen articles. This, I think, is important, because long, wordy Confessions, for the most part, won't be read or understood or stuck to in any meaningful way. I admire the intelligence of the old Baptists who produced their detailed Confessions, but I find their wisdom less admirable.
By definition, a summary requires leaving things out, even important things, and hewing to the things that matter most or the things that are most contested at the time.
In the middle of England in the middle of the 17th Century, there were two great doctrines competing for the loyalty of the Baptists and all the dissenting church then and there.
What were the two great doctrines? Ones that are still at odds with each other today in the churches of Christ: Arminianism and Calvinism.
On most points, Arminians and Calvinists agree. We all believe in One God, in the Trinity, in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, in the divinity and humanity of Christ, in the need for the new birth, in the demand for personal holiness, in the Second Coming of Christ, and in the final happiness of the saved and the unending punishment of the lost.
We need to always remember this: Arminians and Calvinists are not enemies; we're friends and brethren who differ on a couple of points.
This doesn't mean, however, that the points we differ on don't matter: they do! Arminianism muddles the Gospel--in my opinion--while Calvinism clarifies it.
This is what the brethren back in 1655 wanted to do: make the Gospel as clear as they could. Thus, their emphasis on the Doctrines of Grace, and two in particular: the Sovereignty of God and Salvation by Grace.
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
The first thing to note is: All Christians believe in the sovereignty of God. In his wonderful book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, JI Packer says the Arminian Christian is better than his doctrine. While he preaches 'Salvation depends on what man does in response to God's offer of mercy in the Gospel', he doesn't pray that way!
The Arminian brother does not ask God to 'Let my friend accept the salvation You offer in the Gospel'; like us, he prays, 'Lord, save my friend'.
The sovereignty of God simply means: God does whatever He wants to, when He wants, to and how He wants to, and this applies to Creation, Providence, and Salvation.
I have never heard a Christian say 'God wanted to create the world one way, but couldn't do it'. With the Bible and the whole Church, he confesses 'God made the world just the way He wanted to'. No argument here.
When it comes to Providence, or 'what happens in the world' there is less clarity. You often hear people saying things like, 'God did not will 9/11'. When you ask him 'Then how did it happen?' he typically replies, 'This is the risk of making man free'.
The answer satisfies most people, until they think about it. There is more than one kind of evil in the world. There are sins, like murder and rape and child molesting, where men choose against God and wreak havoc in the world. The Arminian answer might explain that.
But what about the evils in the world that are not sinful? How do you explain babies born with spinal bifida? The disciples would ask--
Who sinned, the babies or their parents?
This is a heartless and untrue way to look at disease and death and other innocent misfortunes we're all subject to.
Arminianism has no answer for this. Calvinism does. Like the Bible, it says God--
Works all things after the counsel of His will.
Not 'some things' or 'all good things', but all things without exception. Including awful things like 'being born blind' (cf. John 9:3) and even sin, up to and including the cross where Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and the mob conspired to murder an innocent Man all the while--Peter says, Acts 4:28--
Doing whatever your hand and purpose determined before to be done.
The Bible teaches the sovereignty of God, His Lordship over all things, ruling with a wisdom that is so keen that He can appoint things He truly hates to accomplish things He truly loves.
God is in charge of everything. And while some people find this threatening, it is, in fact, quite comforting because of who He is. A hateful or unreliable God would be an appalling thing! But is the Lord this way? He isn't. God is love and He keeps His Word, and this means we ought to think about the sovereignty of God the way the Psalmist did--
The Lord reigns!
Let the earth rejoice,
let the multitude of the isles
Part of 'being in charge of everything' means 'being in charge of salvation'. God saves everyone He intends to save. If He didn't, no one would be saved because, as the Bible says--
No man seeks after God.
Many verses speak of God's offer of mercy to all who will take it, and the offer is genuine. The problem is, no one would take it if God didn't move their hearts to want it. Sinners are not 'born again' by believing the Gospel, the believe the Gospel because they're born again, as John 1 puts it--
Even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of bloods, neither of the will of man, neither of the will of the flesh, but of God.
People who constantly worry about limiting human freedom, don't seem to have the same fears of limiting God's freedom! But God is free to do whatever He wants us, including, as Paul says--
Having mercy on whom He will have mercy
and hardening whom He will harden.
This is one of the special emphases of the Reformed Faith and stands in bold relief in our Confession of Faith.
SALVATION BY GRACE
The other is Salvation by Grace.
Again, all Christians believe this, but Calvinists make it clearer than other believers. We say that Man is not only fallen into sin, but--
Dead in trespasses and sins.
This means he cannot save himself (no Christian believes he can), and, more to the point, he cannot contribute to his salvation. Repentance and faith are terms of conversion, and we must do these things. But how come we do them and others don't?
There are only two possible answers: There is something in us or there is something in God. Which is it? Am I more pliable than my neighbor who doesn't believe? Am I more open to God, more humble than he is, more earnest for my soul?
If I'm as dead in sin as he is, how can I be more anything than he is? Are there degrees of death? Can one man be less dead than another?
The answer is not something in me, but something in God. For some reason that no one but God knows, God has deigned to be gracious to me and not to my neighbor. It is God who makes us to differ one from another, and not we ourselves.
Salvation is by grace from start to finish. Sinners are saved in time because God chose them in eternity (cf. Ephesians 1:4); we repent and believe because these are God's gifts to us (cf. Acts 5:31; 18:27); we persevere because we are kept by God's power (cf. I Peter 1:5) and Christ's prayer (John 17:9); we make it to Heaven because Jesus has gone there to prepare a place for us (cf. John 14:2-3).
Because salvation is by grace alone--and irrespective of our efforts and intentions--God gets all the glory for our salvation, which is its ultimate purpose. As much as He loves us, He loves His own glory more, and nothing saves us and glorifies Him than Salvation by Grace Alone.
These are the main emphases of the Midland Confession of Faith, of Calvinism, and--truth be told--of the Bible. It is a faith worth confessing to each other and the world.
Next time, God willing, we'll get into the Confession itself with the Doctrine of God. Lord keep us till then. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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