CHALLENGES FACING BAPTISTS
Having pastored Baptist churches (in two States of Australia and in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) for 35 years, spoken to all the Baptist pastors' conferences around Australia and in many other countries, and preached in about 250 Baptist churches around the world, here are my suggestions about the issues Baptists are facing. They vary in intensity from place to place and church to church.
The essential issue here is the elevation of dogma or church rules over 'accepting' those whom God accepts (Romans 15:7). The two key issues are social justice (Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42) and open membership. Until recently Baptists were quite muted about their concern for the poor, and the causes of such poverty. Fortunately they are reading Jesus and the prophets again! On the issue of open membership, see my paper on the subject. Briefly, if Jesus said accepting people is more important than sticking to ordinances (even an important ordinance like baptism) then let's follow Jesus rather than the pharisees! Nothing can be added to grace, not even baptism. The Baptist principle of 'liberty of conscience' should apply here as everywhere else. A system which allows a sexually active young person or greedy adult to be a member of most of our churches (and they are!) but not a godly Anglican or Salvationist has got to have something wrong with it. Baptists have to be reminded they're Christians first, Baptists second.
Here's something I just sent to our state Baptist paper (The Victorian Baptist Witness):
There are many ways to measure a church’s health. But let’s start with a diagnosis of the illness (the Bible calls it ‘sin’).
There are three kinds of sinners – those who know they’re sinners and aren’t ready (yet) to change; those who don’t know they’re sinners, but believe all others not-like-them need to change; and those who know they’re sinners and want to change...
The sinless Jesus befriended the first group (‘acceptance precedes repentance’) annoying the Pharisees (‘repentance precedes acceptance’: ‘change your beliefs/behavior before you’re acceptable here’). Jesus says ‘I do not condemn you’, before ‘Go and sin no more’. Pharisees can’t help associating people with their sins – especially sexual sins.
Pharisees are ‘righteous’ but don’t know they are in need of grace (despite their protestations to the contrary). They know what's/who's right. They’re still crucifying Jesus, but don't know it.
'Saints' know their need of grace (they are not - yet - perfect). Although 'saint' is not used in the singular in the Bible (Pharisees are quick to point that out, though they employ plenty of other concepts, like 'Sunday School', which are also not in the Bible) the term has been employed by evangelicals - like the great Methodist Dr. W.E.Sangster - to denote people on the road to holiness. (So forget medieval stained- glass ideas about these people).
Pharisees think they've 'arrived' - they know it all. They believe almost precisely what their 'respected' Bible teachers taught them. They have nothing whatever to learn from those not-like-them. They think they know God’s law in the Bible but miss the main point, said Jesus - justice/love: see Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42.
Saints are maturing, growing, in faith, hope, and love. They discover God's truth and God's will in all sorts of unlikely places.
An easy way to pick a modern Pharisee: they emphasize 'truth' over love. Their creeds and systematic theologies have it all nailed down. Those becoming ‘saints’ emphasize love over (anyone's incomplete definition of) 'truth'. The saint's prayer is 'Lord be merciful to me, a sinner!' (Luke 18:9ff). And regarding 'truth' they believe that 'God has yet more light and truth to break forth from His Holy Word'.
More… ‘How to Know the Lord’ - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/579.htm
Pharisees Ancient and Modern - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/13113.htm