Driving through Dallas recently, I saw a First Baptist Church billboard saying that they are Bible based. How does that differ from your claim to be a Bible-based church?
Your question offers another opportunity to think and talk about a few of our favorite things: the Bible, the church, and the agreements and disagreements among Christians and churches over doctrines.
The claim of a Baptist Church to be Bible based is not essentially different from the same claim made by Church of God (Seventh Day) — also known as CoG7. Though Baptists arrive at different conclusions than us about what the Bible actually teaches on several topics, our claims to be Bible based are equivalent. We both agree that Christian faith and practice should be firmly grounded in the Holy Scriptures as our final authority. This principle, found in the Law and Prophets, runs throughout God’s Word (Deuteronomy 8:3; Isaiah 8:20; 1 Thessalonians. 2:13).
Baptist and CoG7 churches share several faith traditions rooted in Scripture and in the Protestant Reformation. Five hundred years back, Reformers adopted a few Latin phrases to summarize their differences with Catholicism. One such phrase was sola Scriptura (“only Scripture”). And so it was that most Protestant churches, in varying degrees, took up the cry of sola Scriptura and the claim that their different teachings were all based on “Thus saith the Lord” in the Bible.
The Roman church of that period also based its faith in the Bible and still does — but not in the Bible alone. Catholics acknowledge another source for their creeds and teachings: the church, with its centuries of accumulated knowledge and tradition.
Likewise, some quasi-Christian sects that grew up in the mid to late nineteenth century (like Mormons, Christian Scientists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) were formed around the extra-biblical writings and/or revelations of their early leaders. This became a problem for Michigan CoG7 pioneer Gilbert Cranmer, who for a time attempted to work with a movement that was greatly influenced by the visions and dreams of one of its founders. Cranmer broke fellowship with that movement in 1858 and set out, as he later put it, “with my Bible in my hand.” Since then, the singular authority of Scripture has been oft claimed by us, even while we admit that we are not alone in claiming it.
Whether we are Baptist, CoG7, or another in our affiliation, we must also admit that our claims to be Bible based have limits. No one can say that their own personal, hands-on, unassisted search of Scripture — all sixty-six books of it — has led them to all they believe about the Bible, that they are not in the least influenced by other writings, by their ancestors, by their teachers, or by any church. While no one and no group should claim to be fully free from outside influence and thus absolutely Bible based, Scripture remains as the true standard for Christian teaching.
We may learn more about Jesus — His awesome grace and truth — from many Bible-based sources. Still, only the written Word taught by the Holy Spirit serves as final arbiter in differences among Christians over matters of faith and lifestyle.
— Elder Calvin Burrell
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