Union University Southern Baptists Future conference day 1

Communications Staff — October 7, 2009

Is there a Future?" as Union University President David Dockery looks on
Ed Stetzer says yes to the question, "Denominationalism: Is there a Future" as Union University President David Dockery looks on. Photo by John Gill

Stetzer: Denominations have a future … if they are the right kind

Ed Stetzer kicked off the conference by addressing the question, “Denominationalism: Is There a Future?” Stetzer answered in the affirmative, so long as denominations are serving local churches and not assuming a place of pre-eminence in the ministry of believers.

Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, said churches that belong to denominations have a confessional standard that holds them accountable to orthodoxy. In addition, Stetzer said denominational networking and cooperation is inevitable for churches that are missions-focused.

“Like-minded people will always find ways to associate with one another. One positive reason for this is missional cooperation,” he said. “The vast majority of world missions, church planting and many other forms of ministry are done through denominational partnerships.

“When it comes to global missions, denominations tend to be the tools used by local churches to get the global work done. Some level of cooperation between like-minded local churches is both unavoidable and beneficial for those who want to make an impact in a lost world.”

Stetzer said as we proceed in the 21st century, one key characteristic of healthy denominations is methodological diversity. While denominations must maintain confessional uniformity, methodological diversity must also be allowed for the sake of cooperation in advancing the Gospel.

Baptist history: messy, but distinct, Patterson says

Union University professor James Patterson prepares to deliver a rap recounting 400 years of Baptist history dressed in Philadelphia Phillies garb. Photo by John Gill
Union University professor James Patterson prepares to deliver a rap recounting 400 years of Baptist history dressed in Philadelphia Phillies garb. Photo by John Gill

James Patterson, associate dean of the School of Christian Studies at Union University, briefly walked through 400 years of Baptist history in his presentation. Patterson’s thesis was that history is messy, in particular Baptist history, and that Baptist history cannot be reduced to one simple theme.

“Even a tight focus on Baptist distinctive, principles or convictional genes fails to convey the complexity of the rich Baptist past,” he said. “Thus, we need to avoid excessive pride and triumphalism when we commemorate our history. The high moments and noble developments of the last 400 years almost always have a downside. Like us, our Baptist forebears were fallen creatures who fell short of all God wanted from them. This is the reason that our past is messy.”

The magisterial reformers played a key role in Baptist history in their recovery of several doctrines that are central to the Christian faith, such as justification by grace alone through faith alone and the priesthood of all believers.

Regarding Anabaptists, Patterson said “We are not Anabaptists, but we do share some common ground with them.” Two particular areas of common ground Patterson identified were a recovery of believers’ baptism and a belief in regenerate church membership.

Despite messiness, Patterson said Baptists have maintained a clear and distinct denominational identity for 400 years. Patterson said Paul’s description of believers in 2 Corinthians 4:7 as those who hold the treasure of the Gospel in jars of clay is particularly important for Southern Baptists to keep in mind.

“In light of our messy past, this [2 Cor 4:7] suggests a need for humility in celebrating our heritage, as well as a recognition that we must ultimately be measured by how faithful we have been to God’s glorious and eternal Gospel,” Patterson said. “Our distinctives are important, but not so much as ends in themselves, and not nearly as urgent as the Gospel message that we proclaim in common with those in the wider body of Christ.”

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