Unite around gospel essentials, Dockery urges
    December 30 2009 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

    JACKSON, Tenn. — Though church denominations are in decline, they still provide benefits such as structure, connections, coherence and accountability, the president of Union University said Oct. 8.

    David Dockery, speaking at the conference he hosted, to mark the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement, said the value and significance of denominations depend on the degree they are rooted in scripture and biblical heritage.

    “I believe (denominations) do matter, and they will continue to matter,” Dockery said. “But if, and only if, they remain connected to scripture and to the orthodox tradition. Even with all of the advancements of our technological society, we still need some kind of structure to connect and carry forth the Christian faith. We need conviction and boundaries, but we also will need a spirit of cooperation to build bridges.”

    Photo by Morris Abernathy

    Union President David S. Dockery delivers an address entitled “So Many Denominations: The Rise and Decline of Denominationalism and the Shaping of a Global Evangelicalism” at the Southern Baptists, Evangelicals and the Future of Denominationalism conference.

    Dockery said denominations have been important throughout Christian history “to carry forward the work of those who come together around shared beliefs and shared practices.”

    He acknowledged that the rise of so many Christian denominations came about because of spats over often trivial matters.  Tracing the development of denominations, he said they are “primarily an American phenomenon.”

    He said “the freedoms in America have enabled denominations to expand, to flourish and to break off from those from which they were birthed,” a development he said “dreadfully,” has resulted “more in the Americanization of Christianity than the Christianization of America.”

    The decline of denominational significance began as a result of the influence of liberalism in the early 20th century, Dockery said, and continued through the reaction of fundamentalism to liberal drift in mainline denominations.

    He attributed the lack of denominational identity in more recent years to the rise of parachurch and special interest groups that have become more important than churches among evangelicals.

    The rise of trans-denominational movements is one of the most important developments in Christianity over the past several decades, Dockery suggested.

    “No longer do people identify with kindred spirits in vertical alignments — as Lutherans, as Anglicans, as Presbyterians, as Methodists or Baptists,” he said.

    “Instead, people identify more around other connections and identifying markers such as fundamentalists, conservatives, evangelicals, moderates and liberals. 

    “Thus liberal Anglicans and liberal Methodists have much more in common than liberal Anglicans and conservative Anglicans.”

    The growth of Christianity worldwide is another great change that has occurred in recent years, Dockery said. Whereas the United States for many years has been the capital of worldwide evangelicalism, statistics indicate a shift is taking place.

    For example, Africa now has more Christians than the United States has citizens, he noted.

    Dockery argued that this shift provides a tremendous opportunity for Christians to think in fresh ways about the rifts that have divided them in the past.

    “We must realize that our real struggles are not against fellow Christ followers, but rather against the demonic, secularism and unbelief,” Dockery said.

    “What is at stake if we do not take our eyes off the intramural squabbles that seem to characterize most all of the denominations is a loss of the unity within the Christian movement and a loss of the mission focus of the Christian movement in the West.”

    He said that denominations will continue to have a place in evangelicalism in the future, and “denominations that thrive will remain convictionally connected to their tradition, while working and exploring ways to partner with affinity groups and networks, and seeking to understand better the changing global context around us.”

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University.)

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    12/30/2009 12:46:00 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

I see a lot of good intentions in the Baptist denominations. However, I also think the first Christian denomination (the believing Pharisees of Acts 15:5) also had good intentions. I see the current Southern Baptist Convention, and many others, as somewhat similar to that first denomination. The Pharisees were conservative for their time, wishing to do things the way their fathers in their faith had done them (Luke 11:48). They also were very evangelical (Matthew 23:15). They placed rules on God's children that did not come from Scripture (Mark 7:9). I don't have the space here to go into how the SBC does this, but you can read more about it on my website.

Most importantly, the Pharisees also preached a distorted version of the gospel that came dangerously close to closing the kingdom to people instead of achieving good result intended (Matthew 23:13). The SBC does this with the gospel of "faith alone." The gospel of faith alone, without mentioning the realities of salvation and justification by works, poses the same danger (see James 2). "Faith alone" is a distortion of Paul's teaching, which was that we are justified apart from the law of Moses (Acts 13:39). We are not justified by works of the law, but we are justified by works of love. James makes that clear.

These two types of works are different because, although the command to love is in the law (Lev. 19:18, Deut. 6:5), love also exists outside of the law. Unlike any other command in the law, love is what the law "hangs on" (Matthew 22:40). Love exists outside of the law. Christ came and ended the law (Romans 10:4). He didn't end love though! We *must* love as Christ did in order to live with Him.

In 15 years as a Southern Baptist, I never once heard Romans 2:7-11 explained in any sermon, much less in any gospel presentation. This leads many continually sinful believers to think they are going to heaven, effectively shutting the real door to heaven on them. To live with Christ we *must* walk as Christ walked (1 John 2:6). Many Baptists desperately need to wake up to this reality and start preaching the whole truth. May God do this.
1/10/2010 4:59:31 PM

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