I am proudly and unapologetically Baptist. In fact I have the privilege of pastoring a Baptist church that is committed to planting Baptist churches! In other words I am highly persuaded that what we believe is true and biblical. However, there seems to be an increase in cultic tendencies among Baptists of all kinds and conservative evangelicals in general. When you are part of a system you are often oblivious to the problems within your own system as they tend to appear normal. One aspect we seem to be blind to, is the increase in cultic tendencies. Let me offer three tendencies that are a danger to us.
Baptist have always been known for their strong and unwavering doctrinal convictions, a good trait to have, since the bible admonishes us to hold on to sound doctrine. However, often times instead of being unwavering on doctrine, we are unwavering on traditions and in most cases preferences such that we are willing to fight tooth and nail for our preferred tradition. So, when it comes to changing structures or practice to set the sails in order to catch the wind for the cause of the gospel, unrelenting opposition develops. Usually the logic is, if others are not doing it, it must be wrong and that is regardless of the cultural, economic and political dynamics in a village, city, town or country. There is nothing wrong with a group of people having and insisting on a tradition, it becomes a problem when we equate the tradition to absolute truth and anyone doing things differently is wrong! Such people will often defend their positions with verses quoted out of context all at the expense of pushing a preference. When we hold to our traditions and preference we should be wise and humble enough to acknowledge that they are simply that and be gracious and kind to others who may hold a different tradition. So while we should have positions on things like musical instruments, order of service, styles of worship, dress code of church meetings, frequency of communion etc. We should never equate them to essential doctrines and rigidly hold on to them that it becomes embarrassing when you chose to change.
Another area we show cultic traits is in unhealthy exclusiveness or separation. The bible commands us to separate from unrepentant Christians (1 Corinthian 5, Matt 18:15-19), from worldliness and from false teachers (heretics). We however seem to add to the bibles list to include people who are different from us. We no longer draw the line between evangelicals and liberals but Baptist and those who are not or between ones millennial views or whether or not they can explain TULIP or not. Now do not get me wrong, all those are important and there is nothing wrong with clearly identifying what we each believe and be clear about areas of differences and not shy away from acknowledging the differences. But I have met people who the first time you meet them in the first few minutes of the conversation you are arguing about millennial views! Again its healthy to have these discussions on matters we differ but we need to be careful that we are not separating from people we should be embracing simply because they do not cross their T’s and dot their I’s like we do. We do well to heed the advice of the little known German theologian Rupertus Meldenius who penned down the famous words “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Exaltation of men
Baptist have spoken out about the man of God syndrome that is rampant among Charismatic churches and rightly so. The man of God phenomena is nothing more than proud men exalting themselves to the place of God. While generally speaking Baptists are not as extravagant as charismatic in this area, we too have developed our own celebrity pastor (man of God) syndrome. We have our own men and literally everything they say, do or write is taken as gospel truth. People are no longer been transformed to the image of Christ but to the image of their favorite pastor(s).
Spirituality is equated to whom you have read and can quote, relevancy in ministry is judged not by your faithfulness to the word of God but your association with celebrity pastors or how big and glamourous your ministry is. The sad outcome is we have many ministers who forget that they are in ministry in 2017 in a town in Zambia and not 1756 Zurich Switzerland.God in every time and season blesses his church with uniquely gifted leaders who rise up to be a prophetic voice and example to many, that does not mean they should become our idols and cause us to forget that the scripture alone is our standard of practice and doctrine.