A paper submitted to the Conference of the Baptist Revival Fellowship at High Leigh," on Tuesday, November 26th, 1957.
IT would be difficult within the reasonable scope of one paper to deal with all the important issues that are involved in the modern approach to Christian unity. I think the time is overdue, however, when we of the Baptist Revival Fellowship should state as plainly as may be the most serious and solemn thoughts that are in our minds. We are not unmindful, of course, that the Christian Church as a whole is indebted to those who have belonged to various denominations within the Church. As Baptists we make no claim that we are right, absolutely right and all other than ourselves are wrong. We resolutely disclaim the notion that Baptists and Baptists alone constitute the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Within the constitution of the Baptist Union every church is responsible directly to the Lord, the Head of the Church, for its resolutions, decisions, actions, practices and faith. In our view, therefore, no discussions should be taking place between representatives of the Baptist Union and the other churches without the prior consent of at least a majority of the constituent churches each having discussed the matter and decided accordingly. There is weakness, of course, in our system, and also strength, but it is only right that those other churches in the World Council of Churches and all other councils and committees should understand that nobody calling himself a Baptist has any credentials by resolution from the churches as such to discuss much less negotiate any measure of Christian unity.
UNITY URGENTLY NEEDED
Of course, any true believer in our Blessed Lord must regard true unity as essential. We believe, indeed, that were it attained according to the mind of the Holy Spirit it would produce a world-wide revolution, the effects of which no human being would escape, but having said this, we may be sure, that Satan, that "angel of light," will be alert and alive not to oppose outright but to provide a substitute that looks like the real thing, and that is the peril of the critical hour in which we live. This brings us to what I feel to be a proper question: as to the reasons underlying the urge to unity manifested in the present century. The Pope so it is said, prays daily for the unity of Christendom, but in his mind that unity is based upon the principle of absorption whereby all other so-called Christians are brought into the one and only fold of Rome. Our Anglican friends have the same kind of idea from their own angle. They see all the Christians in every parish gathered regularly within the parish church. They are agreeable to some kind of tolerance of Nonconformist ministers for a generation while they gradually drop into the grave, but from the moment the union comes into force every minister must be ordained by a bishop and such person alone shall have any valid powers to administer the sacraments.
So far as I know the Anglicans have made no concessions to the truths for which we, as Baptists, stand. Perhaps concessions have been made to Baptists in conference of which we are not yet to be told, but Rome is adamant, Canterbury is dominant and Baptists are quiescent, if not subservient. Lest therefore, Anglicans should be under the impression that within a few years Nonconformity will cease to exist, it ought to be placed on record that there are still a few Baptists, probably not many, but others not within the Baptist Union who will feel that any artificial scheme for unity which is absorption disguised will lead to a new Nonconformity which I am prepared to think will include not a few Anglicans who would prefer the religious wilderness with us to the delectable pastures chosen by Lot.
WHAT BAPTISTS REQUIRE
We declare that it is our solemn belief that within the Roman, Anglican, Greek Orthodox and Free Church denominations there are to be found true believers in our Lord. We are equally clear that in no one of these denominations are all the Church of Christ found to the exclusion of the possibility in the rest. That position must absolutely be accepted without equivocation by all interested parties before we sit down at the conference table, otherwise the Lord is dishonoured. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14, 23). Therefore, speaking in tender love, and with great respect for all who differ from us, we are bound before God to make this solemn declaration. In our understanding of the Word of God and in the sense of the truth given us we believe by the Holy Spirit we should be false to God, to those who differ from us and to ourselves if we did not say clearly and beyond the shadow of a doubt that the whole unscriptural system of consecrated buildings, apostolic succession of bishops, consecrated priests, vestments, reservation of the sacrament baptismal regeneration, godmothers and godfathers, secular interference of governments in the appointments of bishops is in essence superstition, doing incalculable damage to the Christian message and blinding millions to their need of salvation by faith through the blood of Jesus Christ.
My fear is that Anglicans in particular have the notion that our little Chapels are gradually emptying, that our stock and prospects are so low that we shall soon be ready for a take over bid on their own terms. One of the reasons Baptists are so weak at the moment is because we have no sure conviction of policy. We neither press forward to be absorbed into the Anglican communion nor with any vigour press forward with our own testimony. We do not know whether to urge our young people to be all out for the building of the Church of Christ or dabbling about in local politics. Our young people are being denied the teaching of the fundamentals of our faith from the Word, and we are making them suitable subjects for the guile of the next 25 years. We believe that if all our Baptist ministers gave themselves to the preaching of Christ and Christ alone, making it clear to everybody that apart from Him there is absolutely no hope for mankind in any direction, we should be amazed at the upsurge of spiritual power in our churches and all the latent dynamic in our witness would be manifest.
In our view the essentials in discussions on unity are the common acknowledgement that all things necessary for our salvation, sanctification, translation and eternal glory are set forth and revealed in Holy Scripture. Nobody has any right before God to make demands or prescribe as a necessity for faith anything not clearly and unmistakably required within the terms of Scripture. In so considering the Scriptures all must be concerned to discern what the Scriptures teach and not what we may want them to teach. Finally, as we thus prayerfully and lovingly consider the Word, seeking continually the light of the Holy Spirit, let all be agreed that without waiting for concessions of others each will seek to be obedient to the Word. So we move in the light of the Eternal into all the good and perfect will of God. This may be the counsel of perfection but, unless I am mistaken, the goal in view is of the same character, and to reach it in the will of God will demand courage and great humility and obedience.
THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE
Our Lord's High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17, and in particular, verse 21, is the great text for Christian unity. If we start there we start with all who differ from us and at least we are on common ground at the commencement. This prayer is different from the Gethsemane prayer where our Lord prays for the passing of the cup and yet submits to the Father's will. It is usually thought that the prayer in John 17 may be regarded as a type of His prayer in resurrection and ascension where, invested in Omnipotence in heaven, He can say: " I will ". In this prayer He interceded not only for His then disciples, but for all also " that shall believe in ME through their word." The people, therefore, about whose unity our Lord is concerned, are believers! They are not believers in a system or a creed but believers in HIM and they come to that belief in Him through the apostles' word concerning Jesus. Personal belief in Jesus, in the revelation of truth through the apostles, is basic to Christian unity. Actually it has nothing whatsoever to do with the linking up of denominations. It has nothing to do with the alignment of churches in denominations, it has nothing whatever to do with churches as such, but is primarily the union of each and every believer in Jesus.
This is clearly our Lord's meaning because He speaks of a unity of persons, not of schemes or constitutions. And being persons it must be a union of life. Indeed, our Lord prays that believers may be one "As Thou Father in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us." Christian unity does not take us back to the headquarters of denominations, but to the profound mystery of the Trinity in the Godhead. The subject is beyond us in terms of theological definition, but it is not intended to be beyond us in the realm of experience. Because as is the union of the Father and the Son so is the union of each believer with the Father and the Son and so with all other believers. The Trinity is a Blessed Mystery which we may think to be the only possible manifestation of God in the light of redemption, creation, providence, consummation and the final revelation we have when God shall be all in all.
This union of the Father and the Son is in the Holy Spirit and this is the clue to our unity with them and with one another. The Trinity is a revelation of Divine accessibility. It is an indication that in this mysterious aspect of the Godhead there is the high, holy and almost unbelievable privilege of the child of God, even the humblest believer, to be one with the Father and the Son even as they are one. I cannot hope to understand all this, but it is my profound and earnest prayer that if in the mercy of God such an one as I may know the experience God will bring me to it. Even so I ask with trembling because inherent in this Trinitarian manifestation is that eternal redemption manifested in time in the blood of Christ and those who share the union must share in measure in it.
I am, nevertheless, profoundly convinced that if the people of God would consider Christian unity in this way, each true believer seeking to know the mysteries of God by the Holy Spirit, the Lord would do such a thing for us of which we have never dreamed and in sober truth the world would believe that Jesus was the sent of God. That is the goal of Christian unity and every true believer in our Blessed Lord will seek this deep and inexpressible unity in the Father and the Son in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. What love would be shed abroad in our hearts, what tender concern one for another, what anguish for a world perishing in its sin, what pleadings with God would be heard in all our churches, if every true believer were seeking this unity with the Father and the Son in life eternal and Divine!
We believe that this approach to Christian unity would make it clear beyond doubt that the nature of the Church is Divine since it derives life from the Lord in heaven Himself. It would be clearly established that we are not in Christ because we are in a particular organisation, but that being in Christ we are by that fact members of the Body of the heavenly communion. Since in Christ we are all kings and priests unto God we could no longer sustain the unscriptural distinction between what is termed the clergy and the laity. If a believer is one with the Father and the Son in the life of the Spirit these other distinctions have no meaning. We should recognise that the Head of the Church separates whom He will for the several ministries and that it is the duty of the Lord's people to recognise His sovereign acts in this respect, but all of them are for ministry and not for domination. None of them promotes (if that is the right word) a person to an office of superiority, of exclusive rights, of a position with God closer than that of eternal union with the Father and the Son. Equally it would be utterly impossible to think of a Prime Minister advising the monarch as to the appointment of an archbishop or a bishop. The secular hand upon the eternal body of Christ is repugnant to every word of Scripture.
There is but One Head of the Church and His will is made known on earth by the Holy Spirit and by the Holy Spirit alone. One wonders how it is that any believer enlightened by the Holy Spirit can possibly tolerate the thought of the slightest association of political power with the Body of Christ. We do not say these things because we wish to be contentious, but because we feel we must be loyal to the truth so far as we see it. We believe that there are no priorities in the Christian Church and that every believer without exception before God is responsible for the life and witness first in his own walk, in the home of which he may be the head, in the local assembly of which he is a member, and of the whole body of Christ in heaven and on earth, with which in the Father and the Son he is in eternal communion. One is our Master and we are all brethren.
The responsibility of the pastor who is set apart for ministry is no greater and no less than that of any other member except in the ministry of service to which he has been called. He has no powers to make a sacrament valid by his presence and ministry. It is ever the Lord Himself Who offers the bread and the wine and from Whose hands the bread and the wine are taken humbly and reverently by the believer. The Father and the Son are One so mysteriously that our Lord could say: " I and My Father are One," and that is the mystery of Christian unity for which we are to pray, and towards which we must ardently long and work. I am bound to say that in my view ecclesiasticism is our peril. It may bewitch the world, which does not understand, but before the Lord returns, its evil will be apparent. Let us stand aside from all this and aim at simplicity, in dress, in the conduct of our services, in holiness of life, and in humble and sincere love for the wonderful people God has given us in our churches. Always reaching out whenever we can to brethren and sisters in other communions between whom as we know there is mutual recognition and love in the Lord. Ever praying that every believer may be in the blessed and mystical union of the Father and the Son as a redeeming, creating channel of blessing; through whom life, life eternal, life abundant, streams to those dead in sin for whom Christ has died and whom He longs should be in the Body of His glory in the transcendent unity of the Father and the Son.
My positive answer, therefore, to this most important matter is that first each of us who sees this deep truth of the unity of the Father and the Son shall recognise that it is the prayer of our Lord to the Father that each one of us may share it. How much of it, and in what way, each may know it as a present experience the Lord Himself will reveal as we hunger after the high and wonderful privilege. It may be beyond words to define, it may be beyond the bounds of theological concept, but it can still be an experience of the redeemed spirit after the manner of Paul's experience in the third heaven. As we long after it, believing that such a prayer by our Lord carries with it the certainty of answer and experience, we shall sense that we are longing after the supreme prize of time and eternity.
We shall be drawn to the Father and the Son by the Spirit in an inexpressible experience and drawn also very closely to others whose longing is identical. Let us therefore preach this positive unity, proclaiming it as that which is of God. Our people in the pews will begin to respond and there will be a unity in our churches that many churches need. We may be certain we shall be drawn outside of our own boundaries into touch with all others seeking as the supreme goal of life this union with the Father and the Son. The enrichment of life will be such that the unsaved will discover that in this company of the true union in Christ is all the plenitude of grace and abundant life and there will be responses plainly with the mark of the Holy Spirit in them. Thus shall we reach out finding ourselves in touch with men and women who are everywhere longing for fulness of life in this blessed and eternal union with the Father and the Son. It is my hope that this truth may be so communicated to us each one in the Spirit that henceforth with increasing longing this passionate desire may grip and occupy our hearts.
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