John Hammett | Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology
2:19PM Apr 16, 2021
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it's our privilege to be speaking with dr. john Hemet. Dr. Hamad is senior professor of systematic theology itself, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and also the author of the text that we'll be discussing today, biblical foundations for Baptist churches, a contemporary ecclesiology. Now in its second edition, as of 2019, available from creedal, academic, Dr. Hamad, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
Dr. Hamad, there are many factors that are reshaping our modern world. And in your book you this is a an examination of the classic doctrine of the Church. What's going on today that requires this careful, critical reexamination of the doctrine of the Church? Well, another things are going on that really caused the second edition I did the first edition, back in 2005, I was struck by a number of changes at culture last 14 years. And one of the big ones that affects churches pretty directly. It's what's called the rise of the nuns, those who have their religious affiliation, they listen. And so in the last 12 years, my denomination to submerge convention has been declared first, in my lifetime, 15 years ago, it was not, when I wrote the first edition, we're still growing. And then when a long season to class is a big thing that changes the mission of the church, how the church has to manage term. Other things are that the rise of global Christianity, the insights from the South African, South America, Asian context, theology had been done most from a Western context. But then where you begin to reap some of the harvest of global Christianity, so those things coming, I want to incorporate those sorts of insights into my working. And then there's a very huge thing in our society as racism, which again, impacts the the nature of shirts, how they should see itself,
in terms of his mission, those types of things. And then a sad thing is that all the controversy over sexuality. people define themselves in terms of their orientation, or their perceived self, gender, that's a relatively new thing in human history define ourselves in those ways. Well, all those things, I think, impact, the depth of the church space, the missionary church missions, which goes along with other things about identity and composition, those types of things. So I was just struck as I did a second edition, how much I needed to change.
Dr. hammock, in the beginning of the book, you lay out the biblical foundations for the doctrine of the Church. And you review some of the most poignant and significant images of what the church is, we have a whole bunch of these images of what the church is in the Bible, for example, for example, the family or the people of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. But I note that in all of the Scripture, at least, as far as I can tell, there's no systematic definition of what the church is, what does it mean for our understanding of the church that the revelation that we have in Scripture lays out for us a series of pictures, but no systematic definition.
But it may tell us that the Bible is written not for theologians, but for everyone. And so everyone can understand pictures. I think it demands humility, because the picture paints 1000 words, with 1000 words should we derived from those pictures. So I think that's the job of a theologian to think to understand that context. Those those images use inscription with 1000 words, you come out of those pictures that we explicate the meaning of those images. I think those images, use the sparks something people of mine. Now again, in some cultures, maybe it's more difficult than others. Again, if you've never used living in a country where there's a temple, things like that may be a little bit difficult. But I think for most people, there are some associations with it, especially everybody knows where a body's like and so that was a very popular one. Well, I think the job of a theologian Nam is with carefulness and humility, to do with the meaning to 1000 words that picture is trying to say to us, I don't think that this is my theology component is invalidated. I run out of a job. But I do think that pictures, say words that we're trying to put into articulate for people.
Good. So Dr. Hammond, I just want to make sure that I'm hearing you correctly and clearly, the fact that the Bible gives us these word pictures, and exclusively word pictures concerning the church does not abrogate the fact that systematic definitions can be derived from those things. Can we learn anything about the mysterious nature of the church through the fact that that God communicates to us about the church in in these word pictures?
I wouldn't say it mysterious but I always say that God wants to communicate to the average person, Scriptures for everyone. So I think people can understand sometimes pictures better and worse, especially if remember that for most of church history, people didn't, couldn't read. They were they were illiterate. They heard their scriptures more than they read the scriptures. So hearing these phrases, people of God, my family, those types of things, they could draw some associations. So I think there was it was God's accommodation, human perception. Still, I do think that the pictures Say something. You have a theologian now to articulate expressed, where are these pictures trying to say to us?
Thank you so much. Dr. Hammond, you divide your book into five basic parts. And each of these five basic parts is around a central question. First, what is the church? Second? Who is the church? Three? How is the church governed? fourthly, what does the church do? And fifthly? Where's the church going? Can any of these questions serve as a master question from which other the answers to all of the other questions can be derived? Is one of these questions foundational upon which the others are built?
Well, I think that that's certainly the first to what and who shaped the others. But don't think one determines all the others there is no wondering to bring them on buying them all in darkness, Lord of the Rings, so there's no mastering them. But I do think especially the first two, if you don't get those in one particular direction, they will affect the trajectory of the others. But I wouldn't say they determine that they shaped the others, though. So for me what I think that's the obvious starting place, because if you define what the church is, well, the impacts who's going to compose it, help me govern, whether we'll do so I think the first one, there's a natural order to these things. So the first one probably has some sister trajectory for you. And because if you have a different definition, a church will be going in different directions. So I think the first one probably has some type of sensuality point, but doesn't determine the answers for the others. Now, granted,
you're going to have to forgive me if I missed it. But I did not see that you gave a doctrinal definition of what the church is, perhaps I missed it. Do you give us a doctrinal definition of what the church is?
Yeah, I would say it's a body of believers, covenanted together practicing baptism, the ordinances, and doing certain constitutive things that churches do. Now derive that from Acts two in the first just begin to begin a teaching, fellowship, worship service, eventually, I think churches are groups that groups of believers that do those things, so if your group of believers, and but you never enjoy fellowship, I don't think your church or at best a very, very unhealthy church. If you're a group of believers that never evangelize, never serve your community, never teach the Bible, never worship. You're not a church. So churches are groups that do their groups of believers that do certain constituency things. And this is important for me when I talk to missionaries, who begin with very small groups of believers, and they say, when can we be a church? Is there a minimum number? Well, when you can do these things that churches do. So group of believers, again, will come back then again, we're doing church membership with believers, who band together, I think there's some type of Covenant to commitment to each other, whether formalized during that same type of commitment to each other, usually insurance, some type of membership, those types of things, where you have affiliates, because you know who the members are, and then you you commit to do certain things together.
Is that a definition of the church? Or is that simply to presume that a church is today what we see the church, the church doing in the New Testament?
We're getting we're elsewhere we do our definition of the church. For Evan jellicle scripture is there and so we got to be careful. Again, there are descriptive portions in the book of Exodus basically, that describe things we don't prescribe them. But x two seems to meet the liberally poor dogmatic look, even use of the imperfect tip that we're habitually doing these us reg x 242 to 47 is the liberally periodic mag. It also fits. And the Great Commission has the same ideas. They're great commandment. So I think there's some more normative sections of Scripture that backup that understanding. But in terms of the first heart group of believers will obviously choose or referred to as believers, disciples, those subs that were so and that this is a group of believers. Well, they band together to do certain things. And those things that I mentioned pop up again, again, all the ones that I teach in my encouraged blessing and all those sorts of one another's that bonded us together, their requests. symptom of commitment to each other. And then those constitutive things. I think those things are there. They live within scripture. So yep, there is a danger of drawing from Acts, which is a narrative to today. But I think there's some indications in Acts that look, desire assist to be seen as pragmatic. And then there are more noisy portions in Paul's letters, the backup as well. Dr. Eggman, thank
you very much for that reply. In chapter four of your texts, biblical foundations for Baptist churches, you discuss one of the key issues for Baptist identity, and that is regenerate church membership. Would you be willing to explain to us what is regenerate church membership? What do you mean by that phrase? And why is it such a key issue for Baptists today?
Well, the the idea is very simple is simply all the members of the church are believers, they are new creatures in Christ had been born again, and they regenerate. Now this is something that was not true for most of church history from a Gustin, to Luther and Calvin, the adapter was called the mixed body, they accepted to choose to be a body of believers and non believers together. And from a gust and onward that was the case now before i Gaston, under persecution, the church was relatively pure. But once custody was converted fiegel fled to the church without regard to conversion. And the Gustin said, well, it's kind of like Jesus parable, the wheat and the tears go together. But that field is the world not the church. So the church should be a gathered by Allah world. That's what the means that regenerate church or the church should be composed as best we can, can decide best we can discern of believers. Now again, some say Luther and Calvin said, that you can't presume to know that. Well, in the new system, when someone wasn't living like a believer in in First Corinthians Fuck, they said, You can't be a member of the church, we put you out. So they said, the church should be by a believers, again, human imperfection, human fallibility, but as far as possible, that practices understandings that seek to have the church be a body of Christ, the Pure Bride of Christ, those types of things. Now, here's why that's so important for a bad dish, or first. So it's a historical distinctive. This is not what Luther and Calvin Ferguson taught. So in the anti bad for the anabaptist had his first idea, so we inherited from them, they say, yes, Church must be a body of believers. And again, we only baptize into membership, those who I believe versus so this is the practice of believers baptism. If this is the entry right into the church, we only give it to believers, what preserve reject church membership. So from our very first days, Baptist said, we will only Baptist believers, we require that for membership. So that was a mechanism for preserving regenerate church membership, our historical origin, when our first best historian says that the origin of Babs that he spent as a search for a pure church, that's we're looking for a church was composed of believers only as why that's so important for Baptists today. Because we've lost, frankly, was it true Baptists in 19 118, and 1700 is not true. A bad dish today, especially my own convention, the SBC, we have about 15 million members. We don't know we're about half a mark. On even Sunday, we're about 40% of our members attend. Well, the 60% not they're simply not there for years, decades. And there's no say regeneration there. What happened, this historic reason for being this historic distinctive of Baptist, graduate throughout the 20th century, was lost forever, right? Again, a lost in the West, in some parts of the world, still very much the case. We're in some cool parts of the world. You're very, very careful in membership among Baptists, and they're very, very careful about who they baptize and things like that. But in the US especially, we lost that that distinctive. So one of my goals in writing this book, is to call us to recover that because so many things essentially, you can't do coverage for government, to church, you have believer have non believer, you can reserve a corporate witness to the world. If you're a believer to have non believer, if a non believers sit, your church is fully HIPAA rigorous. All I can say is, amen. Your eyes the truth, and we have no query so they don't see a consistent witness of believers. So all these things that we seek to be in dude are grievously wounded by the loss, regenerate church membership.
Dr. Hammond, I appreciate your candor and your openness in this very much. Some are ready to give up on denominational structures where some are calling this a post Christendom era. From your perspective, however, it's not time to throw in the towel for denominational with denominational structures. From your perspective, what is the continuing service that denominational structures will offer the church as we entered into the future?
Well, yeah, I mean, there's some inevitability of the nominations. Again, as long as you have convictions about how the church should be governed, that baptism would suffer. Another Some people say what, it won't be a Christian, for you about these these labels. Well, fine, but who you think should be baptized. If you baptize infants, you can be going in one direction, if you don't another direction, should the truth be given by the congregation or by the elders or by the bishop? Those are practical decision that churches have to make. And when you do make those decisions, you inevitably place yourself in one major dimensional category. So the not just is is useful, is somewhat inevitable. So you can be a sense some of these these in terms of structure that information form, uses of those will still overwhelmingly most churches are small, about two thirds or under 100 members. So for a small church, not much they can do by themselves in terms of missions, seminaries, those types of things. And so very, very useful for churches to band together. And that's when the the dimensional structures can you For example, my seminary here se jump, were supported by 40,007 Baptist churches now. It's a little trickle they join us. But they all have a part in supporting us. And again, I'm, I will give a little shuffle this year when I went to seminary, and went to another similar outside the SBC the tuition to that four times as much as here. Because all those churches making contribution gives makes a difference makes our tuition lower. And so I think this is something that student coming from those churches, is blessed benefited by having that type of mechanism. And then for missionaries, to support a missionary, one small church can't do very much. But a lot of churches together, it can give and provide a pretty solid support base. I was a missionary in Brazil for three years, I had some friends there. They were from other agencies. And they said, if one of my major churches that has a problem, and they have to go back and raise more support, I had 40,000 churches supporting me, priests a sound support basis. So usefulness, and then just a whole practical thing in terms of the national structures sometimes have wisdom going overseas. Lots of questions about visas. And in transit. They have some expertise there that was used for me. So I felt very privileged to be supported by a Baptist missionary group. That's true, and I bet a similar. So those things, there's some usefulness that does you still have, especially for the loads and loads and loads of small churches out there.
Thank you so much, Dr. Allen, for sharing also about those practical, those practical contributions that that these churches, associations and
individuals weigh in terms of if you have convictions, about who should not be baptized to have the Lord's Supper should be observed. Well, if you have a denomination, you have a habit you go go to church for your consciousness compromise. They're excellent.
Dr. Hammond lots of things are changing right now in the church with the Coronavirus crisis as it continues to unfold. And a lot of churches are asking whether they can properly assemble not in person, but via various online telecommunication technologies. In the year 2020. Everybody who's meeting by zoom in 2021, or 2022, it may be something different. But churches will continue to ask the question can we can properly assemble for worship for business meetings online
in some venue?
What's your view?
Well, I'm torn because again, since last March, I've been worshiping online with my church live streaming. I've been doing a small group view zoom. And I've been surprised at how helpful that has been in terms of allowing us to connect with each other. So I'd been been doing that, but I don't think that's best. Again, I think it's best to assemble physically, it's hard for me to to escape Hebrew so much it says don't forsake the assembling of yourselves together. And they meant that personally not not virtually digitally, and Jesus For two or three gathered in my name, do something that is present when people gather, and then split the niche. We're called to do weep with each other show hospitality, those things, I'm not sure we can do all those things virtual. Now right now we have competing loyalties on the one hand, to call to assemble Hebrews 10, and Matthew 18, those types of things, and then the call to love each other as good neighbors. And it's not neighborly give your neighbor a virus. And so we have these two competing things. On the one hand, it's good for churches to gather together. But it's important to love each other well, and not spread this virus. And so I've been struck by the struggle there. I still think that right now, there's a need to be careful. And so my church has some in person gatherings, some online CAD things, I've chosen to maintain the online gatherings. Again, I mean, that the older age bracket, and my wife has some health issues. So we've been very, very careful there. So I think right now that the loving thing to love my neighbors well, is to take pray team pray time, this virtual assembling, but I don't think that's good for the church long term. I think there's certain things we can't do well, for each other, virtual, I don't think we can, there's some some countability depth of things that you can hide, virtually, that you need to be face to face with each other. And so I'm concerned that we're getting very comfortable going to church via online and meeting together via zooms, stay in your home, got to get dressed, to drive to church. And I'm concerned that when the vaccine gets spread out there, Will people feel that need to reconnect? Will they say, I was okay, staying at home I get I don't know how much we've lost. I suspect, they will never know how much spiritual vitality we've lost in the last year to not being together. I was talking to one young man who said, he said, frankly, I think I fell into sin because I was not being a regular accountability group. And so I suspect that we won't know. But there's been some deficits that we've incurred by doing things online. So I'm grateful, they allowed us a stop gap measure so that we can love each other well and not spread the virus. But long term, I don't think this is a good, good practice. And so I've been struggling back and forth in terms of when will we go back together and call my class back together and those types of things. We've also got an issue of being in submission to the authorities around us and in North Carolina, well, that they exempt churches from the governor's order. But the governor does say we want to minimize large gatherings. So well, we're not bound by that in North Carolina. I think we want to, as much as possible, honor the spirit of those types of things. And so we got competing loyalties. On the one hand, I do think it's command together, those command to love each other, and to be in submission to the authorities. So for a while I'm sticking with going to the live stream, and zooming from my my class. But I miss the gathering. I think there's something special when God's people gather. And some of my friends who have gone back to it was so wonderful. They've had together again, those steps in the space thing. We've had debates over doing the Lord's Supper online, so they can go and we couldn't address that as well.
Please do. I think everybody wants to gain clarity on that question was last
April, we had a discussion here on campus about, can you take the Lord's Supper online, virtually those types of things. And again, there were different opinions of Matter of fact, we actually had a recording of them. But my own perspective is that it's not sinful. The Lord's Supper online, you're remembering Christ's death, nothing sinful about fat, so nothing evil about that. But I think some of the Lord's suffering is there's something about gathering together to do that, because we're saying something. We're saying, We are one body. We're saying, I got your back. You got mine. We're saying somebody's doing that, to get it. That's what we do at home and our families. When we do that, as a church, there's something special about that. So I think an online observance has limited value. It's not wrong or evil. But you can't say what Lord's Supper is designed to say. You can't say we are one body in this together, got your back, you got mine. We're gonna pray for each other to care for each other. We're in this together. You can't say that very well online.
Dr. Hammond, you're not only an author of the book that we've been discussing biblical foundations for Baptist churches, but you also teach in an academic institution. From your perspective, what is the cool of the Coronavirus Iris crisis doing to our institutions of Christian higher education and what might be new pathways forward in our mission?
Well, definitely one of the things that was already were happening was, at least in my context, a movement toward online education that was started five years ago. And it was accelerated by this past year. So for last spring, we went totally online for a while. Now we're back to offering on campus classes now. But a number of states, even those that live locally, will take some classes on campus, and then some classes online. And that's for the schedule say they can work better, there's so I think that that was the viruses done, has forced all of us to come to grips with this issue. There was already a tsunami, tidal wave of online classes, those types of things, forcing us to be better at that, do that better. But again, my own hope is that students will see the value of on campus education in person education, and will value that enough to come to a seminary and live their lives or be part of a community of worship, but creative learning those types of things. But definitely smells more nimble, way to be nimble, is accelerate the ongoing need to be more involved in online education and doing it better and better and learning how to do that better. But again, this is something that's been a five year trend. So even our recruiting agencies five years ago, they wouldn't allow you to offer a degree online. Now they do almost all our interviews for you offered online.
Dr. Hammond if I can close the interview with the question that we've been asking all of the interviewees on this program, and that is this what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do as individual Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed in john 17?
That's a tough question because we are sadly very divided not just in our church, but our whole country is very divided. I think the first thing is for churches to Malini, the local churches or local churches don't divide, hey, at least within their own local bylaws, and they can hold together. Sadly, they split too often. So at least one thing there, in terms of across the board of other churches, I think one thing that might be helpful if we can, we can distinguish where first order concerns, second order. Third Order, I don't think we're reaching agreement on issues like baptism would suffer church governance, I doubt we'll reach agreement on those things. But those things don't define Christians. So those are second and third order issues. Were their first word document, they shitting me not all Christians, we get some clarity on those types of things. And I can recognize this person is not a member of my church, but they're a Philip Christian, I can regard them as your brother's sister in Christ. And again, I got a good taste of that my soon in my my best friend, there were Presbyterian in the methods. Well, I wouldn't feel I can, in good conscience be a member of the church. But I can affirm them as brothers in the body of Christ and that type of thing in terms of recognizing they wouldn't need complete agreement, to have some measure of unity will not be able to meet together, we can recognize each other as fellow believers and those types of things. Again, I think, I hope that's happening to a degree. But I know that there's some are worried that if we go too far, we move into pluralism and universalism, and, and we can't work Amina tyrians. As us they're not you know, the body of Christ, because we're Trinitarian. So there's gonna be some boundaries there. But make sure that the boundaries are clear and are the true first order matters. Now the second sort of, so maybe a focus on we will call a theological triage. Let's keep the first things first importance. If I can see someone who can affirm the basics of the gospel, the Trinity Nicene Creed that their brother or sister in Christ and I can affirm them. And there may be some visible ways we can do that. Some churches, practice neighborhood Thanksgiving services, with different types of churches are from those types of things are working together and shrimps of service projects, those type thing, somewhere visibly showing, yes, we do recognize you through across these boundaries. Yes, we have differences. And the assembly that we are men of conscious men are there's differences. But we can recognize each other as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. So at least something there again, we can focus on the first order issues we can come at least a measure of unity unity there.
For you, it's been a delight today to be speaking with dr. john s. Hamad senior professor of systematic theology at southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and also The text that we've been discussing today, biblical foundations for Baptist churches that contemporary ecclesiology now available in its second edition.
Dr. Hammond, thank
you so much for your reflections witness. Thank
you for having