I had the great privilege yesterday of being reminded once again that I do not exist. I listened again to the Mortification of Spin podcast – I actually like the podcast, you see – and I discovered that Baptists – all Baptists – have an ecclesiology which is entirely unknown to me. Apparently my type of Baptist simply does not exist. This does not surprise me at all; the Reformed have been denying our existence for at least a decade now.
In this particular podcast Todd Pruitt and Carl Trueman discuss Baptist and Presbyterian ecclesiology. Rev. Pruitt’s ordination in a Southern Baptist mega-church and his
five years of service in a “non-denominational” congregation have apparently rendered him an expert on all things Baptist. Meanwhile Dr. Trueman, while a favorite among Reformed and Particular Baptists for his scathing critique of contemporary evangelicalism, continues to pretend that the moniker “Baptist” simply means “contemporary evangelical.” Evidently it has meant that ever since the first Baptists formed their congregations in Seventeenth Century England and immediately uploaded links to the Gospel Coalition on their websites. Dr. Trueman is, after all, an historian, so we can only presume that he knows what he knows.
While a few moments of this podcast addressed the question of baptism (in of course a superficial and unserious way; the wait goes on for some ex-Baptist Presbyterian to actually explain why he made the change – my favorite to date was Derick Thomas’ explanation: “It was sort of a gestalt thing!”), the bulk of the time was spent in a discussion of Baptist ecclesiology – a subject of which it is evident that neither Trueman nor Pruitt know much. The syllogism of the podcast went something like this:
- There are some truly awful things that have happened at the lunatic fringe of the Southern Baptist Convention
- All Baptists ever are exactly like this.
- It’s too bad they aren’t Presbyterians, because then nothing could ever go wrong.
While Messrs. Trueman & Pruitt talked a lot about “congregationalism,” they don’t seem to understand exactly what it is. Aside from the failure to differentiate “congregational” from “independent,” they fail to fully appreciate what it means that Baptists, like all independents, relate to their denominations differently than do Presbyterians. The congregation participates by supporting common missions, not necessarily by adopting the identity of the whole. The point here is not to argue which approach is more biblical, but instead to make a simple observation: in the loosest of Baptist associations (the convention model) it is wrong to assume that the ecclesiology of one church is that of another. All Southern Baptists do not operate as loosely as some. I was also ordained in a Southern Baptist church; my experience was nothing at all like Rev. Pruitt’s.
This determination to flatten out all of Baptist experience leads the mortifying duo up to the very edge of slander. Dr. Trueman actually names Mark Dever at one point. If indeed – as he says – Mark is his friend, then he must know that Dr. Dever’s entire career has been dedicated to the recovery of sane ecclesiology within the Convention. His ecclesiology is not that of the Presbyterians – in fact it is not quite identical to my own, but it is so far removed from the undisciplined chaos which Dr. Trueman ascribes to all Baptist life as to make the implied association a somewhat scandalous misstatement.
And then there are the Non-Existent Ones, those historical Baptists who trace not only our soteriology but also our ecclesiology to a Seventeenth Century Particular Baptist root. If the smug charges of Pruitt & Trueman don’t really apply to the likes of Dever, they certainly do not apply to us. I don’t know whether or not Rev. Pruitt has heard of us, but I am quite certain that Dr. Trueman has. His refusal to admit any variation in Baptist experience is therefore beyond disappointing.
It is difficult not to judge the motives of highly-visible Presbyterians who refuse to admit the existence of Particular Baptists even while they mock the idea of any sort of reformational heritage among Baptists. One would think that the likes of Darryl Hart or Scott Clark might at least point at us and say, “And then there’s those guys; they’re wrong too, although obviously in different ways and for different reasons. But wrong as they are, at least they aren’t the same sort of Baptists as Franklin Graham or Mark Driscoll.” But no. The admission of our existence seems to be beyond the Presbyterian apologists. It is as though they fear that if they were to admit that every Baptist is not Andy Stanley, someone might actually ask them to address the question of baptism again – thoroughly, biblically, and without reference to needlessly vapid philosophical terms.
So it is more convenient for them to return Baptists like me to the realm of non-existence. As a Baptist whose ordination exam lasted more than fifteen minutes, who knew the pastors who laid hands on me, and above all who is answerable to a confessional standard which has been around longer than the last ten minutes – as such a man I clearly must not be permitted to exist. But if they will allow me, perhaps I might address the two spinners from within my disembodied, dis-en-souled, non-personhood for a moment: Be careful of consigning your critics to the ether through a Yoda-esque wave of the hand. When you lack critics, you lack criticism, and you may stumble through various embarrassing lapses of self-awareness.
I know that you think that you are responding to Baptist critiques, such as that one in which we all mistake you for Episcopalians. Honestly, in my life I have yet to meet a single Baptist who has expressed such a silly idea. It is bad enough that you misunderstand us; must you also misrepresent our misunderstandings of you? And if you do not know our critiques, how can you grow from them?
Men who admit no criticism tend to look more foolish then they actually are. As, for instance, this statement: “…groups like the Gospel Coalition find it so hard to understand why people like us are skeptical of their project. Structurally, I have a problem, because if you’re Southern Baptist you have to sacrifice nothing in throwing your energy into something like the Gospel Coalition. If you’re a Presbyterian and want to throw your energy into the Gospel Coalition, you have to sacrifice everything that makes you a Presbyterian.” Gentlemen, you do know who the co-leader of the Coalition is, don’t you?
And then there’s this: “We have by and large avoided personality cults. There are one or two big names in the PCA, but what strikes me about things like the Southern Baptist Convention is that for all of the fact that they repudiate Presbyterianism and they repudiate Episcopalianism, they are functionally Episcopalian, because they vest great power in significant individuals…What I like about Presbyterianism is that that power which you have outside your congregation is regulated by rules and procedures and other people. It isn’t just rooted in the charismatic personality.”
Gentlemen, let me close with a story. A few years back I got word that a seminary classmate of mine had taken up the pulpit in a new church not far from mine. I had lost track of him, and I wanted to know what he was up to, and so I went to his church’s website. On their front page I found the following statement: “We are a church founded on the ministerial philosophy of Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.” And after I dug through every sub-page on their site I eventually found an acknowledgement that they were indeed a part of the Presbyterian Church in America.
But no, you don’t have Presbyterian bishops. Of course not. You have been spared from the contemporary idolatry of the Big Name through your superior polity. And of course you don’t need to worry about this criticism, because it is coming from no one. Remember, I don’t exist. Carry on, and please – take care of the real world; I have friends who live there.Tom Chantry, Pastor Christ Reformed Baptist Church .