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Religion Library: Baptist

Schisms and Sects

Written by: David Buschart

In all of this--the membership of individual persons in a local church, the terms of local church covenants, the membership of local churches in conventions and associations, the participation of conventions and associations in the Baptist World Alliance--the recognized standard for belief and practice is the Bible.Thus, from a Baptist perspective, the most important question is not whether a particular group constitutes a "schism" or a "sect" (although Baptists recognize that there can be such) but whether or not a group's beliefs and practices are in accord with the teaching of scripture.To believe or practice in a manner contrary to the Bible is, first and foremost, to disbelieve or disobey God, whose Word and words are communicated through the Bible.

Many, perhaps most, Baptists combine their belief in the autonomy of local congregations with a strong sense that there is a larger, universal Christian Church (though they may not use the term "Church" for this universal reality).In so doing, great stress is placed on the fact that this universal Church is a spiritual reality; it is not and cannot be an organizational or structural reality this side of eternity, and no attempt to achieve it should be made.Thus, given this view of the Church combined with the Baptist emphasis on the Bible, those Baptists who would use the term "sect" would likely reserve it for groups that claim to be "Christian" but embrace beliefs and practices that are clearly contradictory to scripture.And, because Baptist ecclesiology (that is, doctrine of the church) is anchored in the local church, the term "schism," if used at all, would likely be applied to a withdrawal from or an excommunication from members in a specific local church.

Study Questions:
     1.    Why does the tradition of congregational autonomy limit talk of schisms?
     2.    How is unity within the Baptist tradition structured?
     3.    Do Baptists value the institutionalization of their tradition? Explain.
     4.    What is the purpose of the local church covenant?
     5.    Why might it be said that Baptists are not concerned with schisms or sects?


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