Baptists don’t have bishops, right?
That’s what I thought, having been reared in the related denomination of Congregationalism. Growing up, I was taught that we — congregationalists and baptists and others whose polity is considered “congregational” — were vehemently anti-hierarchical. Our tradition started because Henry VIII and the Anglicans had not differentiated themselves enough from Rome. We were, from our founding, anti-papist, anti-bishop.
In congregational polity, nothing is more sacred than individual hermeneutical authority. That is, every believe has the freedom to interpret the Bible, the freedom to follow the dictates of her or his conscience, the freedom to worship with fellow believers.
So it always surprises me when congregationalists or baptists act like bishops. In my book, The New Christians, I wrote,
So we’ve got Baptists who aren’t supposed to have bishops with Bishop Al Mohler and Bishop Paige Patterson excommunicating liberals and moderates, and we’ve got real-life Anglican bishops who won’t break bread with one another. Do we need more evidence that the church in America is in trouble?
That was after I’d described how “high church” Anglicans and “low church” Baptists had basically switched their de facto polities. And it’s happening again.
In the above video, Al Mohler, the president of Southern BAPTIST Theological Seminary presides over a panel of his professors as they reaffirm their commitment to biblical inerrancy. Of course, none of us was wondering if SBTS was still committed to the (fading) modernistic doctrine, so they weren’t reaffirming this for their own students. They were firing across the bow of other baptist churches and organizations that might stray from this doctrine.These are not battles I’ve ever fought, but if inerrancy is something that you struggle with, then read Peter Enns’s point-by-point demolition of the hour-long video.
Oddly, after 45 minutes of historical, metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, the panel puts Rachel Held Evans’s book in its crosshairs. Skip to minute 43. They talk about “evangelical publishers” who publish books about “biblical womanhood” that mock the scripture. Etc.
Now, I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but one does wonder who actually put the pressure on Lifeway — the bookstore chain of the Southern Baptist Convention — to not sell Rachel’s book. (No, one does not really wonder. One knows.)
John Piper tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell.” He was sending a message to his troops: Don’t read this book, for I do not approve of it (even though I haven’t read it, I’ve just seen a blog post about it). That backfired. Rob’s book solds thousands more copies than it would have without that tweet, and Rob rose significantly in public prominence.
Similarly, Bishop Al is telling his troops, Don’t read Rachel’s book, for it makes a mockery of scripture. And he’s warning evangelical publishers to stop publishing books like Rachel’s.
But guess what, this will backfire too. The future of Protestantism in America is not reactionary, closed, and fearful; it’s open-minded, thoughtful, and fearless.