Ethics and Community

Principles of Moral Thought and Action

There are no distinctively Baptist views on specific moral questions. Baptists share in most of the views, as well as the diversity, associated with Christian ethics in general. However, the ways in which Baptists approach moral thought and action reflect their emphasis upon the Bible--and, within the Bible, their emphasis on the New Testament over the Old Testament--as well as their emphasis on individual responsibility.

Baptists are sometimes described as "people of the Book," and this is certainly true of the characteristically Baptist approach to ethics. The Bible is the primary source of and guide for moral principles and conduct. Whatever scripture teaches takes precedence over whatever moral guidance might be proposed by Christian tradition, philosophy, personal opinion, or cultural mores.

This raises the question of the interpretation of the Bible, and, it is precisely here that much of the diversity with respect to ethics (as well as most other areas of Christian belief and practice) arises among Christians and among Baptists themselves. Two Baptist commitments in particular shape a characteristically Baptist interpretation of scripture, including interpreting scripture with matters of morality in view. First, the New Testament takes a certain precedence over the Old Testament. Baptists do not deny that the Old Testament is scripture or that it is authoritative. However, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ constituted a turning-point in God's work in history, and the New Testament is the scriptural record of this turning-point and the new order it introduced.

Second, Baptists uphold in principle the ability, right, and obligation of each individual believer to study the scriptures for him- or herself. This is another dimension of Baptist belief in the priesthood of all believers and individual soul competency. Church members are expected to study the scriptures for themselves so that the ethical principles and conduct they embrace are grounded in what is sometimes called "scriptural conviction." In this process, Baptist catechisms and confessional (doctrinal) statements are resources worthy of respect, as is the teaching of pastors, but these are always to be evaluated in light of what scripture teaches.

Study Questions:
     1.     How does the Bible guide a Baptist’s ethics?
     2.     Are there guidelines to interpreting scripture? Explain.
     3.     What is scriptural conviction? How does one engage in it?

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