How would you defend the Baptist Heritage that you’ve been talking about (or by extension, the Reformation) against the idea of “apostolic deposit” and the fact that, right or wrong, the Orthodox church has the greatest connection with the “line of church history” (if you consider them to be the victors (?) of the 1054 schism)[?]
I answered this way:
Scripture stands authoritatively above all church heritage and history. The “apostolic deposit’ is found in Scripture AND ONLY in Scripture. Therefore a heritage’s helpfulness is directly related to its conformity with Scripture.
“The line of church history” means very little, especially if that line stands outside of true apostolic authority — the Bible. It doesn’t matter a wooden nickel if the Orthodox tradition has more “weight behind its heritage” if that weight is not the weight of Scripture. (And I don’t intend to comment on Orthodox teaching one way or the other here…)
Since about 200 A.D. the church has baptized infants, and this clearly has the weight of church history in many camps. But that means nothing, because authority derives from Scripture and not the cumulative “weight” of church history and practice. Something being practice for a long time does not make it right. Theology and doctrine does not gain credibility because years accumulate with that theology and doctrine being accepted. We simply cannot grandfather in our theology because it has been that way for a long time.
All of that said, I believe that the early Particular Baptist heritage aligns closely with Scripture. I believe it is a rich heritage because it accurately distills biblical truth into correct axioms. Yes, in some ways, when I say a “rich” heritage I mean an “ancient” heritage. But much more than that I mean a “biblically faithful” heritage.
To which Ben asked (in a nutshell):
If tradition doesn’t have any weight, then why would the tradition of the Baptists have value?
This is my answer:
First of all, I am assuming that by “weight” Ben here means “authority”.
Next, I would agree with Ben’s assessment of my position — that is — tradition does not hold with Scripture any co-equal authority. Scripture is our only authority. I don’t apologize for this position, because I think Scripture itself testifies to it.
Ben’s question is, then, “What is the value of tradition?”
Well, first, I think that the question somewhat confuses the issue, and implicitly assumes that value derives from authority. I don’t think that the lack of authority for Baptist (or any other) heritage in some way negates its value automatically. For example, I don’t think many would claim C.S. Lewis as absolutely authoritative, but that does not mean his work has no value. We can appreciate and even follow some of his ideas, weighing them in light of Scripture and chucking them if they’re wrong and keeping them if they’re right. His thought provides value for seeing things in a way we might not have before — but his thought in no way stands over us authoritatively. We regard him as a wise and godly man, whose counsel we consider, but see as clearly subordinate to Scripture.
I think a biblical ecclesiastical/theological heritage is the same way, only on a larger scale and over a longer period of time.
So why is a heritage valuable, specifically the Baptist heritage? Here are a handful of reasons:
1. It faithfully interprets Scripture. We see the way that, for example, the Second London Confession interprets Scripture, and find that it accords well with what Scripture actually teaches.
2. It then can provide a framework for interpreting Scripture. I don’t mean here that it imposes false categories on Scripture. Rather, if we have found that it holds fast to Scripture, we can use it as a helpful and valuable guide, though we recognize that it is not infallible.
3. It gives us greater insight into Scripture. Sometimes others, with greater wisdom, holiness, or just plain intelligence can see things in the text we would otherwise miss. This happens to me all the time. I will read a passage, and someone will preach or teach on that passage, bringing to light things that are clearly in the text — but that I just missed.
4. When we realize #3 above, it humbles us and puts us into our place, giving us perspective. I think a massive failure of American evangelicalism is that we think that we can be individual pioneers of biblical study. We think we don’t need any help. Well, that is, simply, pride.
Heritage does not have authority. But it does have value.