What They ARE vs. What They WERE
I've heard more about "Essentials", and about unity, in the last 18 months than I ever did before. And I have a pretty big "before" to look back on, too, as I've been actively pursuing God for over 40 years. I guess that bears explanation.
When I was really young, the age at which I went to VBS, I got worried about dying. Looking back now, I know that I'd come to what's called the "age of reason" and was worried about my mortality. Dad saw me moping around and not eating right, and asked me what was wrong. I told him I was afraid to die and he said "Don't you remember what you heard in Bible School ... if you believe in Jesus, you go to heaven when you die." I recall saying "Oh, yeah!" and I went outside to play. I recall, as though it were yesterday, a hollow feeling in my chest and a weight on my shoulders, that disappeared when dad said that to me and I remembered what I'd learned.
I now know that's when I got saved, although I didn't really know it until later. When I got all churchy, I had to work through a lot of stuff that the church threw at me, I had to run around to some altars, and I had to talk to a lot of people and read a lot of Bible before I came full circle, back to that simple acceptance of the fact that if I believed in Jesus, I'd go to heaven when I die. Through the ages, and through all the garbage that satan and people and even the church throws in our way, Jesus' words come through once again ... loud and clear:
I recounted all that as an introduction to the process I experienced in preparing my Sunday School lesson last Sunday. The (Lifeway) lesson concerned focusing on the essentials, and cited the passage in Acts 15, in which the Jews came from Jerusalem to tell the Gentile believers in Antioch to submit to the laws of Moses if they wanted to be Christians. I'd never really realized that most of the early, early church was Jewish, and this lesson brought that home. Paul and Barnabas went to the Council in Jerusalem, who sent a letter back to the converts in Antioch, telling them to 1) Avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols, 2) Not eat meat that had been strangled, or blood, and 3) Avoid sexual immorality. The Gentiles were told they'd do well to stick to those things.
Immediately, the growing list of essentials for SBC'ers came to mind. Who baptizes us, how we pray, what we say about the Bible (infallible, inerrant, sufficient, etc. etc.), must the convert know about the virgin birth, and on & on & on. Yet the "Executive Committee of Jerusalem" stated only the points made above. That struck me as really odd.
So I got to thinking about the 'essentials of the faith", and what they would have been, 2000 years ago. What would have been the basis of THEIR faith, that were "givens" that the Council in Jerusalem didn't even see the necessity to review in their letter? For that, I went to chapter two and read Peter's "sermon" delivered to the crowd that gathered around when the disciples declared the wonders of God in unknown tongues. It must have been a hum-dinger, as when Peter delivered it, 3000 folks got saved.
So what were the elements he talked about therein? I'll observe what I note about them:
A) In several points, Peter emphasizes that the Old Testament (which we call it and was the only bible they had) said this kind of thing would happen. That made what we see as the New Testament events merely a continuation of what they already believed.
B) Whoever calls on the name of Jesus shall be saved.
C) They crucified Jesus, Who'd been affirmed by the signs and wonders He did.
D) Jesus was crucified but resurrected, and was still alive (unlike David).
E) Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, as He said He would.
This simple statement of facts about Jesus, couched in language the people could understand, so impacted the listeners that they asked what they might do to be saved. I think Peter's answer was all-important, as the "plan of salvation" was completed at that point, and was about to be shared for the first time ever. Peter's answer:
"Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins."
For some strange reason, we add a ton of things to that. I wonder why; if you want "first tier doctrines" ... to me that means the ones you need to get saved ... I'd go back to the things Peter told the crowd in Acts 2.
Second tier doctrines, to me, are the ones that make us Baptist. Those are the ones that are under attack; it's almost as if the hierarchy sees them as alive, and procreating. I don't think that should happen.
I don't care about third tier. Except I think we should have a studied position on all of them, albeit the position may be we don't care.
UNITY: The focus of our unity is Jesus, the real common bond of our faith. The One outlined in Peter's sermon 2000 years ago. I'm sorry, but if your faith lets you have unity only with folks who believe the same on other issues, then I guess your definition will exclude me. And we'll both be the poorer for that.
As long as we see missions as a Southern Baptist function, rather than simply a Christian function, we're going to slip-slide further down that road that's taken us where we never really wanted to go. You know the road .. it's the one littered with the bodies of former missionaries and ex-candidates. And with ex-SBC churches.
I think, given enough Southern Baptists and enough committees and enough meetings, we could mess up a steel ball with a rubber hammer.