Jeremy Sarber, Reformed Baptist pastor

 

Honest With Me

Confusing Scripture With Church Tradition

If you haven’t already, please read this series’ introduction.

I can understand the pitfalls of arrogance and isolation that come with the mentality that you are right and everyone else is wrong, and I’m not naive to think that all Primitive Baptists are completely innocent of this. However, I do think that you have slightly sidestepped the point.

I did say that I felt Primitive Baptists were the true church, and that I haven’t seen any other churches that keep totally loyal to the original teachings of the Gospel as we do. Obviously, Primitive Baptists are just the present day manifestation of the true church just as our Baptist forefathers before us, and others like the Anabaptists, Waldensians, et cetera. Each of these were most of the time the minority in a wider system of professing Christians. However, these were the ones that held to the true teachings of the gospel. These were the ones who rejected things like paedobaptism, free-will salvation, and other false teachings.

So when I say that the Primitive Baptists are the only true church in the U.S. I’m not implying that the “denomination” Primitive Baptist and only Primitive Baptists could ever preach true doctrine or be a true church. If a church that was Southern Baptist, Free Will Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, even Episcopalian or Presbyterian began teaching and doing these fundamental doctrines and practices that the Primitive Baptists hold to, then they themselves would be a true church. I just have never seen it.

In all the denominations around the U.S. that I have seen, I find only the Primitive Baptists keeping to the true doctrines of Jesus Christ. And some of them (for example, Episcopalian and Presbyterian) I think would have to abandon their current denominational oversight before they would be able to accurately follow the teachings of Jesus since some of these false doctrines (paedobaptism) are inherent in their makeup.

So it’s not a matter of haughtiness; it’s just the reality of the situation. If I walked in to some non-denominational church tomorrow that preached the doctrines of salvation by grace with no strings attached and no human influence necessary, and kept to the original practices of the church (immersing for baptism, male eldership, simple worship free from additions such as musical instruments, and kept the pattern of what the New Testament gave), then I would gladly call them a true church whether they were called “Primitive Baptist” or not.

Again, I don’t think we have the time or space to discuss the length of practices like musical instruments, but since you dove into it, I think I need to at least provide some rebuttal. We find no commandment of God to add instruments to the worship service of the Old Testament. We find commandments for sacrifices. We find commandments for how the tabernacle was to be built. We find specific guidelines for how everything is to be laid out in the tabernacle. Yet we find no mention whatsoever of musical instruments.

You mentioned Miriam, but that was an isolated incident after the triumph of the Red Sea and was not involved with the tabernacle service at all. You mentioned Psalm 150 which does rightly attest to praising God with instruments. However, again in the context of that Psalm, there is nothing speaking to the sanctified service of worship in the tabernacle. The fact is that God originally in the setting up of the tabernacle included no precept for musical instruments in its service. We either follow what God’s original intent was or else we abandon the intentions of God and add what we feel is best.

There has never been an argument against musical instruments in and of themselves. Psalm 150 does encourage us to worship God with not only musical instruments but everything we have (life, breath, et cetera). This is outside the worship service though. This is not a commandment for the worship service, but rather a commandment for the individual believer to praise God with everything they have as they live in this world. But the worship service is a sanctified place meant for holy reverence expressed through songs offered in praise by the human voice.

God required the Israelites to offer sacrifices in the tabernacle because that’s where he wanted it done. It was a sanctified place. They weren’t given leave to take it wherever they wanted. It was special. Yet they were to live lives of sacrifice wherever they were (for example, love your neighbor). There was a difference between the two.

The same goes for the worship. There is a special kind of worship that was offered in a special way during the worship service at the tabernacle. Going out from there, the Israelite, however, was to live a life of worship expressing it in many different ways, in many different places. I think that’s why Psalm 150 says what it does.

We still stand on the fact, though, that David was given no precept or commandment that we can find that authorized the use of instruments in the temple service. Just because God suffered it didn’t mean he was okay with it just as he suffered David to continue to live after his transgression with Bathsheba and Uriah though He most definitely didn’t agree with it.

In other topics related to this, do you believe in closed Communion or re-baptism? Does the account in Acts with the re-baptism of the believers of John’s baptism influence this? Do you feel that it is necessary to re-baptize those who come out of false doctrine?

First, I’ll address your remarks about musical instruments, so we can move on. Instruments (or lack thereof) were not one of my reasons for leaving the Primitive Baptists. But they do serve as a good example of how Primitive Baptists mistake matters of Christian liberty for church essentials.

There’s a big difference between David’s sin with Bathsheba and his introduction of musical instruments. One was a sin while the other was not. God confronted David about committing adultery. But nowhere does the Bible suggests David was rebuked, corrected, or disciplined for musical instruments. In fact, 1 Chronicles 28 tells us that his plan for “all the work of the service in the house of the Lord” was given to him by “the hand of the Lord” (1Ch 28:13, 19). Apparently, his plan included musical instruments.

So if your church chooses not to use instruments to aid your singing, that’s fine. But refusing to fellowship with God’s people who do use them—well, you would have to prove that worshiping God with instruments is an offense worthy of church exclusion or excommunication. Given that you admitted it is possible for individuals to worship God with instruments, I think you’d have a tough time proving instruments become sinful when used in corporate worship.

And that leads to my second and final point. You talk about corporate worship as though it’s synonymous with Old Testament temple worship. You know as well as I do that God destroyed the temple. Why? Because under the new covenant his presence would no longer be limited to a specific building or geographic location. Rather, he dwells within all of his people. Paul rhetorically asked, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1Co 3:16). Believers can’t escape God’s temple. We’re always in the temple. We are the temple. So how can it be wrong to praise God with instruments on Sunday morning but not other times?

Frankly, it’s a terrible stretch to claim the Bible forbids, explicitly or implicitly, musical instruments in the church. But again, if a church feels it’s best not to use them, that’s okay. My non-Primitive Baptist church doesn’t use them. The issue is whether we make them a test of fellowship. You have to ask yourself, “Are musical instruments a justifiable cause for me to reject and deny many of God’s chosen people, to refuse their Christian fellowship and exclude them from the body of Christ?” For me, the answer is an emphatic no.

Now, you claim that the Primitive Baptist Church is the modern-day manifestation of the true church and that you follow a line of other true churches such as the Waldensians and the Anabaptists. This is the point in the conversation where a non-Landmarker gets confused.

On one hand, you set very strict standards for what can be a true church. Today, you can’t find anyone outside of the Primitive Baptists who represents the true church. On the other hand, you’re willing to trace the true church’s lineage through groups who don’t meet your standards. For example, you’re not going to find the Primitive Baptists’ particular brand of Hyper-Calvinism among any of those groups. You might find a trace of Hyper-Calvinism here or there, but certainly not the full soteriology of contemporary Primitive Baptists. That’s hard to find even among early Primitive Baptists.

And that takes us back to my original point. The identification of the true church is not based on unbroken succession. Proving that would be convenient, I suppose. It would give your church an extra air of authority. But it’s also unnecessary and, frankly, impossible.

In order to prove your church belongs to an unbroken chain of succession, you’d have to prove that each link in the chain belongs. If you say doctrines A, B, and C are necessary to be a true church today, then every link before you would need to have upheld doctrines A, B, and C, not just one or two of the three.

So the very foundation of Primitive Baptist Landmark views has a serious crack in it. And what really concerns me is that people continue to place their trust in a theory that has little to no evidence. I’ve known people who couldn’t justify a doctrinal position using Scripture to save their lives, but still felt entirely confident in it because, you know, that’s what the church has always believed. Well, that’s not necessarily true.

I’ll give you an example. I know this particular point does not fall into the realm of essential doctrine for either one of us—I assume—but it’s just an example.

I’ve spoken to several Primitive Baptists recently about the new heaven and new earth. Revelation 21 begins this way: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God—” and so on (Rev 21:1-2). Peter wrote, “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth” (2Pe 3:13).

Basically, the Bible ends by describing a future where God will redeem and restore the earth. There will be no more tears and no more sin on this new earth. The last chapters of Revelation even go into great detail about it.

Yet whenever I’ve mentioned the new earth to people and how we’ll eventually live for all eternity on this new earth, they’ve looked at me with raised eyebrows and suspicion. It’s like I’m teaching them some wacky, new-age idea that undermines everything they’ve been taught about eternal life. I’ve even had two different people ask me, “Where in the world did you get that idea? I’ve never heard that before in my life.” Well, I got it from the Bible.

Now here’s what I’ve noticed in these conversations. First, people seem to think they’ve already learned everything they could learn from Scripture. Maybe they don’t know all of the figures or stories of the Bible, but they’ve already reached the Promised Land when it comes to sound doctrine.

Second, they seem to be abnormally scared of anything they’ve never heard before, which is contrary to the attitude we should have. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1Pe 2:2). “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Ac 17:11).

I see Landmarkism as an underlying cause. While no one does so intentionally, members of the church are trusting in Primitive Baptist tradition more than Scripture as their authority. (And by tradition, I mean the entire body of Primitive Baptist doctrines, practices, and even the church’s culture.) If an elder says it, then it must be what the church has always believed. If an elder has never said it, then it must be heresy. Meanwhile, spiritual growth is stifled.

It’s a similar situation in which the Jews of the 1st century found themselves. Somewhere between the Old and New Testaments of our Bibles, the Pharisees became the primary defenders of God’s law. While much of Israel was falling under the sinful influence of Hellenism, the Pharisees (or the group that eventually became known as the Pharisees) attempted to restore the people back to a system of doctrine and morality which God originally intended. But by the time Christ came along, it is evident that they had gone too far. They were demanding a stricter set of rules than God’s own law.

For instance, here’s what we read in Matthew 15:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:1-3)

And he goes on to show their hypocrisy. When we become too legalistic, hypocrisy is almost inevitable.

Notice how the people often reacted to Jesus’s teachings. In one place, the Bible records them saying, “No one ever spoke like this man” (Jn 7:46). In another place, it says, “He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Mt 7:29). The crowds undoubtedly recognized that Jesus taught contradictory things to the scribes and Pharisees. Even so, the majority in Israel remained loyal to the Pharisees. Not only did they refuse to question the Pharisees, but they also joined them in calling for Jesus’s crucifixion.

For the record, I’m not calling Primitive Baptists, Pharisees. But I suppose you see my point. It’s easy for any church to muddy the waters of Scripture with years of traditions. And once that happens, it’s difficult to separate the two.

Now add to the equation the tenets of Landmarkism—we are the only true church, and we’ve always been the same as we are now—and you’re left with people who aren’t growing. They reject anything they’ve not heard before and can barely study the Bible anyhow without filtering its passages through Primitive Baptist tradition. That’s not a recipe for growth.

Getting back to your specific question, I apologize for sidestepping the issues I know you really want me to talk about. You mentioned Arminianism and Calvinism, for instance. You’d like me to address the aspects of soteriology that separate Primitive Baptists from most of Christendom, and I will.

But it seems hardly necessary when discussing Landmarkism because, for all practical purposes, musical instruments carry as much weight as, let’s say, man’s free will or perseverance of the saints. Primitive Baptists will break fellowship with other believers over either issue. Musical instruments will earn a church the label “false church” as quickly as a wrong view on salvation.

Maybe now you can see what I meant earlier when I described the perspective that perceives everything as black or white. Surely, we can all acknowledge that certain doctrines of the Bible are—don’t throw stones at me for my wording here—more vital than others.

If one person believes we’ll live in heaven for all eternity, well, he can certainly maintain Christian fellowship within a local church body with someone who believes we’ll live on a new earth. But someone who believes in the bodily resurrection of Christ cannot have fellowship with someone who denies it because the resurrection is an essential doctrine of the faith. You can’t believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ without also believing in the resurrection. See 1 Corinthians 15.

So as we discuss the weightier matters of Bible doctrine, we have two distinct challenges. First, we have to define and clarify the various points of theology. Second, we have to determine which points must absolutely be believed for a person to become a true Christian.

That’s the real issue with Landmarkism. If you refuse to accept a believer’s baptism or allow them to participate in the Lord’s Supper, you are denying their faith. You are denying their identity maybe not as a child of God, but certainly as a genuine Christian. And that’s the point I’ve wanted to convey here. You’re not simply rejecting the institution from which they came; you’re rejecting them.

Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Ro 10:9). When the Ethiopian man asked Philip, “What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip answered, “If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Ac 8:36-37).

But Primitive Baptists say, “No, that’s not good enough. If you want to be rightfully baptized and a legitimate member of the body of Christ, you must understand the doctrine of election. You must be able to distinguish between eternal and time salvation. You must denounce the use of musical instruments in corporate worship. Or at the very least, you must begin your journey of sanctification and spiritual growth in a Primitive Baptist church where you can learn the truth about these things.”

We’ll talk about Arminianism, Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism, and so on. And if Primitive Baptists drew the dividing line between true and false churches in those areas, I probably would have started there.

For now, let me just say that I disagree that Primitive Baptists are the only true church in America. Even if Primitive Baptists were 100-percent right in all areas of doctrine, I still wouldn’t believe they’re the only true church. Again, I believe there are false churches, false Christians and there are true churches with varying degrees of purity and sound doctrine.

So now, let me answer your questions about re-baptism and closed Communion before we move on to subjects like Hyper-Calvinism. We may have reason to circle back around. We’ll see.