19th February 2024

There has been a lot of talk recently about British Baptists adopting a statement of faith as a denomination, an association of churches and as individual church congregations. All this has made me feel uneasy but I have struggled to say quite why.

This morning a tweet landed (how do we say that now it’s X?) bringing words of wisdom from David Russell, written in 1968 when he was General Secretary of the Baptist Union. Titled “Baptists and contemporary issues”, it is a 14 page pamphlet which I’m sure some of you will know. You can find an electronic version if you are interested in reading the whole thing at this link but here is a passage from near the end.

“… you cannot give precise definitive formulation to the mystery of the Eternal; you cannot parcel up the faith in neat doctrinal formulae. Baptists claim … that they have been as true to the great creeds of Christendom as any other branch of the Christian Church; but they refuse to be bound by them as in any way finally authoritative. The creeds of the Church point to the truth; they do not encompass the truth. They are rather like the pole you see on the fairway of a golf course on the top of a rise between the tee and the green. You know that if you aim there, you will get a pretty good lie for your next shot or even reach the green itself; but there is no guarantee you will hole out in one! As an expression of the truth of the Gospel, the creed is an approximation, not a definitive and binding rule.”

“The Scriptures, with their two acted creeds of Believers’ Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are for us authoritative, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in a way that the creeds can never be. With our Baptist forefather, John Robinson, we believe that the Lord has ‘more light and truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word’.”

Many thanks to Andy Goodliff of Regent’s Park College for sending the tweet.

Nick Parsons