What Does President Carter Mean?
I have not given much attention to the New Baptist Covenant. Given the personalities who invented it, and their approach to religion and/or Christianity I estimated that it would be a liberal religious group dedicated to community service, but with little or no concern to also promote traditional Christian theology. The glowing reports I’ve heard seem to be coming from people I think would fall into that liberal -activist category. I am neither surprised, nor critical. If Baptists of the liberal sort wish to focus their religion on social concerns it is not a new thing. I would, however, hope that they would be forthcoming enough to make clear that their “social gospel” is not, nor is it intended to be, the biblical gospel of heart salvation.
Jimmy Carter’s defining words make that very clear to any who would think them through. He said (as quoted in MMBB Tomorrow Spring 2008); “For the first time in more than 160 years, we are convening a major gathering of Baptists throughout an entire continent, without any threat to our unity caused by differences of our race or politics or geography or the legalistic interpretation of Scripture.”
Essentially that sounds like “You can be whatever you are or want to be, and believe whatever you wish to believe and still be considered Baptist.” The practical, political, and spiritual naiveté is enormous, but I certainly applaud the idealism.
The biggest problem for me in President Carter’s underlay of the New Baptist Covenant is his assertion that “legalistic interpretation of Scripture” is a threat to Baptist unity. I must ask, as a Baptist who believes in a revelatory Christian faith, what is " legalistic interpretation of Scripture?"
Is it legalistic to believe that God has spoken in an objective form by revealing the Bible?
Is it legalistic to believe that anyone calling himself a Christian should take that book seriously?
Is it legalistic to declare, as God has, that Jesus is His Son, God manifest in the flesh?
Is it legalistic to expect that someone declaring himself to be a Baptist Christian should believe that Christ is literally risen from the dead as the Bible fully discloses?
Is it legalistic interpretation to place at the heart of our social action an invitation for those to whom we minister to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved when the Bible makes this the paramount calling of the Christian church?
If those things are to be discounted and disbelieved as merely legalistic interpretations of Scripture, how can the New Baptist Covenant be considered any thing other than a posse of political groupies, and where do we then find the things Baptists are supposed to believe?
Does that make sense to anybody in the New Baptist Covenant?