Re: The Reformation and the Declaration of Principle
You are of course right in saying that it Christ himself, revealed through Scripture, who is our highest authority - and in underlining how often we fail to place him in that position in our decision-making.
However we surely have a problem in that the "plain meaning of Scripture" is not always obvious! Quite apart from deliberately manipulating to suit our own thinking, and trying the relate an ancient set of texts to modern situations, we are left with two questions (there are, I'm sure, many more). One is the degree to which specific injunctions, from the eating of shellfish to the place of women in churches, have either been superseded or are culturally-related. They thus need at least to be re-examined to see what deeper principles may lie beneath the surface. The other is the fact that none of us read Scripture (or any literature) in a contextual vacuum; we not living in the first-century Roman Empire, seventeenth-century Europe nor present-day Indonesia or Bangladesh. We need to be aware of the extent to which our cultural surroundings and background inevitably affect our reading and interpretation.
I would therefore suggest that a simple phrase with which I heartily agree is, in fact, not so simple when we start digging down a bit. However I would still commend the general sentiment of this article and, indeed, encourage our churches to revisit the Declaration of Principle which is a valuable statement.
Thank you for your comments Andrew. Although I wrote this to try and stimulate a discussion around authority rather than interpretation. Perhaps I'm misreading you but it is interesting that you refer to the DofP as a 'valuable statement'. It was that kind of terminology that I wanted to talk about. Isn't the DofP rather more than a valuable statement? Doesn't it carry authority as the basis of the union?
The same with Scripture. As we interpret the Bible the questions you raise are important but ultimately the Church Meeting can only appeal to Scripture in interpreting Scripture. At least that is what struck me as I re-read the DofP in the light of the historical background to Sola Scriptura. It was this whole question about authority that I was trying to tease out.
I'm not sure that I'm quite following the argument unless you're saying that Church Meeting tends to appeal to all sorts of authority but doesn't prioritise Scripture, and tends to make decisions by appealing to "what the members think is best" rather than seeking the mind of Christ. If that's the case, then I am with you as we tend to think that Church Meeting is a democracy in which the majority opinion (or the most forceful participants!) determine the decisions without much reference to outside authority - but that isn't what it ought to be at all!
I have often ( well, quite often!) said that Church Meeting is one of the "jewels in our Baptist crown" yet, as you will know, it so often has a bad name for being both tedious and fractious. Clearly there are some issues on which Scripture cannot really be brought to bear (such as the colour of that mythical carpet) but a more rigorous application of Scripture might sometimes produce some remarkable and surprising decisions!
There is a problem though because, whether we like it or not, the clear meaning of Scripture is not always clear, interpretations vary and different parts are emphasised by some and not others. This is very much the case in the debate about human sexuality which has led some Church Meetings to strongly back Same-Sex marriage and others to strongly oppose it - both a rguing from Scripture but with a different hermeneutic. One of the big questions that arose out of that was whether BU Council could "impose" a "preferred option" on the matter as this was an infringement of the DoP.
On a wider issue, I don't think enough Baptist Christians - and dare I include ministers? - know the DoP well enough or keep it in the background of their thinking. As you say, it is the Basis of our Union and ought to be given more respect and thought than it gets.