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Archive for September, 2015

The word “reformed” helps theologically minded people understand something about us, but the term means little to others, so they ask, “What is a Reformed Baptist church?”

First things first: we are Baptists in the historical sense. While we officially use the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as informed by the Abstract of Principles (1858) of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, we find our beliefs more explicitly stated in what is known as the Second London Baptist Confession, or the Baptist Confession of 1689. Early Baptists typically identified as either Particular Baptists or General Baptists, and the distinction was primarily over the extent of Christ’s atonement. Because Particular Baptists believed in the doctrines of grace (we’ll get to those doctrines in a bit), they believed that Christ died effectually for those who would believe upon him (particular atonement), not potentially for everyone in the world (general atonement). Consequently, Cornerstone is in the tradition of Particular Baptists.

Particular Baptists arose out of the settled dust of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and John Calvin notably defended the New Testament doctrine of the sovereignty of God in all things generally and in individual salvation specifically. Particular Baptists would primarily differ from the earlier Protestants over the subjects of salvation. Baptism was an ordinance reserved for believers in Christ only, not for infants.

Cornerstone holds to the five solas of the Reformation to summarize our beliefs and practices: sola fide, by faith alone; sola scriptura, by Scripture alone; solus Christus, through Christ alone; sola gratia, by grace alone; and soli Deo gloria, glory to God alone.

As mentioned above, Reformed Baptists hold to the doctrines of grace: total depravity, unconditional election, limited or particular atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. We believe in the total depravity of man, that all humans are corrupted by sin. Total depravity does not mean that we are as evil as we could be, but all of us are corrupted with evil (Romans 3:10-12). If God did not work in our hearts, none of us would ever seek him because we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

We believe that God has chosen his people unto salvation unconditionally (Ephesians 1:3-11). God does not base his choice of us before the foundation of the world on a decision to follow him that he sees will occur in the future. We are saved by God’s grace through faith, so we have nothing in ourselves about which to boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We believe that the atoning death of Christ is expressly for those who believe upon him, not for each and every person who has ever been conceived, regardless of their belief in Christ. Jesus said that he gave his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). But is not Christ “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:2)? He is indeed, having died not just for certain believers but for believers throughout the world, regardless of ethnicity, language, social status, gender, or any other way groups of people are set against others.

We believe that God’s grace is irresistible. God regenerates the unbelieving heart to desire to repent of sin and trust in Christ: “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44), and he later said, “No one can come to me unless it has been granted him by the Father” (John 6:65).

We believe that all those who truly come to Christ will persevere in their faith throughout their lives. Those in the church who turn aside from Christ “went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19).

In addition to the doctrines of grace, we believe in the centrality of preaching the Scriptures, the Word of God, in the gathered worship of the church. The Bible alone reveals who Jesus is and what God requires. Everything flows from the Scriptures, whether the subject is who God is, what salvation requires, how Christians are to live, how worship should be order, how a local church should be organized, whatever it may be. “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). A Reformed Baptist church is guided not by whatever will “work” but by what the Scriptures say.

Cornerstone is established as a Reformed Baptist fellowship, and we want always to be reforming our understanding of the church and our lives in light of the Scriptures. Unto God alone be the glory.

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When we consider the activity of a local church, we too often bring our own preconceptions in deciding what should be done or not done. What we must overcome, however, are our own preconceptions, whatever they may be.

Many people see the local church as a business and run it as a business. The purpose of a business is to turn a profit and grow, and so many churches have incorporated methodologies to lead to that growth. Others see the local church through the lens of common sense, and still others see the local church through the filter of their previous church experience.

Relatively few intentionally seek to make the Scriptures the basis for their practices. One problem that brought us to where we are today is that the latter part of the nineteenth century saw an intentional change in how the local church operated. “What is scriptural?” was often replaced with “What works?” How churches operated were changed in order to bring in more people and have a greater presence in the community. That trend continued and gained greater traction in the twentieth century and remains with us in the twenty-first century.

Cornerstone is by no means the ideal church, but we seek to be biblical in how we operate. The Bible is the basis for our theology and for our methodology. We may be a little different from what folks have experienced elsewhere, but if we were going to be like everyone else, there really is not a good reason for our existence.

Why do we have elders? Most Baptist churches do not have a plurality of elders. Most have one elder, the pastor, and several deacons that basically function as a board of elder. The Bible, though, indicates that local churches should have a plurality of elders. Elders were appointed in “every church” (Acts 14:23) and in every town (Titus 1:5). If someone is sick, “let him call for the elders of the church” (James 5:14).

Why are only men ordained as elders and teach mixed-gender adult classes? The New Testament provides for male leadership in churches. In 1 Timothy, one of Paul’s epistles that focuses upon life in the church, the apostles writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:12-14). Paul roots the practice all the way back to creation.

It’s become fashionable in some churches to have a Saturday evening worship service in order to attract more people who don’t want to “mess up” their Sundays with church. Why do we meet at all, and why is Sunday set aside for our primary corporate worship service? We have former members who questioned this. The Bible exhorts us to come together as an assembly, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). We meet on Sunday because that was the practice of the early church, meeting on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians16:1-2; Revelation 1:10-11).

Why do we practice church discipline? Jesus instructs us to do so (Matthew 18:15-20), and Paul provides specific commands (1 Corinthians 5; Titus 3:10-11).

To be sure, some things are matters of preference. We meet on Wednesday evenings for fellowship and prayer and Bible study. Scripture does not require this, those the Scriptures do exhort us to fellowship and pray and study the Bible. The early church in Jerusalem did it daily (Acts 2:42-47).

What time should we meet on Sundays? The Bible does not say, so this is a matter of preference. We are used to churches meeting during the latter part of Sunday morning and then again that evening. What is the reason for this schedule? Perhaps in an agrarian culture, the early morning and mid-afternoon of a Sunday were spent doing necessary things around the farm, such as feeding livestock, milking the cows, or collecting eggs. We live in a different day. Some churches now have one extended gathering, meeting on Sunday morning with Bible study and worship. They then fellowship over a simple lunch and afterwards have a devotional or sermon or maybe a discussion about the Sunday morning sermon or a theological issue. By 2:00 or so, they depart for their homes for rest and preparation for the coming week.

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