This is the third and final part of Dr Frank Mobbs' series of articles, 'Which Church did Jesus establish with his authority?'
In this article, Dr Mobbs provides a brief outline of the origins and beliefs of the Baptist and Pentecostal Churches. Many members of the latter are ex-Catholics.
Dr Mobbs is a former lecturer in philosophy and theology at various universities and seminaries and the author of several books and numerous articles. His email address is: email@example.com
As pointed out in last month's article on post-Reformation Protestantism, in AD 1500 you could not have left the Catholic Church and joined a Protestant one. There was none to join. Today there are thousands of Protestant Churches, among them many which describe themselves as Baptist or Pentecostal.
Still trying to work out which Church is the one founded and authorised by Jesus Christ, I encounter the claims of the Baptist Church. Soon I find there is no one organisation called the 'Baptist Church' but, rather, a lot of Churches which have as part of their names the word 'Baptist'.
For instance, there are the Seventh Day Baptists who worship on Saturdays. Baptists unite in insisting on 'believer's baptism' (hence the name, 'Baptist'), that is, one must first believe in Christ and then be immersed in water. However, for most Baptists, baptism is not necessary for salvation
There were no Baptists until 1500 years after Jesus. They originally developed from the English Dissenter or Nonconformist movements of the late 16th century. First came Anabaptists who insisted on a second baptism after infant baptism with the modern Baptist Churches beginning in England about 1620.
They soon spread to North America where, when combined, they now constitute the largest Protestant denomination. Roger Williams is thought to have established the first Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1638.
They are vigorous missionaries with large numbers of followers in Latin America, India, some African nations, and persist in Russia. Worldwide the Baptists number about 110 million, while constituting 1.6% of Australians.
For Baptists, the Church of Christ is restricted to baptised believers. For example, the Baptist Faith and Message Statement adopted by Southern Baptists reads: 'Of a Gospel Church. We believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers'. They consider that most Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans are not Christians because they were baptised as infants. But Baptists are not united on this.
History shows Baptists to have been strongly hostile to the papacy. The 1689 Confession of Faith includes the words, 'neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin'. Modern Baptist statements of faith omit that.
Baptists profess the fundamentals of Protestantism: salvation by faith alone, Scripture alone, and the believer's right to interpret Scripture. Their creed is the Bible, an assertion made by most Protestants. In fact, they have drawn up creeds over the centuries with leaders demanding subscription to these creeds for appointments as missionaries and for ministers.
To test this, I asked a Baptist theologian whether I could join his Church whilst believing the Bible warrants belief in the authority of the pope. He advised me to try somewhere else.
A defining belief is congregationalism: each local congregation is both independent and also identical with the Church of Christ. It follows that whilst the Catholic Church may have a billion members the Baptist Church of Mangrove Creek may have 30 members - for each is a Church in the same sense.
So were I to join a Baptist congregation, that is what I would join - nothing more. There is no Baptist Church to enter other than a congregation somewhere.
In fact, the congregations voluntarily join various federations for joint enterprises. A well know example is the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States, a powerful and controlling organisation.
Are they Christ's Church? They came a bit late, 1500 years late. In deciding, I would have to examine each local Church to decide whether its shade of belief exactly matches what I find in a Bible. Surely the Lord meant my task to be simpler.
Perhaps one of the Pentecostal Churches is the one authorised by Jesus. If so, I should join it. Millions of Catholics have come to believe that one of these Churches is theirs, so they have become Pentecostals.
I say 'one' of the Pentecostal Churches because there are hundreds of them with different sets of beliefs. For example, Oneness Pentecostals hold that God is one person, others that God is three persons (Trinity). Holiness Pentecostals believe they have been assured of salvation no matter what they do.
In the case of nearly all Pentecostal Churches, one can name the founder(s), such as William J. Seymour. Directories of Pentecostal Churches name hundreds of founders. None of them is Jesus Christ.
Pentecostals get over this difficulty by saying, 'Just look in the Bible. There you will find a description of our Church: speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, rapture in the Holy Ghost.' Maybe, but you will have to calibrate carefully to match a congregation with selected biblical verses.
Most historians date the beginning of modern Pentecostal Churches to about 1906. So there is a bit of a time gap between the New Testament (Bible) Church and the Pentecostals. This is no trouble for Pentecostals, for, like most Protestant Churches, they claim that the Church founded by Jesus Christ died out and was later restored to some extent by Luther and Co. and fully restored when the Holy Ghost got to work on a prophet in Kansas or Stockholm or North Sydney. (Holy 'Ghost' says the Authorised Version of 1611, hence 'Ghost' is obligatory).
So, according to Pentecostals, each one of these new Churches is described in the New Testament (Bible). True to Protestant fundamentals, Pentecostals hold that the Bible is the only rule of faith, containing all that God has revealed. Of course, inspired men and women are needed to interpret it, and they do not lack interpreters.
Pentecostal congregations tend to espouse the interpretations of charismatic preachers. Also, congregations form larger groups, such as Assemblies of God, or break into new congregations around a new preacher.
The first move a Pentecostal (or a Baptist, etc) makes is to produce in a neophyte a fervent conviction of the importance of the Bible. There are Pentecostal biblical scholars who can look critically at the Bible, but few leaders share this capability. Thus they resemble Muslims who will tolerate no questioning whatever of the Koran.
Pentecostals have not noticed that the Lord Jesus did not authorise the Bible nor command his followers to believe its contents. Seeing there was no New Testament there was no Bible to which he could refer. Further, there was no agreement amongst Jews or Christians as to which books belonged in the Bible.
The present 27 books in the canon of the New Testament were only approved by the Catholic Church (both East and West during the fourth century.
As is well known, Pentecostals glorify the having of a religious experience which they call being 'born again', accompanied by speaking in tongues'. Millions are changed by this experience. But in their theology it is not necessary for salvation - only faith produces salvation.
Pentecostals love to be assured of salvation, unlike poor Catholics and Orthodox who have to spend their lives loving God by obeying him.
Many Pentecostals claim their salvation is guaranteed. Once I spoke to a man who assured me he had been saved. Yes, he and his wife had bought a ticket which, when they got to Jerusalem, would entitle them to be taken straight into heaven. I admitted I could not better that offer.