With most Bible doctrines, there is a ditch on each side of the road that is to be avoided, and the subject at hand is no different. The doctrine of salvation can be so perverted as to portray God as subject to the total sovereignty of mans supposed "free will." It can also be perverted so as to teach that there will be sinners saved without repentance and faith. Baptism may be falsely taught as unimportant, or, at the other extreme, it may be taught as being essential to salvation. Error is harmful whether it results from adding to, or taking from, the truth. Some have erred in declaring chain-link church authority to be extra-biblical. In the other ditch, there is grave danger in the attitude that a good pedigree is an unconditional, irrevocable franchise of true church-ship. On page 31 of The Baptist Faith and Roman Catholicism, Wendell H. Rone wrote:
Baptists have no more right to re-invent God or re-define truth than the Pope has.
There may be churches through which we would trace succession that were lacking in knowledge regarding church authority, but, by Gods grace, were scripturally organized by the authority of a true church. There are probably many in that condition today. Some may charge us with inconsistency if we decline to correspond or fellowship with churches today who oppose chain-link authority. There is no inconsistency. There is a great big difference between not understanding something and advancing false doctrine. It is not our purpose, nor desire, to place or remove candlesticks. It IS, however, the responsibility of every Landmark Baptist to, diligently and jealously, defend the truths of Gods Word and to avoid bidding god-speed to false doctrine. It is bad to be in error, but it is worst of all to teach it to others. Those who have been entrusted with truth have a greater responsibility. Luke 12:47-48 says:
Some may oppose chain-link succession out of a fear of or distaste for being linked with arminianism. That is a valid concern. When the message preached is that of a god whose plan, purpose, and will is subject to the sovereignty of mans free will, or to the skill of an evangelist, it is another gospel. I do not advocate tracing succession through the General Baptists, or Free-Will Baptists. We should strive for and desire absolute purity in doctrine, and especially that of soteriology, but, recognizing the reality that no person and no church on earth can perfectly understand all the things of God, we must allow some degree of liberality. Acknowledging the fact that our own growth in grace and knowledge is a continual and on-going process, we must assume that there is to be some measure of tolerance in the qualification of a true New Testament church. It is every bit as true that lines have to be drawn and defended somewhere. One thing leads to another, and error that is left unchallenged soon becomes the accepted standard. Some times there may appear to be "gray areas." We should be very careful that those "gray areas" are not the product of closed eyes or closed minds. Are there any "gray areas" with God? There is grave danger in becoming too comfortable with a supposed "gray area." Satan, the god of this world, would have us believe that truth is relative. Truth is absolute.
Assuming their having been properly organized, a great degree of liberality may well be in order in regard to a church that is willing to learn and to follow the Lord in obedience and submission to His Word. Such a condition can be recognized by the scriptural truth that Jesus "sheep" will "hear" His voice and "follow" Him when they are taught the truth. On the other hand, Jesus churches have the obligation and duty to draw lines in defense of the truth when the truth is rejected and openly disputed. Can a church credibly and consistently teach that God is totally sovereign in salvation while openly and officially certifying, by the exchange of letters, that those who continue to dispute and attack the same gospel are of like faith and order? Does not such act confirm and bid god-speed to those in error when they should be taught and rebuked? Sometimes there is reluctance toward taking such a stand because of an awareness of our own lack of knowledge and understanding, in time past, in matters of Gods grace. We all begin our Christian lives as babes in Christ, and have no room to boast. Whatever knowledge of truth we possess, it was received and by the grace of God. There is a great difference between passive ignorance and actively avowed arminianism, and it is important that we make that distinction.
There may be many churches that were once Jesus true churches but are not now. We must not allow past affiliations to cause us to be blind to present realities. We must not be biased by sentiment or by what family and friends may think. Sound practice cannot be based upon popular opinion nor good intentions.
The water is often muddied, in regard to the exchange of letters, by concerns about judging of when a church is not a true church or of when a church ceases to be a true church. The rejection of alien baptism does not indicate a churchs judgement as to whether or not God has saved the person who is in need of scriptural baptism. Why should a churchs decision not to grant nor request letters of recommendation be construed as a judgement of whether or not Christ has removed the candlestick? An unacceptable membership does not necessarily mean an unacceptable baptism. Should not each be considered separately?
One of Satans methods is to introduce error a little at a time, so as not to alarm anyone. It is his style to have false churches look so sufficiently similar to the true that no one will notice the difference. It is in his best interest to find one already organized, bearing the right name, complete with building, members, and all. Just a little change here and a little change there and soon it is just the way he wants it.
If we have a glass of drinking water, and see two drops of raw sewage added, should we pour it out or argue over whether it is still, technically, water? Should we tell a friend that it is ok? If the cow gets into wild onions and the milk stinks, should we pour the milk out, or should we debate whether or not it is still milk? When a church bears little resemblance to the New Testament pattern, and demonstrates an unwillingness to accept the Bible as final authority in its faith and practice, should we debate over whether it is a church in error or has ceased to be a church, or should its ordinances and actions be rejected? God forbid that we would recommend anyone to unite with it.
One very visible convention of Baptists has publicly acknowledged having more than 1200 women ordained as ministers of the gospel in their churches. Some churches of the same convention have ordained homosexuals as ministers. Generally, most of the churches in the convention have become very arminian in doctrine and practice. Daily, we witness the fact that, in their own literature and press releases, they declare themselves Protestants. It seems that there is at least one of their churches in every area that openly and unashamedly accepts alien baptism. It is a very unusual exception to find one of their churches that would dare to question the validity of a baptism administered by another church in their own convention. Does that not make each one of them a willing participant in their collective errors? Can one of the Lords true churches ask such a church for a letter of recommendation without expressing and implying a considerable degree of approval and equality? Is there any expression of love or sense of responsibility in recommending the union of one of our own members with such a body? By such inconsistent practice, while claiming the Bible to be our final authority, we teach a multitude of contradictions; and we teach our children and the world that there is no essential difference between the doctrines held and propagated by those churches and our own. Is not the influence and result of all this to fill those apostate churches with our children, our neighbors, and the world, and to effectually obliterate Sovereign Grace Landmark Baptist churches from the earth, by destroying all doctrinal distinctives? If we are so much alike, shouldnt there be a greater degree of fellowship and cooperation? If there is a real difference, should it not be manifest? Surprise, shock, and disgust are sometimes expressed when an Independent Baptist church or school moves to officially affiliate with that convention and to support its programs with their tithes and offerings. There should be no surprise. We reap what we sow. The shock and disgust should sound the alarm "that it is high time to awake out of sleep." Lines must be drawn and defended.
It may seem that we have gotten way off the subject and on to a totally different matter. A thorough and logical consideration of the former does, however, ultimately lead to the latter. On page 102 of Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, JR. Graves wrote:
In Revelation 3:16, Jesus says:
These issues are not set forth with any pretense of having all the answers. Perhaps more questions have been raised than answers provided. It is, however, an urgent and imperative necessity that we as Sovereign Grace Landmark Baptists deal with these questions, answers, and issues before we lose our identity and purpose.
The Bible teaches that, at Christs return, there will be one or more of His kind of church still in existence. It does not promise that there will be one in every community or every country. May God deliver us from lukewarm-ness, and let us earnestly and diligently seek to be found in His kind of church.