The Role of Theology

In his second epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul warns of an apostasy (2:3). In fact, the “mystery of lawlessness” was already at work. (2:7) Those who lacked a proper respect and love for the truth, who would be pleased to accept matters without divine authority, would be attracted to error and would embrace false teaching. (2:10-12) The result would be their condemnation, and the formation of an apostate movement. (See 2 Tim. 4:2-4,  1 Tim. 4:1-3, Acts 20:28-30, 2 Pet. 2:1-3)

As a matter of historical record, this warning came to pass. When men shifted their concern from a study of Scripture and became enamored with philosophy, the fruits of lawlessness were forthcoming. Not long after the establishment of the church by Christ, as these nominal “Christians”  encountered pagan philosophy, they thought it necessary to counter with a            philosophy of Christianity.  Philosophy is “inquiry into the nature of things based on logical reasoning rather than on empirical methods,” i.e. on truth verified in revelation. Thus they turned from God’s revelation to within themselves, seeking  answers within human reasoning. (See Rom. 1:22) This was the introduction of theology, the “rational discourse concerning God, and therefore as human wisdom or knowledge concerning God.”  (1)  Theology, admittedly consists of opinions, speculations, theory, personal views, and slants.

¨ “Any modern book on theology will give various opinions in regard to …” (2)

¨ “John of Damascus’ theory of Enhypostasy … is held by some to be the coping-stone of this great dogmatic development.” (3)

¨ “Within these limits there remains indeed ample scope for further Christological speculations …”(4)

¨ “The adoption of Leo’s views by the   Council…” (5)

¨ “Unfortunately, at times two evangelicals can give varying theological slants to the same term… “ (6)

Obviously, the theology of a church, as the theology of an individual, may change as the human reasoning changes, shifting from one position to another. This is well illustrated in the theology of the Baptist Church, which we use to illustrate the point.

In A Primer on Baptist History, we learn that the earliest General Baptist Church was thought to be founded about 1608 or 1609 by John Smyth in Holland. (“General Baptists” believe Jesus made atonement for all mankind.) Smyth was first an Anglican priest,  ordained in 1594. In time he rejected the teachings and practices of the Church of England. “He was an outspoken man who was quick to challenge others about their beliefs but was just as quick to change his own positions as his own personal theology changed.”  He broke from the Church of England to become a “Separatist.” In 1609, he came to believe in believer’s baptism, as opposed to infant baptism. Many, having been baptized as infants, need to be re-baptized. So Smyth baptized himself and proceeded to  baptize others, and formed the first “Baptist” church. What Smith referred to as baptism was pouring of water on the head; immersion was not accepted for another generation.

Thomas Helwys led a small group to England in 1611. This group held to believer’s baptism and also rejected Calvinism for a free will position.

In the 1630’s another group emerged, who were influenced by John Calvin, and were the beginning of the Particular Baptist Church.  Particular Baptists believe that atonement was made for particular individuals, selected before the world began, and limited to a predetermined number. Although Baptist history is generally given more to the General Baptist movement, most modern-day Baptists are Particular Baptists, although there are  congregations mixed with both. Through the years there has been a struggle between the two movements, as to which would determine the faith and policies of churches calling themselves Baptist. The pendulum has swung back and forth, giving rise to one and decline to the other. At the same time, following different theologies, other movements arose among Baptists, resulting in distinct fellowships.  (This is an interesting study, which we will not pursue now.)

The point is that there are many different Baptist churches, reflecting the theologies of men in  various movements. When these human sources are cited, rather than Scriptures—of necessity in that the Scriptures do not express the teaching, but can only be understood in the theologies of men– we can appreciate the reason for this division and confusion. “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:33). That they rely heavily upon theology is clearly seen in the effort to describe just what kind of Baptist church they are. We illustrate with “Reformed Baptist.” They say:

“We are historically in the English Particular  Baptist tradition. … We are Baptists in the tradition of Benjamin Keach and Charles Hadden Spurgeon. … The names of the great Reformers, Luther, Calvin, Knox, and many others have once again begun to be respected as those God was pleased to use to restore the great gospel truths of Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone, to the church.  The writings of their godly  successors in the Puritan tradition, John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, George Whitefield, yes, and Spurgeon too, have once again begun to be appreciated as repositories of Bible truth. This is why we say that we are [sic] a Baptist with a particular difference.” (7)

Question: If the “great gospel truths of  Scripture” are restored, then why not just present the Scriptures without the theologies of the so-called “reformers”? Why do we need what they “handed down” when we have Scripture?

A study of religious history and controversy will reveal that the speculations and opinions of theology have wrought untold mischief. Let us not be theologians, but Bible students. I care not who the man may be, one in the sectarians world or one in fellowship, his  theology carries no weight with Scripture. We need to learn “not to think of men above that which is written.” (1 Cor. 4:6)

(1)Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, p. 298.

(2) Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. VII, p. 714.

(3) Encyclopedia Britannica (11th ed.), vol. 26,p.776.

(4) Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol.3,p.760.

(5) Albert Newman, A Manual of Church History, vol. 1, p. 348. 

(6)Robert  Gromachi, The Virgin Birth, p. 107. (7) ”What is a Reformed Baptist?”, Grace Chapel, Spokane Washington.