What’s Going on with the Baptists?

There is no doubt Christianity seems to be (or at least on the surface) declining over the past decade. If Christianity is declining, what is going on in Baptist congregations?  According to Stats Canada, those who profess to be “Baptist” are now sitting at approximately 2% of the Canadian population.[1] Considering there are many who attend Baptist Churches titled Grace, Fellowship or Community church, including those who hold to the doctrine of Reformed Baptist, there needs to be consideration that there are more than likely higher numbers of practicing Baptists in Canada. Operation world, in their survey of Canada, shows that out of the population of 38 plus million people, only 7.7% are Evangelical. [2] This is just under three million of the total population—Baptists fall within that figure. However, what is alarming, even if they are recorded or not, there seems to be a slide in historical convictions and doctrine within many Baptist congregations. So even if one declares themselves Baptist, or belong to a Baptist congregation, is it really -Baptist?

     Now there are several Baptist Denominations operating in Canada, such as the Baptist General Conference (BGC), The Canadian National Baptist Convention (Canada’s branch of Southern Baptist – CNBC), North American Baptist Conference (NAB), the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec [CBOQ] (Western and Atlantic Canada) and The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada [The Fellowship]. In addition, there are many smaller denominations; however, the CBOQ and The Fellowship are more prominent and potentially have more impact than the others.

Before going any further, it needs to be said – that there are solid churches and pastors in many Baptist churches across Canada. Their love for Jesus, leadership and patience are commendable. However, the problems being addressed are not based on those faithful and are within all Baptists movements, regardless if one is a particular (Reformed) Baptists or Free Will Baptist. The concerns are shared across many Baptist denominations and need to be addressed. Why? For too long, these affiliations or denominations have compromised in their attempt to attract growth.

Issue One: Statements of Faith.

Many Baptist denominations and churches are stripping their website of sound theological distinctive language. Unfortunately, in doing so, they appear to be saying just enough to sound correct but they are lacking sufficient wording and Scripture to take strong positions or public stand. Here is a small example.

1.     All Protestant churches’ final authority is Scripture. Therefore, it should be standard practice to include Scripture within a statement of faith. Upon reviewing various Baptist denominational websites, it appears the standard practice is not that common. The Baptist General Conference[3], The Fellowship[4], and the CBOQ[5] all have zero Scripture foundations to stand upon in what they believe. A recent example of why this is important would be the state’s attack on the fundamental beliefs of Christians with COVID-19. Christians seeking religious exemption could not be accommodated because their church or denomination statements of faith were too weak and lacking. When employers or government officials did a shallow search on a website, those sites did not show the statement of faith was historic, shared and, in this context, distinct to Baptist doctrine.

2.     Creation. The six-day creation account is found in Holy Scripture (E.g.Gen 1-2, Is 40:28, Ps 90:2). Creation in Scripture is recorded and written in many ways, including genealogy specific. Any student of the word understands an attack on Genesis account, is an attack on Jesus existence. Creation is not a pick or chose doctrine. Removing a statement on creation allows a denomination or affiliation to not only let others into membership that may disagree or attack the sufficiency of Scripture, churches who feel aspects of God’s word as a hindrance to growth or challenging the Biblical account is a slippery (dangerous) slope. There will be a compromise in other areas if there is an allowance for compromise in one area (Gal 5:9; Pr 14:12). For example, the Fellowship has no Creation section on their statement of faith. Any pastor or church worth their weight should scream caution from the rooftops about this. As churches within The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada agree to the statement of faith and often have it on their websites, this is a major problem. The BGC kept theirs in; however, it is so vague that one could hold to one of the theories of evolution and still sign off on it. The CNBC has no mention of creation, and the CBOQ is weak. Thankfully, Sovereign Grace Fellowship Canada not only includes it but has Scripture references to back up its position.

3.     Church and state. Out of all the statements of faith, this is the most confusing. Reason being, Baptist Churches across Canada professed to believe one thing, and since 2020 did the very opposite. The Fellowship has on their website – “We believe in the entire separation of church and state.”[6] There are no Scripture verses to back this up, there are no confessional statements to back this up, so it is an empty statement that can change like the direction of the wind. Yet, the BGC speaks of religious freedom and declares, “in matters of disagreement between Scripture and government, we believe we must obey God.”[7] The CNBC and others have the same thing worded in various ways.

As previously stated, these denominations showed clearly, that many Baptist churches who profess such a statement had no issue taking money from the state during COVID-19. Now herein lies the most prominent problem – because Baptist churches appear to be weak in clearly outlining what they believe – they can play on words, change the goalposts and shift anytime it may be convenient. Over two years of church closer, many, not all, but many took government bailout money. Regardless of what they claim in a weak statement of faith, their actions showed the truth of the matter. In defence, leaders can dance around those modern created statements and play on words because nothing is present to hold them accountable. 

[If you are concerned or want to know if your church or denomination took government bailout money, please visit the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) Registry]

When churches or denominations cannot clearly articulate what they believe, they are not able to stand on such beliefs. So no wonder many Baptist churches are struggling, they do not know who they are anymore. So this takes us to the second point.

Issue two: Headship.

With the larger affiliations or denominations, headship’s failure is more recognizable than that of the smaller movements. Regardless of one’s opinion, those who are called overseers, even overseers in a denomination, are first and foremost to be strong leaders (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:1-9, 1 Peter 5:1-4). This is not an attack on the required gentleness, patience, kindness, and servant leadership men must exhibit, but these things certainly do not negate having a backbone (Read Biblical Manhood: The Manliness of Jesus by J.R. Miller here). One example would be the Fellowship and CBOQ having an opportunity to take the lead over the usurping of the church’s authority by the state. Instead, these Baptist denominations (and many others) remained silent. This is a long way from their formations and convictions. What was worse, was Baptist affiliations like The Fellowship even praised various articles calling out faithful pastors. One specific article comes to mind written by The Gospel Coalition, calling out T.T Shields.  The article speaks of a meeting between Shields and Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones to address concerns over divisiveness. [8] On forums and other online communication, there were those aligned with the Fellowship suggesting pastors who took a stand against government overreach during COVID were more like the divisive T.T Shields, and the compliant (statist) pastors were the Llyod Jones or ones showing reasonableness. Further, the Fellowship encouraged their pastors, though not directly, to not stir the waters and wait the (government) overreach out opposed to making strong public statements showing disapproval.

     For the most part, the BGC, CNBC, CBOQ and NAB were silent as well. So the failure is on the majority of Baptist denominations and the leaders who oversee these movements. Public statements from any arm of Baptist denominations were absent. As many pastors and denominational heads sat back and collected the CEWS, they watched congregants lose their jobs, take coerced injections, and suffer mental anguish while keeping the doors closed and collecting a paycheck. It is no wonder they acted in such a way. The heads of the denominations were leading, and pastor followed and brought their congregations with them. Either they do not know what they believe or cannot stand with conviction to what they profess to believe. Back to the first issue, if there are no Scriptural statements to lead them how can they lead?

Issue three: Social

While some denominations are smaller, like the BGC, NAB and Sovereign Grace, it is good to see these smaller groups address areas around Christian conduct. For example, the BGC does say (though lacking Scripture reference) that believers are to “be blameless for the world.”[9]One could interpret such a statement differently, but at least it is there. Page 21 of Sovereign Grace Canada’s statement has a clear cut and dry statement, and this is encouraging[10]. But again, the larger (The Fellowship and CBOQ) Baptist movements are somewhat silent in areas regarding sexuality and ethics. Please do not get this wrong. There have been statements made here and there, but nothing was firmly called out or put on the official record. Within the two largest movements there has been a rise in accepting and promoting critical race theory, compromising on human sexuality, and endorsing dangerous teachers and practices of ordination. Perhaps out of ignorance or desire to align with such teachings for church growth, old convictions and traditional stance was pushed aside. One such denomination, the CBOQ, has turned its back on the matter of sexual ethics all together. The weak leadership of some of these Baptist movements played politics and placed decisions on the local church. There are more examples, but time is limited.

[To research, start looking at regional and national conference speakers for specific Baptist denominations]

On January 16, 2022, pastors from across Canada and the U.S.A publicly preached on sexual ethics. Most of those pastors were not influenced by any affiliation or denomination. Those men kept their churches open and have come under public fire. Not just by those outside Christianity like government and media, but Baptist circles also turned their back on Scripture and their brethren. We must ask, and who is wrong? Many of those Baptist  leaders who were critics have made too many bad decisions showing their compromises in their attempt to grow. Leonard Ravenhill rings loudly, “how is it the world could not get along with the greatest man who ever lived, but it gets along with you and I – are we compromised? So, it would be safe to say, those who hid, watered down and compromised were in the wrong, not the other way around (John 15:18, Matt 5:10, Luke 6:22).

Issue four: Music

Up to this point, we looked at weak statements of faith: so Baptists have an identity crisis. Then lack of headship: if one is playing, follow the leader, who should be followed? Third, social: if it looks like the world, something is off. Now we move into the last point and that is professing Baptist leaders in more significant movements are trying to fit in and be relevant instead of being faithful regarding music. One only needs to step into a church to know who allows heretical music. Baptist churches are not different with bad music.  Most of this “bad” music is sung at regional and national conferences giving the wide hand extension of approval. If this is not the case, I stand corrected, but the silence with the issue makes it seem it is the case. These denominational heads do not or at least not enough, addressing congregations or assist pastors with avoiding Pentecostal or charismatic music. Church services are accepting false teaching through music. Words that are not theologically sound – and thus the people are adopting dangerous doctrine.

Grown men and women, signing infant songs. Repeating that God is a good, good father, that’s who he is[11] repeatedly – never growing only slipping into more nonsense. Now, many never open a Hymn book and declare, “Alas did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die! Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?“[12] This is a far reach from the early days of who Baptists were. Once known for doctrine, separation, fiery preaching has come down to nothing more than a mixed pot of Evangelicalism that does not appear to worship the Triune God but is more utilitarian. Worshipping an image of a god they have created, or themselves as primary. This falls not only on pastors, but those men who oversee movements called denominations.

Conclusion

So, what is going on with Baptists? Well, leadership. Either on a denomination level or within the local church. But, again, I am not saying all. Many within the BGC, NAB, CNBC, and Fellowship have strong faithful leaders who preach with passion and conviction. But though this is the case, Scripture is clear “a little leaven spoils the entire lump” (Gal 5:9). For Baptists to course-correct, I would strongly encourage them to become confessional. To adopt the 1689 2nd London Baptist Confession into their church documents once again. At the same time, have denominational overseers who are more concerned with Scripture than growth. However, I know not all will do this. Since there are varying doctrinal positions within the Baptist branch of Protestant Christianity, we can at least get back to the bare bones. The first step of course would repentance, strong leadership and those holding such leaders accountable. Once this is done, the basics.

B – the Bible is our only rule for faith and practice. We call this Sola Scriptura (better yet, Tota Scriptura). Therefore, if we claim to be Baptist, let us be people of the Scriptures. This includes our Statements of Faith and governing documents.

A– Autonomy of the local church. Elders lead the church. Not the denomination or affiliation. The local church plants churches and sends out missionaries. They oversee the congregation. Not someone who knows nothing about the flock or has shown disqualification/compromise on the essentials. Yes, there can be associations, networks, and denominations, but the local elders best respond if those become compromised. Therefore denominational heads should at the same time be ensuring churches remain true to their professing convictions.

P – Priesthood of all believers. Locally people are trained, equipped, and released into ministry.

T – Two Ordinances – Baptism and Lord’s Supper. We stop messing around by compromising with membership and Baptism: believer’s Baptism, full immersion, and the Lord’s supper. If the person has not received believers baptism, or refuses, there will be no membership.

I – Individual Soul Liberty – Believers have the right to worship God according to their conscience. However, under no circumstance should a denomination or church demand a non-Biblical principle on a person for them to worship corporately [Church discipline is an area such restriction can take place]. Think vaccine mandates and face coverings and how this was violated in the majority of Scripture.

S– Separation of Church and State. Caesar has no authority to dictate how or when a person worships the Triune God of Scripture. Many churches AND many Baptist denominations must publicly repent for their cowardice and failure of leadership over this.

T – The two offices. As a Reformed Baptist who holds to the Plurality of Elders, there is a slight difference here, but the foundation is the same. Overseers lead the church. Elders, Elder -Pastor or Pastor- Deacon as the two offices. It is all local. Not government, not denominational heads. This requires much unpacking another time. 

     Once we get back to remembering who we are as Baptists, where we have come from, and what we teach and believe, it is then that we can function as such. I am not saying this trumps our title as Christians. Never! Our identity is in Jesus Christ first and foremost. But if we are going to align to certain doctrine and tradition, we should at least try to align to what we claim. When the denomination in its various form returns to its roots, there is a connection with men like John Bunyan, Benjamin Keach, John Gill, Charles Spurgeon. When there is a sending out to work in the mission fields, either locally or abroad, it will be connected to that of Adoniram Judson or William Carey. It is time for pastors to pray, ask tough questions and make decisions. Look at where our denominations have gone over the last 30 years and see if there is still alignment. Look at the past two years and review. Do you agree? If you do not agree, what are you going to do about it?

I am a Christian, who is not ashamed of being a (Reformed) Baptist. Sure our church name may not reflect this, and that’s because the matter is beyond a name, it is in the tradition, the doctrine and how we meet that is paramount.  There is a strong heritage with sound doctrine that keeps me grounded. However, I pray if you are a pastor within a Baptist congregation, or a denominational leader, you start reviewing these things as well, as many of us are currently doing. I have a long way to go, and so many things to address as well, but we all have to start somewhere.

In His Grace,

Pastor Steve

_______________________


[3] Baptist General Conference, what we Believe. April 13, 2022, https://www.bgc.ca/what-we-believe
[4] The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, What We Believe. April 13, 2022, https://www.fellowship.ca/WhatWeBelieve
[5] Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. This We Believe. April 13, 2022, https://baptist.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/This-We-Believe-2016.pdf
[6] The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, What We Believe. April 13, 2022, https://www.fellowship.ca/WhatWeBelieve
[7] Baptist General Conference, what we Believe. April 13, 2022, https://www.bgc.ca/what-we-believe
[8] When Martyn Llyod-Jones Confronted a Pastor who Loved Controversy. https://apps.cra-arc.gc.ca/ebci/hacc/cews/srch/pub/dsplyBscSrch?request_locale=en
[9] Baptist General Conference, what we Believe. April 13, 2022, https://www.bgc.ca/what-we-believe
[11] Good Father. 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon
[12] Watts Isaac, Alas, and did my Savior bleed, public domain 1707

Latest Posts

Scroll to Top