Baptist Distinctives Day 3: Priesthood of the Believer & Individual Soul Liberty

We’ll come back and hit “Two Ordinances” tomorrow but I’m going to combine the discussion of Priesthood and Soul Liberty into one today.

The P and I of the BAPTIST acronym can most easily summed up as the “We Ain’t No Catholics” declarations.

For unlike the papists, every Baptist gets to be his very own priest and can directly access God to pray, confess his sins, and debate the efficacy of abstaining from meat on Fridays. The absence of a priest does not mean, however, that the penitent man gets a free pass. Penance will be exacted each Sunday morning after the second hymn while the organist plays Nothing Between.

Individual Soul Liberty, on the other hand, theoretically grants each individual person the right to decide for themselves what to believe and practice based on their understanding of what the Scriptures command. This is the reason why fundamentalist churches allow each person the freedom to set their own personal standards based on their convictions rather than exerting authoritarian rule. (Permit me a moment to wipe away the tears of mirth after writing that) No, but seriously though, there has never to my knowledge been a recorded case of a fundamentalist actually being caught practicing soul liberty and living to tell the tale.

Combine these two points together and they definitely prove that Baptists are not Roman Catholics. Yet, somehow, similarities remain. For all the lip service to liberty it seems that they are as dependent on the traditions of men as any person possibly could be.

“We already have our own local pope and household god, thanks. We don’t need to be bothered with yours.”

102 thoughts on “Baptist Distinctives Day 3: Priesthood of the Believer & Individual Soul Liberty”

        1. But the posts keep changing as later posters add comments. Their number is relative. Are you in favor of relativism? Are you a relativistic, compromising liberal? You post counters are the heretics.

        2. BG, This is the most disappointing thing I’ve ever seen you post! Have you never taught fundy Sunday School? You should know the policy of using whatever boosts attendance numbers is the one you use. I think if a woman’s pregnant you count her as 3 until you know for sure it’s not twins. If Darrell operating the site more in line with fundy principles every hit would count on a comment count somewhere. They may not have posted their comment but every hit/click is definitely a mental comment and should count!

        3. I’ve made many mental comments on this site, but my wife usually talks my out of posting those. You can count them. 😀

        4. Each of TomK’s thought-comments counts twice, by Rob’s method, because first he thinks of a comment, and then his wife comments on his thought. If he responds to his wife with a comment on her comment on his idea for a comment, that makes three comments.

  1. The individual soul liberty part. . .Sad, but oh so true! And if you are practicing your “individual soul liberty”, someone is only too quick to judge you based on their lack thereof.

  2. Individual soul liberty and the Priesthood of every believer in the Fundie system is easy as PI.

    It is also one of the reasons they are so anti-intellectual, and suspicious of the “secular” sciences because science tells them that PI r square… “Everyone knows there ain’t never been no square pie at any Baptist fellowship, that just ain’t natural.”

        1. Cornbread from a muffin pan? Yankees, that’s corn muffins! Cornbread is cooked in a black cast iron skillet in the oven- the way God intended it.

        2. Mom keeps the cast-iron skillet free to whack anybody who calls her a Yankee.

          I do cook cornbread in a skillet though, since I don’t have an ear-of-corn-mold pan of my own.

  3. That’s a creepy pic! Yet so accurate. The chains of obligation and expectation begin to weigh you down. You lose the joy. Your witness becomes a mechanical, “Here’s how to get saved,” instead of sharing what God’s been doing in your life. Guilt weighs you down or self-righteousness puffs you up.

    Growing up, I heard some preaching on “freedom in Christ” but never understood it because I never SAW it put into practice. But now, “I am free to dance!”

    1. I agree completely when you say you heard preaching on “freedom in Christ” but didn’t know what it meant. I was in my late 20’s before I started to grasp the concept.

    2. I’m still trying to figure that one out–freedom. The closest I have experienced is in worship. The difference is astounding to me when I look across the audience and see the hands raised high in praise. Freedom is those hands up in worship not chained to a hymnal.

  4. Thanks for this one Darrell. Not only entertaining but illuminating as well. Sometimes I look back at Fundyland and know things were screwed up but can’t exactly explain it until you shine your blog-light on it.

    1. yep, that’s why I keep reading–I don’t always see the remnants of fundyland in my own thinking/behavior, and I’m certainly glad to have them pointed out

  5. The law kills. Liberty gives life. By St. Paul’s definition, they are shooting themselves in the foot. Which probably explains a lot about some of the problems that keep cropping up in those circles.

  6. Wait a minute……I was supposed to be enjoying individual soul liberty as an IFB??? REALLY? Why did thy fail to mention that in my IFB teen sunday school class?? Oh yeah, they were to busy mandating that pants on the girls were anathema. 🙄

  7. Ahh… liberty in Christ. As I was taught growing up, it’s the freedom to obey the Scriptures [as taught by the fundy pastor / fundy university]. I couldn’t figure out where the freedom part came in.

    Praise God for the true liberty we have in following Him, and for freeing many of us from the chains of fundamentalism.

    1. No matter how many times he said it I never understood how Jim Schettler could with a straight face pull off the “liberty to do the right thing”, which everyone knew the subtext that the right thing was whatever PCC said it was.

      1. Rob, the voice I was hearing in my head was Jeff Redlin’s. Something about the fences they built for us giving us the freedom to do the right thing. It sounded good back then.

  8. Quote:
    “Combine these two points together and they definitely prove that Baptists are not Roman Catholics. Yet, somehow, similarities remain.”

    One similarity is that they are both dumb enough to believe that the bible is inerrant.

    1. Catholics don’t believe in biblical inerrancy – at least as far as I know. Some Catholic theologians have made that argument, but mostly in the past. Recent Catholic scholarship (especially after the Second Vatican Council) suggests a much more nuanced view of the Bible.

  9. “Freedom to obey” lol. I love that argument. It makes no sense ever at all not once even a little.

    Also, I heard someone say once: “The greatest danger of the Reformation is that every preacher can now be his own pope.”

  10. dis·tinc·tive   [dih-stingk-tiv]
    –adjective
    1. serving to distinguish; characteristic; distinguishing:
    2. having a special quality, style, attractiveness, etc.

    Perhaps we could call these two “traits Baptists give lip service to,” instead of “distinctives.” I have found there two values are far more “distinct” in the world outside of the IFB.

  11. Darrell, thanks for the Indiana Jones reference (assuming it was intentional). Now I have the theme song stuck in my head.
    But yes, growing up, freedom in Christ meant “free from sin” (whatever that means) and bondage to follow the pastor’s teaching to the letter.

  12. All I remember about fundy ideas about Christian freedom (I’m not familiar with the term Individual Soul Liberty, but I assume it’s the same thing) is that it usually turned into a lecture on what Christans aren’t free to do, especially opposing the state and disagreeing with the pastor. I ended up thinking they were scared of freedom, but I wasn’t prepared to be, so I wiped the dust off my feet against them.

    1. That sounds like the kind of freedom people have in Cuba. When I was there, a member of the Cuban parliament said that the Cuban constitution guarantees freedom of speech, except that no one is permitted to slander the Cuban Revolution.
      Hmmm.

  13. I think a part of Individual Soul Liberty is finally having the freedom to do good and to obey God. As an unbeliever, everything one did was evil because it was all done in no relation to God and His power and glory. We weren’t free to do good, but now as children of God we are. If this is wrong, I’d like to be corrected.

    My Fundy pastor and his staff define ISL as having the freedom to choose salvation or not. Your individual soul has the liberty to accept or reject salvation.

    1. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that only Christians can do good, or, for that matter, that only Christians are God’s children.

      Soul liberty involves both the right and the duty to discern what is true and right and good for yourself. In doing so, you take both Christian traditions and your pastor’s advice into account. But the decision is yours alone.

      This is very different from the heirarchal model, where church authorities do the discernment and then tell the people what to do. As a Protestant, I have taken no vows to obey my pastor, my bishop, or any other church official, but only to diligently seek to know, and follow, God’s will for my life.

      Of course, there are times (most times, in fact) when I will obey authorities for the sake of harmony and efficiency. But what I do is my responsibility, not theirs.

        1. No, I think only the Catholic “religious” take vows of obedience.
          But Catholic teaching definitely suggests that Catholics must obey their Bishop and their Pope, and all the Canon Laws.

        2. I guess I am hung up on the word “obey.” Catholic religious are, for the most part, incredibly learned people who have a very thorough understanding of Scripture and Catholic tradition. But lay Catholics are still encouraged to study on their own and form their own conscience, and there are plenty of Catholic theologians who disagree with each other – and that kind of disagreement is seen as fruitful because it lends an opportunity for further understanding.

          I’ve never felt, since I became Catholic, that my priest expected me to do what he said simply because he said so. I had that feeling all of the time growing up in the churches my family attended. I will grant that Pope Benedict is much more strict in his interpretation of how we’re to live out our traditions, but it seems more to me like choosing to do a New Critical reading of a work of literature rather than a postmodern. Both are valid approaches that can give you new insights, but a reader is likely to prefer one over the other.

      1. “Big Gary March 16, 2011 at 2:49 pm
        Nowhere in the Bible does it say that only Christians can do good, or, for that matter, that only Christians are God’s children.”

        That’s right. Romans 3:10 says nobody does good.

        And for your other point, John 1:12 “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” which obviously excludes non-Christians.

        1. rats you beat me to the refutal. To many people are just angry on this site and not actually Christians concerned about the Fundy abuse of Biblical precepts.

  14. I think that as soon as Baptist churches begin to practice Individual Soul Liberty and Priesthood of the believer, they tend to leave fundamentalism.

    My current church is leaving and is even dropping the name baptist because of all the negative connotations with it.

  15. This pic is Harry Houdini, no? It has to be an escape artist of some sort, and I can’t recall what Harry looked like, but I envision him doing something like this.

  16. Concerning individual liberty, we must keep two things in the forefront of our minds. 1. Does this have the appearance of evil? 2. What will people think?

    In conclusion, the individuals heart is irrelevant. We only consider what we can see. It’s time to sacrifice Christian Liberty on the alter of what others think. Our primary concern is assuming every single person we meet is that weaker brother.

    1. Ah yes, the absolute Iron-fisted rule of the Weaker Brother. More easily offended than the Frito Bandito, more sensitive than John Boehner at a press confrence, it’s the reign of the Weaker Brother!
      All hail the WB!

    2. “We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials-namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the ‘low’ churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his ‘high’ brother should be moved to irreverence, and the ‘high’ one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his ‘low’ brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that, the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.” from “The Screwtape Letters” by C. S. Lewis

    3. “The appearance of evil”–Oh, yes, “Don’t go to the movies because, though you may have been going to see Dumbo, I, your youth pastor, might see you coming out and think you’ve been to an R-rated movie.” Aside from the horrible hermeneutic used to interpret that verse, my question is, why weren’t we taught not to judge others? What right would the youth pastor have to assume we’d been to the “bad” movie? Isn’t the Christian thing to give the person the benefit of the doubt?

  17. I’ve been wanting to write on this subject, but kept holding back.

    At a high level, I’ve seen this inconsistently enforced in fundamental churches; sometimes, they do allow soul liberty. At other times, the one claiming soul liberty is preached hard against.

    1. Oh, great post, the only problem is you’ve missed the point of it.

      If anything, Fundamentalism elevates the “weaker brother” to the point of hindering his advance toward spiritual maturity…. and then letting him have control of the churches.

      It’s one thing to exercise caution in front of a true “weaker brother”, be that a new Christian or someone who has serious struggles in a particular issue. It’s another thing to let some weak-but-egotistical MOg who can’t handle life outside the IFB bubble boss people around over the most trivial of matters.

      Nice try, but that stunt doesn’t work around people who know better. 😀

  18. It will always fascinate me how easily protestant denominations manage to declare their independence from the Catholic church, when the very Bible they depend on arose as the fruit of early Catholic Liturgical readings and was ultimately compiled in standardized form by the church!

    1. *indignant squeak* You leave my mother out of this!

      Also, there’s nothing wrong with being a rat, and Jesus is the One that justifies us.

      So there! *offended squeak*

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