Baptist Distinctives Day 1: Biblical Authority

Fundamentalists believe that the inspired words of God were written down by holy men and transmitted to us in an inerrant, inspired, perfectly preserved text of the Bible. The Bible was then translated word-for-word exactly from the original languages into English with absolutely no meaning whatsoever lost (unless a Greek translation is really needed to help a shaky sermon point). This Bible is given lip service as the perfect standard for all belief and practice within every Independent, Fundamental, Bible-Believing, New Testament, Eagerly Awaiting Either The Rapture Or Dinner Time Whichever Comes First Baptist Church.

In reality, however, a fundamentalists really only needs to acknowledge the authority of Scripture in three key areas:

1) The pastor is right.
2) The Bible says whatever the pastor says it does
3) If the pastor’s interpretation sounds a little weird, illogical, or downright heretical refer to point one.

Using this simple formula, fundamentalists can claim that the Bible is their absolute standard for faith and practice no matter what silly or anachronistic path that made lead them down. The Bible may forbid everything from cosmopolitans to chat rooms and from CCM to children’s church. It may command door-to-door soul winning and three services per week. It may regulate everything from birth control to bathing suits. And it does all this without ever actually forbidding or commanding any of those thing in any way shape or form. It’s a good thing we have pastors.

The Bible may still be on prominent display in fundamentalist churches but both their faith and practice more often seem to spring from the mind of man than from the Word of God. Yet every jot and typoร‚ย  receives the status of “biblical” — so it must be in the Scriptures somewhere. If only the rest of us could be blessed enough to see it.

79 thoughts on “Baptist Distinctives Day 1: Biblical Authority”

    1. Darrell,

      I thought alot about whether to type this comment, but feel it is my duty as a brother to do so.

      The article was okay–but my heart grieves to see such comments as this post has brought—(I work third shift so I am late to get to this post) many, if not most today, here express outright disdain for the very idea of the innerancy of scripture.

      We have discussed before how SFL really is SIFBL and a Baptist belittling satire site,and if so, then so be it–
      but to give yet another sounding board for such genuine anti-orthodoxy on the internet?

      Is this helpful or praise worthy?
      Is this really your goal or are you just allowing it?
      After such a great article on the KJV the other day, then this is approved?

      “Dr” Hyles is horrible, but “Bushop” Spong is at least three times worse—

      I dunno, maybe it was just too much bible bashing for me to take this late at night…..

      If I come across sad and sorry for those who have literally walked away from the bible, please know that it is not with a spirit of disdain or digust, but with a heavy heart full of prayer that they will see the error of their ways.

      There is no basis for beleif w/o a inspired and innerant Bible. Only self worship.

  1. well, we know that it’s biblical for women to wear long skirts/dresses – after all, Mark goes out of his way to say “clothed in a LONG white garment” in Mk 16:5. no problems with that interpretation! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Being someone who grew up SBC and went through PCC’s Bible program, the hypocrisies I ran into with this particular distinctive bothered me the most. Because most baptists never progress beyond an elementary hermeneutic, proof-text power statements are the only way they seem to be able to interact with the Text. This extends even to many congregations who pride themselves on their emphasis on doctrine.

    IMHUO, Western Christianity + the Dunning-Kruger Effect = Fundamentalism.

    1. I would say Western Christianity + Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease = Fundamentalism.

      (so that people don’t have to look it up, that’s mad cow disease)

      1. I’ll see your Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and raise you a Geschwind syndrome + Western Christianity = fundamentalism.

      2. Two cows talking:

        Q. Did you hear about this mad cow disease?

        A. What do I care, I’m a helocopter. ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

  3. I followed the link to Paul Chappel’s site and he makes the claim that altar calls can be found in Romans 12. I’m assuming that to him to “present your bodies a living sacrifice” means coming down to the old fashioned altar?

    1. Paul Chappell places his opinion on the level of Scripture in several areas – or as the Bible says, “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7 KJV).

      2 examples (I could give more):

      1st Thessalonians 5:22 says “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (KJV)

      This is twisted into: Do not go to movie theaters, drive in the same car with an unrelated member of the opposite sex, or order a virgin margarita at a mexican restaurant, etc.

      The real meaning of the text: NIV: reject every kind of evil.

      Psalm 116:165 KJV
      Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

      This verse was misinterpreted as (paraphrased), “If you love God’s law you will have great peace and my preaching (leadership) will not offend you”.

      NKJV: Great peace have those who love your law,
      and nothing can make them stumble.

      I do think using a more archaic version aids these fundy pastors in twisting verses to suit their purposes. The meaning of some of these verses is much more clear in the modern versions.

      1. Okay, one more glaring example:

        In one of his email devotionals, Paul Chappell actually twisted Col 2 by claiming it speaks about pastoral authority ๐Ÿ˜ฏ …I am not kidding.

    2. Every Sunday in my old church, the pastor would beg and plead for people to come to the altar and sacrifice themselves for Christ by repeating a prayer, being baptized, or joining the church. It was rare for more than two or three people to come, usually with tears, and often, no one came.

      Every Sunday in my new church, everyone comes to the altar with solemn joy and receives the Body and Blood of Christ, which He sacrificed once for all of us. I think someone is trying to offer a legitimate sacrifice on the wrong altar.

  4. I took a Jewish studies course about 5 years ago, I learned a lot and it opened my eyes to how I used to think the bible was perfectly written.

    Good post sir!

  5. The Baptist Doctrine of Proof-texting.
    What kind of car should I buy? Who should I marry? Where should I send my children to school? What fabric softener should I use? What Toothpaste should I buy?
    All fo these answers and more can be found in the 1611 AV King James Bible. No matter how inane the question there is some M-O-g out there who can quote you the answer, chapter and verse. ๐Ÿ™„

    1. I’m so thankful that, with the exception of three years right after college, I’ve never been under a man of God like the ones described by most of the SFL readers. My parents were actually way more hard-line and strict that the pastor at the church where I grew up. But even my KJV-only dad can be quite reasonable: he never tried to proof-text me on decisions, but encouraged me to consider all the pros and cons, pray, and then make a choice. God would lead me in that choice; He wasn’t an ogre ready to pounce on me if I mistakenly chose “Door Number Two” when His blessing had been hiding behind “Door Number One.” (Of course, I wonder where I would’ve gotten the idea that God was out to “get me” if I didn’t behave exactly right!!!)

      1. Iรขโ‚ฌโ„ขve never been under a man of God like the ones described by most of the SFL readers.

        For the most part, I haven’t either. I’ve heard plenty of them “preach” but I’ve never been a member of their churches.

  6. I can’t count the number of times growing up that I heard fundy preachers state that if we wanted to argue with what they were saying we weren’t arguing with them, we were arguing with God.

    1. Bingo. We have a winner!

      I heard that so many times. It really is cowardly, to yell at the very people paying your salary about whatever ticked you off that week and then run and hide behind the bible…”it’s not me, it’s the Holy Spirit pricking at your heart”. BS I say.

  7. When my husband changed our church’s focus to one we felt was more biblical, we got instant and fierce opposition. When we tried to show objecters why we had chosen to act the way we were, few if any wanted to discuss the Bible verses. Instead a local IFB pastor said, “Don’t show me your Bible verses.” My husband’s dad also refused to look at our biblical reasons, telling us, “You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say.”

    Those two statements opened up my eyes so clearly to the foolishness behind much of fundamentalism today. I truly believe they didn’t want to look at what the Bible had to say because they knew their beliefs didn’t line up with it. But they will not change their beliefs or behavior to match up with the Bible. Instead they accuse my husband of being “unbiblical.”

    It’s hurt like crazy to realize that people who said they were being biblical actually weren’t.

    1. This is the “emperor has no clothes” moment for anyone who crosses the opinions of the dyed in the wool fundy. Very quickly you will understand that your appeal to the scriptures will either be explained away with a bunch of double talk or ignored as if you are the one in the wrong by even bringing it up because of course they are right and you are merely justifying your sin (as if they are not). Once they go to that place in a discussion, it becomes obvious that truth is not the goal, but power and control.

      1. True. And it’s been a bit shattering to realize. I guess I’m naive and trusting, but I really believed that truth and Biblical accuracy was the desire of most people in fundamentalism. To realize it is often power and control changes everything. It’s not quite the same as Neo waking up and realizing that what he thought was real life was only a computer-generated matrix to fool his mind, but it’s been close!

        1. Psalm 11-If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
          This verse helped me realize my foundation was not right. Mine was built on trust in tradition and man more than on Christ. It’s much easier to follow the black & white of fundy traditions than to really make Christ our foundation. At times I still feel like a pilgrim with no home…

    2. “You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say.รขโ‚ฌย

      1. And this is exactly why I have decided I will never, ever set foot in an IFB church again. The Catholic Magisterium is appealing mightily to me these days. At least it offers an interpretation that is vetted and consistent. I cannot believe what I have been told is truth and how untruthful it actually is. And I cannot believe how unkindly it has all been delivered.

    3. When I met with the pastor and deacons to discuss concerns about the integrety of the preaching at my fundy church, none of the deacons had a Bible. Figure that one out. It was the last time I set foot in that church.

  8. I asked one of my KJV friends a simple question. If the KJV and the original Greek disagree which one is right? His answer confirmed to me that we would never discuss the subject again.

  9. When I decide I could not drink any more Kool-aid and left my Fundamentalist church I also put away my bible. For about ten years.

    Lo and behold, ten years later I was not drunk and in the gutter. I had a better relationship with God and a stronger and healthier prayer life. The book that helped me pick up the bible again was Bishop Spong’s “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.”

    When I finally rejected the doctrine of inerrancy, and stopped trying to defend the undefendable, I found I had a lot more time, and a clearer mind to pay attention to what God does have to tell me through the pages of that same bible.

    “But if we can’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible our Faith will crumble.”

    The new Bibles do not have the ending of the Lord’s Prayer: “For Thine is the Kingdom…”

    I don’t see that many Faiths crumbling.

    1. The fact the newer Bibles don’t have the concluding doxology to the Lord’s Prayer means the Catholics have been saying right all these centuries. Hmm.

  10. I remember a particular evangelist who came seemingly every year to do a revival would always preach something odd, and say, “That isn’t me preaching! It’s right here in the Bible!” Oh, so sad…

  11. 19th!!! I am the UConn of today’s posts. Feels good…real good. ๐Ÿ˜€

    You have your interpretation and I have mine…it’s just mine is inspired. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. Among the things that I really value about my fundamentalist upbringing are the doctrines of innerancy and the authority of the scriptures.

    Now, when I got older, and started figuring out what the Bible actually taught and how different that was from the preaching I heard all my life, that very doctrine of innerancy drove me to find people who actually took the Bible seriously. Today, I’m a happy Presbyterian.

    I think one of the central problems with the fundamentalist baptist’s perspective on the Bible is not that the Bible is his authority (that’s a good thing). The problem is that he sees no separation between what the Bible actually says and what he believes the Bible says. To question his interpretation, in his mind, is to question the Bible.

    I can recognize that the Bible says a thing, and that I have my own interpretation of what that thing means, but I realize that my interpretation may or may not be correct and that good men can politely disagree without being heretics or undermining the authority of the Bible. The fundamentalist baptist does not seem to have that ability.

    1. That’s why I think many Presbyterians are actually (little f) fundamentalists. They just hate the term because of what it has come to mean. But if you get back to the actual fundamentals as they were conceived by those who started the movement, you’re likely to look a bit more like a Presby than a Baptists. IMHO. Semper Reformanda, eh?

      1. if you like infant baptism, you’ll LOVE infant communion! ๐Ÿ˜€ in the Orthodox Church, we baptize babies by triple-immersion and then we serve them a nice spoonful of the Holy Eucharist.

        So when fundies ask me why we baptize infants, i just tell them it’s because we don’t give Holy Communion to unbaptized people

      2. For me the definitive statement on infant baptism was by Mark Twain (who was a Presbyterian, by the way). Someone asked him, “Do you believe in infant baptism?” Mark Twain answered, “Why, yes. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

      3. Just embrace it. Realize that it serves more as a symbol then anything else. Don’t get caught up in mysticism of it. Just understand that it is a symbol and nothing more.

        I’m not a Presby by any means, but my current church does do infant baptism (not immersion). So according to how I grow up I’m going to hell. We don’t even dunk adults. ๐Ÿ‘ฟ

    2. Oddly, inerrancy is irrelevant. There is a huge logical leap from inerrant to true. And the dots do not connect.

      Even if the book is completely inerrant, I still have to ascertain its truth.

    3. jwnevin said – The problem is that he sees no separation between what the Bible actually says and what he believes the Bible says. To question his interpretation, in his mind, is to question the Bible.

      This needs to be stated more often. thanks.

    4. @jwnevin,

      Well said, well said indeed. It was a major revelation for me that the Bible is absolute truth, but our understanding of the Bible is not truth itself. It blew my mind to come to that realization and so many Fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals don’t even realize that they do it. But they conflate their interpretation with the truth itself. They’ve taken well intentioned interpretation and created dogmas out of the interpretation. And that is why all the separation they do is so silly.

      To me I have no problem with a person who has a different set of beliefs then myself. The only problem I have is when he insists that *his* beliefs are *the* beliefs and insists that I must hold those same beliefs myself.

  13. This is so true. Thank you Darrell.
    Quote:”Using this simple formula, fundamentalists can claim that the Bible is their absolute standard for faith and practice no matter what silly or anachronistic path that made lead them down. ”

    Absolutely. The more I study the history of Fundamentalism the more true I realize that is. So much of Fundamentalism was a simple reaction to the world around them. In that reaction they ended up making up doctrines to support their reactions. It is sad really when you realize it. So much of your life wrapped up in the doctrines preached at you. You believe them to be true inspired words of God because that is what they told you to believe. You did certain things and didn’t do other things all because someone preached on it. And then you realize that what they preached was a mere reaction to the world around them.

    “Guys with facial hair scare me.” Thus the doctrine of facial hair. “I don’t understand this new music all the kids like.” Thus the doctrine of CCM and Rock music. “Scientists are discovering things that make me uncomfortable.” Thus anti-intellectualism. It is sad really.

  14. Didn’t the Baptist convention issue a statement a few years ago that the final word in matters of faith is the convention, itself, and not the bible?

    I don’t remember when it was or what particular sect of Baptism, but I do remember that it was what prompted Jimmy Carter to quit going to church.

    1. My memory was that President Carter resigned from being a Southern Baptist over the SBC’s treatment of women. As I recall, he said he owed it to his mother, his wife, and his daughter to speak out.

    1. I don’t think Carter wrote the headline, by the way (authors don’t usually write their own headlines). He hasn’t departed from his belief in the Gospel; just his membership in one denomination.

        1. You can count me as the second one. Carter may or may not have been one of our best presidents, but most people seem to agree that he is the best ex-president.

          He was a better president than he is generally given credit for, too. His administration improved the economy, reduced the federal budget deficit, expanded civil rights, and negotiated nuclear arms control treaties. He brokered the Camp David Accords, which has been the longest-lasting and farthest-reaching Mideast peace treaty to date. And Carter was the only president in my lifetime who didn’t get our country into any wars.

        2. I’ll be honest enough to admit I was not a fan of his as president, IMO he could’ve done a much better job dealing with the hostage crisis. But since leaving office he’s become a spokesman for dealing with mental health issues (something that I truly appreciate since I suffer from mental illness myself) works for Habitat for Humanity and has worked for peace and equality across the country and world. I look to him and his wife as examples of what christians should be, salt and light trying to make the world a better place.

        3. His non political activities have been commendable, but if he would keep his mouth shut on politics (since we should all agree he demonstrated ineptitude as a policy maker) and if he would hide his anti-semitism better it would be helpful in my opinion of him. Peace and equality would be nice if anyone who said they sought that actually wanted peace and equality.

        4. You can agree or disagree with his politics, but Carter is no anti-semite. You don’t have to be an anti-semite to express your opposition to the racist, violent, and oppressive policies of the current government of the State of Israel, any more than an Israel would have to be anti-American or anti-Christian to disagree with Carter or Bush or Obama.

        5. Five reasons Carter was a terrible president:
          1) Iran
          2) Stagflation
          3) SALT II
          4) Panama Canal
          5) Did I mention Iran?

        6. I’ve had a change of heart about Carter. I always used to think he was the worst president ever. But thanks to the current administration, I’ve promoted Carter to 2nd worst president ever.

          it’s nice of him to build houses, though.

        7. I agree about Iran, but not the other points.
          Anyway, this started out being just a discussion of why he left the Southern Baptist Convention. Is it too late to go back to that topic?

  15. Biblical authority is not as straight forward as it appears. When the Psalmist says “happy are those who dash your babies against the rocks”, how is that authoritative for me? How were the commandments regarding holy days, dietary laws and circumcision authoritative for Paul when he jettisoned them all for the gentiles (which, incdiently, peeved a lot of Jewish Christians)? Interpretation and application are, as has been noted above by many, huge points. Most fundys are content to quote a verse, privilege their interpretation of it, and use it as a big stick to intimidate and beat others into a cowering submission.

  16. I still get anxious and angry when I hear anyone use the words “biblical” or “biblical authority.” I still have to work through that.

    In fact, a while ago I went off on a fundie on another blog because he asked, “Women’s Bible studies? Is that even biblical?” Puke.

    1. hehe- yeah, i get the same “hope-i-don’t-vomit-on-you” feeling when i hear the word “scriptural”.

  17. I was reading the quirky little story in the old testament about the prophet that just got back from bringing down Jereboam’s house in a dark prophecy from God. God told him to not to talk to anyone or eat but to go straight home. An old retired prophet came to him and said, “Hey but God told ME that you were to come to my house and eat. So the younger prohpet did, and so he died.

    It seems to fit. We feel led in our life to do one thing and then the MOG tells us, “oh no, God told ME you are supposed to go here and marry that person.” The young susceptible Christian does it an then why in the world do things not seem to work out if this is suposedly from God?

    Priesthood of the Believer folks.

    1. That story always bothered me. I felt bad for the younger prophet, especially because after “tricking” him the older prophet says, “I just heard from God. You WEREN’T supposed to listen to me; now God is going to kill you.” But there is an important lesson there about not letting anyone, whether prophet or supposed MOG, dissuade you from following God.

      1. You know, that’s true. I guess I’ve heard a couple of thousand sermons in my life, but I’ve never heard anyone preach on (or seen any writing about) that text.

        1. I’ve heard it about three time in my 18 yrs as a Christian–and it was always a shocker to many in the crow..the first time was by a Baptist college graduate of a Sovereign Grace Baptist church AT his graduation!
          That shook up some students!

  18. It was at some point during AmLit that I had a revelation. For some reason, I had stopped thinking about girls long enough that day to think about JFC (Lousy writer. Just sayin’.) Anyway, out of the blue it occurred to me that my teacher was going to great pains to tell us how words have real meaning and how important it is to come to terms with what an author is actually saying. I immediately perked up, suspecting that someone was illicitly trying to sneak Mortimer Adler into the classroom, despite his not being an Officially Approved set of ideas. And it occurred to me. Fundies don’t even afford the Bible the same courtesy they extend to Cooper and Longfellow and Shelley. That was the beginning of the beginning for me.

  19. “The problem is that he sees no separation between what the Bible actually says and what he believes the Bible says. To question his interpretation, in his mind, is to question the Bible.”

    I’ve started fighting back, small scale. When someone says the “Bible says,” and spout off their understanding of local fundamental tradition, I just say ‘NO It DOESN’T!!’ ๐Ÿ™‚

    Then we clarify the issue, usually ending up with the conclusion that for our local church, tradition and culture are at LEAST as authoritative as the Bible. ๐Ÿ™„

    Maybe with persistence I can get some of the other church leaders to turn off the automatic “THE-BIBLE-SAYS” that they tend to start everything with. Maybe also prevent at least a little of the bible abuse that’s second nature here…

  20. I used to defend Biblical inerrancy dogmatically. I dont anymore. I realized I could write pages about why it was important, but hadnt actually once been honestly informed about the origins and manuscript history of the belief and the book. The pseudo-history and misleading apologetics of Christian Bible-defenders only made it worse. In short form, I realized:

    -I didnt actually believe the English translations were inerrant.
    -But then i found out the “98 percent accurate” manuscripts apologists boasted of were actually unverifiable – we dont know if even 1% was authored by the ascribed authors.
    -Paul’s writings? Earliest manuscript 3rd century AD.
    -Torah, by 1300BC Moses? First manuscript 3rd century BC.
    -The gospels? Anonymous. Oh, and “Matthew” and “Luke” plagiarised Mark.

    None of that ever got mentioned…

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