The Ex-Catholic Journal 


Should I Pledge an Oath in Ignorance?    




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I took my first rash oath in 1961. Apparently, everything I really needed to know I didn't learn in Kindergarten. Every school day this five-year-old recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Okay, I didn't know what a pledge was. Nor did I understand the ramifications of allegiance. I didn't know what a Republic was (was I agreeing that I was a "Republican?"). What the heck is "indivisible" and was it the flag, nation or God that was "indivisible?" No, wait. God is invisible, so they must not be talking about Him. And that part about "Liberty and Justice for All" - was that a statement of fact, or a wish? The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was still four years away. [Click here to learn about the history of the Pledge.]

At approximately 9:30 A.M. on November 14th, 2015, a seismic shift occurred in my wariness of mandatory statements of faith and church covenants. Until that time, I had no problem with them. Then, a stink bomb went off, so to speak.

Three months ago I attended the first church service of Oakhurst Baptist Church (OBC). It is a "replant" of an existing church that had dwindled in attendance. I was considering becoming a member of the church. In order to sign up, I needed to attend a three-hour new member's class, sign a statement of faith and church covenant, be interviewed by an elder, and be accepted into membership by the congregation. So I took the first step and attended the new members class.

The first hour of the class was a crash course on systematic theology. One of the elders (an attorney by trade) was teaching on the church's statement of faith. I received a handout that stated the following:

As defined by our statement of faith, Oakhurst Baptist Church (OBC) is a Christian, Evangelical, Baptist and Congregational church. Our statement of faith is derived from the New Hampshire Confession...It is one of the most widely used Baptist statements of faith in America.

The leadership of OBC has modernized the language, removed articles regarding the sabbath and the harmony of law and gospel, consolidated two other articles into one, and added an article regarding marriage and the family.

Now I happened to have a copy of the New Hampshire Confession with me on my Amazon Fire tablet. As they went section by section through the Statement of Faith I noticed where they had "modernized the language" and where they had made the other changes that they listed. But at about 9:30 when they got to the section on Baptism, I was shocked to discover a hidden, unreported adjustment that was made to the New Hampshire Confession. Below is the New Hampshire Confession's teaching on Baptism: 

We believe that the Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Saviour, with its effect, in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation, and to the Lord's Supper;

What did I notice that concerned me? THEY REMOVED THE LAST PORTION. They cut out the mention of believer's baptism as "prerequisite to the privilege of a church relation, and to the Lord's Supper." To begin with, this caused me to question the integrity of the leadership. This is no minor "updating of language." This impacts who is and who is not allowed to celebrate the new covenant meal at their church. Why did they feel called to remove this article from the New Hampshire Confession?

Excommunicating the Baptist Visitors

Perhaps some personal background is in order. The first church that I attended after receiving Christ was an independent Baptist Church. Five weeks after my being born again, I was baptized by immersion. But the first church to which I formally became a member was Christ Covenant, a church in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). During the mandatory membership classes, I asked a question concerning baptism: "My children were baptized as infants into Roman Catholicism. Should they be baptized again after being born again?" I was told that Catholic baptism was sufficient. No need for another baptism when and if my sons come to believe. Donald Fortson is a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and was a member with me at Christ Covenant. He has written an article in which he chastises those who would rebaptize. He states "One of the most divisive evangelical practices is "rebaptism." ( Link to article).

When I attended the first celebration of the Lord's Supper at OBC I was told not to participate. The pastor informed the congregation that any member of an evangelical church in good standing was welcome. But those who were not currently members of a church should not partake. So, it makes sense that OBC would excise the section of the New Hampshire Confession that makes believer's baptism the prerequisite for participation. Otherwise it would make Presbyterians and others who have not been "properly baptized" unwelcome. Are you a member of an evangelical church who is a former Roman Catholic who was baptized by a priest, having parents who were unbelievers? Come participate in the Lord's Supper! Are you a fellow Baptist who is between churches? Stay away! 

Must I believe both "X" and "not-X" at the same time?

OBC is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, and affirms the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. So, as a new member of OBC, I am affirming both their amended New Hampshire Confession and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. BUT THE BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE MAKES BELIEVER'S BAPTISM A PREREQUISITE FOR THE LORD'S SUPPER! You don't have to take a logic course to see the problem here. In order to become a member of OBC I must hold that believer's baptism is both necessary and unnecessary in regards to Christian fellowship at the Lord's table. During the new member class I questioned the lead pastor about these things. He told me that I was asking a question that was inappropriate for the class, since we were covering theology and this was not a theological issue.

It Only Gets Uglier: Enter the Church Covenant!

Now we get to the Church Covenant. In order to become a member of the church, I must sign it. One of the statements in the Church Covenant mandates the following:

We will work together to maintain a faithful evangelical ministry in this church by supporting and upholding the preaching of the Bible, the right administration of believer's baptism and the Lord's Supper and when necessary by the exercise of church discipline.

Let us assume that I become a card-carrying member of OBC. I have vowed that I affirm both confessions of faith, and I sign the church covenant and the "New Hampshire Confession." A few months later I read carefully the two Statements of Faith and discover that I must hold side-by-side in my little brain that believer's baptism is both required and not required in order to participate in the Lord's Supper. Not only that, but we recite the Church Covenant prior to the Lord's Supper, which requires me to sustain and uphold the proper administration of the Lord's Supper. I approach the elders with my dilemma. What do they say when I advise them that we are not properly administering the Lord's Supper? Surely they will thank me for pointing out their hypocrisy. Well, maybe not.

I am agreeing to how many statements of faith?

Let's get back to the OBC Statement of Faith. You will notice that they have excluded both the article on the Sabbath and the article on the harmony of law and gospel. I presume that these two articles were removed because the church does not hold to the unity of the Mosaic covenant and the New covenant. They are not holding to Covenant Theology. Okay, fine and good. Perhaps you should have explained that to the class, though. Later, though, I noticed another contradiction: OBC has signed up to hold itself out as a "9Marks" Church. In order to agree to be listed in the 9Marks church directory, you must agree with the 9Marks of a Healthy Church and be in full agreement with their statement of faith, called "TG4 Affirmations and Denials." Here is the page requiring these things. Here are the "Affirmation and Denials."

Article XI of this document states the following:

We affirm the continuity of God's saving purpose and the Christological unity of the covenants.

So, as a member of Oakhurst, I am again at odds with myself. I must hold to Covenant Theology. I must not hold to Covenant Theology. 

OBC is a member of the Gospel Coalition, and thus aligns itself with the Gospel Coalition's Foundation Documents. Shouldn't I be taught about them as well before agreeing for membership?

The last church that I "belonged to" was a church that was dispensational. The statement of faith that you agreed to contained dispensational eschatology. And yet this church also agreed to be included in the 9Marks church directory! What is going on here? Does no one read these statements of faith?

Am I being required to make a rash oath?

The Bible has some serious warnings about making oaths. Jesus told us to make no oath at all, but rather to let our statement be yes,yes or no,no, and that anything beyond these is evil. And James tells us that, above all, we are not to rashly swear or we will fall under judgment. [Did you ever wonder what happened to those Jews who vowed not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul?]

Here are some things that the leaders of OBC may want to consider before binding the consciences of their prospective members. To become a member:
  • First, I am forced to agree to a statement of faith after a one-hour course. How many attendees even know enough theology to make an informed decision? Signing something without fully understanding a document if foolhardy.
  • Second, I am obliged to agree with a document that is so fallible that it contradicts other fallible documents that are also required.

  • Third, I am agreeing to a church covenant that requires me to acknowledge that I will do something that is impossible. I cannot hold to two opposite understandings of Baptism and then agree that "we are doing it right."

  • Fourth, I am submitting to be disciplined by church authorities for failure to uphold a church covenant that is impossible to uphold.

  • Fifth, what about the church constitution and by-laws? As a member I am agreeing to them as well. They didn't even go over those in the course.

  • Sixth, I am being coerced to sign on the dotted line. Apart from membership in the church I cannot participate in the Lord's Supper. I am also told that I am in spiritual danger since I do not have the "covering" of God's undershepherds.

There is probably more that I am leaving out. In future issues we will address the issue of spiritual abuse, and go over case studies. We will also review the Roman Catholic ecumenical push as it relates to Baptism.

Is there a "document" that is good enough for which to make an oath? I will leave you with the Westminster Confession of Faith and its description of the Scriptures.

We may be influenced by the testimony of the church to value the Bible highly and reverently, and Scripture itself shows in so many ways that it is God's word; for example, in its spiritual subject matter, in the effectiveness of its teaching, the majesty of its style, the agreement of all its parts, its unified aim from beginning to end (to give glory to God), the full revelation it makes of the only way of man's salvation, its many other incomparably outstanding features, and its complete perfection. However, we are completely persuaded and assured of the infallible truth and divine authority of the Bible only by the inward working of the Holy Spirit, Who testifies by and with the word in our hearts.

Perhaps we may submit to THIS document. One that is effective, majestic, coherent, unified, glory-producing, full, incomparably outstanding, complete, perfect, infallible, and of divine authority. And one that testifies to my heart.

In Christ,