„…a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ’Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’.” (Mk 1:3)
I feel I cannot keep silent. I must speak out, even cry out, because I love my Lord who called me and wish to be faithful to Him. I must speak out, even cry out, because I love the “Baptist world”, which is around me in Europe and also globally. I must speak out, even cry out, because we have a mission to the people around us, whom I love with the love of Christ and whom I see through the glasses of His word. I must speak out, even cry out, because there are things going on that jeopardize the truth of God, the power and authenticity of the Gospel, the fellowship and Christian unity of the saints.
I. What is it that I see? Why must I speak out?
Disputes on the so called “gender issues” are increasing in number in today’s Europe (and regrettably elsewhere, too) within the churches including the Baptists. Certain congregations in some Western European and Scandinavian countries are already prepared to conduct weddings for homosexual and lesbian couples. The issue of admitting into church membership such persons and others who are confused in their sexual and gender identity is being raised in more and more places. At the same time, the leading ethics professor of the common theological institution of the European Baptists is a brother from the USA, who openly pleads (in his books and lectures) for the acceptance and the supporting of homosexual and lesbian relationships and is trying to create Biblical justification for this stance.
Parallel to these processes, a technique for preserving fellowship is also gaining ground which argues along the following lines: “You have your views, I have mine, let’s accept each other and let us not argue about these issues, because what they boil down to is simply a matter of different interpretations. They simply reflect two different interpretations of the Bible and human existence. Everyone is entitled to have his own interpretation, so let us accept each other as we are…
Yet another recent development of a different nature – which should not be ignored either – is that there is a sizable Baptist Union in Europe, which through its internal transformation process has got to the stage, where they – in addition to believer’s baptism – also offer to their members the option of baptizing babies. “You can choose whichever of the two you prefer…”.
As a result of growing transgenderism in Europe, parental responsibility, the freedom and possibilities of Christian homes to raise their children in the way they deem appropriate are diminishing in an increasing number of countries. In the meantime, principles and practices alien to the Bible are infused into the minds of the upcoming young generations under the treacherous guise of “ideological neutrality”.
We observe at the same time that while Baptists in Asia, Africa and Latin America are growing, Baptists fellowships in Europe and North-America are shrinking – with that decrease being only mitigated by Baptists migrating into these areas from other countries and continents. Much and manifold mission activity is also undoubtedly taking place, but the final outcome, the overall trend is as stated.
II. What is the foundation based on which I speak out? What are “the pillars” that undergird my message?
1. I firmly believe that God has created mankind male and female. He created no other gender identity. He did not make a mistake in creation, which we people ought to correct ex post facto. As a result of this, the differences between men and women derived from their creation are both important and have a role in the personal life of the individual, in marriage, in the family, in the church as well as in society. A mixing up or abolishing these differences does not lead to “equal rights” but rather to messy confusion. The fact that such mixing up does take place in the world that has turned its back to God is understandable – even if regrettable. If it does, however, happen among believers and especially among their teachers, it is no less than sin! It calls for repentance and acceptance of God’s truth without any reservation!
2. I firmly believe that God created men and women for each other in the bond of marriage. This is why Biblical marriage is a life-long relationship of one man and one woman. This is God’s original plan. Homosexuality, lesbianism and any other invented sexual identity is a departure from God’s original plan. The Holy Scriptures speak plainly about these. Should we go beyond the truths of Scripture, ignore them, or perhaps even make these deviations the norm, then sooner or later we have to face divine judgement!
3. I firmly believe that we Baptists – being part of Christendom – are carrying on the faith for which our forefathers had fought. We proclaim and practice the Biblical truths of repentance, regeneration and believer’s baptism based thereupon. For this reason, we reject the baptism of babies (respecting that that is practiced by other denominations) and insist on the freedom of the conscience and the right of decision of the individual. Staying true to the Biblical truths and following the example of our forefathers, we practice baptism by immersion on the basis of the voluntary decision, repentance and confession of faith of the person being baptized. This is how we build the visible and invisible Kingdom of God.
4. I firmly believe that the raising of children is primarily the task and responsibility of the parents. They are supported in the execution of this task by much teaching, warning and encouragement in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is very much for the protection and safeguarding of life in general and of the life of children in particular. In spite of this, nowhere in the Bible do we read of organizations that would have primacy over parents, family and church in this matter, and which would have the authority to overrule and rewrite God’s commandments with regards to the way children are to be brought up and to place the right of decision-making in connection with life-determining issues into the hands of immature children or adults driven by who knows what type of ideology/agenda.
5. I firmly believe that every human being stands in need of the love and redemption of God, of regeneration available in Christ and life-transformation. This is irrespective of any individual’s background – whether or not he has any religion at all, if he is religious in his own way, if he is the follower of another world religion, if he is heterosexual or homosexual, transgender, Jew or Greek, whatever. We preach the Gospel to everyone and we believe in the power and saving grace of Christ, who is present also in our time. We believe that the Baptists – while they have many different kinds of ministry – are primarily a missionary community, whose calling it is to pass on the saving and preserving Gospel of Christ. For this reason, we refuse to accept spiritual indifference, spiritual and numerical decline arising due to any reason whatsoever, as well as the myth that current European society in unreachable.
III. Let me now react to some opposing points of view and practices!
A forcefully promoted European assertion: Is this not simply a matter of how one interprets the Bible? Can truth not have different versions? Is the so called conservative Christian position not just one of several equally legitimate points of view? Can there be no differences among us in matters of faith and practice? Surely we must accept each other and AT THE SAME TIME also accept that we see things differently. It is all just a matter of different interpretations of the Bible. Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill! Let’s not disturb our fellowship by being judgemental and by being “abrasive” in our relationships with each other! God will judge in the end and make all things right.
A Central-European voice: We have to accept the supremacy of God! In our cleaving to Him, we are to love one another, however, we cannot accept – not even as possible alternatives! – points of view that are contrary to the Bible. Not all differences are the same. We must not call something an alternative Biblical interpretation, which is in reality a violation of the Holy Scriptures or is independent of the Bible. We must remember the fact that there are differences between the differences. There are truths (pillars) given by God clearly and unequivocally and there are truths that need interpretation and application. The former are inescapable and fundamental. As for the latter, we see also in the Bible different examples for their interpretation and application.
For this reason, there is plenty for us to discuss and debate about and there is naturally room for differences of opinion and their acceptance. HOWEVER, this cannot apply to differences with regards to fundamental truths. We cannot be a community which preaches and practices believer’s baptism (based on regeneration and personal confession of faith) and at the same time also paedobaptism (vicarious faith and vicarious confession of faith)! We cannot be a community which preaches and practices Biblical marriage and at the same time also LMBTQ! We cannot be a community which confesses that we have been created by God and a “trans-community” at the same time! There are differences between the differences! Taking this into consideration is not being judgemental, but rather “tuning our radio to God’s wavelength”. Rather than being unloving, this is the acceptance and passing on to others the highest form of love – the love of Christ.
A forcefully promoted European assertion: We have to understand our society with its changes and interpret our Christianity in the context of society. If we fail to do this, we get out of touch with the very society God has called us to serve! SOCIETAL CONTEXTUALIZATION!!!
A Central-European voice: As far as we Baptists are concerned, the yardstick for measuring life and doctrine is the Bible. Our point of reference is the Word and in the final analysis Christ. We always go astray when we make our sinful selves or our ever changing society our point of reference. This is because we ourselves are susceptible to temptation and our society stands in dire need of redemption by Christ.
A specific Central-European example: Due to the ungodliness of the Communist society and the religious persecution practiced by that society prior to the 1990’s, the churches, congregations were constrained to – and at the same time they themselves also withdrew into – practicing their faith privately or strictly within the limits of the life of the church. Is there not a similar process going on in the developed Western societies? Are we not sacrificing the power and authenticity of the Gospel on the altar of the modern day catchword of “societal contextualization”? Is not the practice of “societal contextualization” the reason why theological educational institutions are emptying out in many places in the developed world for want of students called by God? And why is it that we see and hear the same “catchphrases”, paroles repeated again and again in the Western churches as in the secular world around them? Where does all of this lead us? Where will be the limit of “societal contextualization”? Or is there no such limit?
We, in Central Europe, have already seen this process dressed up as communism! We know the methodology of forcing “ideological conformity” on churches. Should we not speak about this helpfully, openly and clearly?
A forcefully promoted European assertion: There may be differences of opinion between us, that’s all very well. But let us sit down and discuss them! The need for good relationships, for fellowship and the acceptance of each other all necessitate a readiness for dialogue, for open discussion!
A Central-European voice: YES and NO! YES to Christian relationships and discussion, but NO to disputes about fundamental doctrinal and Biblical issues. If we initiated a debate on fundamental issues as well, this would imply an admission that differences on foundational matters may be permissible. We emphatically deny this! Where debates were initiated and dialogue was entered into concerning such issues, change in a negative direction became unstoppable!
We have martyrs and faithful witnesses of centuries behind us, who – if they were able to see them – would view our unwise disputes with deep sadness! We may talk, dialogue, debate over many things, however, foundational Biblical truths are to be lived out and proclaimed, not to be disputed!
A forcefully promoted European assertion: How unloving and what exclusion it is, when homosexuals, lesbians, transgender persons are declared to be sinners! We ought to be considerate towards them! We must demonstrate to them the love God feels towards them, too, and make them feel that we accept them. This is the only way to sustain a relationship with them and to minister to them. We have to just accept and welcome them – God will be the one to change them.
A Central-European voice: We relate to the transgender and LMBTQ community and their sympathizers with the love of Christ. We proclaim to them the Gospel, the life transforming Christ, just like to everybody else. We encourage and equip those ministering among us as well as our churches to evangelize these people, too, and to serve them. AT THE SAME TIME we do not wish to involve them (and this also applies to all other non-believers) in defining our theology and mission. This namely is our responsibility. Our theology is not defined by the sin, character or lack of character of people, but rather by our relationship with God and our seeking after God.
We are, therefore, not particularly interested in what theological position or change therein is expected from us by the world, by different currently fashionable schools of thought in the world. There have always been and there will always be such expectations. We are not trimming our sails to such human expectations. This stance flows out of our deep love and respect for God. And this enables us also to represent Christ, Who is able to change every person and every situation ruined by sin. It is in this way, that the reality of God may become visible and tangible on earth even under the most abnormal circumstances!
A forcefully promoted European assertion: Children have a right to a safe and complete life as well as to freedom. For this very reason, they have the right over a certain age (in some countries this age limit is 10-12 years, in some other ones it is lower or higher) to make decisions impacting their life and so initiate changing their gender even with or without their parents being informed about this. This right of the children prevails over the rights and responsibilities of the parents.
A Central-European voice: The Bible speaks unequivocally about the family including a clear system for the parent-child relationship. According to this, the decision about having children, the decisions related to the raising, education of their children and preparing them for life is first and foremost the responsibility of the parents. God entrusted the parents with the responsibility of making decisions concerning their children, who are still in the process of maturing and developing. God does protect the children from parental excesses, unloving domineering and harmful impetuosity. In spite all our human imperfections (which God has known for thousands of years), the Creator gave no set up other than the family for welcoming and raising the next generation. Church, different systems of discipling and tools of the society at large must be subservient to and supportive of the family in carrying out this responsibility.
For this reason, based on the Bible, we reject the pushing of gender ideology on children and the possibility of children making transgender decisions. We teach, encourage and support parents in proper execution of their vital parental responsibilities and in an early recognition of any of their shortcomings in this area. We aim at strengthening them in their role as parents rather than making them unsure of themselves and their role! What all of this means is, of course, that we encourage Christian/Baptist parents – while granting their children freedom – to show them their faith, teaching them Biblical truths and to raise them in the fear of God.
(The “Central-European voice” will continue related to other assertions and responses in the following instalment.)
BUT identifying all these assertions and giving responses to them is – by itself – insufficient. Our calling is not simply to debate or just to make statements concerning these and other relevant issues. We, Christians will fall into the Devil’s trap if we demean our calling to fighting over words and to a debate over different points of view. The world around us can make nothing of a fragmented Christianity that is at variance with itself.
We do well to heed to the admonition of the Word: „And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2Tim 2:24–26)
What is, therefore, our duty?
IV. To stay focussed purposefully and with commitment on mission and healthy building!
I must speak out, even cry out in the interest of mission and healthy building being and staying in the focus! The focus must not shift to progressivity, to being present in society, to creation care or even to a militant defence of values! Defining and declaring the pillars of foundational truths are needed in order to provide space for living our lives in line with our calling, which is mission and healthy building. What do I mean by these?
1. The purposeful and committed focus on mission: The passing on of the Gospel is shown to us in the life and the Great Commission given by Christ, as well as by the practice of the disciples and the early church. They were successful in taking the initiative and passing on the Good News under conditions no less confusing than our own (see the spiritual, moral, social and political situation prevalent in the age of the apostles). While they did respond to internal and external temptations and issues arising, mission and evangelism, saving more and more people was their clear focus at all times. This was what they recommended to other as well. This was the essence of the message of the Apostle Paul nearing the end of his life to Timothy (and to all of us) as we read in 2Tim 4:2–5:
„Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
Every single person needs the Gospel of Christ. We Baptists are a missionary people. This is in our DNA. Let continue to take the initiative, be courageous and committed in this area! Good teaching, Biblical upbringing and preparation for discipleship as well as appropriate system of values in the churches are all needed for strengthening practical mission. God warns us at the same time through the Apostle John and the prophet Isaiah that power, impact and result in evangelism have preconditions. It is Christ who is working through our mission endeavours, therefore, we need first of all the unhindered presence and convincing power of Christ in our lives. This is why it is important how we live, how we think and who and what we align ourselves with. Let us not be afraid of being different from the world around us! Let’s ask and wait for the guidance, presence and power of the Holy Spirit for our ministry, but let us also yield to His transforming, renewing and sanctifying our lives! Let us be sensitive to and discerning concerning outside influences coming from the society around us, so we can accept what is good for development and the mission, but reject what is alien to Christ!
2. The purposeful and committed focus on healthy building up: Healthy building up is needed (in the spaces created by the pillars of truth) in the areas of the healthy personality, healthy marriage and family as well as healthy church life.
In the area of healthy personality, i.e. healthy boys and girls, men and women, fathers and mothers. The next generations need godly character development, help, teaching and support! Many good examples are called for, which may be diverse, but have the same system of values derived from creation and having been saved. Inclusive and honest relationships are needed, in which the confusing influences of the world and the difficulties of finding one’s own way while growing up can be processed and resolved. The aim through all of this is to help develop personalities, whose identity, philosophy of life, mission and everyday life are in harmony with their having been created, with their talents and calling.
The building of healthy marriages and families is needed, which display Biblical values. In which a strong Christian man and woman, father and mother share life’s duties in harmonious agreement and create a safe environment for the next generations. For this, pre-marriage counselling, marriage development, marriage care, family programmes, marriage and family focussed mission ministries, crisis management services are needed, as well as healing and lifting up of lives that have made a shipwreck in these areas. We must provide Biblical and practical answers to the issues that keep propping up, based on a clear system of values and systematic purposefulness. This is our task!
The building of healthy congregations and fellowships of churches/unions is needed! The churches must function as “nests”, safe havens against the attacks and temptations of the devil and the world. The churches must represent the unchanging nature of Biblical values in an ever changing world. A nest is needed, where a succession of physical and spiritual generations can grow up in a safe environment and try themselves out to become what God wants them to be. The role for which each of us has been created involves many different callings and talents, which can, however, be in harmony in a healthy church. The healthy church is the space of LIFE, where Christ is at work, where people are born again, called into new types of service. A healthy union or fellowship of churches does not merely consists of independent, polarizing congregations, but is a platform for broad Christian cooperation, where there is shared sensitivity and a sense of responsibility for mission, for building the common future.
Conclusion: The reason I spoke and “cried out” is due to my desire to strengthen the work of mission and edification going on in our fellowship at present and in the future in the spaces defined by the pillars of Biblical values and to draw attention to this matter. It is my prayer that whatever the world will evolve into, this is what our children and grandchildren will be able to carry on. I pray that they may carry on the mission of Christ successfully, with strong character, a clear self-identity, building strong families!
Baptist Union of Hungary