Great architects have distinctive style and technique. Though their designs are based upon core laws of physics and engineering, each architect applies those principles differently. It is that marked design variation that makes an architect unique.
My three favorite architects are masters of the trade, each being distinctively different. Antoni Gaudí, a Spanish Catalan architect, designed unique buildings and outdoor areas including Casa Batlló, Park Güell, and his masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia church. Gaudí’s style was influenced largely by nature and religion. Architect Frank Gehry designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Gehry’s designs incorporate metal, showing as immense works of abstract art. American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed structures to be in harmony with mankind and their environment, is best known for his Prairie School style.
My interest in architecture extends into the Scriptures. Old Testament passages that record the blueprints, materials, and construction of projects such as the tower of Babel, the tabernacle, the temples of Israel, and the walls of Jerusalem are fascinating. If I could go back in time, these projects would be first on my list to visit.
The New Testament church is very different in form and purpose from those Old Testament building sites, yet is still described in architectural terms. Jesus unveiled His plan for a global construction project by announcing, “I will build My church.” Often, epistle writers appealed to construction metaphors to describe the church and the work of erecting it.
One way of thinking about church history is to view it as the development of distinctive designs of theological architects, with schools of thought that perpetuate each of these designs. Church history could be categorized into theological constructs such as Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, etc.
I am in the theological construct referred to as “Baptist.” I was born into a Baptist family. As a Baptist pastor’s son, I attended a Baptist church every week during childhood and adolescence. When I went off to college, I attended a Baptist school. In my Baptist foundation class, I memorized the Baptist distinctives, using an acronym to help my recall. Over the next few years, God used my valuable education to show me that my Baptist identity is more than a family tie or the name on a church sign. Baptist is the theological construct by which I, and those who follow that same premise, do the work of building local churches.
A Baptist construct
A Baptist construct is not meant to mass produce an assembly line of identical churches. Each pastor and congregation incorporates their own style and ministry methods. However, a Baptist construct does provide a church with a design for systematic and consistent building.
For instance, the distinctive of Biblical authority means that the Bible alone provides the content and instruction for church ministry. For a Baptist, the design for church ministry is based on New Testament teaching. When pastors, deacons, youth leaders, and Sunday School teachers commit to following this divine design, the church has an unshakable foundation on which it can be built. A pastor has as his assignment the work of practicing and teaching the Bible to his congregation so they will fully function on the basis of Biblical authority.
As a Baptist, I am committed to regenerate church membership. This means that the gospel is at the heart of all we do in the church. A truly Baptist church will long to see people saved and progressively sanctified. The testimony of God’s grace in new and growing believers is the centerpiece of congregational life. A commitment to a regenerate membership impacts the preaching and teaching from the pulpit and in the classroom. The gospel shapes the content of “welcome” classes and new-member orientation. The church uses the criterion of sharing the gospel for evaluating its missionaries and for measuring its own growth in godliness.
Local church autonomy, two offices of pastor and deacon, two ordinances, soul liberty, separation of church and state, and the other distinctively Baptist marks, provide an infrastructure around which a congregation and pastor build. Without a theological construct, the danger exists that the church will end up a hodgepodge with little symmetry, efficiency, or sustainability.
To be Baptist means more than having a phone listing using that name. Baptist is a theological design by which a church is built. The interesting phrase that often appears at the end of a Baptist church covenant, “Should we leave this church, we will join a church of like faith and practice,” refers to finding a church of similar theological construct. It is a Biblical theology that truly identifies a Baptist.
As a student of religion, I enjoy learning about other constructs designed by theological architects. I have chosen to follow a Baptist construct in the work of the ministry. What construct are you using? Think Biblical, think Baptist.
John Greening is national representative for the GARBC.