I joined Grace Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America, in 2010. I have officially made the move from my Southern Baptist (SBC) background after careful theological reflection. I have also recently accepted ordination as an Elder in that church. This post will outline the main reasons for my decision.
Justification by Faith Alone
Justification is the doctrine that we are legally credited with Jesus Christ’s suffering for our sin and perfect life lived when we place our faith in Him. We get credit for being morally perfect when we place our faith in Him even though we do not become perfectly righteous in this life. This justification is by faith alone in that our good works do not merit justification in any way. Justification is something that is credited to us because we have faith, not something that is awarded to us because we are good in ourselves.
The Baptist Faith and Message, the closest thing to a confessional statement in SBC circles, implies that justification is by faith alone, but omits the word “alone” from it statements. This leaves to much room for interpretation, as evidenced by the willingness of some SBC churches to cooperate with the Roman Catholic Church in matters of faith and religious practice.
Salvation’s Description by Scripture Alone
The description of salvation and the process which leads to it is ultimately described by Scripture alone and not by the traditions of the church. Church tradition has a secondary role, but Scripture is our ultimate authority. (I should note that this is not a difference from SBC churches, it’s just something that is important.)
I am tired of an informal worship style that leaves out key elements of biblical worship such as confessing our sins, recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, and formal reading of the Bible.
The PCA practices a more liturgical style of worship according to the regulative principle. Briefly stated, the regulative principle says that worship should include only what is used by worshipers in the Bible and that worship should contain all of the elements used by people in the Bible.
This worship style awakens passion for God in my heart like none other.
God saves sinners. God saved me. I did not help Him do so.
I once heard J. Vernon McGee tell a story on the radio that is important to relate at this point. (I will get many of the particulars wrong. I have not been able to find a written account.)
McGee tells the story of a young black boy who wanted to join a church. He presented himself for church membership and the elders asked the boy, "How did you get saved?" His answer was, "God did His part, and I did my part." They thought there was something wrong with his doctrine, so they questioned further, "What was God's part, and what was your part?" His explanation was a good one. He said, "God's part was the saving, and my part was the sinning. I done run from Him as fast as my sinful heart and rebellious legs could take me. He done took out after me till He run me down."
The only system that safeguards that sentiment is properly understood Five-point Calvinism. God saves sinners all on His own without their help.
Either we are part of the same body of believers with the saints of the Old Testament or we are not. If we are, then it makes sense to baptize infants since it made sense to circumcise infants.
An excellent debate on this topic can be found here.
The authority in most Baptist churches does not lie with the congregation so much as it lies with the pastor or a set of committees made up of mostly un-ordained church members. Both of these approaches have issues.
If there is only one pastor who controls most of the authority in a particular church, then no one can check the pastor if he falls into false teaching or begins to make unwise decisions. Plural eldership, or the vesting of authority in more than one person, avoids these problems.
Vesting authority in a set of committees avoids many of the problems of dictatorial pastor rule, but it does two things: allow for those who do not have a firm doctrinal foundation to run the church and force a congregationally organized church government to become basically presbyterian in form. As recent doctrinal strife in both the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations over the Bible’s truthfulness shows, any church can drift into false teaching on major issues. Having ordained leadership that subscribes to a particular set of doctrines outlined in a detailed confession of faith helps to avoid this.
Most Baptist churches which reach a certain size (in my experience about 300 members) begin to delegate major decisions regarding congregational life to a smaller group within the church as a practical matter. Everyone in the church cannot vote on every decision, as pure congregationalism requires.
This can be done either with the Deacons or a set of church committees. Either way, what you essentially form is a presbyterian church government where some decisions are delegated by the congregation to a smaller group of trusted leaders.
Last but not Least: Confessional Statements
I am tired of being a member of a church whose entire doctrinal summary can be placed on a single 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper, double spaced. Most SBC Churches have drifted toward that lack of confessional detail in recent years, despite the existence of The Baptist Faith and Message.
The WestminsterConfession of Faith and Catechisms provide much more detail in a better organized format. These Westminster Standards make explicit doctrinal details that should guide the church to avoid error.
These are the primary issues which have motivated me to abandon the church I was brought up in and embrace a new denomination. I present them in order to promote beneficial discussion.