BETHANY Distinctives: Introduction
By Joshua Stilwell, Associate Pastor, Bethany Baptist Church, Des Moines, IA
Every local churches has its own culture and identity. While this culture is affected by its doctrine and formal affiliation, it often goes beyond that. One church might look radically different from another church of the same denomination in the same city. Subtle differences in approach and ministry can greatly affect the overall philosophy and identify of a local church.
Bethany Baptist Church is no different. We too have a very distinct culture and identity. We are by no means perfect. But, like every other church, we are unique. Though we’ve arrived at nothing, we are always trying to apply the principles of God’s Word to our ministry practices. Recently, we’ve created an acronym to help identify some the distinct beliefs of Bethany Baptist Church:
New Testament missions
For this acronym to be helpful, we must first establish a few points. First, this is not a list of the things that are most important to us. You’ll notice that “the Trinity”, “the Gospel”, and “the inerrancy of Scripture” aren’t on the list. There are many principles (i.e. loving your neighbor, walking in the Spirit, submitting to God) that are far more significant and dearer to us than anything listed above. BETHANY is just a list of beliefs that make us distinct from other evangelical churches – even from other Fundamental Baptist churches.
Secondly, we are not the only church to possess these distinctives. Many other churches possess one or more of these tenets. Bethany is unique for holding to this collection of distinct beliefs and practices.
We also realize that acronyms themselves can pose problems. You end up sacrificing theological precision in order the make the lettering work. Likewise, the points cannot be listed in a logical sequence or in order of importance. You’re at the mercy of word itself.
Perhaps two of the most famous acronyms are BAPTISTS and TULIP. Yet I’ve heard both Baptists and Calvinists complain about problems with their respective acronyms. Even many who use those acrostics stress that a teaching tool should not be confused with a theological system. Most doctrines are too nuanced to allow for such a simple rendering. At the same time, both those examples prove that acronyms can be very valuable tools. They summarize ideas in a way that’s easy to use and remember. Let’s face it: how many of us would remember the five points of Calvinism if someone hadn’t thought to turn them into a flower? The man who came up with TULIP has done more to promote his viewpoint than most theologians who’ve written 600 page textbooks on the subject.
It’s my hope that BETHANY can be used in such a way. If you are new to or unfamiliar with Bethany, this may help you understand who we are and what we’re about. It should be emphasized that this is not an exhaustive list of what we believe and do. Yet it should give you a pretty good idea of what makes us different from many other churches you will find in the Des Moines area. If you’re already a member or regular attendee of Bethany, I hope this will increase your understanding of our church’s beliefs.
Most of the phrases listed in the BETHANY acrostic need more definition. So over the course of the next few months (or however long it takes), we’ll look more in depth at each of these points. These articles will be explanatory, not polemic. If you do not already agree with these beliefs I doubt that these articles will do much to change that. However, I do hope that they will help you better understand what we believe and perhaps why we believe it. I think it will be exciting to explore some of the distinct values of our church.
But the point is not merely to memorize a list of ideas. I believe that behind each one of these points is a biblical concept that should shape our ministry and outreach. Learning these principles could empower you to better serve and glorify God.