Perhaps it is because of our emphasis on local church autonomy, but we modern Southern Baptists are not always known for our robust ecclesiology. This has not always been the case and we owe a debt of gratitude for men like Mark Dever who have reminded us that in times past polity was an issue of great importance to Southern Baptists. One of those great voices from the past is John Leadley Dagg. I wish that his Manual of Church Order would gain a wider reading among Southern Baptists as we think more substantively about what it means to have well-ordered churches. In the introduction to this volume, Dagg rightly grounds this important issue as a matter of obedience to Christ. Consider these words:
To love God with all the heart is the sum of all duty. Love must be exercised according to the relations we bear. When a parent loves a child, he feels bound to exercise parental authority over it for its benefit; but the love of a child toward a parent requires obedience. So love to God produces obedience; for it is impossible to love God supremely without a supreme desire to please him in all things. Hence this one principle contains, involved in it, perfect obedience to every divine requirement.
….Our obedience to Christ should be universal. The tithing of mint, anise and cumin is of less moment than the weightier matters of law, judgment, mercy, and faith; but it is not therefore to be disregarded. Christ taught that both were to be observed. “This ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Mt. 23:23). Church order and the ceremonials of religion are less important than a new heart; and in the view of some, any laborious investigation of questions respecting them may appear to be needless and unprofitable. But we know, from the Holy Scriptures, that Christ gave commands on these subjects and we cannot refuse to obey. Love prompts our obedience; and love prompts also the search which may be necessary to ascertain his will. Let us, therefore, prosecute the investigations which are before us, with a fervent prayer, that the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth, may assist us to learn the will of him whom we supremely adore.