Being Baptist

Well, I have made my home among Baptists for over 30 years now, in particular, Southern Baptists who took that name in Augusta, Georgia in 1845.  This name ceased to be a strength some time ago except among the faithful but attempts at renaming are futile owing to the fact that  sub-cultures are powerful entities.

I am currently teaching a course on Baptist History and have been reminded why I consider myself a Baptist but with a “small b”.  Baptists tend to the be the step-children of Protestantism because we don’t have a founder (contrary to the opinion of some Baptists that we were founded by either Jesus or John the Baptist).  We can’t point to Martin Luther, John Calvin (contrary to current trends) or John Wesley. 

If you asked Baptists about their  historical lineage they would either look puzzled or perhaps refer to Roger Williams who was a Baptist for about 6 weeks, maybe.  If we were to answer that question we would need to mention well known figures like John Smyth, no not the Pocahontas John Smyth, the other one; Thomas Helwys, Andrew Fuller, William Carey, Richard Furman…is this ringing any bells yet?  I thought not.

So what makes a Baptist, well, a Baptist?  I have listed below what I consider Baptist’s distinctions.

1) The Bible- Reference point, authority for belief and practice.

2) Believer’s Baptism, not infant baptism.

3) Gathered Church, the church consists of those who gather based on their mutual faith in Christ. 

4) Dissenters- On principle, against the status quo and therefore prophetic.

5) Freedom of Conscience- Value of the individual soul and the community of faith before God.

6) Revivalism- Power of the gospel and a focus on evangelism.

7) Missions- Conviction about the “Great Commission”, to all people.

8) Institutions- Centralized stewardship of resources for God’s work.

What have been the challenges that continue to plague Baptists?

1) Lack of a clear theological and historical identity.

2) Inability to communicate among ourselves leading to a lack of grace and trust.

3) Personality centered leadership, autonomous leaders who lack accountability while exercising power.

4) Tendency to fight when theology becomes an issue with love becoming the first casualty.

5) Insulation from the wider culture as though an independent sub-culture can be the culture.

6) Dependence on institutions and organizations not on each other/God, we like being big.

7) Lack of flexibility and thoughtfulness in the midst of internal crisis.

So how will Baptists make a positive contribution to the future?

1) Discernment: Increased reliance upon the Holy Spirit for guidance in developing a comprehensive approach to life’s issues that promotes engagement with our world.

Historical Discernment- recognizing the opportunity when it comes

Moral Discernment- doers and not just hearers

Eschatological Discernment- Hope that transcends the moment

2) Community: Committed to dialogue and a search for truth and unity that allows for theological diversity.  This kind of community will require that we embody our faith in Jesus Christ.

3) Visionary Leadership: Story tellers, not autocrats.  Leadership that is shared, accountable, and dynamic.

4)Unified Point of Reference: Commitment to the Bible as a truthful description of the fundamental nature of the universe, interactive and relational.

5) Cultivate a spirit of humility and meekness that creates an environment of grace and mercy.

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