Yes, I am a Baptist pastor, but no I don’t always like Baptists.
First off, I don’t like being a Baptist when people think they know what you are like and what you believe. This happens for people from every Christian tradition I’m sure, but when you are a Baptist, you face things like “you can’t dance.” True enough in my case, but that is not a theological thing, I’m just not good at it.
People hear you are a Baptist and think Westboro Baptist, they think Republican party. They don’t think Tommy Douglas, an NDP politician voted the Greatest Canadian in a national poll by the CBC not too long ago. Oh, and he was also a Baptist pastor.
People think “Bible thumpers.” They don’t think of people who put a lot of thought into reading and understanding the Bible.
We also have a reputation for not getting along with others, including each other! When it comes to the churches we officially associate with, the sentiment is often expressed, “if they are in, we are out.”
Worldwide, Baptists are one massive dysfunctional, disorganised, and often estranged-from-each-other kind of family.
What I love about being a Baptist, despite my misgivings.
In reading the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 we can find some of the reasons I love being a Baptist.
I love being a Baptist because freedom is important.
The Ethiopian Eunuch came to trust in Jesus freely and of his own accord. Phillip did not force him, in fact being baptised was the Ethiopian’s idea. He would also have been free to reject what Phillip told him about Jesus. If my sons express faith and are baptized, it will be their decision, their faith, not mine.
We promote the freedom to worship God according to our own conscience and not under compulsion from any government or church hierarchy telling us what to believe and how to live as followers of Jesus.
We also believe in the importance of freedom for others to worship God, or not, according to their own conscience. Religious freedom, within reason, for all people is important to us.
We do not think of the Christian Church as being a community of people who ought to be Christian because they are born in a certain nation, but rather a community of people who have freely chosen to follow Jesus, no matter where they are from.
I love being a Baptist because our main creed is ‘Jesus is Lord.’
Jesus was the focus for Phillip when the Ethiopian asked about the suffering servant in the scroll of Isaiah he was reading. We see no effort on Phillip’s part in trying to get the the Ethiopian to start practicing a certain kind of religion, or buy into a certain tradition, but rather he introduces him to Jesus. As Baptists, we are all about Jesus.
Jesus is Lord, and therefore the head of the church, not a king or queen, or a pope. This is why congregational voting is so important to us. The hierarchy of the church is not Lord, nor is the pastor, but Jesus. Since Jesus is Lord, we believe finding out what our Lord desires is very important. Since we believe that the Lord speaks through the entire body of believers, we ask the entire congregation. The way we discern what the Lord desires is through every member. Our congregational votes are not about the preference of the members, but the discernment of the mind of Christ, even when that may be contrary to one’s own preference.
I love being a Baptist because the Bible is our authority.
The Scriptures played an important role in the Ethiopian’s embrace of Jesus. We are a people for whom the Bible is very important, it is our authority.
We should note that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is our authority. The way we talk about it, however, may cause some people to think our belief is that the Bible is Lord and our particular understanding of it is the authority.
Since the Bible is our authority, we keep going back to it in every generation. While confessions of faith have been drawn up by different Baptist groups over the years, we often push against the idea of having such. We can learn from what those in former generations have learned and taught from the Bible, but they are not the authority. The Bible is our authority and not a statement of faith. Therefore, the teaching of the Bible can come alive for every generation and in every context.
I was once asked for a statement of faith by an organisation wanting to partner with our church. I asked if they would like a pdf of the Bible!
I love being a Baptist because there is a focus on each person relating to Jesus directly.
When the Ethiopian Eunuch trusted in Jesus, he did not need to go find an official priest back at the temple in order to experience the forgiveness of sin. His sin was forgiven at the cross. He was free to come before the throne of God without any need for a priest as a “go-between.”
We call this the priesthood of all believers, each person relating directly to God through Jesus. We also have the role of priests, of being “go-betweens,” presenting God to people through witness and conversation, and people to God, through prayer.
I love being a Baptist because it is a grass roots, keep-it-simple-like-the-early-Christians-did kind of movement.
The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch was not very formal at all. If this Ethiopian came to faith in Jesus today and said “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”(Acts 8:36 NRSV), we would come up with reasons! We would make it complicated. Some churches, and entire denominations, have such complications formalised in the rules of how things are to be done, on baptism, in fact on everything. We Baptists don’t always keep it simple, but the opportunity is there to do so.
If people are turned off by organized religion, then we can tell them not to worry, for we are highly disorganized religion! Seriously though, our goal is not to help people move towards organized religion, but relationships and connections starting with a vital relationship and connection with Jesus. This is what Phillip did in the life of the Ethiopian Eunuch.
People today do not like organized religion but they do like authenticity. We have space, as Baptists, for authenticity. We do not say; “here are our traditions and rules developed in another time and place, which you all need to conform to,” but, “here is the Bible, how does it speak into how we walk with Christ in our day, in ways that are authentic to our time and place?”
At the end of the day, it is all about helping people know Jesus and walk with Jesus, like Phillip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch. May we, who are Baptists, be like Phillip, but even moreso may we be like Jesus.