Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Isn't It Good to be a Baptist?

With the coming of 2009, we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of Baptists. No, we didn’t start at the Jordan River with John, Jesus’ cousin (he was a baptizer not a Baptist). Most Baptist historians today trace the origin of Baptists to a church organized by John Smyth in Amsterdam in 1609.

As Baptists take this opportunity to reflect on their past and contemplate their future, some are threatened by the challenges of the 21st century. They seem to forget that the words “challenge” and “Baptist” have been synonymous for most of those four centuries.

Baptists who are afraid of what the present and future hold tend to resort to two phrases: “Baptists have always done it this way” or “Baptists have never done it this way.”

“Baptists have always done it this way” should be interpreted to mean “in my experience, this is the way that Baptists have done things.” For Baptists in the South, what became popular in churches in the mid-twentieth century defines “the way things have always been.” This includes the Cooperative Program, age-graded Sunday School, unified church budgets, and annual mission offerings like Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. This should not surprise us. Most of us think that what happened during the period of our lives between 11 and 15 years of age as “the way things are.” It all depends on your perspective.

My pastor, Mike Smith, has pointed out that when someone says, “Baptists have never done something,” they are exhibiting great ignorance about Baptist history. You can probably find some Baptist somewhere in time who has done just about anything! For one example, our forebear John Smyth called himself a Baptist didn’t baptize by immersion. For another example, John Smyth and Thomas Helwys were very open to women serving as leaders in their churches. Baptists have actually been a rather creative people.

My point in all this is that if Baptists are to survive and prosper in the 21st century, we will have to do some things that we have never done before. We will find that very hard to do because such actions require not only humility and courage but a radical commitment to the Scriptures. But as someone once said, “If it were easy, anybody could do it.” The great Baptists have never taken the easy road.

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