Sunday, February 08, 2009

Real Baptists

In a recent article by Bob Allen of Associated Baptist Press, Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia, commented on the probability of the escalation of criticism of her church by the Georgia Baptist Convention, which has already chosen not to accept the church’s mission contributions. Pennington-Russell is reported to have said the following:

"In that hour-long conversation it became crystal-clear to me why people are abandoning denominational structures in droves and why denominationalism as it exists today is doomed," she reported. "The sad reality is most denominational organizations are stuck in bureaucratic systems that have forgotten why they exist in the first place," she said. She said denominations -- like churches -- exist not to provide goods and services to eligible "members" but to worship and serve.

Julie, I have to point out that most denominations see regulation and control as their proper role. They do not necessarily see their role as worship and service. They believe that it is their responsibility to preserve order, assure correct doctrine, and enforce cooperation (yes, that last combination is a bit ironic). The difference is that such denominational organizations do not usually call themselves “Baptist.”

If someone wants to be part of a denominational hierarchy that will make their decisions for them, they will have no trouble finding one. In fact, if you want a church that will tell you what God’s will is for your life, it is not difficult to find one of those, either. But, again, most of these do not call themselves “Baptist.”

The real kicker here is not that a denominational structure wants to provide “quality control” but that such an organization considers itself “Baptist.”

Real Baptists are an ornery lot. They don’t like to be put into little boxes. They were born to disagree.

Real Baptists proudly point to Roger Williams as the founder of the first Baptist church in America, and most of them remember that Williams did not stay a Baptist very long. He refused to be tied down in belief and practice. Maybe that’s another reason that we are the way we are.

The folks that Julie and her church are dealing with may call themselves “Baptist” but I am sure that Roger Williams would laugh in their faces and then slam the door on the way out!

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