Sunday, November 14, 2010

Being a Baptist Christian


Dr. Tillman and Jim Whitaker
As we observed Baptist Heritage Sunday in our church today, I heard a term used by both our pastor, Mike Smith, and our guest, Bill Tillman, that I rarely heard as a young person growing up in a Southern Baptist church. The term is “Baptist Christian.” The addition of that adjective gives a perspective that I did not have in my formative years.

For most of my life, the use of the terms “Baptist” or “Southern Baptist” was sufficient to describe both my orientation and my tribe. We really weren’t that concerned about other Christians and tended to go it alone. We were even unsure about the National Baptists and the American Baptists, much less the independents. We really did not need anyone else to do God’s work. We were the God’s “last and only hope” (to use Bill Leonard’s term). Bold Mission Thrust, the effort to share the gospel with every person on earth, was first and foremost a Southern Baptist effort.

But things changed. We took our eyes off the goal and began to fight among ourselves. We lost some of our best and brightest to the Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterians, and (occasionally) the Lutherans and Episcopalians. Many found a home elsewhere discovered that those faith traditions often had their own challenges, but they were willing to make the sacrifice.

Not everyone left, of course, but minority status brought a new point of view. In more recent days, those who consider themselves progressive or moderate Baptists have begun to think about what it means to be a “Baptist” Christian. We are recovering our place in the world family of Christians. What do we offer to our brothers and sisters in Christ and what can we learn from them? Some call this “emergent Christianity.” Perhaps it is or maybe it is just that we have become more humble and willing to learn from the experiences of others.

I am grateful to be a Christian and, most days, I believe that my Baptist tradition has something to offer. On those days, I feel especially blessed.

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