Although some say that we live in a post-denominational age, there is something comfortable and reassuring about identifying not only with a particular denominational “tribe” but a specific “clan” of that tribe. This is true of those who call themselves Baptists and it may well be of others, but I will confine my remarks to the Baptist tribe because that is where my primary experience lies.
I have found it very interesting to hear members of congregations who want to declare that they are just “one kind of Baptist”—Southern Baptist, Cooperative Baptist, Alliance Baptist, etc. This is understandable, but I am surprised at their choice of a starting point. Those motivated to declare that their congregation should related to one particular clan of Baptists begin with their perception of the clan rather than understanding and embracing who they are as a congregation.
Let me suggest some questions that church members might ask in order to clarify their identity before they choose a group with which to affiliate.
First, what does your church believe about authority? Is authority centered in a person such as the pastor or in the body of believers under the Lordship of Christ? In 1 Peter 2:9, we read that the people of God are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” The responsibility for sharing the good news seems to rest in the people of God rather than the pastor of God.
Second, what does your church believe about using the best tools available to understand, interpret, and apply the biblical revelation? Does your church expect those who stand in the pulpit to have such a high regard for the Bible that they have spent years in preparation to preach and teach? In 2 Timothy 2:15, we are told, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” This great responsibility requires both openness to God and to a diligent study of the Word of God.
Third, does your church practice the equality of all believers, understanding that God accepts everyone on equal footing? Do you acknowledge that God calls each person within the community to serve? According to Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” God’s call to serve is not based on outward attributes but inner giftedness.
Fourth, does your church follow the example of Christ who declared: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”? (Luke 4:18-19) Does your church care for people even if they do not become members and contribute to improve the “bottom line” of the church budget?
Finally, does your church allow each person to exercise his or her God-given gifts within the life of the congregation? We read in 1 Corinthians 14 these words: “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. . . . There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Do you honor each person’s giftedness or allow only certain individuals to use their gifts?
If you understand how your congregation responds to these questions and follows these practices, you may have a better understanding of what kind of Baptist you are.