There are many who claim the name, “Baptist,” but who really do not know what it means to “be Baptist.” Oh, sure, there are caricatures and images of “Baptist” which people have, but, sadly, there are many who do not truly understand what it means to “be Baptist.”
To demonstrate my point, let me give a very brief, one question quiz. Those who read this, I invite you to give your answer either on this blog post itself or on the social media site where you saw this posted. Here’s the question: name the four freedoms which Baptists’ hold dear. While none of these valued freedoms originated with Baptists, the first time the four came together as cherished freedoms forming a firm foundation was when the Baptists brought them together. (By the way, if you are unable to come up with all four, you are not alone.)
The reason that I am, once again, broaching this topic is because of an article across which I stumbled. Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/us/a-christian-college-struggles-to-define-itself.html?_r=0. The college and seminary I attended were approved institutions by the Regular Baptists, but they were not Regular Baptist institutions. For that, I must admit to being grateful. I was taught to think, especially in my Bible classes in college and my seminary courses, not to just spew back some line of doctrine or theology. I was taught to be a Biblical theologian. I have spoken about what this means in an earlier two-part post. If you want to read them, here they are: https://pastorjim86.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/being-a-biblical-theologian-part-i/. and https://pastorjim86.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/being-a-biblical-theologian-part-ii/.
When an institution such as Cedarville College and more conservative Baptist groups squash dissenting viewpoints, they are actually going against one of those four freedoms which make a Baptist a Baptist – Bible freedom. Of all groups, Baptists should be one group which encourages opposing and alternate viewpoints. It is from this dialogue and discussion that we move deeper into what Scripture means and holds for us.
The other thing that I admit I find deeply disturbing is this continued marriage between conservative politics and the conservative wing of the Baptist family. I’m not really sure if it is politics giving the marching orders with the Bible offering proof and support or the other way around. Sometimes I think it is more obvious to be the former rather than the latter.
Historically, Baptists have been about not maintaining the status quo, but about shaking things up and championing causes which ran against the accepted social, religious and political climate of the day. When Baptists championed religious freedom here in this country, they were persecuted by those who were not Baptist. Baptists were looked upon as divisive and causing trouble. (Consider once again the story of Roger Williams in the 1600’s and the founding of Rhode Island)
It was often times Baptists who were on the leading and cutting edge of dealing with societal issues. It was Baptists who were the champions of the minority and those without a voice, those who suffered injustice, oppression and inequality. This meant shaking up the status quo, which is not really a conservative thing to do. Historically, Baptists were more liberal leaning in their views of society and culture and were seen as a subversive group by those who held power and wanted to maintain the control that went along with it.
How does what I just said in that last paragraph measure up with today? I read comments from way too many Baptists who are more concerned with keeping wealth and keeping those who are wealthy happy than economic inequalities which are present in this country. For example, while legal, how is it moral and ethical for a company to lay off employees whose sole source of income and provision for his/her family is that paycheck and then turn around and give executives, who already make many times over the salary of that employee, bonuses which reach into the millions of dollars? If you have any question about this, read the story the prophet Nathan tells King David in 2 Samuel 12. We Baptists should be screaming at the top of our lungs about this injustice!
Anyone who is either Baptist or interested in knowing what it truly means to be Baptist should read a book authored by Walter Shurden titled, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms. I am of the opinion that this book should be required reading for every person who claims the name Baptist. I am proud to be a Baptist, but not the type of Baptist many today picture. I am proud to be what I call an “historical Baptist.” That means that I hold tenaciously onto the legacy my Baptist forebears created and for which they bled, suffered persecution, and yes, even died.
If I might be allowed a bit of a soapbox moment, when I read of places which claim the name Baptist yet do things that are against what it truly means to be a Baptist, I want to rip the name from them. Ok, I’m done. Lord, forgive me, but I had to get that out.