In Philippians 3 Paul recites what he could boast about if he was so inclined: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”
Anything Paul can say about being a Jew I can say twice as much about being Baptist. A veritable Baptist of Baptists, I have held almost every position in Baptist life you can imagine – from the nursery to the pulpit to teaching seminary as a missionary. I have been a member of three different Baptist denominations, and am well familiar with at least one oversees. I know the good, the bad, and the ugly about Baptist life. I have seen churches torn apart by power plays and I have seen churches rise to the call of Christ in the most beautiful ways.
I remain Baptist.
Not by inertia, either. I am not Baptist simply because I was raised that way. I am not Baptist simply because I was trained that way. I am Baptist because I choose to be, because I believe in Baptist distinctives.
I believe in the centrality of scripture as the guide for life. We may disagree on how to interpret the Bible. We may even disagree on what it means for it to have authority. However, as a Baptist I might find creeds, confessions, and ecclesiastic history helpful I am not bound by any of it. My faith is based on the Bible, guided by the Holy Spirit, and affirmed by my community.
I believe in the independence of the local church as a manifestation of the Body of Christ. Whole and complete unto itself. I do not believe every church is capable of doing everything, but I do believe that the choice should remain in the hands of the believers of that congregation; guided by their ministers or by denominational positions but not bound to them.
I believe in the priesthood of the believer. Every Christian has equal access to God. Able to approach God to receive grace and guidance. This does not mean that everyone’s understanding of God is equal nor that individual believers should not follow the guidance of leaders, but that as far as access to God is concerned all are equal.
I believe that the Biblical model of conversion is a person capable of making that decision on his or her own and then followed by baptism by immersion. I do not believe that baptism, by immersion or otherwise, is necessary for salvation. I do not dispute the validity of other Christians’ experience, I simply believe that the most Biblical model is the Baptist one; and as a Baptist its not my job to judge whether or not someone is a Christian for that is between that person and God.
I believe in the separation of Church and State. This is an ancient Baptist principal, one that must be defended strongly. I have heard some say that it is to keep the state out of the church, but not the church out of the state. Wrong. The wall exists to prevent corruption from either direction. When the church identifies with the state it takes on its policies, its beliefs, and its sins. No church official, as a church official, should endorse a politician; no politician should be allowed to speak in church as a politician. For the sanctity of both the two must remain separate.
Oh look I “stopped preaching and gone to meddling” as we might say in Alabama. So I will stop, but not before I make my point clear:
Do not be something because of tradition or inertia. Choose. Choose to be a Baptist or whatever else. Choose by knowing what you believe and why.
Surely that is a most Baptist idea: Know and choose.