within the post-christian context, it is difficult to think of the word baptist and not think of words such as narrow, rigid and judgmental, but this was not always the case. at one time baptists stood for freedom in religious thinking, and believe it or not, some baptists even suffered for others because of their desire for liberty in religious thought. (for a concise history go here)
i must confess that i made a conscious decision to become a baptist as an adult.
of course, i clearly understand that this is not the only way to express our faith in the Christ, meaning that baptists are neither the oldest nor then most theologically developed christian persuasion, but it is the way i have chosen. i made this decision for several reasons, but primarily, because of the historic baptist freedoms. these are articulated well by walter shurden in his little book, the baptist identity, where he writes about:
- “bible freedom...the historic baptist affirmation that the bible, under the lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the scriptures.
- soul freedom...the historic affirmation o the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, interference of clergy, or the intervention of the civil government.
- church freedom...the historic baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the lordship of Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger body of Christ, of whose unity and mission baptists are proudly a part.
- religious freedom...the historic baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion and freedom FROM religion, insisting that caesar is not Christ and Christ is not caesar.”
doesn't much sound like the current crop of baptists, huh?
baylor university religion professor doug weaver in a recent interview placed an even finer point on the subject:
“what is essential to being baptists? it’s the freedom to read the Scriptures and to say God can give a fresh word -- not a new revelation contrary to the Bible, but a fresh understanding from the Bible...”
“the issue of conscience is crucial. the conscience of the individual has to be free to answer to God first and only secondarily to anyone else.... emphasis on individual conscience, alongside the search for the new testament church, is a distinctive way for us.”
in that same interview professor weaver also said:
“baptists have been dissenters. when we have been a dissenting minority, that has been the best of the baptist tradition...at their best, baptists have honored individual conscience, biblical authority and belief in Jesus Christ as Lord...for the unfettered conscience to remain a vital principle for baptists, we need to remember this dynamic of the individual and the church...freedom is messy...but that has been the Baptist tradition.”