Pastor, What does it mean to be a [Baptist] Christian at First Baptist Church?
Recently, my congregation approved the building and support of a new website in 2019. I’m excited about this good decision, and I receive it as an invitation as the pastor to ponder how we will talk about and present the good news of what God is up to among us at First Baptist Church. One facet of that is to talk “Baptist.” That’s what’s below. It’s a working draft, and little of it is original. As the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “There is nothing new under the sun.” If you’d like to read more in-depth about Baptists, try these sources from which I learn and borrow: an EthicsDaily sermon by David Hughes at https://www.ethicsdaily.com/what-baptists-believe-cms-15126/, Four Fragile Freedoms by Walter Shurden, or just about any book with “Baptist” in the title by Bill Leonard. Here goes…
First Baptist Church is a place for Christians who believe in a big faith and a big God. Teaching and preaching and worship is done prayerfully, and in the spirit of open inquiry, deep engagement with biblical and historical scholarship, and respect for freedom of conscience. We seek to live a faith expression guided by the grace of Jesus Christ, and open to the ongoing presence and revelation of God in our time and place in the world.
Throughout their history, Baptists have been a part of the “free church tradition.” They dissented from centralized, established churches of the state. With this dissent, Baptists also left behind the hierarchical church governing structure of Anglican and Catholic churches and adopted a congregationalist polity. There is no “The Baptist Church” just as there are no Baptist bishops and archbishops empowered to dictate to a Baptist church or pastor. There are only “Baptist churches,” each one autonomous, free, and responsible to discern its own way with God’s help. As a Baptist congregation, First Baptist Church is guided by four historical Baptist ideals that stand out across 400 years of diverse faith beliefs and practices among Baptists. They are all “freedoms,” emphasizing the essential ethos of Baptist faith from the beginning, and they are meant to be held together in tension, checking and balancing one another. As is the Christian way, in and through each of these four ideals we claim both our freedom as human beings before God, and our responsibility as disciples of Jesus Christ.
- Bible Freedom: The Bible is central to Christian faith, and individual believers are free to interpret the Bible under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, through the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and in the context of Christian community.
- Soul Freedom: The God-given value of the human person is important in Christian faith. Each person has the right to make a free choice when it comes to matters of faith. No creed, no clergy, no government official has the right to force faith on anyone.
- Church Freedom: The Church is the gift of God, through the Holy Spirit, to the world. Each congregational expression of the Church across time and place is free, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to determine who they will be, what they will do, and with whom they will associate to further their ministry and mission.
- Religious Freedom: Four-hundred years ago, it was a longing to worship Jesus Christ free from the entanglements of government and church in England that gave birth to Baptists. Separation of church and state is good for both. Ever since Roger Williams founded the First Baptist Church in America in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1638, Baptists have been ardent proponents of a free church in a free state.
In keeping with all that, First Baptist Church chooses to associate with and work out its commitments to ministry and missions locally with the Cooperative Christian Ministry (CCM), at the state level with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Kentucky (CBFKY), and nationally with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). We also support the work of the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in Georgetown and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, DC. Our partners in ministry and mission reflect those old, tried and true Baptist freedoms.
So, all said, What does it mean to be a [Baptist] Christian at First Baptist Church? It means freedom. It means freedom to come to God’s table as you are. It means not standing between the table and anyone else who longs to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” All are invited to claim their freedom before God. It means responsibility. It means following the Apostle Paul’s advice to the Christians at Philippi and “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Said another way: with great awe and reverence. And, it means trusting–or at least trying to trust every day–that in the meantime, God’s grace is real, and it is enough.