Friday, February 3, 2012

What does it mean to be a Baptist?

A few minutes ago, I was writing a post for Weighty Matters, the TBMaston Foundation blog, about the Ethics Lecture that took place earlier this week at Truett Seminary on the Baylor campus. As I wrote about the role of the prophet in challenging Christians to reexamine our beliefs and principles, an old song popped into my head. Funny how that happens! I hadn't thought of it in a long time, but there it was. Those of you who grew up in Southern Baptist youth choirs of the late 1960s, as I did, might recognize it. It's from Purpose, one of several Christian musicals written for Southern Baptist youth choirs in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

For me, the most memorable song from that musical (which, regrettably, came out only after I had left for college, so I never got to sing in it) is the beautiful arrangement of "Just As I Am." But the song that came to my mind while writing that post was one that appears immediately following "Just As I Am." It's a song that asks the question, "What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it really mean?"

As I wrote about Tuesday's lecturer asking hard questions and challenging our own closely-held beliefs and principles, that question came to me: What does it mean to be a Christian? Well, one thing it means is looking to Jesus and choosing the narrow way. Robert Frost wrote that taking The Road Not Taken had "made all the difference." What does it mean to be a Christian? Taking up our cross daily, following Christ into ways that are unfamiliar and unpopular and uncomfortable. Taking the road not taken.

Then what does it mean to be a Baptist? Same thing! I've said it many times: the reason I'm a Baptist is that I believe that our historic Baptist principles - such as the priesthood of every believer, the competency of every soul before God, the autonomy of every local church, and the separation of church and state - are biblical principles that are faithful to Christ's life and teachings. Being a Baptist means faithfully upholding Baptist principles that help to make our worship and our service to God authentic and faithful.

And it means taking a stand. It means that we shouldn't sit passively by when those Baptist principles are being violated. When a pastor dictates church decisions to his congregation, we Baptists should speak up. When a convention seeks to control a local congregation or a Baptist college faculty and students, we Baptists should speak up.

We would rather pretend everything is okay and look the other way. But that's not what Jesus did, and it's not what Jesus called us to do.

Being Baptist is about showing up and speaking up.

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