The Baptists – Down And Out But Not [To Be] Forgotten

“Baptist” is not the most popular of names today. Both the news and the numbers are bad. In the news Baptists are viewed as legalistic, as divisive and disruptive, as favoring the appearance of devotion over depth, and the greatest sin of all – as being “out of touch.” Indeed our denominations are marked by controversy and our congregations are often clouded in chaos.

The numbers are not much better. Rather than another rehearsal of declining statistics I will venture to capture the Baptist psyche of the last several decades by offering a distinctly American Baptist voice paraphrasing the Pharisee’s prayer (as opposed to that of the tax collector).

70s         I thank thee God that we, the Baptists, are not like the godless Europeans, whose churches are emptying at a record pace…

80s         I thank thee God that we, the Baptists, are not like the declining liberal denominations here in America that are losing market share, members, and money…

90s         I thank thee God that we, the Baptists, are not declining as rapidly as the liberals around us…

2000s     I thank thee God that we, the Baptists, are not like the godless nation that surrounds us and holds us in disdain…

The news and the numbers are not good. So why not forget the Baptists?

The Baptists have a history of flourishing when they are hounded and harassed. While they may not rule well, their convictions shine the brightest when they are the weakest; their convictions don’t die even if the Baptists might. In their weakness they have ventured to bear witness to the larger Church. Two convictions merit consideration. 1) Baptists hold that baptism should express the faith of a believer who professes his/ her new identity as a disciple; this profession is not a mere declaration of belief but the identifying mark of a new life, community, and identity – believer’s baptism. 2) Baptists believe that the Church is comprised of only baptized believers – believer’s church. Many in the Church have received this witness. Much of the explosive growth of Christianity has occurred in the “majority world” among nondenominational and charismatic circles (and others) who embrace these two convictions. Baptist need not exaggerate that we were the first to grasp or recover these convictions (think Anabaptist) or that we have labored alone (think Churches of Christ), but we can be grateful for the legacy of witness to these convictions that has persisted through suffering and persecution.

The witness of baptism picturing new life emerging from death is well- rooted in Easter; the potency and truthfulness of this conviction is more grand and enduring than the Baptist brand.

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