Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Baptist?

Yesterday I was driving through the community and saw that another Baptist church has apparently removed the word ‘Baptist’ from their name… or at least their marquee. This is not a new trend and has actually been the fad du jour for about 10-15 years. So why drop the name Baptist? Some churches will say that the name is a barrier for people to come to church. Others will say that they want to “cast a wider net”. Some just do it because it honestly seems like the cool thing for churches to do and let’s be honest, a lot of pastors really want to be cool (whatever that is).

The way I feel is that if you are going to start a new church call it whatever you like, but if Baptist is part of your church’s tradition then don’t be ashamed of that. It is not an embarrassing thing, really… unless you don’t know the history and significance of the name. One of my former professors, Jim Hamilton, now a professor at Southern Seminary says, “The whole point of being a Baptist is being biblical. We Baptists aren’t Baptists because our parents were Baptists, because we think Baptist culture is superior to all others, or because we think identifying ourselves as Baptists will improve our standing in society. We’re Baptists (or should be) because we think that being Baptist is the most biblical way of being the church.”

I am not saying that the Baptist tradition has everything right and there certainly have been some black-eyes on the historical face of Southern Baptists over the last 100 years. That said, it does represent some things that we should communicate with people up front. I loathe the “bait and switch” method of outreach- woo them with coolness and then subtlety mention in the bulletin or website that they are now in fact Baptist. That’s not cool at all and it certainly doesn’t show much integrity.

Here is why I am Baptist and unashamed to put it on our church marquee: 1) I believe the doctrinal beliefs (particularly the reformed view of salvation by faith alone and the views on baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and ecclesiology reflect what the Bible teaches (these are reflected in statements such as “The Baptist Faith & Message”- 2000); 2) I believe the International Mission Board is the best mission agency in the world and its support through the Cooperative Program is the best way to network local churches across the globe to do Kingdom work; and 3) I believe in the autonomy of the local church with each church pastor-led, deacon-supported, and congregationally governed.

While I am sure there are genuine and credible reasons to “drop the name”, though none come to mind, let the identity stand as existing churches are concerned. Again, I am not saying all churches should be Baptists or that new churches should necessarily use the name, but let’s not be ashamed of the rich heritage of faith we have.

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