Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Baptist Hope

First off, IDK if I've posted it before, and if I did it was before I started tagging my posts. If repeated, sorry!

I was reminded the other day of a document that I had been led to by some friends called "The Baptist Manifesto" (click to read...opens as pdf.). As most of you may know, I was raised and have remained Baptist (at least in my personal convictions, and speaking of Baptists in the historical sense) even though I have tried hard to publicly withdraw from certain Baptist circles. Baptists, as most things do, have evolved over the years and many sects of the Baptist denomination have moved away from the historical beliefs that on which the Baptists obtained their identity.

To most people, Baptist has come to mean conservative/fundamentalist in it's ideals (although there is a whole spectrum of beliefs in the Baptist world), judgemental, separatist, and non-tolerant! In undergrad, when I started to learn about the politics and beliefs of Baptists, I have to say I was ashamed to be a Baptist. Through education of Baptist/Church history, I began to cling to what originally made Baptists stand out from other movements throughout the reformation. However, as we move into postmodernity, I once again found that many Baptists (even the ones that I had not cut connections with) were not eager to reach out into postmodern theology/ideology and change. Most Baptists were too busy fighting over what they WEREN'T and not defining who they were or wanted to be.

I was befuddled, because as I studied and understood this changing worldview, I realized that Baptists who held the original/traditional Baptist beliefs could more easily adapt and evolve into postmodern ministry. It shouldn't be so hard. And then comes the "Baptist Manifesto" (actual title: "Re-envisioning Baptist Identity: A Manifesto for Baptist Communities in North America"). In this document, the contributors work towards BOTH being true to original Baptist heritage, as well as acknowledging and looking forward into a postmodern worldview.

At this point, I was proud once again to be a Baptist. I think there is still a ways to go, and one of those steps is a desegregation of denominationalism. I know that is a seeming contradiction to this post, but having a sense of identity goes a long way towards transitioning. I think as these types of Baptists began working with emerging Methodists, Presbyterians, etc..., then we will begin to see these lines of denominationalism blur and again become one body, a Catholic Church. This is a great start for Baptists! There's still a long ways to go!
Other articles on Baptist Manifesto:
History of "Baptist Manifesto"


  1. Hello good sir, its been a while since I've commented on your posts. My apologies, this quarter has ate my life up and I don't seem to have as much time to do the kinds of things I'd like (like reading your posts believe it or not.

    I myself go to a Baptist church though I can't say I've ever really understood much of the history behind Baptists as my only exposure to Colonial American religion was a Hist 102 class winter quarter. Anyway I say that as a caveat to express my overall ignorance and to admit the lens in which I am replying.

    I first wonder if you could add a link to (unless the pdf file has one) a small history of Baptists and basic beliefs? As I said I attend a baptist church but there has every been any overt discussion about what was believed in a Baptist church compared to a Methodist, or Lutheran. The only time I remember someone pointing out any part of Baptist theology was in what one would expect--baptism. For some reason my church places emphasis on dunking, but I don't even know if that is distinct to Baptists.

    Another note. I have not yet read the "manifesto." I will, but this reply is being written purely to the post and not the manifesto itself so if there is something in the manifesto that deflates my issues with the post than my sincere apologies. I will (If I can, I"m not sure) re-write after reading it or delete if need be.

    You seem to be conscious of the disparity of your overarching desire for a unified church, and pride regarding being a Baptist and the original Baptist ideal. You also fail to, in any concrete or satisfying way, explain how pride in a denomination can in any way blur the lines between multiple denominations.

    I would like to bring something up that you probably know more about than me, but I think its important to point out. I've started reading Bart D. Ehrman's Lost Christianities and the Faiths We Never Knew and he points out the immense diversity in the first two centuries of the church, before there was a cannon. In the introduction he also points out that it seems to be more accurate to say Christianities, rather than saying sects of Christianity. To me that sounds like saying the same thing in a different way but it did make me think about the definition of Christian and what that might be. I know many evangelicals would be able to answer that question rather quickly. It probably having something to do with submitting to the fact that God became Christ and died for our sins. There were many communities in the Mediterranean that had a myriad of beliefs in regards to Christ and God (Gnostics, dualists, etc). This continued throughout the Middle Ages and were consistently oppressed as the Catholic Orthodox rose to power. Once the reformation arrived you get that multiplicity but a multiplicity the Catholic church eventually would lose the heart or the ability to oppress.

    My question in this all is what exactly is a unified church? It seems that what exactly would define that is what would dictate whether or not it would be a good thing or even very long lasting. If it is a authoritarian, top-down sort of organization than it will just revert back to what has come before. What seems to be needed is loosely defined form of orthodoxy. Even there that woudl equate to what we already have, and if one says, "Well we can put aside our differences and work together for agreed upon aims." Even that is fraught with issues because not everyone can even agree on those I think. I hate to be a 'Debbie Downer' about this all. I think it will just require too many people to get over themselves and their assumptions that their assertions are the only ones that are right. Which requires a level of humbleness that is difficult to come by.

    I would though like to end on a higher note. It seems that those that are able to leave their pride at the door are also those that discuss and learn from other religions, and have working relationships with people of different faiths. The Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu being examples of this; Abraham Joshua Herschel and Martin Luther King Jr. being another. It is meeting like this that excite me and also the reactions of the arrogant to them which break my heart. But as long as one or two of such people exist there is hope.

  2. Hey man,
    good to hear from you again. Don't worry, I know what time is like...fleeting to say the least. Glad to have you back.

    As for the website of Baptist beliefs, that's a tough one. There are many. Baptists are not uniform unfortunately, AND fortunately...Ill get to that on the unified Ch. thing in a min.

    The ABSOLUTE BEST website IMHO, is the Baptist History and Heritage Society in Atlanta. High amongst its ranks is my old Baptist Heritage prof. Dr. Pamela Durso. Look for "who are Baptist" links and "resource Catalog". Under the "Who are Baptists" links you will find a lot of historical info, but also look at Rob Nash's Article: "Myth: Baptists Believe in Doctrinal Uniformity"...Goes a long way towards the vision of a Unified Ch.
    Link: http://www.baptisthistory.org/

    Also Wikipedia does a fair job: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptist_Distinctives
    Although there are some issues of what are "historical beliefs" and what are beliefs of baptists today. There is also a debate (linked off the main post) where Prominent Baptist Theologian and Historian Walter B. Shurden disagrees with the "Manifesto" because of his premise of "4 fragile freedoms" (found on the wiki site). These are fair thoughts about baptists, but not all baptists agree that these 4 freedoms were distinctively baptist in heritage and uniformly held as baptists emerged.

    Either way, main beliefs historically held by Baptists that I am referring to are:
    Priesthood of the Believer
    Believer's Baptism
    Freedom of Religion
    Separation of Church and State
    Autonomy of the local ch.

    enough history, Bart's book, fantastic! A great book that is not respected outside (and sometimes inside) the world of academia enough. When we ignore those "other Christianities" I believe that we are ignoring a part of our heritage as Christians, and belittling the importance of the fact that they are all communities asking the same question we are asking today: "What does it mean to be a follower of Christ". They struggled over this, and I'm not sure (contrary to some beliefs) that we've ever truly answered that question. Their stories are our stories, and the fact that we have silenced their voices, to me, is a tradgedy.

    But you are correct, there have been many "Christianities" throughout history. There has never been a uniform Catholic (big C) CH. Not truly. But I think that is one of the reasons that Christianity has thus far failed to bring about the Kingdom of God that Christ speaks so much about.

    I know that a uniform Ch. sounds like a Utopian pipe-dream, But Christ spoke of ONE CH., not a bunch of little churches. What is a uniform Ch? Well, to be honest, no one knows completely, but there are those who dare to dream. I think that it begins by understanding that "uniformity" does not equal "conformity". Like Nash's article, and Bart's book suggest, we never have agreed theologically throughout history, and we never will. So there has to be SOME OTHER unifying factor apart from theological theories (because that's all theology boils down to is philosophical theories on deistic subjects!). So what can we unite around? Christ (not salvation), The commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, raise up the poor, heal the sick, etc...? I'm not sure what it would be, but there has to be something we all have in common. My guess (and this is a post I've been writing in my head) is that it would have to revolve around human-rights. The understanding that we are all "The Divine's" special creation (the basis for all religions), and that it is our job in the world to raise all up to receive their basic human rights! I'm sure that some will say I'm calling for a single religion, not just a unified Christianity, but again, religious frameworks can still remain, they will just have to be rethought and readjusted to fit into the idea that we are "united in Christ", or "All God's Children"!

    You said: "I think it will just require too many people to get over themselves and their assumptions that their assertions are the only ones that are right. Which requires a level of humbleness that is difficult to come by."

    No, you are absolutely right. Spot on in fact. Perhaps we've spent too much time preaching and teaching "conform to me" rather than "conform to Christ". This will take generations and generations still, but the overall theme of the Christian Scriptures is the message of hope. So it is, I don't think, wrong to hope that such a thing could exist. Sometimes I think when Jesus was speaking about his high and lofty ideas the disciples said the exact same thing, "hey, rabbi, yo, I hate to be a 'Debbie Downer', but ya know that the pharisees and Sadducee ain't never gonna let that happen...I'm just sayin'".:) (for some reason I have the disciples in my head with a Brooklyn accent), But this didn't alter Jesus' message or dream. I think that this is a lot of what modern Christianity has lost: the ability to hope and dream!

    In light of that, your last paragraph speaks for itself. Beautiful! Luckily for us, I believe (and looking at some of your links on your blog, I think you too believe), that there are several people out there in the world today who are rising above the arrogance and letting us glimpse this hope of which we speak!

    Sorry this is long, Fantastic comment and question. Sorry if it seems a bit frayed, I don't claim to hold all the answers, just the dreams:) But it is through true questioning, listening and conversing like this (not the accusatory/defensiveness I see on so many blogs and "conversations") that we can begin to figure out the answers to these questions!

    Thanks again Tommy, I appriciate your voice. Feel free anytime to comment or follow-up