Friday, March 9, 2007

Being Baptist

I have often jokingly said that I was a Baptist before I was a Christian. While I am joking when I say it, technically it’s true. My parents, as my mother never tired of telling me, took me to the Midway Baptist Church four miles outside of Barnesville, Georgia for the first time when I was ten days old. I suspect that I was added to what they called the Cradle Roll (a means by which a baby could be enrolled in Sunday School) within minutes of my exit from the womb. I was baptized when I was seven years old. Therefore, technically, I was a Baptist before I was a Christian.

The Christian heritage is rich and diverse. All the branches of the Christian tree offer something valuable to the tradition. As a Baptist pastor, I spend most of my time around Baptists. I am convinced that I have built up a resistance to Baptist germs because I have visited so many Baptists in the hospital! When I have the opportunity to be around people of other Christian traditions I find myself comparing my particular faith expression to theirs. There is much in those other traditions that I admire. I often “catch” something very good from them. But there is much in mine that I admire, too.

A few months ago a publication asked me to contribute to an issue with the theme “Why I Am a Baptist.” I confess that on the morning that I sat down to write my article I stared at my computer screen for a very, very long time. The reason for that wasn’t that I couldn’t think of any reasons; it was a recurrence of a chronic problem I have—I always want to sound original. But I couldn’t come up with any original thoughts on why I am a Baptist. In other words, my reasons are the same reasons that many people have listed for very many years.

I have never found a better way to list those reasons than that offered by Rev. Jim Pitts in his sermon at a Georgia Baptist Convention meeting in Savannah, GA sometime around 1990. In his sermon he said that Baptists had historically stood on five great principles that began with the letters A, B, C, P, and S.

A is for the Authority of the Bible.

B is for Believer’s Baptism.

C is for Church Autonomy.

P is for the Priesthood of Believers.

S is for Separation of Church and State.

I still believe in all five of those bedrock Baptist principles. I believe in them so much that even were I to join another Christian faith tradition I would still in my heart be a Baptist.

So that’s why I still am one!

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