Why Celebrate Being Baptist?
For the past several years, on the first Sunday in February we’ve celebrated Founders’ Day here at the church; remembering our church’s beginnings and long history, and giving thanks to God for blessing of this place and the people who have called it their church through the generations.
But this year we enter into a new practice of celebration on this first Sunday in February.
Following a recommendation from our Baptist Identity task force from our Write the Vision process, we’re dividing up the celebration of our history over two Sundays. Later on this fall we’ll celebrate a Homecoming Sunday, which will be very similar to our recent Founders’ Day celebrations. And this coming Sunday we’ll celebrate Baptist Heritage Sunday. Where Homecoming will lift up the history of our local congregation, this Sunday we’ll widen the lens and lift up the greater tradition of which we’re a part.
And an obvious question to ask here is why?
Why would we devote a Sunday to lift up the fact that we’re Baptist?
Why celebrate being Baptist at all?!
It’s probably true that we’re at a critical season in Baptist history (and really, the wider church in general, especially in America). Baptists remain the largest and most diverse denomination or tradition in the country, and yet it’s also probably true that the name “Baptist” has never been more sullied in American culture.
We Baptists even seem to know this, which has led many congregations to remove the word “Baptist” from their name. Now, I’ve got some opinions on this trend, as well as some frustrations. The main one being that, as I've heard it put, many of the churches removing “Baptist” from their name tend to be the kind of churches that gave Baptists a bad name in the first place!
But suffice to say being Baptist these days in complicated.
Which in my view makes it all the more important that we remember and lift up just exactly what makes us Baptist, and how this is a counter-testimony to what the word “Baptist” has come to mean for most people.
This is a project we’ve become accustomed to here at the First Baptist Church of Christ. We often say we are not a “typical” Baptist church these days. But part of what makes this true is that we hold deep commitments to the things that have defined Baptists through the generations. Namely, our commitments to local church autonomy; the priesthood of the believer; Scripture as living, breathing, and relevant; and religious freedom.
We’re proud to be a congregation that welcomes and seeks out relationships in the wider communion of Christian faith. Our membership is made up of folks from all different background and religious traditions, and this makes for a richer, more textured congregational life. But it’s precisely our commitment to being Baptist that makes much of this possible.
There is much to celebrate in these things. And while it’s true these impulses are in many ways engrained into the practices and habits of this congregation, we must be vigilant in keeping them before us, for they are not always the easiest or most popular way. It may also be true that an honest witness to them has not been more necessary in recent history, especially when it comes to religious liberty.
So I hope you’ll join us this Sunday as we aim to do just that. We’re honored to have Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as our special guest. CBF is our closest partner in missions and Baptist identity, making Suzii the perfect person to help focus our celebration. And to top it all off, we’ll gather for a potluck lunch and celebrate the ministry of Jody Long among us, and bless him as he goes on to lead our state CBF organization.
There is much to celebrate here within our congregation, and, we hope to prove this Sunday in particular, much to celebrate about being part of this peculiar band of Christians called the Baptists.