While we celebrated Baptist Heritage Sunday back in February, April has felt more like Baptist History Month here at First Baptist.
This Wednesday, following our quarterly church conference, we’ll conclude our four-week study on Being Baptist. Rick Wilson has walked us through the first three weeks, and Buddy Shurden will wrap things up tomorrow with a discussion on Freedom of Religion.
Along with this study, this past Sunday after church we had a great group stick around for our Intro to FBCX class for new members and guests. A handful of our lay leaders shared about our church history, governance, and ministries, but our conversation tended to come back around to the particulars and sometime peculiarities of “being baptist.”
We’ve noted this in different places recently, but we truly are in a new era of denominational life. Lines that were once rigid are now much more porous. Over the past two decades our church has responded to these larger cultural shifts by drawing on our long history of openness, and chosen to embrace an ecumenical spirit.
Baptists have not always chosen this route. Many still don’t. For much of Baptist history here in the US, Baptists have been more “closed” when it comes to welcoming folks from other denominations, often insisting on re-baptism. In some cases, Baptist churches have even insisted folks coming from other Baptist churches be re-baptized.
We’ve chosen a different way, and I say without reservation that our congregation has been enriched beyond measure by the presence of those coming to us from different traditions and denominations.
The new challenge we face in living into this ecumenicism is to continue to define our center: to make clear the things that bind us together as a congregation and connect us to the history, heritage, and larger Baptist community of which we are a part, even as we expand the circle.
I was heartened by the interest and enthusiasm our group Sunday showed in the specifics of our governance and practices. We had great conversation about local church autonomy, church council and deacon duties, and the nature of baptism and church membership. It seemed clear to me and to our other lay leaders that we need more opportunities to discuss these topics in the months ahead, so be on the lookout. You may also remember a re-emphasis on Baptist education was a feature of our visioning process, so it is good to know we have remained on the same track.
As I confessed to the group Sunday, we’re still figuring many of these things out. What it will mean to “be Baptist” in the coming years may look different from how it did in generations past. Just like those generations looked different from the ones before them. But I have every confidence the same spirit, or Spirit, of openness that has brought us this far will continue to guide and shape us as we make, to borrow from Brian McLaren, this new Baptist way by walking it together.