Being Baptist (Part I)

For some time, I've been struggling with breaking out of a straight jacket mindset toward prayer, worship and discipleship among some fellow Baptists.  For this purpose, among others, God has blessed me in being able to wrestle alongside with, chew on, long-suffer, encourage and exhort my seminary students and local Church membership to pray and co-struggle with these very same issues.

I believe that what makes us Baptist is certainly not being a Calvinist, a lover of contemporary worship or sectarian, just to name a few of the stereotypical "characteristics" which many Southern Baptists have done quite an effective job in grafting onto the public collective "psyche".

What makes us Baptist are key tenets rooted in freedom, nourished by an authentic pursuit of God's heart and a zealous celebration of the inalienable privilege every single Christian has to not conform to the "norms" establish by any national church, hierarchy, creeds or confessions - for the purpose of being able to openly access the divine imagination and encounter God without any human control or restraints.  It is not that creeds or confessions are evil or misguided, but rather they shouldn't be the means to excluding anyone from a heartfelt pursuit of truth.  It isn't that hierarchy is by nature insipid, however it can work to usurp a community's desire to work out each member's salvation with fear, trembling, in Spirit and in truth.

In fact, Baptists have a high ecclesiology insofar as they value the universal (catholicity) of the local church as the sole and authentic expression of the Body of Christ throughout the world.  According to Robert C. Walton, Baptists also have a right to claim apostolic succession of our ministers' ordinations.  How so?  Consider how pastors have the right to officiate all the ordinances and other "sacramental" benchmarks in the pilgrimage of the believer.  Pastors can officiate said keynote ceremonies anywhere on the planet as long as they are asked to officiate and the pastor had prayerfully conducted the necessary counseling, teachings, mentoring and oversight.  Although ordained by a local church, the ordination is respected, recognized and received as valid by others across Christianity at large and among most, if not all, world religions.  To be sure, even Roman Catholic priests (on individual cases) are inviting Baptist pastors to bless, pray, officiate and participate in various ceremonies as long as the Baptist minister doesn't feel his conscience is compromised.

The priesthood of all believers is another cardinal belief of Baptists.  What this means is for some - open to interpretation, but it seems quite simple and clear to me, though.  We are called by God to render offerings of 24/7 prayer to the Lord.  These prayers - be they in the form of intercession, thanksgiving, petition, contemplative, meditative or lectio divina, are to be the non-negotiable, daily practice of each and every one who dares call him or herself a "follower of Jesus".  To be sure, this priesthood rooted in unceasing prayer fuels the Church to love one another, our neighbor, the alien and the stranger.  We will be incapable of loving God with authentic selflessness unless we first love Him and surrender without any reservation whatsoever.  Only then will we live out the Sermon on the Mount and only then will we see the Kingdom of God break in as He has promised it will as soon as we die to self.

These matters of the heart must be addressed first in order for us to move into a purpose of worship that transcends the self, the "me"-factor.  We need to depart from a "me-centered" method of worship to a God-centered one.  Only then will we be worshiping as the ancient Church did and as Scripture has revealed for each of us to do according to God's purposes for salvation and for the transformation of all creation - not just me.

Grace and Peace to you,

Pastor Daniel

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