As we near the end of the year in which we’ve marked the 400th anniversary of the emergence of the first Baptist church in
Ian makes history come alive. He’s a theologically savvy thinker, and a man of considerable warmth and good humour. Ian served us well with an historical overview of how Baptist principles emerged, and indications of how those principles have vital relevance today.
I am more convinced than ever that a rediscovery of Baptist principles would be an enriching experience for our churches today, as it is proving to be over recent times for us here at
But here’s the key issue for me: Baptists emerged out of a context where the freedom to discern the mind of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit was denied them. They were told what they had to believe and how they were to practice that belief. When they read the scriptures and found contemporary faith and practice deficient, they had to make a hard choice. Were they to submit to the authorities – both ecclesiastical and civil – or risk persecution, imprisonment and death in following their conscience? They chose the latter, and the rest, as they say, is our history.
If we honour that principle today, we will be a missionary people who are ready to guide others but not a people who impose on others what it means to be a believer. Naturally, in communicating the gospel we will speak of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; creation, fall and God’s salvation plan. We will declare our conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour. We will show in the scriptures where it speaks of cross and resurrection, baptism and communion, of the fruit of the Spirit, and how one day all things will find their fulfilment in Christ. But each of these areas needs to be wrestled with, explored and expressed in the cultural soil in which the good news seed has fallen. And as the plant grows, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can surely trust that the
Problems will occasionally arise of course, and the wider body of Christ will naturally act as a corrective to any strange theological developments. But far greater problems arise if we deny to new communities of believers the liberty to work out their new identity for themselves. If we deny them that, then their new identity will likely be foreign to them. And it if is foreign, then it will not endear itself to the majority and the faithful few will remain just that – a faithful few.
Being Baptist therefore is not about convincing others to become Baptists! Our aim is to see others become, first and foremost, followers of Jesus Christ who are culturally rooted in such a way that as they are transformed into the likeness of Christ, they will also be a transforming influence in the very culture in which they live.