I hear it often, “We aren’t really Baptist.” It’s a dilemma many in the Baptist world are experiencing today. We don’t want our views of Jesus and the world to be confused with those divisive and hurtful statements of faith too often connected to the Baptist name. Is ridding ourselves of the Baptist identity the answer?
What does it mean to be Baptist?
Baptists have historically had a robust, communal understanding of faith. Baptists come together to fellowship, study scripture, and pray, trusting that in our gathering, Christ is there also. Baptists have long identified ourselves as the gathered community. In Matthew 18:20 Jesus promises, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Baptists take these words seriously, believing in the power of Jesus’ presence among us. We believe that Jesus is with us, shaping and leading us when we come together in his name to worship, to do the business of the church, and to practice our faith.
Baptists often identify themselves with local church autonomy, the priesthood of all believers, and the separation of church and state. All of which are meant to be understood within the context of the gathered community. Baptists are made up of autonomous local congregations where decisions of the church are made by the membership body. Of course, we do not end with local congregations; we are also balanced by our connections to the larger Baptist fellowship worldwide. We give to and learn from the broader Baptist community. The Baptist principle of the priesthood of all believers claims that all of us have access to God. We do not need to go through another to pray; God hears us all. We can engage and interpret scripture for ourselves, and all of us are ministers. Each of us is called to share God’s love with the world. Even so, Baptists have long believed in balancing our personal views within a community of believers. We become better interpreters when we read and think with one another; there is power in communal prayer. We also believe that Jesus is present with us when we pray together. Finally, the Baptist principle of religious liberty asserts that our allegiance is first to God. We are not led by the politicians of the day, but by the God who made us, loves us, and promises to be with us.
Jesus spent his life on earth gathering people. He gathered people to eat, to hear God’s word, to heal, and to pray. Jesus valued community. He saw neighbor, engaged in fellowship, and taught us to do the same.
At UBC, we attest to our Baptist identity by gathering together in Jesus’ name every Sunday and Wednesday, seeking to be led by the Spirit and shaped by God’s love. We gather for worship and to practice our faith. We come together with all our different ideas and backgrounds, striving to be faithful followers of the gospel. We eat, study scripture, and pray together. We challenge and encourage one another. Together we claim our identity as local church, making decisions as a community. UBC has a long history of enthusiastically engaging one another in the matters of the church. UBC has always been deeply communal. We are also more broadly connected to our Baptist family. We, as a church, are active in our local community, and we participate in ministry and mission through the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi and Global CBF. We are autonomous and we are connected. We are a gathering body of Jesus followers, seeking to be his faithful witness in the world.
Could it be that rather than letting go of our Baptist identity, we need to reclaim it?
Thinking with you,