Saturday, July 6, 2013

Baptists

Roger Olson explains why non-Baptists [and many Baptists] have such difficulty understanding who Baptists are:
...[V]ery few people realize how diverse Baptists are. There is no one person or group that speaks for all Baptists—that would go against the very nature of being Baptist. And yet I meet people who think there must be a Baptist headquarters somewhere. .... One can speak rightly of “The United Methodist Church,” but one cannot speak rightly of any Baptist group using the word “The” followed by “Church” except the local Baptist congregation (as in “The Baptist church on the corner”). Baptist denominations are always only voluntary associations, conventions, conferences, of local Baptist congregations and have no authority over them (except to expel them in which case the local congregation keeps everything and can simply join another Baptist group).

Like many other movements and religious-spiritual groups “Baptists” are a centered set, not a bounded set. .... There’s no magisterium to say; there’s no Baptist pope to say; there’s no Baptist headquarters to say. As a religious type Baptists have a history and all we can do is talk about certain historical commitments common to most Baptists and then admit there are always exceptions. Of course, someone might say of the exceptions “Well, they’re not true Baptists.” But they can’t make that stick. All they can really mean, at best, is “In my opinion that group of so-called Baptists have wandered so far away from anything historically recognizable as ‘Baptist’ that I don’t consider them Baptists.” ....

There are at least “57 Varieties” of Baptists in the U.S. alone and hundreds more around the world. What do they all have in common beyond the word “Baptist” (and in some cases even that’s missing!)? Well, that’s hard to say. So far as I know, however, all 1) practice believer baptism and not infant baptism, 2) deny that water baptism is necessary for salvation but make it a condition of full church membership, and 3) emphasize religious liberty. Historically, all trace their roots back in one way or another to the first Baptist congregations in England (that sojourned in Holland for a time) in 1610/1611 if not further back to the radical Reformers, the Anabaptists. ....
Seventh Day Baptists are among the diverse groups calling themselves "Baptist." We differ from other Baptists far less than the three groups Olson describes in parts of his column I didn't quote here. Everything he says about Baptists describes us.

Strange (but Real) Baptists: An Exercise in Diversity
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