Monday, August 12, 2013

Why am I a Baptist?

In "Is Jesus a Baptist?" Timothy George (who is a Baptist) explains why that is not the right question:
.... While I recognize myself as a Protestant, an Evangelical, and a Baptist, none of those labels defines my spiritual and ecclesial identity at the most basic level. Being an evangelical Protestant, a Baptist, indeed a Southern Baptist, are all important markers of my place within the community of faith, but there is a more primary confession I must make: I am a trinitarian Christian who by the grace of God belongs to the whole company of the redeemed through the ages, those who are “very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ” (Book of Common Prayer).

Far from being a new construal, this way of putting things goes to the very heart of what it means to be a genuine Protestant, a true Evangelical, and an authentic Baptist. Central to each of these commitments is a desire to be faithful to the Scripture-based apostolic witness of the early church. When Polycarp of Smyrna, a disciple of the Apostle John, was brought before the Roman tribunal before being cast into the arena with wild beasts, he confessed publicly the faith which he knew would lead to his certain martyrdom. In that critical moment, Polycarp did not say: “I am a Paulinist. I am a Petrist. I am a Johannian.” Neither did he say, “I am an Ignatian” (after his great contemporary Ignatius of Antioch), nor “I am an Irenaean” (after his famous disciple Irenaeus of Lyon). Rather he confessed: Christianus sum. “I am a Christian.” ....

So why am I a Baptist? I am a Baptist because it was through the witness of a small Baptist church that I first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of the things I still believe in I first learned in that modest Baptist community of faith.... Through the loving nurture I received from that congregation, I confessed my personal faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord of my life. I was then baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ....

It is important to say that all of this came to me as a gift from beyond myself. It is not as though I had studied carefully and weighed objectively every religious possibility before committing myself to the Baptist cause. My experience was rather of a person who finds himself standing, wading, and eventually swimming in a flowing mountain stream. The Baptist formation I received as a young Christian was a gift, unbidden and undeserved, for which I can claim no credit. Later as I studied the Bible more deeply and became aware of many other church traditions, doctrines, and denominations, my Baptist convictions grew stronger. I gradually came to understand the meaning of what I believed: Fides quaerens intellectum, a quest that continues still. What I first intuitively grasped or only dimly glimpsed, I came to own with greater clarity and confidence. I came to see that being a Baptist was for me the most faithful way of being an Evangelical, a Protestant, and a Christian.

Being a Baptist is a blessing but also sometimes a burden. From time to time I have considered the possibility of becoming something else. I once prepared a talk called “The Confessions of a Catholic-friendly, Pentecostal-admiring, Reformed Baptist with a Hankering after Lutheranism and a Strong Affinity for the Book of Common Prayer.” Each of these ecclesial traditions, among others, has enriched my life and calling to serve the Body of Christ. Each brings distinctive treasures to our common labors—pro Christo et ecclesia. Being a Baptist gives me all the freedom I need to appropriate as fully as I can the gifts they offer without abandoning the Baptist principles and ways that I cherish. .... [more]