Sunday, November 4, 2007

What is a "Baptist"

One of the disadvantages of congregational polity [see below] is that there is no authority that can discipline a local congregation or define who can call themselves what. Lots of people don't understand that - so someone like Fred Phelps can affect the public reputation of Baptists generally.

GetReligion discusses what it means to be a "Baptist" and why we have difficulty protecting our brand name:
There’s no doubt about it. The Rev. Fred Phelps of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., is a Baptist — because he says so.

Then again, so is Bill Clinton. So is Al Gore, Jr., now that you mention it. Ditto for the Rev. Bill Moyers, Dr. Harvey Cox and the Rev. Jesse Jackson (last time I checked).

What’s the point? Well, one of the big stories of the week was that verdict up here in Baltimore in which a federal jury delivered a $10.9 million verdict against Phelps and his Westboro congregation, due to its ugly protests at the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, who died in Iraq. ....

How would you like to be a Baptist minister in Kansas right now? How would you like to have the same brand name on your church sign as the Westboro crew? Duin [of the Washington Times] wrote this, focusing on the efforts of other Baptists to disavow Phelps and his church:
Although the 75-member church led by the Rev. Fred Phelps uses the name “Baptist,” it is an independent congregation not affiliated with any known Baptist convention or association.

“It’s a little bit frustrating,” said a ministry official at First Baptist Church of Topeka, who asked that his name not be used.

“People want to know why Baptists allow it,” the First Baptist official said. “Every church is locally autonomous, and anybody can call themselves ‘Baptist’ if they want to.” Speaking of the Westboro congregation, he said, “Their views don’t reflect anything at all of our church.”

One of Westboro Baptist Church’s most vociferous opponents has been the Southern Baptist Convention, chiefly because Mr. Phelps was ordained an SBC minister in 1947 at age 17. It is not clear when he left the denomination, but Westboro was founded in 1955 as an independent church. .... [more]
Define ‘Baptist,’ give three examples » GetReligion

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