Thursday, February 5, 2009

Celebrating Baptist Freedom

The following article was written for the next issue of Word&Way.

Baptists around the world are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first Baptist church. Church historians tell us that English Christians living in Amsterdam, Holland, gathered for worship and began practicing believer’s baptism. They had all been baptized as infants in the Church of England, and no one in their fellowship had experienced baptism as a believer. They were committed to the belief that church membership should be based on a personal confession of faith followed by believer’s baptism. Their conviction brought them into direct conflict with the Church of England when the group, led by John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, returned to England and started a new church. The group openly asserted every person must have complete spiritual freedom.

I was a student of church history in college and seminary. I believe religious liberty, believer’s baptism, the priesthood of the believer, and the autonomy of the local church may be some of the most significant contributions of Baptists to the life of the Christian church. In a real sense they all speak of freedom, liberty and responsibility.

It seems a little incredible to me that during a year when Baptists are celebrating 400 years of freedom the Missouri Baptist Convention leadership is still committed to making everyone do things their way. After nearly seven years of litigation and rulings by the local and appellate courts that went against them, these leaders are still committed to spend millions of dollars attempting to get control of institutions and ministries that are faithfully carrying out their God-given ministries. Never have they said these institutions and ministries have strayed away from or failed in fulfillment of their mission. They just want to be “in control.” That does not sound like Baptist freedom to me.

The Missouri Baptist Convention also voted over the past few years to require churches to be singly aligned with the MBC. They redefined that to mean several things. First, you have to affiliate with the SBC and only the SBC including financial support of their work. Secondly, your doctrinal statement must meet their standards, which essentially means it is in agreement with the SBC statement. Finally, your church cannot financially support or send representatives to any other national and/or state convention or organization which serves and/or acts as a national and/or state convention. That does not sound like Baptist freedom to me.

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri approaches things in a different way. We have no desire to control institutions or dictate to churches their doctrinal statements, how they relate to other churches, or how they channel their mission gifts. Our first priority is serving churches. While we welcome and encourage churches to support our ministries, our Board of Directors voted several years ago that we would serve any church desiring our help, whether they were supporting our ministries or not. We contribute to all the Missouri Baptist institutions without a desire to control them. We have joined forces with the larger Baptist family through partnerships, collaborative efforts, and memberships in the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. If you are tired of the litigation and denomination organizations that dictate to churches, we invite you to explore a new relationship with our convention. Let’s celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Baptist work by discovering religious liberty again. Please call on us if we can be of help to your church.

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