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Blog // Thoughts
July 28, 2006

Baptist Ecclesiology – The Odd One Out

Recently I commented upon piece, written sometime back, entitled ‚ÄúBaptist Ecclesiology, Why Bother?‚Äù Here is the first installment, with more to follow over the next few weeks. Nothing inspired greater cynicism during my theological college years than attending a course called ‚ÄúBaptist Distinctives.‚Äù The problem was not the subject matter, which I loved; nor the […]

Recently I commented upon piece, written sometime back, entitled “Baptist Ecclesiology, Why Bother?” Here is the first installment, with more to follow over the next few weeks.

Nothing inspired greater cynicism during my theological college years than attending a course called “Baptist Distinctives.” The problem was not the subject matter, which I loved; nor the teacher, who was dutifully competent. Rather, it was my fellow students, who made no secret that they were only taking the course because it was compulsory for ordination and that despite their immanent future in full-time baptist ministry, they held at best scant regard many of the principles they were learning and at worst, open contempt.

It was quite obvious that for most of my contemporaries, being Baptist was secondary or even inconsequential to their theological and ecclesiological identity. At the time, I simply didn’t understand this instantiation of post-denominationalism. For me, being Baptist had been an active choice when I became a Christian. I had considered whether to return to my Catholic roots, or whether to follow my good friends into Anglicanism (which appealed to me intellectually), but in the end chose, on principle to go towards the Baptist version of faith. In subsequent critical moments before entering the ministry, I had re-chosen that path.

Call it extreme naivete, but back then I thought such an in-principle commitment would have put me in in the statistical centre of my class. In reality it made me an outrider. Many of my fellow students were Baptists-by-chance, rather than Baptists-by choice. Their Baptist-ness had followed family involvement, peer-curiosity, ministry opportunity or something else than rode the line between luck and providence.

to be continued…

[tags] Baptist, Ecclesiology [/tags]

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11
Responses
John Smulo 16 years ago

As someone who took this subject at the same theological college about 2-3 years after you, I found myself somewhere in between where the majority of the class was and you were, in terms of motivation. When living in Australia, the Baptist denomination was the only one I could have been a part of with a (semi) clear conscience, for distinctive reasons, but also for praxis reasons.

Though at the same time, I always felt that I was a Baptist pastor because that is where God had me. I had never stepped into a Baptist church while living in America, and I always promised myself I would never be a part of a Baptist church if I were ever to move back to America (yeah, didn’t exactly work out that way). Both thoughts probably require a bit more reflection. I think my struggle has been not so much with Baptist distinctives as a whole, but particularly Baptist church government, which has caused serious grief and pain to many.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Thanks for the comments John. One of the things I find myself thinking a lot about these days is the gulf between the idea of Baptist Church and the reality of Baptist church. Something I come to a little later in this story (the post after next in this series, I think), is the realisation of the limitiations of the ideal in some very harsh experiences of church, both personal, and of others.

Toni 16 years ago

John – I find that a fascinating comment.

I grew up in a baptist church in England, and having experienced the life of it, wanted to never be part of a baptist church again. I like the concepts behind some of the fundamentals of it (like the body having the mind of Christ) but that can be plain wrong without the body submitting itself to the authority of leadership.

For the last 25 years I’ve been part of 2 community churches and find that church model to be the closest to what seems to me to be biblical Christianity. Definitely doesn’t work for everyone though.

John Smulo 16 years ago

Fernando, I like the ideal. But I often have been upset by the outworking of the ideal in everyday life. For example, I recently received an email from a good friend who’s a pastor in Australia who recently left a church because of some individuals who treated him unjustly and forced him to resign, making him a scapegoat in a particular situation he wasn’t at fault with. These situations harm whole families. Though I like the ideal and what it represents, there’s something broken with congregational government, but I don’t have an alternative “ideal” I have less struggles with.

John Smulo 16 years ago

Toni, I sympathize with your struggles. I’m glad you’ve found a positive environment to be a part of for the last 25 years!

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Toni and John, I wish it were different but I simply cannot argue with the reality you guys are outlining. There are cold brutal stories that need to be told. One thing I come to in the next bit of this piece is the experience of listening to ex-Baptists talk about their switch away during my time in Chaplaincy in London.

Laura 16 years ago

As a baptist of the American variety, currently working through issues raised by an extreme congregational ecclesiology (with which I agree, though would add a clearn universal church ecclesiology–often neglected in baptist circles), I look forward to reading this series.

Toni 16 years ago

Actually Fern I’m reminded of the scripture “love covers a multitude of sins”. As far as possible I’d rather forget the things that weren’t right (guilty of a fair number myself) and move a bit further into mercy and grace.

royd 16 years ago

Fernando,
I think it was Martin Marty who talked about the “Baptistification of America…” the idea that all of the denominations in the US were moving towards a Baptist polity – local church autonomy, soul freedom, separation of church and state, lack of creeds… The problem is that while the Presbyterians and the Methodists and even the Roman Catholics were trying to act like Baptists, the Baptists were/are turning away from their distinctives and embracing a more hierarchical style.
FWIW, I too am a Baptist by choice. I believe those Baptists distinctives position that movement in the best place to minister in a post-modern world (to the degree that any denomination can)
I look forward to reading more of what you have to say.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Thanks for the comments everyone, the next in series should be up by tommorrow.

Shaun 15 years ago

i was born and raised in a baptist church. i was saved there when i was nine. (26 now). the older i got u started searching the truth about my faaith and all that it consists. as i grew and studied, the biblical point of view is that of the SBC. soome people look at an organization like that and all they see are endless dabates on this and that. usually those people are the ones that just look at the surface and usse that as an excuse as to not get involved. if they see something wrong they should not criticize and run but stay and do something. we have so many young people today that don’t realize how important the SBC is and that puts a more difficult strain on it every year. God will protect the SBC if it is supposed to be here but if someone passes up the opportunity to support such a cause they will miss out on God’s blessing. the troubles with each individual church and pastor’s should not be a surprise. in Romans 5:3-5 “And not only this, but we also rejoice in our tribulations, knowing that tribulations bring perserverance, and perseverance proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappointbecause the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Sprit who was given to us.”
we are all promised tribulation, it is how we respond that shows our character.

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