Even though it was my first trip to Israel, it seemed as if I had been there a thousand times in my imagination. Reading the Bible will never be the same again. Getting to stand in places where key events occurred and share from God’s Word was unforgettable. Our faith is firmly rooted in history. Even those who do not follow Jesus are keenly aware of the key events in his life and gladly show you the places where he walked. I will spend the rest of my life with a new and fresh perspective of the Land where Jesus lived.
These days it is becoming rather unfashionable to actually mention your denomination. Let me clearly say that the denomination is never as important as what is believed by those who are part of it. However, there are some beliefs that arose from Scripture that everyone who attends or belongs to a Baptist church should be aware of. Let me list them.
1. The Bible is the only authority for faith and practice.
Though all Christians honor the bible, Baptists are among those who literally have no authority, council, leader, or sage that directs what they believe or do other than the words of Scripture. This allows us to adjust if we find that we have developed a tradition not well supported by Scripture. It also allows us to make practical modifications in how we practice our faith so long as the practice is in accordance with and not contrary to what we see in the Word.
2. The Church is composed of baptized believers only.
Every word of this statement is supported by Scripture. On the day of Pentecost, when they believed; they were baptized. All through the book of Acts belief preceded baptism. There is not a single instance of infant baptism in Scripture. Therefore we do not baptize our newly born children. We teach them and pray with and for them as they grow and wait for them to choose to follow Jesus to baptize them. No person of any age who has not “believed on the Lord Jesus Christ” and been baptized by immersion is considered a member of a Baptist church. We do not, however, regard Christians of other faiths who do not practice this as being lost. We just don’t believe that they have been properly trained to understand the meaning and message of believer’s baptism. In some cases, I have met those who say to me, “I believe you are correct, but I refuse to break my tradition.” To do this is willful disobedience to a command of Jesus. That concerns me greatly.
3. The priesthood of every believer and the autonomy of every local church.
These two go together because a church made up of believer priests must necessarily be autonomous, that is self governing. Peter himself states this truth in 1 Peter 2:9. Here we are called a “royal priesthood”. No outside body makes decisions for Baptist churches. They work together with other churches solely to the extent that they choose. Believer priests can go to God for themselves and can bring others to God through Jesus Christ. Every member can be an evangelist and missionary for the cause of Christ.
4. The concept of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
This belief was never intended as a means of silencing the church, but rather a means of setting the church at liberty to speak with freedom unencumbered by the state. Even in the American colonies if you lived in Virginia you paid taxes to support the Anglican church. All over the world government and church were entangled. The Baptists were among those who decried this union. We clearly saw in the teachings of Jesus and the practice of the church that the church should not be controlled nor supported by the coercion of the state. When the First Amendment was adopted it was at the insistence of Baptist believers. America’s religious experiment has influence around the world and wherever you find religious freedom you can largely thank baptist believers for its emergence. God planted this truth in Baptist hearts and they raised their voices to be heard in the founding of the United States of America.
None of this is intended as boastful. These are simply historical realities that must not be forgotten.
I once thought of starting a club for procrastinators, but I never got around to it. Procrastination is preparing a sermon while the choir sings. (No, I have not been guilty of this.) Procrastination is filing your taxes on April 15th. Procrastination is running through airports. You could probably add many more items to the list.
On rare occasions I think procrastination might be divinely guided. Just a few short weeks ago, I received a letter from our Texas Baptist Convention that let me know about an effort to rebuild the homes of fifteen pastors and their families who lost their home in the recent typhoon that hit the Philippines. For only 5000 dollars a home could be built. I had intended to bring that up at a Missions Committee meeting, but the agenda was so full I did not do it. I put the matter off. I felt strange about it because it had touched my heart as soon as I learned of it. I remember asking myself why I had not acted with more resolve on this worthwhile project. I knew we could easily be involved. What was causing me to hesitate?
I was recently elected to the Executive Board of our convention. This is a body of leaders from all over Texas that handles business for our convention between annual meetings. In a meeting in late February, they revisited the matter of the damage in the Philippines and showed pictures of the devastation. They also showed pictures of the pastors and families who were left homeless. They reported that seven homes and been financed by churches around the state and they wanted to find support for rebuilding the other eight homes. Once again, I felt sad that I had not acted immediately to be a part of this project. The meeting is a two day meeting. On the second day I was looking over the agenda while we worked our way through, and I noticed that the last item was a time for comments and other miscellaneous remarks. It was as if at that moment the Lord revealed to me his plan. I determined that I would make a comment that Crestview would provide one of the houses for the Philippine pastors and that I hoped others there would consider doing the same. As soon as that moment came in the meeting I ask to be recognized and stated in a matter of fact way what I was confident Crestview would do. I very gently challenged others in the room to follow suit. Within around two minutes, forty thousand dollars was raised in the room and all fifteen homes were financed. A Filipino pastor who serves as our board Vice-President began to weep. Excitement swept the room as we ended on such a high note. In my heart, I knew that I had found the answer to my perplexing procrastination. God had silently asked me to wait so that at the proper time acting would prompt others to act. The hero of our story is never us. The true hero is the Lord. He allows us the privilege of joining him in changing the world. Only eternity will reveal what the acts of love and kindness toward the Philippines may yield. The typhoon brought death and destruction, but this loving assistance will create partnership and praise to the glory of God!
Maybe someday I will get around to starting that procrastinator’s club? Maybe you would like to join? Providing that you can get around to it.
There is a trend at work in the American church that is disturbing to me. Many independent churches and quite a number of Baptist churches do not have membership rosters. This might seem like a little thing, and it is easy to take a spiritual tone and suggest that God knows those who are his, but this trend adds to the lack of accountability and engagement that is so desperately needed in order to be a healthy church. Let me describe real situations in my own community. A family whose home I have personally visited on more than one occasion disappeared from attendance several years ago. I had baptized the children in the home, counseled the head of the household in an important career decision, and called them by name every time I encountered them in the community. When I called to check on them they told me that they were “attending” another church. This church had loud music which the kids loved and a larger youth group etc. I simply told them that I was sad to see them leave, but was glad that they had not simply dropped out. I continued to see them around town. They are still on our roll seven years later. The church they attended does not ever show the courtesy of informing former churches of their pastoral care to families that depart. This is becoming epidemic. So who calls if they stop attending there. Just a few weeks ago that family was back. In following up with them, I discovered that they had indeed dropped out for awhile. (I have permission to tell this story without the names.) When they did drop out, they were never called or even missed by the other church. The children, now in college, to this day have not had a single contact made from the congregation they attended all through high school. Do you see my point?
Now let me say that this same story could be repeated at Crestview. Here is the difference. If they were in a bible study, they would likely be missed and contacted. They would continue to receive mail. They would likely receive email. They might be visited by a visitation team. They could be visited by a staff member. They would never have their names removed from the roster unless they asked to be removed or unless another church ask for confirmation of their former membership due to their involvement elsewhere. What I just described is a process of accountability which safeguards to some extent the phenomena of people dropping out. I estimate there may be more than twenty thousand drop outs living in Georgetown. These are people who once worshiped somewhere with some degree of regularity and now never attend. When I first came to Georgetown, I began to personally visit inactive members. I remember one older couple who informed me that they became discouraged with the church and would not likely be back. I had a pleasant conversation with them and then I said these words, “Even if you never attend, I want you to consider me as your pastor. I am applying for the job. If you need me, please call. Thank you for allowing me to visit with you.” I then had a prayer with them. They were in church the next week and attended until poor health made it impossible. They went on our homebound list and were regularly visited by myself and others until they passed away. What I just described could not happen in many churches today where people are never even enrolled in a concrete way. We need to take membership more seriously.
Can we at least agree that there are some things about God and his ways that are beyond us? For instance, since God gives us prophecies that concern things that will happen in the future that means that he knows how things will turn out. He apparently knew us before creation since the prophets tell us so and since Jeremiah knew he was called when in his mother’s womb. Here is the place where some things break down. Some take these truths to mean that God never had a plan for those who do not believe on Jesus or open their heart to God. I strongly disagree. I base my position on the powerful emotion that is all over Scripture which reveals the heart of a loving God who reaches out to those who turn away. Isaiah says in 65:2, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people.” Here is a question for those who see God as not offering salvation to those who reject. Why would God hold out his hands to people that he decreed from eternity would be damned to hell? I am not suggesting that their rejection took God by surprise. I am simply stating what seems obvious. God is too loving not to reach toward even those that he knows will turn away. They are responsible for their obstinate behavior. They are loved of God. They spurn that love. Some do it knowingly. Some may not really know, but do it in complete ignorance. When Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” What was that about? I simply cannot find the God in the bible that is taught by those who call themselves “Calvinists”. Personally, I am not interested in being called by any name other than the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Christian” will do just fine for me. No disrespect to Calvin, I just think he was a little too determined to define his break with Roman Catholicism. I appreciate his emphasis on the sovereignty of God. However, he should have stopped sooner in his effort to display the ways of God. He got in way over his head. He had no corner on that market. We always do. “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7) The obvious answer should be “no”.