Since I retired as a pastor two years ago I am often asked what, if anything, I am doing. I explain I am doing a little teaching, writing, counseling, and last but not least serving (part-time) as the associational missionary for our Pine Mountain Baptist Association.
The last part of the answer has engendered a question or two from people who do not know much about Baptists and our Baptist associations; therefore, my “hand out card” can arouse curiosity. First, “Why are you a card carrying Baptist?”
This question brings back many fond memories of my days in Connecticut when many, if not most ,people could not quite understand how a person with a British accent could be not only be a Baptist, but a Southern Baptist. Of course, I have always been a born and bred “southerner,” first in southern England and then immigrating with my family to southern America! I love the opportunity to talk about why I am a Baptist, and specifically a Southern Baptist! I love being a Southern Baptist who, even in the South, is finding himself swimming against the current of both secularism and non-denominationalism (if not anti-denominationalism)!
For me being a Baptist, a Southern Baptist, is both biblical and personal. A couple of weeks ago I was at a Gridiron meeting in LaGrange where I serve as chaplain. I teased two of our local judges, one a Methodist and the other a Presbyterian, expressing tongue-in-cheek my belief that they ought to become Baptists. After all, Jesus was a Baptist and I could prove it: He was baptized by John the … Baptist.
At the start of the Protestant Reformation that began 500 years ago tomorrow, there was a group of Christians who were turned off by the organized church of their day. The Catholic Church had lost much of the simplicity and spirituality, humility, and honesty, love and grace of the original Church that Jesus founded 1,500 years previously. These Christians did not just want to “reform” the Catholic Church but to “return” to the simplicity and spirituality, humility and honesty, love and grace of the Church we read about in the New Testament.
They wanted to follow “the original recipe for a healthy and happy church” spelled out in the Book of Acts 2:36-47. Like Peter in verses 36-38, these Christians — who eventually became known as Baptists — believed that when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins we need to do something life-changing. That is in the words of Peter to “repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
We read in verse 41 how 3,000 people responded to his invitation. We Baptists believe every worship service should end with an Invitation. We read in verses 42-47 how those who became Christians and joined this First Church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (which became the New Testament that was combined with the Old Testament and) to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear (a sense of awe) came over everyone, and many wonders (miracles) and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together …”
There was a real sense of oneness in which “they devoted themselves to meeting together — with a joyous and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.”
These early Christians did not just (A) Admit their sins, (B)Believe in Christ, and (C) Commit to burying their sins and beginning a new Christ-centered life symbolized by baptism, but they believed in (D) Devoting themselves to disciplined discipleship that involves daily prayer and Bible reading, weekly worship and fellowship, regular sharing and serving.
This “original recipe” remains the heart, soul, mind, and body of most Southern Baptist churches that remain a spiritual sanctuary for us in an increasingly troubled, terrorized, and turbulent world! I love our churches, and can’t imagine not spending my remaining ministry and life within such churches, associations, and state and national mission boards.
Next time I will share my answer to this second question: Why do you believe in associations (and state mission boards)?