Right before Christmas I received an email from a student at Princeton who grew up during my pastorate in LaGrange. Thankfully, she is not on the verge of giving up her Christian faith, as do many college students. She is, however, on the verge of changing denominations and was asking me the question: “Why Should I Stay a Baptist?”
We are living in a time when born-and-bred Baptists are being tempted to leave their denominational roots. Perhaps more tempting than another denomination for some is the non-denominational churches that have lured more and more singles and young families. A few weeks ago a young Baptist deacon mentioned he and his wife were visiting a non-denominational church. How do we as Baptists cope with this increasingly aggressive and successful proselytism of our Baptist flock?
May I answer this question from a personal and pastoral viewpoint! I was not a born-and-bred Baptist in England. My parents were lapsed Congregationalists from northern England who had drifted from the Church when they moved to London during the Great Depression and then went through World War II and the London Blitz. When they immigrated to America they settled in not only the Bible Belt but the “Land of Baptists.” My early experiences in the Tennessee mountains continue to confirm my Baptist identity and why I can answer the above question with passion and conviction!
First, Southern Baptists are Bible People! My first experience attending a Baptist church included Vacation Bible School and Sunday School, where we opened and used our Bibles; Church Training, where we competed in Bible Drills; and worship in a sanctuary with an open Bible on the communion table and a pastor who preached from the Bible.
We believe in trusting and obeying what the Bible says, even when it is politically incorrect! This commitment to the Bible as God’s Word has kept Southern Baptists from straying off course into a quagmire of moral and spiritual confusion.
Second, Southern Baptists are Mission People – committed to carrying out the Great Commission as spelled out in the Matthew 28:16-20. How can churches help Christians be less self-centered if they themselves are self-centered? Too often many new churches do not budget for and support missions! Many “cut out” mission programs in favor of whatever most attracts people to them.
We Southern Baptists are constantly reminded of the importance of “coming together” to support missions throughout the world. We seek to keep the self-sacrificing spirit of the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon, and Annie Armstrong alive, reminding us of how Christ came to us and sacrificed Himself for us so that we might reach beyond ourselves to embrace others with His Amazing Grace!
Third, Southern Baptists are, first and foremost, Born Again People! We know that we cannot save ourselves no matter how good we may try to be. We are saved by the Grace of God and it is only His gracious goodness, unconditional love, and unmerited forgiveness that can turn us inside out and right-side up! As Jesus said, we must be born again! His Spirit must become a part of us, not only inspiring us to do what is righteous, but empowering us to do it!
The Apostle Paul said it so well in Ephesians 2:8-10: “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works that no one can boast. For we are His creation ….”
I am thankful to be a part of Southern Baptists who are Bible, Mission, Born Again People! I am aware of some other Christian churches and denominations that would describe themselves in these terms, but I know of none that would lure me to stop being a Baptist. Some have a less biblical, though historical, form of baptism while others have a less democratic polity. We have every reason to stay in a Southern Baptist church where the Bible is taught and preached, Missions are promoted and supported, and Born Again People are encouraging and equipping one another to be witnesses for Christ.