More than one person who has gotten to know us has asked whether that's really a good idea. Isn't the word “Baptist” a pretty damaged shingle to be hanging out if we value contact with people who aren't sure they like or need church at all? It's a good question. If you played word associations for “Baptist” in the general population you'd probably wait a while before anyone came up with “open-minded” …...or “artistic.”.....or “fun” for that matter. The Southern Baptist Convention is not going to change their name. So maybe we should.
But the Baptist way means a lot to us. We embrace the radical paradigm for life together that Baptists pioneered. Even if we don't endorse what the loudest Baptist voices may have done with it.
We embrace it because:
We want to think critically about religion - especially our own- but want it to touch our hearts and acts as well as our heads. The freedom of a Baptist congregation from any creed or institutional hierarchy makes space for open questions and vigorous discussion. We embrace the Baptist commitment to search the scriptures for ourselves.
To us, learning to love well in the way of Jesus is more important than your church or non-church background, what kind of language you use, what gender your partner is, or how you dress. Baptists are known for loving Jesus and the Bible. They can be obnoxious about it. But we have that love affair too. It's a stormy one. It's a gift we keep receiving, not a message we're trying to sell or an answer we have figured out. We don't own Christ, but we're trying to follow him.
We are not bound to any single form of worship, including a “Baptist” one! The freedom of a Baptist congregation means that we can draw on all strands of the Christian tradition, ancient and new, and any sources of wider wisdom as we grow our worship and life together.
Baptists were long persecuted by governments and other churches, and became advocates of religious liberty for all. We hope that history can help us learn to identify with the oppressed and the scapegoated in our times, to witness to the way of justice and peace.
Baptists are famously suspicious of the "institutional church," (see above) , and that seems right for a time when the structures and conventions of churches feel like barriers to many people. We're seeking to build relationships and experience transformation more than to run programs or support an institution.
We feel that this is a time for innovation and new life in the churches. In the Baptist way, each local congregation has the charge and the chance to reinvent church anew for itself, just as faith has to be claimed again by each generation.
We value these things because they help us become the kind of community and people we want to be. We are thankful to those who passed them on to us. With the label or without, these are things we will keep.
-- Mark Heim