|Another Reason Why I Am Glad I Am a Baptist!|
By Tony Pappas
I read an article recently that described a controversy in a certain denomination. That body is hierarchically organized, being governed by an international assembly which, by majority vote, sets rules (read "laws"). These laws are then incumbent on every congregation and clergy, and I suppose, lay person. If one disagrees with a ruling, here are the options:
We Baptists have a different way of hearing and responding to God's voice, and we believe with good Biblical warrant. We label these as "soul responsibility" and "congregational autonomy." Each Baptist is enjoined to wrestle with the Scripture, wait on the Holy Spirit, seek counsel, consider alternative thoughts, and then come to conviction in his or her own heart and mind about what is God's truth and call.
- Persuade the assembly to reverse itself. ("What? and admit we misheard the voice of God!")
- Persuade the assembly to declare itself non-authoritative by allowing local variations. ("What? and let the masses rule?")
- Dissenters could split from the majority and form their own assembly (until another controversy comes along!).
- Hope for a miraculous conversion of the "other guys."
And congregations are likewise responsible to determine their own convictions and calling, only assisted by sister churches and denominational helpers. So what happens if we disagree? Well…
Nope, it isn't always easy to be a Baptist. But I am glad that God trusts in me and in you enough to let us work out faithfulness face to face!
- We try not to vote. Voting creates winners and losers and seems to reveal which side is better at generating political power than God's truth! I often quip that in the one instance of voting in scripture, the spies voted 10 to 2 to defy God's will and it took 40 years (and a whole new generation) to set things aright!
- We don't invoke positional, denominational authority. I am jokingly referred to as "the Baptist bishop," and that is correct, it is a joke!! I have neither the fancy hat nor the power to compel anyone or any congregation to any action or belief. The power of the office of the Executive Minister is persuasive power. Of course, to be persuaded implies that folk and churches are open to inputs, and talking together.
- So...we talk with one another. Not at one another. Not over one another. Not avoiding the troublesome other. We talk with one another to discern their heart, their perspective and what God may be telling them and us through them!
Don't know how to do this? Then call Rev. Mike Harvey, the executive director of the Council of Baptist Ministers in Massachusetts. He would be delighted to train you and your fellow members in the dialogue process, which is simply a fancy phrase for talking with one another as Christians! Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (508) 868-3358.
- We seek reconciliation. If the breach is large, and conflict and hostility are present, then we learn Christian principles of peace making! How will we be salt and light in an insipid, dark world, if we can't work through our differences? Want to learn how? Call Rev. Roger Haber to learn Christ honoring, peacemaking skills. Roger can be reached at email@example.com or (508) 287-0665.
Tony Pappas is the executive minister of The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org