Baptist identity in a post-denominational age

Baptist identity in a post-denominational age

Paul Hobson, the Baptist Times - October 04, 2016

Reflections on Baptist identity were offered on each day of the 2016 annual council of the European Baptist Federation.

The Baptist way of being church

Thursday saw Estonian theologian Toivo Pilli speak about the Baptist way of doing church. It was he said, based on Jesus’s statement in Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Jesus is in the midst of us, and Baptists believe the church is constituted by Jesus, he explained. According to Baptist convictions, it’s not the presence of a Bishop that exclusively mediates Christ, “it’s the networking and relationship of disciples…. making decisions together, seeking to be under the rule of Christ.”

This way of church, an interdependent community, could make an impact on our current individualistic culture, he said, encouraging delegates to “refresh it, so it is shining again.” ‘This model of church is part of our DNA.’

He also cautioned that God’s work, God’s Kingdom is ‘larger than our story.’

Jesus Christ ‘is not a Baptist’. He constitutes the church. We have to find common ground with our Christian brothers and sisters.

A Baptist understanding of sharing in God's mission

David and Goliath is a missional story which has much to teach much about healthy and unhealthy mission.

Shane McNary of the Co-operative Baptist Fellowship, and based in Slovakia, unpacked the familiar story during a reflection on a Baptist understanding of sharing in God’s mission on Friday morning.

Citing the fact that David did not use Saul’s armour; Shane underlined the importance of contextualising mission to the local context. The armour didn’t fit and therefore wasn’t right for David. Yet, we’ve often been guilty of ‘putting Saul’s armour on David,’ said Shane. ‘If it works in Bristol, then it’s good for Bucharest.’ We need to adapt to the context.

And this involves using local resources, just as David did in picking up the pebbles to defeat Goliath. The shift to local resources represents an opportunity for Baptists, Shane said – ‘an opportunity to consider how blessed many of us are with an obscene storehouse of goods.’

Thirdly, the relationship between David and Jonathan provides a context for how we should relate with each other.

‘The highest mission service we as Baptists can give is when we allow our lives to be bound up with others; called it love, community… messy, covenantal relationships.’

Shane moved on to reflect whether today’s interconnected world is an opportunity for Baptists to create community. Post modern, gathered community connects in coffee shops, pubs and streets, he said: they don’t need a building.

It’s the loss of centre that distresses us the most – but the centre is not a building, Shane said. Jesus Christ binds us together. What would happen if your church nurtures locally formed small groups, that are multi cultural, denominational – seeking the Lord together. Could Baptists form new, monastic communities?

He then spoke about migration, stating that God’s purpose of humanity is diversity. The various cultures were not subsumed at Pentecost. Refusing to accept the other is rejecting God’s way of revealing himself to us.

Until we learn to see the image of God, in others and hear from their perspective, our understanding of God is not complete. Therefore in diversity we get a fuller picture of who God is.

All the reflections will be uploaded to the European Baptist Federation website.

This story first appeared on the website of the Baptist Times and is used with permission.