I was saved in 1977. To the dismay of many of my Founders' brothers, yes I walked the aisle and filled out a card in response to an invitation the Pastor offered at the service's end. However, I did not think, even at such an elementary stage of belief, the card added anything significant to my salvation experience; nor certainly did I remotely believe I was saved because I signed my name.
Indeed I have still yet to meet, after thirty-one years a member in a Southern Baptist Church, the phantom person who believes himself saved because he walked the aisle and signed a card. Perhaps there is such widespread deception out there as we're repeatedly informed. I've just never encountered it.
Thirty-one years in a Southern Baptist community of belief is not all that long, of course. Many who read this may, in fact, have been saved, baptized and a member of a like faith and order Church many years beyond that. Know, though, attending a Southern Baptist Church is not my first rendezvous with faith communities.
As a little boy, I attended a Nazarene Church, which, by the way, was the first exposure I had to the Gospel. The Nazarene Church is a delightful group of believing people. I shall never forget my experiences there as a young renegade whose sole delight was sinning but who observed "sanctified life" in Jesus Christ to be exemplar.
Though obviously influenced in many ways by the Gospel as a child, it was not until I was grown and married I discovered forgiveness of sin and the new life given in Jesus Christ. It was at a Southern Baptist Church. And being saved in a Southern Baptist Church did nothing to squelch my appreciation for the Nazarenes where I first heard of The Nazarene.
Nor did the fact that I was called to preach the Gospel while member of a Southern Baptist Church. Nor did the fact that I attended a Southern Baptist school--Boyce Bible School--turn me to preach against the Nazarene Church.
Later, after finishing university, and going on to higher education in a Southern Baptist seminary, I did not lose my appreciation for Nazarene people. They still are dear to me.
And, even now, after thirty-one years a believer; a believer embedded in a Southern Baptist Church; a believer with about twenty-four of those thirty-one years in a Southern Baptist pulpit, Sunday after Sunday proclaiming the Gospel that saved me in 1977...Still, I lose not my appreciation for the Nazarene Church.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the seed of the Gospel that later sprang to life in me and captured me for His Kingdom was partially sown there by Brother O. J. Osbourne, Pastor for many years, of the Vaughn Memorial Nazarene Church in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.
Through the years as Pastor of a Southern Baptist Church, I have been both advocate and practitioner for cooperating with other evangelical denominations. I have belonged to local ministerial alliances almost in every place I've served.
One of my best friends in one field was the local Methodist pastor. We had some lively exchanges--he a confident Arminian and me a cocky Calvinist. But friends we were. I preached in his Church and he in mine. It was the way of the county seat culture.
The bit of testimony I offer above is to simply frame next what I think deeply needs to be said:
While I have no reservations whatsoever in putting my arm around people of other persuasions than Baptist within the Christian family, without hesitation calling them my brother or my sister in Christ, I'll be darned if I am going to sit back and watch Baptist identity get swallowed up in evangelical anonymity.
There seems to be a strong urge of many Baptists today to lay aside our heritage as Baptists, minimize as much as possible any distinctive we may possess as Baptist and simply blend our Baptist identity into an evangelical pot of ecumenical stew served up without doctrinal distinction to a hungry world.
Granted there are many places this stew may be a good dish to serve. There are cultural issues upon which we may all agree. There are social problems we may, arm in arm, address and commit to eradicate.
Even more, there are evangelistic projects we may all endorse and with which we may fully cooperate--prayerfully and monetarily. Nonetheless, there is a limit to this cooperation. Cooperation must end where our bedrock convictions are compromised.
From my perspective, I see absolutely no hope--nor do I presently desire one--that we may plant Churches together with other evangelical groups. Baptist ecclesiology is much too potent an ingredient to add to any ecumenical stew. Our understanding of the Church--at least, historically speaking--overwhelms the stew.
Indeed, all we would do, from other evangelical perspectives, is contaminate the stew due to our overpowering flavor. That is, we would insist that the Church--were we to plant it together with other evangelicals--would look like a Baptist Church. Why? Because, from a Baptist standpoint, a Baptist Church is the closest thing going on in the world today to a New Testament Church.
I know that may shock my nonBaptist readers--not to mention the evangelical anonymity advocates who are housed in Baptist dwellings, work for Baptist agencies, learn in Baptist schools, all the while bleeding out the Baptist name. In fact, it may disappoint them. May I say two things here?
First, no intention exists to either shock or disappoint and certainly not to offend. I am only stating what I believe factually is the case and what I believe the historical reality to be.
Moreover, I am verbally lamenting my own sense that there is unrest in certain quarters of my community of faith that Baptist distinctiveness is either outdated, unneeded or worst still, unscriptural. This grieves me to the deepest core.
Secondly, why it would surprise anyone that Baptists believe their ecclesiology is spot on with the New Testament revelation is itself the surprise of the hour. Even more surprising, at least to me, is why one from another evangelical group would not possess identical convictions to the Baptist about his/her own denominational ecclesiology.
If one possesses doubts about his/her faith group, is there no spiritual duty to either inquire, reform or depart? How one could passively be content with doubts about the Biblical integrity of one's faith community is a condition to which I hope, under God, I never adapt.
Furthermore, if one is frivolous toward the belief system of one's spiritual community, it remains extremely difficult for me to take seriously their objection that I must not be forged in mine. After all, our evangelical brothers' doubt that their Church possesses the true ethos of New Testament ecclesiology cannot count against Baptists' deeply embedded conviction that their understanding of ecclesiology does. Their crisis does not cancel our conviction.
I end this first part with the words of the first writing Southern Baptist theologian, J. L. Dagg. In the first written Baptist ecclesiology in America, Dagg wrote in the final section entitled "Duty of Baptists" these unforgettable words:
Various schemes have been proposed by the wisdom of men for amalgamating the different Christian denominations. All these originate in the erroneous conception that the unity of the universal church must be found in external organization...All these schemes of amalgamation are inconsistent with the Baptist faith.
We seek spiritual unity. We would have every individual to stand on Bible ground, and to take his position there, in the unbiased exercise of his own judgment and conscience. There we strive to take our position; and there, and there only, we invite our brethren of all denominations to meet us...
We love them for Christ's sake; and we expect to unite with them in his praise through eternal ages. We are one with them in spirit, though we cannot conform to their usages in any particular in which they deviate from the Bible... And if they sometimes misunderstand our motives, and misjudge our actions, it is our consolation that our divine Master approves; and that they also will approve, when we shall hereafter meet them in his presence (all emphasis mine).
With that, I am...