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The Baptist soul. (An Executive Note).

Historic Baptist identity faces unparalleled challenges today. Chiseled out of persecution in the 1600s, that identity emerged from and survived incredible odds.

Today, the battles continue. Numerous and dangerous internal factors puncture the Baptist soul. Consider the following:

* Baptizing three- and four-year-olds counters believer's baptism.

* Creedalizing confessions of faith contradicts voluntarism.

* Stifling dissent violates liberty of conscience.

* Advancing civil religion negates separation of church and state.

* Failing to educate new Christians neutralizes a regenerate church membership.

* Applying excessive Calvinism harms missions and evangelism.

* Exaggerating pastoral authority downplays the priesthood of all believers.

* Exalting biblical inerrancy works against the Lordship of Christ.

Why do Baptists do these things to one another and to their historic Ideals--especially since those convictions were hammered out on the anvil of personal sacrifice in the 1600s? Is it apathy? The need to control? The urge to make church statistics look better? Inadequate theological education? Personality conflict and/or disorder? Aberrations in leadership styles? The failure of denominational publishing houses to inject more extensive and accurate approaches to Baptist heritage into curriculum? The belief that being Baptist does not matter much anymore? Or a mixture of these and/or other reasons?

Where is the prophetic voice in Baptist life today? Using Scripture, Roger Williams challenged the very fabric of New England religion with its "forced rape" of the faith of Indians, its requirement that infants be baptized, and its blatant intolerance of other expressions of spirituality, including that of Baptists. Like the prophet Amos, Williams applied the word of the Lord to critical situations in which misguided forces of church and state manipulated others for personal and corporate good and denied them their God-given freedom.

Perhaps it's time to revisit the Baptist soul epitomized in persecuted Colonial Baptists like Roger Williams, John Clarke, and Obadiah Holmes. Radicality, serious commitment to the claims of Christ, and hearty defense of what is biblically right reside in the core of historic Baptist identity. Those are the centers of action where Baptists have had their finest hours.

Perhaps it's time for Baptist pastors to study the Bible and Baptist history simultaneously, to resurrect the dominant emphasis on liberty in both, and to proclaim such freedom with prophetic urgency.

Perhaps it's time for Baptist historians to jump off the fences of neutrality into the trenches of advocacy.

Perhaps it's time for Baptist theologians to study the theology of the founders of the Baptist experience, explore the cracks in creedalism, and reconstruct positive patterns of confessionalism.

Should anyone conclude that this liberty-thrusted article abandons the responsibility side of Baptist life, let me hasten to add that I have thoroughly studied the importance of accountability in the Baptist experience. I have written one book on Baptist church covenants, another on the responsibilities of church membership, and many articles on church discipline and regenerate church membership. Granted, these are critical concerns of the Baptist story. I believe in duty. But I am 100 percent convinced that the foremost contributions of Baptists to world civilization lie in the realm of defending freedom in faith for everyone.

Charles W. Deweese Executive Director-Treasurer Baptist History and Heritage Society
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Article Details
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Author:Deweese, Charles W.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:520
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