Monday, September 27, 2010

Baptist Historians

Back in the early spring of 2002, I received an email from Buddy Shurden asking if I'd like to participate in a seminar with approximately 15-20 other "younger" Baptist historians. If I said "yes," I committed myself to read several hundred pages of primary source documents from the Baptist tradition in preparation for the seminar which would convene at Mercer University in September of that year.

Although I was busy with many things at the time, I agreed to participate. We just completed our 9th seminar last weekend in Atlanta. Buddy is now retired and no longer meets with us. Our group still meets though. We have added a few other names as some of the original members have had to drop out. But, in all honesty, this has been and continues to be one of the most helpful continuing education experiences of my professional life. We have read and discussed literally thousands of pages of primary source materials from 400 years of the Baptist tradition from both England and America.

We just completed our 9th seminar last weekend in Atlanta. This year we decided as a group to release a document which we hope will inform the public about some of the things we have learned through our reading of these primary sources. Here is the link to the document:

I am so proud to be associated with these historians. They are professional colleagues and I value their individual as well as collective expertise as historians. But the best thing that has happened through these 8 years of working together in this seminar is that we have all become close friends. A sense of community has developed between us. That has made this experience even more beneficial.

Friday, September 10, 2010

CBFNC and Priesthood of the Believer

I have been away from blogging for a while due to being consumed with a long-term writing project. However, I want to return to blogging momentarily to comment on the proposed efforts of CBFNC to revise its foundational statement. In 2007, CBFNC appointed a committee to start the process of revision. The current statement is included here:

The committee has been at work for a several years now and has produced this revision:

Two other Baptist bloggers, Aaron Weaver and Tony Cartledge have each written blogs about this effort and their posts are very insightful and detailed as to the differences, etc. Those blogs can be found here:

I share two concerns about this proposed document. First, I have some questions about including the Apostles Creed (although, curiously, it is not named). While I don't have any difficulty with the Apostles Creed personally, I find it interesting that a group of Baptists who consider themselves to be non-creedal would include a creed in their foundational document. I wonder if the text could be referenced, as the document does with the Baptist confessions that it mentions. But, I question whether the text of the Creed ought to be included and it is unusual for a Baptist confession to include the text of an ancient creed (The Orthodox Creed of 1678 notwithstanding).

Second, and more troubling, I have big problems with leaving out all references to priesthood of the believer, liberty of conscience, etc. This concept is at the very center of the Baptist tradition from my understanding of the primary sources which I have read. It is not some invented concept that Enlightenment-era American Baptists developed. It is the very heart of the tradition from John Smyth to the present. It is clear. Sometimes it is stated more blatantly than at other times. But, it is a thread that runs through all types of Baptists for 4 centuries of our history. It is seen in confessions of faith, writings of Baptist theologians and preachers, documents produced by local churches, and most importantly, the actions of Baptists as they have sought to live and give expression to their faith. How can you talk about salvation in the Baptist experience without starting with a sinner standing alone in fear and trembling before a holy God? What use is it to discuss religious liberty without first starting with an individual conscience opposed to the majority? How can you think of a democratically-run congregation without first starting with an individual conscience? And why encourage discussion in a Sunday School class unless we trust every individual to read the Bible privately and to interpret it as they see fit under the leadership of the Holy Spirit? These are not trivial matters. This is the very core of our tradition as Baptists.

The proposed CBFNC foundational statement needs a robust statement of this concept included. At the very least, they should bring the statement on priesthood of the believer which is in the current foundational statement into the revised version. Perhaps a good compromise would be to bring from the former document the entire section titled, “Our Principles,” which contains statements on the “Centrality and Authority of Scripture,” “Priesthood of All Believers,” “Autonomy of the Local Church,” and “Freedom of Religion.” The document is terribly lacking if something resembling this is not included somewhere. Without it, CBFNC will be saying to the world that we are something very different than what we have been.

The first Southern Baptist Convention meeting I attended as a pastor was in 1988 in San Antonio. I was also a Ph.D student at Baylor and had an interest in Baptist history. I recall the feeling of shock that I and thousands of other Moderates felt as we heard read and then saw passed the infamous resolution on the priesthood of the believer. I remember Randall Lolley’s protest as he led several others to the Alamo where they ceremonially burned their voting ballots in response to this egregiously terrible resolution. The ironic thing now 22 years later is that CBFNC is in danger of doing the same thing that the Fundamentalists did in 1988 to this cherished doctrine. The only difference is that at least the Fundamentalists left the terminology. The committee which has produced this revised document has not even done that!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"This is What a Preacher Looks Like"

Baptist Women in Ministry, an organization for which I have a tremendous amount of respect, sells a T-Shirt with the phrase, "This is What a Preacher Looks Like." I love that slogan. And, it has been promoted by BWIM very well via Facebook.
I teach Religion majors at Campbell University. Many of the students that I teach are female and most of them have a sense that God has called them to ministry. As 18 year olds, they do not know exactly what direction in ministry their calling will take. But, they have a deep sense that God has done something in their lives and following the call to ministry is their way of responding. I am supportive of women who have been called to ministry, whether it be to serve as a parish pastor, a chaplain, youth minister, missionary, or whatever form that call may take.
For the last two years almost, I have been engaged in a project to write the bi-centennial history of First Baptist Church in Raleigh. I am currently working through the period from 1911-1938. Today, I was reading old WMU minutes and came across an amazing entry from October 2nd, 1916. During the meeting on that day, Sallie Bailie Jones, one of the most important WMU leaders in the South in the early 20th century, spoke on the subject of "Women in Christianity." Listen to these words:
“Woman was created man’s equal and a high standard for womanhood was given in the Old Testament. Miriam, the sister of Moses, who led her people was as divinely appointed as Moses, and Deborah, the prophetess was the first woman to rule a nation by divine appointment. With the coming of Christ there came a higher life for women and the gospel of a risen Christ was first heard by the disciples from Mary Magdalene."
Now, this is not from the mouth of some wild-eyed radical feminist. This is from the Woman's Missionary Union that was part of one of the most prominent churches in the Southern Baptist Convention at the time. So, when some conservatives today say that it is God's intention that the woman should be "submissive" to the man, I think they would have a hard time convincing Sallie Bailie Jones of that!
"This is What a Preacher looks like!!"