“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
--2 Corinthians 3:17
This month, on August 18 and 25 during Sunday School, Annie and I will be talking to young people about baptism and church membership. I thought that maybe a review of what “Baptist” is and means would be good for all of us! . . .
Just remember one word: FREEDOM
In his book The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, Dr. Walter B. Shurden names the four large areas of Baptist freedom. They are:
1. Bible Freedom,
2. Soul Freedom,
3. Church Freedom,
4. Religious Freedom.
Bible Freedom is the right and responsibility of every person to study and learn from the Bible. We believe the Bible to be inspired and authoritative, but it is God’s own Spirit, through the words of Scripture, which ultimately teaches and leads.
So, we recognize we have responsibility to read and study the Bible. This is why our mission statement in-cludes “to study the Bible as our guide to faith and practice” and why we energetically promote Bible study groups and regular Sunday School participation. It is also why so much of every worship service is based on Scripture.
Baptists believe that no one can do our thinking for us. Each of us must study and question and grapple with life and God and the Bible to hear God's voice. That is why Baptists have always emphasized Christian educa-tion and higher education. We regard ourselves as “life-long learners” (the biblical word is “disciples”). This is why we love spiritual conversations, personal testimonies, the interchange of ideas, questions and creative thinking.
Soul Freedom is the conviction that each of us has direct, personal access to God. No pope, no priest, no bishop, no pastor, no creed, no government, no organized church has the authority to dictate nor to legislate what one must believe.
Soul Freedom maintains that God encounters each of us personally without deception, coercion, or force. Every human being carries the image of God. This image makes each of us competent and capable of interact-ing with God, of learning about God, of making our own spiritual and moral decisions.
This is why Baptists do not baptize infants or young children whose spiritual identity and maturity are still un-derdeveloped. Soul freedom is the freedom to choose one’s faith. Yet, in order to make our best decisions about God, Jesus, and faith, we need maturity and education.
And, we need each other to help us see around and past our own personal “filters” and biases.
Church Freedom is the responsibility to gather with other Christians in an intentional and voluntary community of faith and action, what we call “church.”
We choose freely to come together with each other and with other congregations. FEBC is part of the North-umberland Baptist Association of the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware (ABCOPAD) and we are part of the American Baptist Churches USA (ABC-USA).
But we are also autonomous (self-governing). FEBC has no church hierarchy (such as a presbytery or episco-pacy or diocese) above us that oversees or dictates what we believe, how we operate, what property and ser-vices we shall purchase, which leaders we shall have, what worship services and ministries we will sponsor and conduct. All operational decisions for the church are made by us and only by us, the members of the church.
This means we all share with one another the privilege and responsibility of church leadership, of congrega-tional decision-making, of funding our church income and footing the expenses. This is why we conduct monthly Board meetings and periodic Congregational meetings, including each Annual Meeting to approve a new annual budget. This is why we recruit each other to serve in various capacities in the church.
Religious freedom states that all people have the right to conduct, within the laws of the land, any or no religious life as they see fit, without persecution or penalty.
Today we are sometimes hearing “religious freedom” as the justification for not abiding by civil rights legisla-tion, but this is a misrepresentation and misapplication of this principle. Religious freedom has always meant the freedom to conduct religious practices (prayer, baptism, worship, pacifism) free of censure or penalty or legal force.
The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution guarantees this freedom in our country. In fact, it was John Leland and other Baptists of the early Virginia colony who were instrumental in making this the first of our Bill of Rights. At that time, Baptists were a persecuted minority in America.
Therefore, we defend the right of religious freedom for all people and all faiths. But religious freedom is also limited by the rights and welfare of others in our community. Religious freedom is never a license to hurt others.
Bible Freedom, Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, Religious Freedom. If you can remember those, you have a solid handle on what it means to be a Baptist.
See you on Sunday!