Summary: Baptists have brought distinctive truth to the circle of the evangelical faith. However, there appears to be a danger of being of losing the Baptist identify which must be recognised and resisted.
CHALLENGES FACING BAPTISTS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
What makes a Baptist a Baptist? The question is central to the search for Baptist identity. There is no individual Baptist without a Baptist congregation. Staunch advocates of believers’ church, Baptists must answer this question of identity together, as well as individually. Eventually, the answer to this question will shape our churches, our denominational affiliations, and every aspect of our work together.
I observe that the truths which define us as Baptists are sadly neglected today. Even denominational leaders and seminary instructors have permitted a dilution of Baptist theology during the past several years. This is a trend which concerns me deeply, and which should concern each of us both as Christians and as seekers of truth.
The current generation of Baptists knows little about Baptist doctrine. Consequently, contemporary Baptists invest considerable energies searching for some solid ground on which they can base their lives and Christian discipleship. Tragically, this statement is made regarding denominational leaders and teachers in our theological institutions. If those supposed to provide leadership prove to be ignorant of the doctrines Baptist have championed, should we marvel that those occupying the pews of our churches know so little concerning this rich heritage?
The tragedy of this censure is that our Baptist people are joining with non-Baptist evangelicals in a virtual new evangelical ecumenism leading to a number of novel ministry ventures that are not always beneficial to spiritual health of the congregation. Areas of commonality and agreement have been identified with many of these evangelical Christians; and while this trend has positive elements, we have tended to neglect the traits that have forged our unique theological identity and shaped our mission and our passion in pursuing many of these ventures.
The result of this dilution of Baptist doctrine is that we have lost the power of our convictions and too often lost even our identity as a historic people. If we are truly identical to all the other communions, then let us cease clinging to our identity and join with whoever gives us the best deal. However, if we possess distinctive truths which mark us as a people, and if those distinctive truths make us the people we admire historically, then let us return to those truths and proudly proclaim them. Our endeavour is not to proselytise non-Baptists to become Baptists, but it is to clearly articulate truths which may otherwise be neglected to the detriment of the world in which we live.