With most words, “context” determines a lot of what it communicates.  For anthropological reasons, even sociological reasons, “tribe” communicates a historic cultural analysis of a peoples defining determining and identifying common traits, behaviours and characteristics.  The application is often put to some exotic group far from present North American experience.  I don’t want to do that today.  I want to use “tribe” to describe the ecclesiasticall group I am part of—the tribe “Baptist”. 

 

 

 

I read recently that 2009 is the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement—in the world.  I smile.  Some of my friends who are Baptists trace their lineage back to a dissenter named “John” but I digress.  Baptists find their most modern incarnation in a group of Christian believers who disagreed with the boundaries (and behaviours) of the state church of their particular country (think various countries in Europe here).   Rather than comply with a church that was institutionalized and habituated into routine Christian practices, dissenters desired a rich, moist, personal faith experience.  They began to read the New Testament for themselves and took a literal understanding of faith as a personal experience.  They read that baptism was not placed on anyone in the New Testament but that it was in response to faith—“they believed and were baptized”.  So, a new tribe of Christians evolved—Baptists.  They were marked by the fact that they recanted their infant baptism and refused to baptise their children.  End result—nasty divisions, painful encounters, even death.  When you start playing a game and quit playing by the rules of the majority you put yourself in peril with the majority.  They gathered themselves together around the shared experience of Christ, lived out in the rite of believer’s baptism. 

 

 

Historically, Baptists are not a monolithic bunch.  Here’s why—

 

 

  1. Baptists emphasize the “priesthood of all believers”.  No one is above you in your faith, and no one is beneath you. We all have direct access to the Saviour.  As a result, individual Christians have equal access to the guiding, developing, directing hand of Jesus.  It makes for great personal liberty but it can create headaches when 2 or 3 Baptist Christians get together and conflicting ideas of what God is saying arise.  Every group has some distinct elements because every group is comprised of the shared cumulative journies of respective Baptist Christians.   
  2. Baptists emphasize “the autonomy of the local church”.  No one stands above the local congregation, no other congregation is dictated to by the local congregation.  Each group is responsible for it’s own life.  As a result, congregations determine their own targets, monitor their own membership, own their own buildings, call their own pastors, carve their own projects.  It makes for great local liberty but again it creates headaches in trying to get congregations to operate cooperatively and collaboratively.  Technically Baptists form associations or conferences. No one tells us what to do, we “confer” and decide together what we’ll do.   
  3. Baptists emphasize personal conversion and believer’s baptism.  Usually it involves immersion as a mode of baptism.  This is why Baptists are strong in personal evangelism, and not as strong in social action.  It’s in our DNA.  We want to get people saved.  Billy Graham is a Baptist.   
  4. Theologically, Baptists are mainly Christo-Soterio-logical  in their theology.  We do Jesus—his birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension—and we do salvation–much better than we do pneumatology or doxology (i.e. praise and worship).  This flows back into point 3 by the way.  As an aside, if you want a praise and worship conference, be careful of how many Baptists you invite to lead it and shape it.  It’s not our strong point.  We try, but there are others with better and greater emphases than we do.   
  5. Baptists are people of the Book.  We tend to have a literal, simple hermeneutic.  If the Bible says it—let’s try to understand it, and then let’s try to live it.  The simplest plainest understanding is the one we gravitate to.  Besides revering the Book, we revere “preaching the Book”.  We make preaching the zenith of our gathered times.  A gathered time without preaching is like a salad bar.  Where’s the beef?  Note:  if you want to set up a preaching conference, load up on Baptists.  As a rule they tend to get a better bang for the buck.  Note point 4 here.  
  6. Baptists send missionaries.  We aren’t the only ones, but it’s a big deal to us.  We really do have an absolute theology.  (this flows out of point 5).  We believe that people go to heaven through Jesus.  And if they don’t know Jesus, they don’t go to heaven. So, there is an incumbency upon us to send people with a mission—to help people groups to know Jesus.   
  7. Baptists split, splinter, splant like cats.  This one isn’t a theological one—it’s a historical one.  You’ve heard the expression “herding cats”?  Well that’s what it’s like trying to lead a group of Baptists.  On a local level, pastors find their capacity and usually rise to it.  It takes a gift to be a Baptist minister.  Some gifts are best designed to lead groups of a 1000, some gifts are best designed to lead group of 100.  Pastoring a Baptist church takes a skill that not everyone has.  Leading a Baptist denomination takes skill.   

 

That’s a Baptist tribe.  Even within the world of “Baptist” there are tribes.  The Baptist General Conference is a Baptist tribe, but like the tribes of Israel who saw all of themselves as the people of God, there are identities and differences.  The differences are distinguishable but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking they are determinate of a pecking order in the kingdom of God.  Remember, we are Baptists—there is no one above you, nor is there anyone below you. 

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