Introducing Southern Baptists©
C. B. Hastings
TOC  Forward    Chapter 1  2   3  4  5   6   7   8  9 
Aft ward   Appendix  Glossary   FAQ  Bibliography (Start Page)

Middle age invites introspection and critical judgments. Two of us were indulging in criticism of current trends in Southern Baptist life. Suddenly we returned to a measure of optimism when one of us observed, "But Southern Baptists couldn't be all bad. After all, they produced you and me."

Alex Haley in Roots has made us all more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of our differing heritages. With this sense both of debt and limitation I 1lave tried to write of the faith and life of that portion of the People of God who are my heritage. It has necessarily been a witness from an insider. As such it could not be otherwise than an apologetic, even apologia pro urta mea. It is hoped that whatever of polemic has crept in at times has been in the spirit of love and justice. Certainly it is true that this witness is incomplete. The range and variety of Southern Baptist life demands the hearing of many diverse witnesses, even of other insiders. Most of all this human evaluation awaits the critical witness of non-Baptists who have come close enough to have been both blessed and cursed by our community of "saints with tarnished halos." To this end the author hopes that the current dialogues of the past ten years will inspire both a Roman Catholic and an Orthodox critical witness of Southern Baptists.

We can no longer ignore each other. Each of us has arrived as powerful Christian forces in American Christianity today. As the largest Protestant denomination, Southern Baptists have a stewardship toward both the secular world and the other Christian communions around us that we cannot deny. These two worlds no longer are impressed with our self-gratulatory poses as we progress on the ladder of religious success. They are demanding "zero-based budgeting" of our programs, our resources, even our purposes and goals in today's desperate world.

What then can Southern Baptists contribute? As long as religious liberty is still so fragile in many emerging nations and unrealized in many others, the leaven of Baptist ideals will be needed. In the light of much emphasis of the ecumenical movements on doctrinal and liturgical agreement, Baptists can contribute their own center of unity upon evangelism and missions. In the hunger of many Christians today for an experienced faith that brings joy and power into daily living, Baptists can contribute their dedication to the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures as a strong counterbalance to undisciplined emotionalism. In the rush toward security of person, of tribe, and of nation, if Baptists are true to the highest concept of "the security of the believer," they can point the way both to inner peace and liberation to seek freedom and justice for others.

In the developing respect for the dignity and power of the laity in the Church across many denominational lines, Baptists can contribute their reliance upon moral leadership based on persuasion and not merely upon office. The use of the laity in Bible teaching, "witnessing" and shared ministries can produce mature Christians who are becoming free from dependence upon authorities and free to undertake larger responsibilities as servants to justice and righteousness in the affairs of society and nations.

There are some congenital weaknesses of Baptists that hopefully can be overcome by becoming more deeply involved with other churches. Our success in becoming the largest Protestant denomination in America is perhaps our greatest snare. The danger is always there of concluding that "the Kingdom of God is up to us." Outsiders have already pointed out that just at the time Roman Catholics were officially abandoning "triumphalism" at Vatican II, Southern Baptists were picking it up. Often by the noises we make in our meetings, others conclude that we think only we are God's chosen of this generation. We can become so busy with our own programs that we can conveniently overlook, if not deny, our fellow Christians with whom the Lord is just as nvolved.

With our high sense of the autonomy of the local church another snare is to lose sight of our obvious interdependence with churches within the denomination. On the other hand, it is possible while boasting of that autonomy to lose it by an uncritical subservience to the "powers that be" in an ever-expanding denominational structure.

In the post World War II era Southern Baptists have risen on the socioeconomic ladder to the point that we are in danger of losing our concern for the poor, the marginal peoples. There used to be a cliche that when Baptists in the county seat entered the managerial class, they joined the Presbyterians, and when they became owners, they sought out the Episcopalians. Affluence, however, has not only destroyed that but also the illusion that we are a poor and persecuted minority. Furthermore, in much of the South and Southwest Baptists can no longer blame any other power structure than themselves in the affairs of politics and civic righteousness. One other toll affluence exacts is the snare of believing that simply by giving money churches can discharge their obligations to minister sacrificially and fight courageously in a broken and unjust world.

On the ecumenical front, it ought to be apparent from the chapters above that Southern Baptists will probably never accept the goal of unity in one individual, institutional church. Even a papacy modified along the lines of servanthood and "the first among equals" would never be widely accepted. There would always be the demand of freedom and the question, "first among which equals?"

We applaud and hope to contribute to every worthy spiritual movement that enables us to rise above our ancient walls of separation. If both Baptists and others can learn to appreciate each other's heritage and to harmonize, not our differences, but our peculiar contributions, then we may confidently hope for progress in the Kingdom of God.

To that end this book is dedicated and sent out with the prayer that we may realize together the goal expressed by the Apostle Paul: "And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature men, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature.... By speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head. Under his control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided" (Eph. 4:13, 1 ???? 16, TEV).

Last updated Tuesday, December 29, 1998

©Copyright 1998 All rights Reserved. C.B Hastings
Text was scanned and OCRed from Introducing Southern Baptist ©Paulist, Press 1981.
ISBN: 0-8091-2364-9
Library of Congress Number: 81-80052
Contact the Author