Why I am a Baptist: A Way of Living in the World (Part 3) – Daniel Vestal

stained_glass_c3_for_webNote: This post constitutes the final part in a series. You can find the first two parts Here.

Finally, being Baptist is a way of confronting culture, interacting with society, and relating to people, that is, a way of living in the world. For Baptists, an individual Christian and a congregation of Christians are to be in the world but not be of the world. We are clearly commissioned to go into the world as witnesses, servants, and ministers. Baptists are a missionary people. We believe that the good news of Jesus Christ is for all cultures and nations. Every individual on earth is born with the need and capacity for a personal relationship with God, and every individual is guilty of sin before God. Jesus Christ is Lord and the world’s only Savior. So our privilege and responsibility is to call all people to faith in Christ and to a relationship with God through Christ. But our missionary task is to be fulfilled by recognizing and respecting the freedom of every individual either to accept or to reject Christ. We do not use force, coercion, or intimidation to bring about conversion. We appeal to people’s conscience and seek to persuade them, but we never use the power of the sword or the state to bring about faith.

Baptists are a people committed to social justice. We believe Christians should be like light, salt, and leaven in society, influencing and transforming it. We believe the church should be both prophetic and priestly. We are to cry out against injustices, be peacemakers, and work for reconciliation. This means that Christians should and will be involved in politics, government, and other public roles of influence. We must act publicly and privately, respecting the freedom of every person’s conscience. We will not seek to mandate Christian convictions or behavior through coercive laws. We will not use the power of the state to force religious conformity or religious devotion. Rather, we will seek social justice the same way we seek individual conversion: through prayer, persuasion, and the personal example of Christian character. Baptists are a servant people, seeking to minister grace, healing, and help to those in need. Our posture in society is to be that of humble caregivers, good Samaritans, and suffering servants. Our concern should always be for the poor, the powerless, and the disenfranchised. We are called upon to give without expecting anything in return, to seek the kingdom of God more than any earthly kingdom, to practice love and not hate, and to work tirelessly for the peace and brotherhood of all nations.

Recently I received a letter from an older pastor saying, “I’m a Christian by conversion and a Baptist by conviction.” That says it well. Having received grace and having experienced the reality of Jesus Christ, I have struggled to discern what that means and how to live it in the church and in the world. I have been aided and assisted by biblical revelation, the indwelling Spirit, and a great “cloud of witnesses” down through the ages. The results of that struggle are some convictions and commitments. For me, the best way of defining and describing these convictions is to confess, “I am a Baptist.”

Originally appeared in Chapter 25: A Way of Being Christian in Why I Am a Baptist: Reflections on Being Baptist in the 21st Century, edited by Cecil P. Staton, Jr., 173-178.

Daniel Vestal is the Distinguished University Professor of Baptist Leadership at Mercer University and Director of the Baugh Center. The Baptist Deacon Network is a cooperative effort with the Eula Mae and John Baugh Center for Baptist Leadership and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia.

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