Friday, May 30, 2008

I am Baptist (and so can you!)

Stephen Colbert has made quite a name for himself satirizing conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. Therefore, it was only fitting that he keep with the tradition of conservative commentators and write a book outlining his proposed cures for what ails America. His book I Am America (and so can You!) is his published "solution." I have not read his book completely through, but the title cleverly captured the laughingly predictable titles that don most conservative works. As a result, I decided to play off it a little.

A t-shirt available from LarkNews.com reads, "Jesus loves you. But then again, he loves everybody." Satire is really starting to have a place of prominence in the evangelical corpus of expression. This is fitting because of the seriousness with which people take old labels and cliches that don't hold the same meaning anymore. Terms such as conservative, liberal, traditional, classical, modern, simple, sophisticated or even Christian are getting redefined in our society. In some ways, we need to keep up with the new definitions. In other ways, however, we need to resist those re-definitions. There is a historic understanding of what it means to be "Christian" (faith in Christ and adherence to the ancient creeds) that cannot be allowed to be re-defined. However, other areas require that we update along with the culture. For example, I can't resist the culture's re-definition of the term "gay" and expect to communicate clearly.

In like manner, other church labels have come to carry a variety of meanings based on the conversational context. For example, the question may arise, "is your church a 'Spirit-filled' church?" One might answer in the affirmative because we rely so heavily on the Spirit for everything we do in life, particularly in our efforts to obey and honor Jesus Christ by participating in the great commission. "Yes we are," you reply, not realizing that you've just communicated to the questioner that your church speaks in unknown languages regularly, heals spinal meningitis during Sunday morning services and get random direct messages from God. You might not have wanted to say all that, but you effectively did by not getting more clarification from the questioner.

In the same way, someone may ask me, "are you (or are we) a baptist church?" When I can't answer with a simple "yes" or "no," I am not being evasive. More clarification is needed for the question.

Woodcreek Bible Church is indeed affiliated with the Baptist Missionary Association for purposes of maintaining a connection to global missionary efforts. This has been the commitment of our church from its inception, and this connection will continue to be pursued so long as doctrine and missiological philosophies for both of us (the BMA and WBC) are congruent. I suspect such agreement will likely be enjoyed for a long time.

In addition, there is such a thing a "baptist theology." To say that one's theology is "baptistic" is very specific. It tends to be committed to biblical inerrancy, church autonomy, dispensational eschatology and reformed views of humanity and salvation. In this way the "baptist" label has a degree of accuracy too.

However, there has also arisen a cultural understanding of the term "baptist" that carries some baggage. Images of white shirts, dark ties, sweaty foreheads, huge pulpits, old choirs, King James bibles and prayers, big hair, moral majorities, Christian coalitions, multiple chins, stately organs and "alter calls" can flood the mind of someone who hears the code word "baptist." By adopting the label then, without any clarification, you've given them an inaccurate view of your church body. To the question if you're baptist, "yes and no" would be an accurate answer until clarifying definitions could be agreed upon. It requires a conversation. It just flat out cannot be answered quickly.

"Are you (we) a baptist church," someone may ask. "That depends on what you mean," is the responsible answer. In theology? Yes. In affiliation? That too. In cultural expression? Most emphatically not!

So the pat answers really do deserve a little (try a lot) satire now and then. They convey so little meaning by themselves that it is as clarifying to say, "Sure, I'm a baptist, and so can you."

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