The next two distinctives are quickies.
5. Believers Baptism – Baptists believe baptism is the outward expression of God’s saving work. It is done by believers old enough to profess their faith publically.
That’s a “yes” for both sides. Let’s not dwell here.
Thingy – 5 / Normal Church – 2
6. The Lord’s Supper – Baptists believe this is symbolic. It does not convey saving grace. It is simply a powerful reminder of the sacrifice Christ made out of love for us.
I am again going to give both sides a point here as well because I don’t know of any churches making the Lord’s Supper more or less a symbol. But I would be remiss if I did not remark that the most meaningful times of communion I have had have been on the mission field and with the Thingy.
In the Baptist churches I have been a part of communion was often an after thought. It was something we did occasionally at the end of a worship service. There were times when we made a big deal of it, but on the whole it was simply a ritual we performed once a month.
For the Thingy communion is special. We are a tight-knit mission team whose activities are simple and limited. Any change in those activities demands intention and focus.
Thingy – 6 / Normal Church – 3
7. Religious Liberty – Baptists believe that a person cannot and should not be coerced into worship. The choice to follow God falls upon each individual and should never be legislated by any power except God.
This one is tricky. While as Baptists we have never attempted to force people into our Sunday morning services, we have most definitely tried to legislate moral principles based on our religious beliefs. As a true-blue Baptist this type of political maneuvering has always made me incredibly uncomfortable. If we want to see societal change then we should get busy sharing the love of Christ. We need to change ideals through sacrificial love, not ballot boxes.
But this is another digression. Another topic for another time.
Thingy – 7 / Normal Church – 4
8. Autonomy of the Local Congregation – The local church, a group of believers striving to follow Jesus together, is the organized manifestation of the Body of Christ. Each Congregation has the right and responsibility to passionately seek Jesus as the Spirit leads.
Let’s pick this one apart and digest it a piece at a time.
The local church – with the rise and growing dominance of mega-churches can churches be considered local? I guess “local” is a relative term. The monstrous church in my area is more “local” than a church in Pakistan sure. Yet because these super sized churches typically pull from a vast geographic range, I would prefer the term “regional” for them.
Let’s press forward because the statement is further defined.
A group of believers striving to follow Jesus together – I believe this statement reinforces my sentiments above. The word “together” is really the clincher. Contained in the value for “local” is the idea that church members are on mission together. That they are a unit, a team, a community bonded together through their commitment to Christ and mission of love for the world. The larger the congregation grows the less true I believe this is.
Each congregation has the right and responsibility to passionately seek Jesus as the Spirit leads. – This is an extension of the Soul Competency and Priesthood of the Believer principles extended to the congregation. If you agree with me that the former two are in question, then logically this is as well. As consumers of religious activities many of us have surrendered our responsiblity to our church leadership. Can we in this state be a responsible “local” congregation – I say no.
This statement on the other hand describes the Thingy perfectly.
The Thingy – 8 / Normal Church – 4
Right now you are probably wondering, “Why in the world would Jeff spend three posts playing this silly game?”
I mean, common… Did anyone actually think the Thingy would lose? Of course not.
My goal is to inspire you to think through what you are doing. The beauty of autonomy of the local church, priesthood of the believer, soul competency, and a long list of other beautiful facets of the church are eroding, not because of some direct assault, but rather through negligence. If we are to decide that these distinctives need to be reconfigured or redefined, so be it. But let that happen in open debate and lets ride ourselves of them with determination and focus. Far to often we increase activities and move in directions not because they are good, but simply because at the moment they are increasing attendance. We do something. More people attend. And so we do it again, and again, and again. Before you know it, our theology has changed to justify our actions.
With many local congregations in trouble we must examine what we do and not grasp in desperation for more people, but rather stand on our foundation and press forward into the new world with a clear understanding of who we are.