baptist status, i.

Traditional and historic Baptist principles
point more to incarnational truth than universal truth.
That’s not to say that’s not a dangerously abusable point.
Nor is it to say that we, as Baptists, don’t claim some absolutes—
though fewer than you might think (at least according to this Baptist!).
The autonomy of the local church and the priesthood of all believers, however,
locate inspiration in ever-unfolding, specific, local,
community conversations with God.
And so, in the image of the incarnation,
truth appears in particular time and space
as dynamic, not rigid—
to be arrived at—discovered,
never to be dictated to—decreed—
always immediately relevant
not just abstractly so—
engaged in the day-to-day struggles of a community of faith
not imposed upon a community as an overriding ethic—
generating not situational ethics, but conversational ethics:
the living, present God in conversation
with particular communities in particular situations.
And we discover in ongoing conversational revelation
what God expects of us, not of anyone else.

So that congregation identifies that truth here,
in their conversation with God,
and we identify this truth there,
in our conversation with God,
and the problems arise, when in some local conversation with God,
someone decides they know what’s true for everyone else too.

Again, that’s not to say we don’t have a plumb line
by which to measure not only our own actions, attitudes and language,
but also by which to measure the actions,
attitudes and language of others.
Just what that plumb line is—
what absolutes to go to the cross for, as it were—
is not agreed upon (surprise! surprise!).

I would suggest it’s not so much obedience
to selected verses of Scripture abstracted from their context,
but manifesting, as best we can, as consistently as possible,
our essential understanding of God as love.
So what stands in contradiction to love,
and (I would add as part of my understanding of love)
the non-violent work of transformation,
is unacceptable.

And the conversation goes on and on—
always trying to figure out for each new day
what the specifics of that intentionally left-general command:
“love one another”
turn out to be.

Interesting and sad—so sad to me,
how much of what I believe constitutes Baptist
stands in direct opposition
to popular perceptions of what it means to be Baptist.


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