Monday, March 23, 2009

New Baptist Century Convocation: Celebrating 400 Years Of Baptist History

Here are some highlights from the speeches at the New Baptist Century Convocation on Monday, February 9, 2009 at First Baptist Church, Greensboro (Sponsored by CBFNC):

The New Baptist Century in Historical Context: Conscience and Dissent
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship North Carolina
February 9, 2009
Bill J. Leonard

On the eve of the American Revolution, Anglican Parson Charles Woodmason, a
good Englishman, described the carryings on among the people called Baptists in the
"Carolina backcountry". He wrote:
They don't all agree in one Tune. For one sings this Doctrine, and the next
something different---So that people’s brains are turn'd and bewildered. And then
again to see them Divide and Sub divide, split into parties---Rail at and
excommunicate one another---Turn (members) out of one meeting and receive
(them back) into another. And a Gang of them getting together and gabbling one
after the other (and sometimes disputing against each other) on abstruse
Theological Questions. . .such as the greatest Metaph[ys]icians and Learned
Scholars never yet could define, or agree on--To hear Ignorant Wretches, who
cannot write . . .discussing such Knotty Points for the Edification of their
Auditors. . .must give High offence to all Intelligent and rational Minds.
Woodmason was as correct as he was condescending. Indeed, many 21st century observers
would concur that contemporary Baptists still give “high offense” in the church and the public
square. In the United States, when a Virginia congressman calls Americans to tighten immigration
laws in order to keep out Muslims who MIGHT be elected to high office and MIGHT take the oath
of office on the Koran, didn’t he just have to be a Baptist?2 When members of a stem family church
in Kansas show up at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, and shout that such deaths are the result
of God’s judgment on the nation, don’t they just have to be Baptists?3 And then there are all those
internecine “Baptist battles” fought incessantly in the pew and the press. Take Southern Baptists, at
14 million the largest sub denomination of the 30 million Baptists in the U. S. For almost three
decades Baptists in the nation and especially the South have debated issues related to the Bible,
ordaining women, control of Baptist related schools, public schools, private school vouchers, trips
to Disneyworld, glossolalia, praise choruses, baptizing homosexuals, rebaptizing Presbyterians,
salvation for Jews and Muslims, the “rapture,” drinking wine at communion or at dinner, and the
gospel benefits of something called “Christian heavy metal” music.4 When 21st century Baptists in
the U. S. “divide and sub divide, split into parties, rail at and excommunicate each other,” not just in
the “Carolina back-country,” but on CNN, wouldn’t any self respecting believers want to distance
themselves from their Baptist origins as quickly as possible?


Given these transitions in (dare we say it) postmodern theology and ecclesiology, and on the
400th anniversary of Baptist beginnings (Amsterdam, 1609), how might Baptist history inform
identity in the present and, more importantly, the future? As a historian who happens to be a Baptist,
I would suggest that aspects of the Baptist past are worth considering whether we use the infamous
“B” word in our public statements or not. Rather than excise or exorcise all remnants of Baptistness
from our past, however, are there segments of that heritage worth acknowledging that continue
inform the future? To own the best contributions does not require claiming the entirety of Baptist
history, nor does it mean scrambling to find something worth retaining in order to be historically
correct. Rather, we could be intentional about revisiting the Baptist past with appropriate research
before we jettison the movement uncritically. What in the Baptist vision offers insight toward the
future whether we reference these embarrassing forebears or not?
My own reading of Baptist history compels me to encourage a reexamination of what seems
to me the heart of Baptist identity in the modern/postmodern world: the importance of uncoerced
faith grounded in the power of conscience and the inevitability of dissent.10


As a historian, I am impressed by the early Baptist courage and dissent in behalf of
uncoerced faith, freedom of conscience, and religio-political dissent, and I hope that Baptist
churches, societies and denominational groups will find ways to own their Baptist roots, even if
they bear witness to only a tiny spark of progressivism. We owe it to ourselves to reference the
identity of those 16th and 17th century dissenters obsessed with conscience and voice for heretic
and atheist alike. They spoke out because they could not remain silent, whether anyone paid
much attention to them or not. Indeed, as a religious community, Baptists have never done well
with privilege, whatever form it takes. Parson Woodmason was right then and now, we don’t all
“agree in one tune,” you see, it's a matter of conscience. (Read More: Here).

Missional Collaboration in a New Baptist Century
By Larry Hovis, Executive Coordinator
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina
New Baptist Century Convocation
First Baptist Church – Greensboro, North Carolina
February 9, 2009


Many of you know that prior to taking on my present role with Cooperative Baptist
Fellowship of North Carolina, I had the privilege of serving as pastor of The Memorial Baptist
Church in Greenville. We were often teased about our name – “THE” Memorial. In common
conversation, we would simply call ourselves, “Memorial,” but the use of the definite article is
not accidental, for it commemorates a significant event very early in the church’s history. That
church provided the physical meeting place and supplied three of the fourteen leaders who
founded the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, an organization which has done
tremendous good, and which has made an enormously positive difference in the lives of
countless persons in our state and beyond – including most of us here this evening.
The Memorial Baptist Church appreciates its history. Its main concern, however, is not
what happened in the past, but ministering in the present and planning for the future. The
primary hallmark of healthy churches is faithfulness to the mission of God. Healthy churches
realize that faithfulness to God’s mission required particular actions and structures and
relationships in the past that may need to be changed or abandoned in order to be faithful to the
mission of God in the present and in the future. And so, as this particular group of North
Carolina Baptists gathers in Greensboro on a winter night in 2009, celebrating the first four
Baptist centuries, we need to ask ourselves, what will be required of us in order to be faithful to
the mission of God in the next Baptist century? Allow me to suggest three critical factors: Baptist
principles, missional renewal and missional collaboration.

Foundation – Historic Baptist principles

To begin with, the New Baptist Century will be built on the firm foundation of Baptist
principles. Baptists, at our best, have been a principle-centered movement. The Baptists in the
first Baptist century in Europe, and in the second Baptist century in America, did not suffer
persecution for nominating committee reports or giving plans. They lived, fought, suffered, and
sometimes died for bedrock principles. Though there is no single way to articulate Baptist
principles, for our purposes this evening, I would reduce them to six main ideas.
First, Baptists believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is a basic Christian belief.
Baptists share this belief with other Christians. We are not so arrogant to believe that we are the
only Christians, but before anything else, we are persons made in the image of God and sinners
saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We are followers of Jesus, seeking to live our
lives in the way of Jesus. Christ is the center of our lives, individually and collectively.
Second, we believe the Scriptures are our final authority for faith and practice. We are
people of the Book. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are authoritative for
individuals, congregations, and in shared ministry beyond congregations. We may voluntarily
choose to confess a shared faith based on a common understanding of the Scriptures, but we
understand that any human words about the Scriptures are always subordinate to the Scriptures,
and therefore must never be used in a coercive manner. We understand that as we interpret the
Scriptures together, we humbly acknowledge that “we see through a glass darkly.” We always
remain open to the possibility that “God hath yet more light to shed forth from his word.”
Third, we believe that every believer in Jesus Christ is a priest before God. All believers
stand equally before God’s throne of grace. There is no multi-class system in the church.
Distinctions such as clergy and laity are practical but not theological. As believer priests, we
have both the privilege of relating directly to God through our great high priest, Jesus Christ; but
we also have the responsibility of ministering on behalf of God in the world. Priesthood is never
an excuse for individualism. We are priests to each other in the community of faith, and we
exercise our priesthood for the sake of a lost, dying world. The symbol for our priesthood is
baptism, upon profession of faith, in deep water where possible to show that we have been united
to Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.
Fourth, we believe that congregations should be self-governing. No outside entity may
have authority over the local church. Neither association nor convention nor fellowship may
control or coerce congregations. Congregations are made up of believer-priests, who come
together in community, to read, study and interpret the Scriptures together. Based on Scripture as
they understand it, they are free and responsible to shape their own governance structure,
develop their own requirements for membership, call their own leadership, order their own
worship, and pursue their unique mission in the world, in concert with partners of their own
choosing. For Baptist congregations, one size does not fit all.
Fifth, we believe in religious liberty for all people. Baptists were birthed in the battle for
religious liberty, for ourselves and for others, including those whose beliefs are very different
from ours. Unless all are free, none are truly free. Some scholars say this is our greatest
contribution to civil society. We believe that the best way to cultivate religious liberty is through
the separation of the institutions of government and the institutions of religion. But we also
believe that our voices, and the voices of people of all faiths and no faith, should freely be
proclaimed in the public square.
Sixth, we believe in cooperating with others to engage in God’s mission in the world. We
realize that no individual Baptist, and no single congregation, can accomplish God’s mission
alone. We partner with other Christians and other churches to establish and support ministries
that will enable us to fulfill both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. (Read On: Here).

“Tribal People” 2/8/09
Mike Queen, CBFNC Convocation
Numbers 2:1-2, 34; John 21:15-22

We are a tribal people. We gather with like-minded others and identify ourselves as such.
Along ‘tobacco road’ you will find the Wolf Pack tribe and the Tar Heel tribe…the Blue
Devils and the Demon Deacons. To the east you will find a tribe of Pirates and to the
west a tribe of Mountaineers. Among the Baptists, you find Angels and Hawks…Camels
and Lions…and even a tribe of Runnin Bulldogs.
We gather in other tribes, too. There exists a tribe of people who revere Eastern NC
Barbeque and an apparently ‘lost tribe’ that worships Western NC Barbeque. Even in the
church of Jesus Christ we have divided ourselves into tribes of Methodists,
Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Catholics and a host of others,
including the Baptists. And the Baptist family has its own set of tribes developed over
these last 400 years.
This is how it has always been in the Kingdom. Even when the children of Israel were in
the earliest years of their wanderings in the wilderness, God acknowledged their tribal
nature. God instructed Moses and Aaron to have them set up their camp by tribes…using
terms like regiment, clan and ancestral houses to describe how they organized
themselves. Each camp was to face toward a tent of meeting…or tabernacle…in the
center. But each tribe was to hang their ensign or tribal banner out in front of their site for
the purpose of identification.
Their oneness and unity was found in the geographical orientation toward the center…the
tent of meeting…the place of worship. But their differences …their uniqueness was
celebrated by banners that flew in the winds of the wilderness. They had both a corporate
identity as the children of Israel and a particular identity in their tribal divisions. It was as
though God knew they needed some separateness to accomplish their ultimate and unique

While there are a few ‘loners’ in this world, the reality is that most of us are looking for
places to connect…to belong…to find a sense of identity that is true and authentic to who
we are. We see it all the time in the people who visit and worship in our churches. They
are looking for the same thing. When they find it, they join up with us…and fly the
banner of our local church tribes.
Perhaps this is why we come to gatherings such as this…to connect with others in our
tribe…to embrace a sense of belonging to others who are like us…and to craft and shape
and an identity where, like the children of Israel, we can fly our banner, too. CBF of NC
is my tribe in the Baptist nation.
This tribe is not a denomination to be won or lost. It is a fellowship to be celebrated and
built on trust.
This tribe does not function like a denomination. It is a movement re-engineered for the
21st century.
This tribe is not about buildings and control. It is all about mission and freedom.
It is exciting to be a part of something still new…something that is consistent with our
cherished Baptist heritage…and which is yet a new kind of Baptist community filled with
a hope we can scarcely imagine. That hope is found in Jesus Christ…and in Jesus alone.
But just as it is in all tribes, we must always and forever hold one another accountable.
We cannot afford to allow this movement to lose its way. The relationships in tribes are
far too precious to squander. We need to be vigilant in maintaining our focus on mission.
As I have counseled our Coordinator, Dr. Larry Hovis, maintaining focus is one of the
hardest parts of being a leader. He and we must be relentless in this pursuit.
At the end of John’s account of the gospel he told the story of a post-resurrection
encounter that took place on the beach between Jesus and Peter. Repeatedly Jesus asked
Peter if he loved him. Repeatedly Peter said that he did. Each time Jesus countered by
telling Peter to feed his sheep. Finally Jesus reminded Peter that following him could
ultimately cost him his life and result in a martyr’s death.
As that sobering possibility began to sink in to Peter’s consciousness and as he began to
nervously contemplate his own mortality, he looked up and saw John standing close by
on the beach. In that moment Peter pointed to John and blurted out to Jesus…in rather
childish fashion, ‘Lord, what about him?’
Jesus with all the infinite patience he could muster responded to Peter saying, ‘If it is my
will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’
In the span of a heartbeat Peter had lost his focus. Like so many of the youthful protests
and questions that came from the mouths of the disciples, Peter forgot his unqualified
avowal of love for Jesus and all the promises he made. Thus, fearing for his own life
questioned the fate of his friend…his brother…and perhaps…his rival… John. ‘Lord,
what about him?’
It does not take much to turn us away from the call and claim of Jesus on our lives, does
it? If we are not careful, we can end up pointing fingers at others while forgetting our
responsibilities in the Kingdom. Absent a clear focus, we will find ourselves chasing after
things that have nothing to do with the Kingdom or with Jesus’ plan for our lives…our
churches…or our tribes. I stand before you as one who has spent too much time on lesser
In a recent meeting with some of our church leaders questions were raised about the idea
that we might have to reduce our church budget in the face of the current economic
depression. After listening to some hand-wringing dialog, I reminded them that our
ability to follow Jesus has nothing to do with the size of the church budget.
More money…as important as it is…can only expand the breadth of our reach. We can
still follow Jesus without a nickel in our pockets. This is why a ‘clear mission focus’
trumps abundant resources every single time.
Management guru Seth Godin says, “When you fall in love with the system, you lose the
ability to grow.” Put another way, when you fall in love with an institution, you may just
lose the ability to follow Jesus.
We must never abandon the pursuit of a ‘clear mission focus’. The tribe can provide that
focus for the individual and the individual can I turn provide it for the tribe. My brothers
and sisters, to believe is the easy part of faith. But to follow…this is the hard part…of
faith. This is also why we need one another.
Someone has said that if you want to get some place quickly, by all means, go alone. But
if you are taking a journey, it is best to travel with others. CBF of NC you are my tribe.
You are the ones with whom I want to journey. And I will set up camp under your banner
all the rest of my days.
May we never lose the focus of our Jesus-given mission…
May we always hold one another accountable before our God... (Read The Full Sermon: Here).

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