The Weather Report September 2017

The late Will Campbell was a master storyteller. His novel The Glad River is my favorite. The characters are convincing and the theme timeless. Doops Momber, Kingston Smylie and Fordache Arceneau meet in basic training at Camp Polk where friendships are forged.
The reader never learns the source of Doops’ aversion to being baptized, but the topic surfaces in the second half of the story. Kingston is pressing Doops to be baptized. “Nothing wrong with it,” Doops said. “But who would do it?” “What kind of question is that?” asked Kingston. “You a Baptist ain’t you? Well, some Baptist would do it.” Cornered, Doops wonders aloud about the whereabouts of a Baptist. “Jesus!” Kingston whispered. “I thought this was Mississippi. Find one? The woods is full of them.”1 
Walter “Buddy” Shurden asks the simple question, “What makes a Baptist a Baptist?”2  The easy answer would be membership in a local Baptist church. Of course this just scratches the surface. Diving deeper one might add that Baptists are people who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and subsequently share a common community life around certain beliefs. A common thread to these tenets would be the spirit of freedom. 
Most studies of the state of religious life in America find that denominational identity is not what it once was. “Brand” loyalty has eroded. Perhaps you know someone who attends a “non-denominational” church. In some instances, a church retains its ties to the denomination all the while dropping the distinctive “Baptist” from the name. A myriad of reasons explains such distancing from the brand. Despite this shift, groups calling themselves “Baptist” persist and manage to be vibrant in the new normal.
How would you answer Walter Shurden’s above mentioned question? If asked to identify some common threads to “mainline” Baptist life, what would you put forth? Perhaps you would speak to issues of polity. The autonomy of the local Baptist church is central. Your reply might speak to the separation of church and state or the priesthood of the believer or the primacy of scripture. In each case you would have described what makes a Baptist a Baptist.
On the first three Wednesday nights in September, the Denominational Relations Committee is offering a refresher course on Baptist distinctives. We will look closely at the four freedoms Shurden outlines: Bible Freedom; Soul Freedom; Church Freedom; and Religious Freedom.  Tim, Melanie, Kenny and I will be leading these sessions. (A schedule for each week appears below in this issue of The Light.) To prepare, you are invited to check out two key resources in our church library. The first is titled The Baptist Congregation by the late Stanley Grenz. The second is Walter Shurden’s book titled The Baptist Identity.
I am uncertain as to what it might look like to bring Baptists back. From the very beginning of Baptist life in the seventeenth century to its apex in the late twentieth century, the diverse family of Baptists has sought to follow Jesus Christ. In my humble opinion, we have been closer to our roots when smaller and dissenting.   —Steven  
 1 Campbell, Will D. The Glad River. P.188.
 2  Shurden, Walter B. The Baptist Identity. P.1.