Kathy Hillman: Deep roots … living legacy

Assistant camp pastor Levi Julius baptizing soldiers and civilians in the Trinity River at Camp Bowie, Fort Worth, Texas, 1918. (Photograph courtesy of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives)

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So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)

kathy hillman130Kathy HillmanWanted: High school, college and seminary students to enter Texas Baptists’ essay and sermon contests on Baptist distinctives. Entries should clearly demonstrate understanding of distinctives chosen and their biblical background. Scholarship awards include $2,000 for first place, $1,000 for second and $500 for third. For rules and deadlines click here.

Winners will be invited to present their sermons and essays at the 2015 Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting. The convention will focus on Baptist distinctives organized around the theme “Deep Roots … Living Legacy.”

People often ask why I am a Baptist. Many assume I was born that way. Faye Watson enrolled me in cradle roll as soon I came home from the hospital. My first outing was to a Woman’s Missionary Union circle meeting. Growing up, I participated in every aspect of First Baptist Church in Eldorado. 

hillman btu fbcatlanta1938 425Baptist Training Union group at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Texas, 1938. (Photograph courtesy of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives)But while I was born into a Baptist family, I am not part of the Baptist family today because of my roots. I choose to be Baptist because I have prayed, studied and determined I am Baptist by belief. 

Baylor classmate Hollis Browning tells of growing up at First Baptist Church in Plainview, where he learned Baptist distinctives firsthand. When he was a teen, his longtime Texas Baptist pastor grandfather Bill Mason and grandmother Lillian joined the Brownings for worship on a Lord’s Supper Sunday. As the bread passed down their pew, Grandmother Mason took the wafer, but her husband did not. When the cups came, again she participated while he did not.

After church, Hollis took his mother aside. Why, he asked, did his grandmother take the Lord’s Supper when his grandfather did not, especially as a pastor? Shouldn’t they have done the same thing? 

hillman fbcwaco communionset425First Baptist Church Waco communion set dating from 1830. (Kathy Hillman photo)Billie Claire Browning indicated her parents had differed as long as she could remember. Then she wisely explained their actions illustrated several Baptist beliefs. Both understood only those who were born again and baptized by immersion should take the Lord’s Supper. Both agreed individuals read and interpret Scripture for themselves with God’s guidance. However, Rev. Mason believed he should participate in the Lord’s Supper only in the church where he was a member. His wife interpreted the Bible to mean the ordinance was open to all baptized believers, even if they were not members of that congregation. Most importantly, each honored the other’s decision.

I learned the meaning of being Baptist growing up through junior high and high school in Training Union. I still recall Baptist distinctives using one of several common acrostics.

B – Biblical Authority

A – Autonomy of the Local Church

P – Priesthood of the Believer

T – Two Symbolic Ordinances: Believer’s Baptism by Immersion and the Lord’s Supper

I – Individual Soul Liberty

S – Saved Church Members

T – Two Offices of the Local Church

S – Separation of Church and State

In 1994, the BGCT formed the Baptist Distinctives Committee, which developed a representative list of Baptist beliefs. In addition to most of the acrostic, they include congregational church government, deity and lordship of Jesus Christ, evangelism and missions, religious freedom, salvation only by grace through faith, security of the believer and voluntary cooperation among churches.

hillman distinctives425Display on the Baptist Distinctives Wall in the Texas Baptist Historical Museum in Independence. (Photo by museum director Phillip Hassell)Our Baptist roots include individuals who suffered and died for the freedom of all people to believe and worship according to their convictions. One Baptist founder, Thomas Helwys, died for his faith in an English prison. Others were harassed or tortured. In the colonies, Baptists were imprisoned, beaten, pelted and accused of child abuse because they rejected infant baptism. Yet Roger Williams founded Rhode Island on the principles of religious liberty and separation of church and state. Baptist John Leland played a major role in the inclusion of the religious liberty clauses in the Bill of Rights.

Pastor and educator J.M. Carroll wrote in his 1923 history: “Texas Baptists have a priceless heritage. Their fathers carved out of the Texas wilderness a home of tolerance, of liberty of conscience and freedom of speech. Let us prize this legacy and hand it down stainless and unsullied to those who shall take up our work when we have laid it down.”

May we tap deep into our roots in living our distinctively Baptist legacy of faith and freedom and pass it on for generations to come.

Kathy Hillman is president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She also is director of Baptist collections, library advancement and the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society at Baylor University.

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