About two years ago, I found myself facing an important choice: I was leaving my denomination and needed to decide where to settle. The decision was hard, but ultimately, I became a Baptist.
This was the result of much questioning and discussion with many people from different churches, and by no means do I believe I made the “best” choice. Rather, looking at what various expressions of Christianity valued and emphasized, I found the Baptist denomination to be the best fit for me and my ministry.
I want to share the biggest factors in my decision for several reasons. First, more often than not, people remain in the denomination where they grew up. As someone who consciously weighed options and made a decision, I want to share my perspective on what makes Baptist life special. These are parts of our unique identity that, if I am any indication, make a positive witness to the church and world and should be upheld and proclaimed.
I’m a Baptist, and here’s why:
Soul competency is both inspiring and challenging.
The idea that all individuals are equally capable of knowing and following God was deeply appealing to me, as it seemed to represent one of the core truths of the New Testament.
The respect Baptists have for individual believers as made in the image of God and indwelled by the Holy Spirit creates a uniquely level environment in Baptist churches. No person has final authority over me because of education, title, status, experience, class or any other reason. At the same time, I cannot place myself over anyone for any of these reasons. I found the idea of soul competency to be a source of both encouragement and humility when I joined a Baptist church.
Free-church order preserves individual voices.
This one gave me trepidation during my denominational search. How can any organization function with no hierarchy or leadership? With a deep respect for the competency of every individual to read Scripture and to listen to the Holy Spirit.
As a prospective minister, I found the idea that I wouldn’t be subjugated to any order higher than my congregation very attractive. No boards designating what doctrine is taught, no overseers telling ministers where to serve; simply individual voices in individual churches seeking after God’s leading. What I at first thought to be an inefficient system of church polity turned out to be a system that encourages free thought and dialogue between all believers.
The Baptist commitment to education provides opportunities for many.
From children’s programs to universities and colleges, few groups parallel Baptists in terms of commitment and achievement. Baptist contributions to both public and religious education are among their greatest gifts to the world.
My final decision to become a Baptist was largely a result of desiring access to the multiple great Baptist seminaries and financial assistance programs in Texas. From Baylor to Brown, Baptists support education better than any—even if, as one of my professors once joked, we mostly establish schools so we can be suspicious of them.
The Baptist commitment to religious liberty is a contribution to global human rights.
If there’s one thing that makes me proud to call myself a Baptist, it’s the contribution made to the world by the historic Baptist commitment to religious liberty. The idea that a nation can function without a state religion was possibly the most remarkable aspect of the founding of America and was a massive positive influence on the modern world, much of which has adopted the same model. For that, you can thank the Baptists, largely.
The world today would be a very different place without the brave witness of early Baptists and the hard work they’ve put into preserving it since then.Becoming a Baptist meant for me becoming a part of this proud and continuing tradition of championing religious freedom for all.
I share what brought me into the denomination to encourage my fellow Baptists. In a time where demographic changes have many worried, we don’t need sweeping changes in our theology or practice. What we need, rather, is reaffirm and hold fast to our distinctives.
Baptists have much to offer both the church as a whole and the world. If we remember where we came from, we will continue to reach a world in desperate need of what we have to offer.
In my short time in the denomination, I’ve seen all of these distinctives challenged from within. Baptists don’t need to change what they’re doing to accommodate to a changing world; rather, what Baptists need is a renewed interest in their foundational identity.
After all, it worked on me.
Jake Raabe is a student at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas.