Being Baptist at Spring Harvest

Just back from Spring Harvest, which (as ever) was generally exhilarating, often encouraging (our eldest daughter making visible strides through the week in her own faith), and occasionally bizarre (dancing on stage with a rap band in front of some thousands of people; wondering quite what to do with the guy who I gave the microphone to in a live vox pops as he was describing a ‘profound sexual awakening’). The highlight for me was preaching on Tues night. It wasn’t a great sermon (the opening was pitched wrong; the end was weak; the delivery was a bit stilted; and one of the running gags was, on reflection, probably inappropriate – on the plus side, the content was  OK), but the people I was working with were wonderful – I have already ordered my ‘Graham Kendrick is my worship leader’ t-shirt (and hoodie, fridge magnet, lapel pin, and car number-plate). And, although I am a bit ambivalent about the idea of an ‘altar call’, seeing scores of people waiting to register their response to what God had been doing after I sat down was profoundly moving and humbling.

I spent most of the week working with a great guy I’d only briefly met before, Andrew Grinnell. He asked me in one of our breaks, ‘Does being Baptist matter to you?’ The answer to that one was rather easy (‘yes…’); the follow-up (‘why?’) was more interesting.

I became Baptist by accident (humanly speaking) – a university Christian Union mission convert, a friend happened to be going to a Baptist church at the time. He took me along, and I have never left… I am aware, though, and Andrew noticed pretty quickly, that I do fairly regularly preface comments with ‘As a Baptist, I naturally think…’; Andrew was interested to know what lay behind that statement.

It is not that I am signed up to a platform, the way a party politician has to toe the line. The major British Baptist denominations (BUGB & BUS) are not good at giving long lists of things which must be believed – their ‘Declarations of Principle’ are slightly different, but either version contains three brief clauses, totaling to significantly fewer than 150 words. Rather, it is a recognition of context: ‘being Baptist’ means that I inhabit certain liturgical practices and traditions, received my ministerial formation in a particular way, and am committed to a small number of ecclesiological distinctives – and ‘being Baptist’ means that these things mutually reinforce, because the British Baptist tradition is a vibrant and coherent tradition. The way I think about mission, say, is informed at an intellectual level by a commitment to congregational ecclesiology, and to believers’ baptism; it is also shaped at an unconscious and visceral level by the practices of evangelism, discipleship, and worship of the Baptist communities which have formed me and which continue to form me. And these two aspects support and interpret each other.

I am aware, of course, that there are other vibrant Christian traditions that others inhabit; I make the effort, as a theologian, to try to understand how it feels to inhabit some of those other traditions, what life and faith looks like from there. But that is an effort of imagination; to be Baptist comes naturally to me.

Is this a problem? To confuse ‘being Baptist’ with ‘being Christian’ would be a problem; but there is, as ever, no neutral view from nowhere. We either inhabit a particular tradition, and so understands one way of being Christian instinctively, or we live incoherently, believing something that practices deny, or we come to questions of faith as an outsider to every tradition, not understanding anything intuitively. The first, I believe, is the best way to be. So I will go on cheerfully being Baptist, and being self-conscious and open about the particular interpretations of things that my Baptist context creates and reinforces in me.

3 Comments

  1. Brian Davison
    Apr 25, 2010

    Strongly disagree!!!!
    Tuesday’s sermon was the best of the week, didn’t notice the weak beginning and ending because the content was thought provoking informative and moving.
    If the running joke was the email one I liked it & it grew with use, (if not, which one did you think was inappropriate?).
    Most of all I appreciated your brave honesty regarding responding to challenge, and God getting his work done without. The concept needed spelling out – too many people are way guilt tripped because “I didn’t have the courage to speak to that man on the bus and now he will got hell because of my failure…”. Healthy reminder that the loser is us, missing being a part of what God is doing. The idea that a platform speaker can fail to follow through on a challenge would have been most liberating to those who do not know you are human, and a breath of fresh air and honesty. I had intended to thank you whilst on site, but was forever rushing off to collect Stuart.
    Thought you and Andy made a good double act.
    On the bit about being Baptist – I’ll come back to that, it’s 2am and I’m still (supposed to be) working on tomorrow’s AV resources.

  2. neil
    Apr 26, 2010

    Baptists get everywhere. Some of the people behind the bandwithnoname (Innervation Trust) are part of the church here in Poynton!

    Glad you got a good reception at SH

  3. RevDave
    May 10, 2010

    Steve,

    I sat in the big top for all of Skegness 2, your sermon was without doubt the highlight of the week. I sat with people from my church who were moved by the message the spirit gave you – thank you for your ministry. As for me I was astounded by your humility, impressed by your biblical translation of the Esther story and moved to address that “time” in my ministry that I was called to. Thank you for letting the Lord use you in this way.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Being Baptist at Spring Harvest « Shored Fragments - Christian IBD - [...] I became Baptist by accident (humanly speaking) – a university Christian Union mission convert, a friend happened to be …
get facebook like button