Although the Belgian government refers to them as the United Protestant Church of Belgium, Belgian Protestants themselves prefer to call themselves a movement.
Belgium is an official Roman Catholic monarchy, although only a tiny sliver of Belgians practice any type of religious faith.
Consequently, most Belgians associated the word “church” with buildings, hierarchy, vested economic and political interests, and most of all with history.
In their minds, the Christian church is a vestige from the past whose time and relevance passed long ago, and most Belgians would see this as a good thing.
They see the church as an oppressive, self-interested and sclerotic institution from which they are glad to be free.
The Belgians are great people, but they are in no way traditionally religious. It is in this context that the Protestants see themselves as a movement.
They are a group of people who cohere around a set of convictions about God, the nature of human beings, the salvific work of Jesus, the purpose of creation, and the basis of hope.
They can with clarity tell you what they believe because it is unadorned with a lot of tradition and practices.
It is pretty much just Bible stuff without a lot of overlay of theology and orthodoxy, whose purpose is to clarify who is “in” and who is “out,” who is “right” and who is “wrong.”
There are so few of them, they spend little time working out schema to exclude people. They put no energy into splitting and dividing their fellowship to reassure themselves of their own propriety.
This movement is mostly lay led. Whenever I went to a meeting of these Protestants, I would get multiple job offers (usually with no accompanying salary).
People who had known me for 10 minutes would ask if I were free to lead their church.
Trained leaders were very rare, and many churches would go for years without a trained leader.
Subsequently, these church members had a deep sense of ownership of their congregations. They had invested their lives in them.
These Protestants were in so many ways not what Belgians envisioned when they heard the word “church;” so to use that word misrepresented the true nature of these congregations.
Thus, they described themselves as a movement of people.
I am not suggesting that we discard the word “church;” we do not live in Belgium. It might, however, be refreshing for us to think of our American Baptist family as a movement.
Baptists have from their origins been a freer more flexible fellowship than have other brands of churches.
Everett Goodwin, in his book, “Down by the River: A Brief History of Baptist Faith,” observes that Baptists were not troubled by the disabling controversies spawned by the revivalism of the mid-18th century, as were other churches with a more ordered structure.
Baptists had a more flexible polity and way of life and were better equipped to embrace this new movement of the Spirit. In fact, they flourished during this time of unsettling change.
Sometimes Baptist life can seem chaotic and out of control. I prefer to think of it as agile, flexible and able to quickly adapt in a way that embraces new opportunities – that new thing that God is doing among us.
Early on, the followers of Jesus were called “The Way” (Acts 9:2). It was a movement of people who were on the way. Often they were not sure where the road would lead, but they were committed to following it wherever it went.
As Baptists, our churches are well equipped to move with freedom and flexibility in a rapidly changing world, leaving behind those things that are not core to who we are and might slow us down on our journey.
Pack light, only hang on to those things you really need, and wear comfortable shoes. And stay together on the road.
Executive minister of the American Baptist Churches-New York State.