Global Baptist leaders are looking beyond the 400th anniversary beginnings of Baptists in the back room of a bakery in Amsterdam in 1609 to the decades to come in the 21st century.
EthicsDaily.com asked Baptists around the world about their hopes for the future and what they thought Baptists needed to prioritize. Noting that the Baptist hallmarks included a commitment to the Bible, devotion to the local church, support of the missionary enterprise and advocacy of religious liberty, EthicsDaily.com asked leaders what they hoped would become Baptist hallmarks in the future.
The Baptist message “should remain the same” but the method must change, said Olu Menjay, principal of the Ricks Institute in Liberia.
“Baptists must recognize the current realities of [the] world context and seek ways to liberate God’s people from their unfair situation towards a path of human growth and hope,” said Menjay. “Ignoring societal needs reveals simply that Baptists will be operating on an agenda that is remote and has no essence in God’s mission.”
Argentinean native and the Baptist World Alliance’s first vice-presidential nominee for 2010-15, Daniel Carro voiced agreement with Menjay about the importance of addressing social needs.
“A holistic ministry is a must. The challenges of the 21st century are daunting: Poverty, hunger, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, cyber-cultures, disintegration, lack of hopes, sectarianism, right-and left-wing fundamentalisms, misinterpretations and misrepresentations are some of the most visible,” said Carro, a professor of divinity at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies, in Arlington, Va.
Ross Clifford, principal of Morling Theological College in Sydney, Australia, said that he hoped one of the hallmarks would be “a biblical worldview that results in a holistic approach to the mission of the church, e.g., evangelism, social justice, a strong supportive local church.”
Mark Woods, editor of the British-based Baptist Times, said he wanted Baptists to have a “humble confidence” in the 21st century.
Acknowledging contextual differences, he said: “In some places humility will be what’s called for, as we repent of past mistakes and are aghast at triumphalism or empire-building. In others we will need confidence, as churches face indifference, incomprehension or outright persecution.”
Noting the phenomenal growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere, Menjay said, “Baptists worldwide must be opened to the spirit of God in encouraging relevant partnership that frees itself from any spirit of paternalism.”
Emmanual McCall, too, recognized the challenge of growth in the southern hemisphere. But his concern was how Baptists in the northern hemisphere would handle the new dynamics.
“While we rejoice that the southern hemisphere is becoming strong in its Christian witness, how can we in the northern hemisphere receive that witness and influence as a gift of grace and not a challenge to our failing missiologies?” asked McCall, a BWA vice president and former Baptist Center for Ethics board member.
Baptists need to “move beyond the debate over traditional and emerging churches and commit ourselves to a missional paradigm,” said Clifford.
Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, noted the need for “missional action.”
Hoping that one of the key hallmarks for future Baptist churches would be “a robust Trinitarian theology,” she said, “I am persuaded that Trinitarian virtues such as hospitality, diversity and generativity have a powerful capacity to renew congregational life.”
Several respondents voiced concerns about organizational issues.
McCall pointed out that organizational bodies — associations and conventions — helped to establish the Baptist identity. He wondered how Baptists would remain faithful to such organizational forms in light of the challenges from mega-churches and individual organizations.
“I hope Baptists of the future will conform [to] truly congregational and participatory communities,” said Carro. “Baptists of the recent past have allowed too much authoritarianism and dictatorial attitudes in their midst.”
Carro expressed hope that “Baptists will live up to our proclaimed motto of unity in diversity. Unity without diversity is uniformity and diversity without unity is dissension. We Baptists need to know how to live with each other and with the ecumenical community.”
Additionally, Carro said he hoped that religious liberty would remain a Baptist hallmark.
Woods, too, spoke of religious freedom.
“We should continue to be committed to freedom of religion, but today this means far more than saying ‘We shouldn’t have a state church,’” he said. “These battles will be different in every country, but how can Christians play a full part in national life as Christians while genuinely respecting and promoting freedom for people with whom we might profoundly disagree?”
Addressing the Western European context, Woods spoke of the challenge of individualism in which “personal gratification and the autonomy of the individual have become taken for granted as the greatest imaginable goods.”
He said that hostility toward Christianity results from the Christian call for responsibility and rights.
“We need to learn to speak wisely and graciously in asserting the lordship of Christ,” said Woods.
The Australian Baptist leader, Clifford, warned that “Baptists have a tendency today to be prophetic when it relates to those beyond our sphere of influence. We need to rediscover a prophetic voice that challenges us as Baptists,” wanting “a prophetic voice that challenges us, not just the world.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.