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From : Chris Ayers (Liberal Preacher) who isn’t getting enough questions sent his way

Dear Liberal Preacher,

Jesus says, “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt 21:31) If that wasn’t shocking enough here’s the second kicker.  Notice to whom Jesus was speaking, the chief priests and elders of the people (Matt 21:23).

Signed,

Chris Ayers (Liberal Preacher)

Dear Chris,

What’s your point?

I’m a preacher.  You don’t think I’m going to be last in line do you?

Liberal Preacher

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From Rosie:

Dear Liberal Baptist Preacher,

It is my understanding that the Baptist church has traditionally believed in the “Four Freedoms.”

1) Soul freedom: the soul is competent before God, and is capable of making decisions in matters of faith without coercion or compulsion by any larger religious or civil body (the priesthood of the believer)

2) Church freedom: freedom of the local church from outside interference, whether government or civilian (the autonomy of the local church)

3) Bible freedom: the individual is free to interpret the Bible for himself or herself, using the best tools of scholarship and Biblical study available to the individual

4) Religious freedom: the individual is free to choose whether to practice their religion, another religion, or no religion – also, religious freedom in separation of church and state.

My questions: Are these four freedoms still a part of the Baptist tradition? Do Fundamentalist Baptists believe in these four freedoms? Does the SBC endorse these traditions? If this is NOT still a part of Baptist tradition, when did it change? Thank you for your time.

Rosie

 

Dear Rosie:

There’s nothing I would enjoy more – well, that’s an exaggeration – there’s nothing I would enjoy more than raking a few Baptist fundamentalists over the coals.  I went to a Southern Baptist seminary during the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. The church I serve as pastor is a former Southern Baptist Church.  (We couldn’t take any more of their sexism, homophobic statements, anti-Semitism, dishonesty about the Bible, etc.)

I’d love to rake them over the coals and tell you they are not true Baptists, but I don’t think that would be accurate.  During the big SBC debates there was a lot of talk about who was and wasn’t a true Baptist. True this or true that, true Baptist or a sorry excuse for a Baptist, true Christian and you aren’t a Christian – all that talk makes me nervous.

I’d like for you to read Leon McBeth’s mammoth work, The Baptist Heritage. He makes Baptist history interesting, and there is some funny stuff in it too!  It’s a big, big book, though.

There are currently so many different “brands” of Baptist I wouldn’t even want to start to define Baptist these days.  And I think a good case can be made for there being diversity among Baptists from the start of Baptistdom. 

Walter Shurden – I once heard him give a lecture, I believe, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary – spoke of different strands or traditions among the early Baptists/Southern Baptists. 

In Jane Wagner’s book, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, the main character, played by Lily Tomlin on Broadway, says:  “when I look at my family I feel like a detached retina.” 

When I look at my Baptist kinfolk, I sometimes feel like a detached retina.  On the other hand, there are more Baptists who live in my neighborhood (I’m a baptist, Jewish, Universalist, Agnostic Christian) than you might believe.  Baptists, like me, stand in the great heritage of John LeLand.  In 1791 John Leland, an outspoken Baptist in America, wrote his major treatise on religious liberty, “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable.”  In this treatise, Leland argued that the real motives for establishment of religion are not to benefit religion, but to buttress the power of civil clergy and augment the purposes of ambitious clergy.  Leland concluded that: “Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics.  Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods, and let government protect him in so doing.”

That’s my kind of Baptist!

But, alas, your questions.

Those four freedoms you mention are still alive and well among REAL, TRUE Baptists – O.K., among some of the modern Baptists.

I don’t speak for fundamentalist  or SBC Baptists.  You’ll have to ask them.  But watch them.  I find them squirmy.  I find them dishonest.  They are trying to be honest.  They are good people, for the most part.  They are just – they just think you have to be the way they are to be Christian and they are flat out wrong.  I don’t find their Christianity very Christian.  It sure doesn’t appeal to me.  Or put another way, I’m not going back, but I do appreciate many wonderful things about my conservative Baptist upbringing.  [I bet I can whip you in a Bible sword drill.  “Sword”? – “Sword Drill”?  That should have been a clue!]

When did it change?  Well, that’s the old “what’s the original” angle.  Christians spend too much time worrying about originals we never were or had and will never get or retrieve.  What a waste of time and energy and ink. 

When did it change?  Did it ever change?  I’m not getting into that debate too much.  I spend my time using the Bible, experience, reason, science, church tradition to make persuasive arguments about what God is asking the church and Christians to believe, and more importantly, to do today.

[Speaking of the original debate, original in this case being Baptists as the originial Christians – God help us.  There’s a book, The Trail of Blood by J. M. Carroll, which traces Baptists all the way back to John the Baptist.  I can buy that.  He was one weird dude.]

What’s your next question?

You sure have a lot of questions.

That’s a good thing.

Be careful about putting “periods” at the end of your sentences, metaphorically speaking, of course.

Happy Easter! (And watch out for those Baptists)

 

submit questions to askaliberalpreacher@gmail.com

 

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From CN:

Dear Liberal Preacher,
 
I hate church. Despise it. I love the idea of finding a liberal church (like yours) and for once worshipping with people who aren’t afraid to ask the “big” questions. I have been reading a lot of your blog and have been diving into your website, I really love it.  I also have a degree in religion and psychology and currently work in a ministry position, and yet I can’t stand the idea of sitting through church. It is the standing, sitting, singing, and gathering of sweaty bodies that just kind of make my stomach turn. I have come to associate church with cheesiness, fake smiles, and uncomfortable shoes. I wish I wanted to go to church, but mostly I just want to have my Sundays to myself. Is that so bad? How do I get over the “I just graduated college and I hate church” hump?
 
Thanks,
CN

 

CN,

The church needs you.  But the world needs you more, and the world is the point.  And if going to church saps you and is a waste of time, time that you could be using to love the world, well, snub the institutional church.  Or start a cell group yourself.  Do some new form of church.  The Church needs a kick in the pants.  It is impotent and is missing the point/s.

There are no perfect churches and there are no perfect people, but, like you, the cheesiness, the inability to ask big questions, and the fake smiles are just too much.  I mean, have they ever read Job or Ecclesiastes or the lament Psalms?

I’m going to email you the best story I’ve ever read.  It’s about a drunk named Old Ike.  The story is from  Wilfred Pelletier’s No Foreign Land:  The Autobiography of a North American Indian.  Old Ike steals a Gideon Bible and discovers real religion; finds out he is more like Jesus than the priests.  It’s funny, but it’s hard-hitting.

I’m more interested in you following Jesus than being in a church, but if you can, help the Christians in churches.  They need it badly.  Unfortunately, the type of help they want from you (your money, you sitting on the pew, you sitting in a million long and boring meetings listening to people think of a thousand reasons not to do something Jesus said to do) is not the type of help which could make them more faithful, real, and relevant.

 

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