In this post we will be extending the final installment of Jonathan Leeman’s breakout session at the Virginia Baptist Convention entitled “So is the ‘Baptist’ Brand Really Worth It?” We at B21 hope this series of posts has been helpful to spark thoughts and conversations about the importance of Baptist distinctions in the contemporary church culture.
How can we both emphasize Baptist distinctions of regenerate church membership and congregationalism while appropriately supporting the gospel work of non-Baptists?
I’m not sure who first said it, but I like the proposal that we who belong to different denominations should keep the fences between us clear, low, and shake hands over them often. Yes, at first glance, the world will see division simply based on the church signs of “First Baptist Church” and “First Presbyterian Church.” But if they bother to look any closer, they should also see plenty of hand-shaking, love, and partnership in the gospel.
So how do we work against an unhealthy tribalism?
1. Recognize that different kinds of cooperation allow for different levels of agreement. I won’t plant a church with a Presbyterian, but I’m happy to evangelize with him.
2. Pray for other churches (of multiple denominations) from your pulpit. Whoever is leading the pastoral prayer on Sunday morning in our church always prays for other gospel-preaching churches, including other churches in our city, including churches of other denominations, including bigger churches! This helps to kill the ungodly competition and turfiness that is so common among pastors and churches. Their success in the gospel is our success in the gospel. We’re all playing for the same team.
3. Read non-Baptist authors, and recommend and sell good books of non-Baptist authors.
4. Attend non-denominational conferences like Together for the Gospel.
5. Discerningly support non-denominational evangelistic work.
6. Occasionally invite non-Baptists as guest preachers.
A final thought: the less we emphasize and even idolize certain cultural distinctives of the Baptist brand and identity and the more we emphasize the Baptist doctrinal distinctives of believer’s baptism, regenerate church membership, and congregationalism, the more impact we can have across the various evangelical tribes. My church does not belong to Acts29 or the Willow Creek Association; it doesn’t use the language of “purpose-driven” or “missional”; but I do think churches who identify with all those tribes will be more obedient to the Bible, more internally healthy, and better witnesses to the non-Christians around them by practicing believer’s baptism, regenerate church membership, and congregationalism.
Bottom line: the contemporary world of marketing is all about getting your brand right, and everyone wants to brand themselves. Therefore I do think it’s good to refer to ourselves as “Baptists” even on our church signs, if only of the sake of truth in advertising. That said, let’s make sure it’s the smallest word on our sign, and let’s instead do the subversive thing by pointing people to what the Bible says about these few, simple doctrinal distinctives.