Many perceive from both real stories and caricatures that Southern Baptists do not play well with others. And by others I mean those who do not belong to their tribe, those not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Butt of the Jokes
Growing up my pastor told me there were few groups with whom I should study the Bible outside of the SBC. The subject came up after I had been invited to a Bible Study with a friend but I did not know the pastor or his background.
Other groups, other Christian denominations, tended to be the butt of jokes at denominational gatherings. They seemed harmless. Maybe it was a remark about another’s method of baptism. Or, it could how another group’s polity differed from our own. Even still it might be, believe it or not, the narrowness of another group.
Maybe you have heard the one about the person who died and went to Heaven. St. Peter was showing the newbie around the place. It was filled with large rooms each with a door and a label. It seems every Christian denomination had a room for their group. Then when passing the door labeled [fill in your favorite] St. Peter said, “Shhh, quiet. They think they are the only ones here.”
Almost fifteen years ago I attended a National Pastors Conference not hosted by my denomination. During the pre-session activities announcements and such ran on a couple of large screens. Waiting on the session to begin I noticed one of the bits of humor mixed in with those announcements. I felt uneasy when I realized Southern Baptists, my tribe, were the butt of the joke. Touché.
Since that event, I intentionally developed friendships outside of my denomination. Relationships tend to humanize those we have caricatured. Shattering stereotypes ought to be a regular practice for Christian people. After all if we pursue the truth then laziness should not be the goal.
My pastor’s great fear turned on the possibilities for corruption, for being tempted to consider truth elsewhere. This was the 1970’s. The Charismatic Movement had affected the Dallas Baptist Association. Churches that had dabbled with the Third Wave had been refused a place at the denominational meeting. What would happen to our young Baptists? They must be protected.
My story does not take a turn for that particular edge. But, the question that gets raised is how do we work out a better sense of unity when we find out our stereotypes are not true, caricatures miss widely, and we learn we really like people not like ourselves. What shape does unity take when Christians disagree over certain subjects – doctrine and praxis? What guidelines might a person consider when determining a level of cooperation?
Southern Baptist Christians are not alone when considering how beliefs are held and how practices may be shared. Every arena in our culture comes with human groupings. These are based on some system that contends where the lines are and how to navigate relationships with other like groups. The questions of how close is one with a wider reach than simply denominational relationships.
Brick Walls and Picket Fences
This week I interview Dave Miller. Dave is Senior Pastor of the Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa. He once served as the 2nd Vice-President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dave also moderates SBC Voices, a hybrid blog-forum website centered around issues current in the Southern Baptists Convention, cultural shifts, and current events as seen through the lens of its various contributors and commenters.
Recently Dave had his book, Brick Walls and Picket Fences: How the Church Can Balance Doctrine and Unity, published by Rainer Publishing. Birthed out of his own experience, where he moved from a position of isolation from others who viewed doctrine and practice differently than he, Dave offers a way forward where the aim is relationship without sacrificing the Gospel. By Gospel he means a core, or set, of commitments rather than a system where everything is the Gospel including what translation of the Bible one chooses.
We take a look at the structure Dave developed out of his own questions that grew out of a new friendship, even a new mentor. And that from the most unlikely of places.
Why this interview for The Edge of the Inside? What’s so edgy here? Dave’s story illustrates for Southern Baptist Christians that it really does make a difference when we let first order spiritual disciplines help form the way we determine the way we hold our beliefs, our doctrine. What’s more, when you hear a Southern Baptist describe his experience it may open up the opportunity for you to listen to other voices before deciding to pitch them into a category all too quickly.
Click over and pick up a copy of Dave’s book, Brick Walls and Picket Fence: How the Church Can Balance Doctrine and Unitys, today.
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