Recently I was criticized by a former student that Thomas Road Baptist Church is not “Baptist” enough. I’ve heard that from time to time. Used to happen at West Ridge Church when new folks would come in and say, “love this place, but it’d better be Baptist or we’re gone!”
My word. John the Baptist didn’t die for my sins, Jesus did. Having been in a Baptist church most of my life, I have an appreciation for the times in history when true followers of Jesus in response to false teachings or persecutions did distinguish themselves with the name Baptists. I do appreciate the long history of disciples who called themselves Baptists who gave all and died on foreign shores to proclaim Good News. People claimed the name Baptist as a way to say they were followers of the Way in religiously confusing times. I honor those martyrs and that history. It’s disrespectful to ignore it.
But Baptist only? Baptist above all? The Baptist life? What about the Christ life? What about Christian? What about disciple of Jesus above all?
I humbly perceive that 90% of people who argue about being Baptist over another name are referring to worship styles, denominational practices, and secondary or tertiary teaching distinctions. They don’t understand primary biblical doctrine that unites most of us. By the way, stick another name in here: Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentacostal, Calvary Chapel, Lutheran- we’re all guilty.
Yes, Dr. Falwell once held an event called Baptist Fundamentalism, which gave us all a free trip to skip conference sessions and explore Washington DC. But he was a Christian first and foremost – “Jesus First”. He was a fundamentalist evangelical, holding to core teachings and heart of the mission with any brother of another name who would join.
Time is coming very rapidly in America, where names, tribes, associations, denominations will mean very, very little to anyone outside the faith. The only questions they will ask are these: “Are you followers of that Jesus? Do you believe those teachings of that Book? Do you really love each other the way He said you would? Is there any salvation there for me?”
God help us if the answer is, “not sure ‘bout all of that, but we’re Baptist!”
This is a guest post by my friend Matt Willmington. Matt is the Director of Ministries at Thomas Road, where he has served in various capacities for 13 years. Prior to rejoining TRBC in 2009, Matt ministered eight years as executive pastor and small groups pastor at West Ridge Church in Dallas, GA. Matt is also a former youth ministry educator for Liberty University.
Matt has been a Christ-follower for 42 years and husband of a kindergarten teacher (Chris) for 23 years. He is also the father of two young adults and one high schooler.