Baptists, Ecumenism, and the Future

Baptists, Ecumenism, and the Future June 23, 2017

steepleIn a recent interview posted at The Center for Baptist Renewal, Timothy George was asked how the next generation of Baptist leaders can maintain Baptist identity while also spearheading efforts at ecumenism. His answer was threefold:

I believe in an ecumenism of conviction, not an ecumenism of accommodation. We do not advance the cause of Christian unity by abandoning our biblical understanding of the church. But how do we hold these together? Three things: First, recognize the centrality of Jesus Christ. The closer we come to Jesus Christ, the closer we come to one another as brothers and sisters in him. Second, study the Bible together. The Bible belongs to the whole people of God, not just to one denomination or church tradition. We can clarify differences and find a deeper unity by going deeper into the Scriptures. Third, prayer. Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father (John 17:21) that his disciples would be one so that the world might believe. We can join our prayer to the prayer of Jesus and in so doing become a part of its fulfillment.

Read the whole interview here.

For those outside of Baptist circles, one might not understand why it’s so important for George to affirm the need for Baptists seeking ecumenism. Shouldn’t all denominations and groups find commonalities we can all agree on? I say yes. So does George.

However, Baptists often scoff at the idea of ecumenism, because they see ecumenism as a step toward watered-down theology and ecclesiology, or as some sort of concession of Baptist principles. But George offers the right balance here—maintain your Baptist identity and convictions, but do so while humbly learning from others and seeking unity with the global Body of Christ where possible.

As inherently autonomous people—given our local churches’ voluntary associations without external governance—we Baptists are prone to be insular, creating dogmatic fences that keep others out. So much so, it’s even rare to find Baptists who seek to incorporate church history and tradition into our theology and ecclesiology.

Gratefully, I think this is changing. My generation of leaders and future leaders agree broadly with George on this—let’s partner where we can and learn from others when we can. That doesn’t mean we begin promoting infant baptism just to “get along,” nor does it mean that we sacrifice core gospel truths at the relational altar of heretics. But it does mean we look at other orthodox denominations who can teach us about the importance of theological reflection, liturgical intentionality, and historical appreciation.

Let’s face it: Baptist theology hasn’t been the bastion of any of the aforementioned practices in the past 50 years. Our connection to the historic Christian tradition in both theology and ecclesiology, in many ways, has recently gone by the wayside in favor of “church growth” obsessions and American business-model platforming. We can and must do better.

As a member of the Christian Standard Bible team, I’m grateful to serve with a theologically, denominationally, nationally, and ethnically diverse group of translators and endorsers who all love God’s Word and his mission of reconciling the world to himself. We model the type of ecumenism that we should seek. I pray that as Baptists, we will continue to march on with Baptist conviction without sacrificing theological and relational humility.

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