I’m thankful for my Baptist heritage, and the theological foundation that has come with my upbringing. Baptists have contributed much to the expression of faith in Christianity, even if they have been the brunt of a few jokes (sometimes, rightfully so!). Stop me if you’ve heard these…
How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?
None. Baptists don’t change anything!
What’s the difference between God and a Baptist Pastor?
God doesn’t think He’s a Baptist pastor.
Why are Baptists against pre-marital sex?
They’re afraid it might lead to dancing.
When I think about my upbringing, my training and my years in a Baptist school I am so thankful for a commitment to the study of God’s Word, and to the belief that understanding the Bible is fundamental to the Christian life. Literally, from my infancy, I have been taught the value of knowing the truth that flows from the Bible. Today, my conviction to always try and teach and preach the truth of God’s Word flows directly from my rich Baptist heritage.
If I have a moment of pause, a moment of noticing the tarnish on my Timothy Award, it’s when I see the disconnect between knowledge and application. For a group of people who elevate the truth of Scripture so high, it seems like there are a disproportionate number of issues that follow Baptist pastors, leaders and churches. Stop me if you’ve heard these stories before…
Have you heard the one about the Baptist church that split over a copy machine? One group wanted to replace a 10-year-old machine that was perceived to be a money pit, while the other group wanted to keep fixing it as good stewards of God’s resources. The end result of this debate? 75 members left a 200 member church, and started a new church less than a mile away. 35 members left the church because they couldn’t believe the copy machine divided the congregation and the remaining 90 members held on to their beloved copy machine and “theological” convictions.
Did you hear about the Baptist church that stopped it’s ministry to the poor in their city because none of the poor were coming to church? Well, the church was doing work about 15 miles form where their building was located and most of the people they were helping did not have any form of transportation. Many of the poor they helped were in fact attending church…it just happened to be of the non-denominational variety; that was unacceptable to the lead pastor.
You know the story about the Baptist church that stopped helping alcoholics? Apparently some of the people they were helping showed up to church not wearing appropriate Sunday clothing. Many wore jeans and T-shirts, unaware of the church’s dress code. After the outcry of the congregation, the leaders quickly ended their ministry to “those people.”
I know this isn’t just a Baptist problem. The bulk of my experience as been in-and-around Baptist churches, and each of these stories is one I’ve known personally (or one with which I had a close personal connection). In each of the these three stories, the churches and leaders involved were proponents of the Scriptures. They preached the truth of God’s Word and challenged the congregation to know the Word of God intimately. To which I give a hearty Amen!
The problem is that these issues reveal a deeper problem — a disconnect between knowledge and application. Again, this isn’t just a Baptist problem, this is a Christian problem, and one that has been around for centuries! (Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my Baptist roots and I’m thankful for the countless other Baptist churches, pastors and leaders who are living both truth and application in their lives and ministries! I’m focusing on some of the ugly stories to illustrate an important lesson.)
In James 2:14-18, James challenges his audience to put teeth to their faith. The proof of faith rested, he would write, not in knowledge, but in application of that knowledge! Look at Paul’s words in Colossians 1:9-10: “…we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with knowledge…” Paul’s prayer for the believers of Colosse was that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s Word. Why? “…we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work…” The point of knowledge was application!
I fear that too many in my religious heritage have a rich knowledge and deep understanding of the truths found in God’s Word, but have stored that knowledge in a life that is light on application and action. And I certainly don’t have to look at my theological roots to see this problem, I only have to look in the mirror.
The reality is that this is not an either/or proposition. We live in a culture (Western) that is abandoning absolute truth and embracing relative values as the highest good. Cultural statements like #lovewins #blacklivesmatter and #socialgood are praised as high cultural values, regardless of how they are interpreted by truth. James and Paul would argue: we must know the truth, and then we must apply it in the communities, schools, jobs, churches and neighborhoods where we interact with others. #Lovewins when we understand what true, biblical love is. #blacklivesmatter when we see the beauty of life from God’s perspective. #socialgood has an eternal value, when it flows from the application of God’s Word about helping others.
We need heavy, consistent doses of the truth, and we need wisdom to process and apply that truth every day.
The Overboard Life cannot be lived alone, in cave with a Bible; neither can it be lived in the trenches of the war on poverty without the guidance of Truth. We must commit ourselves, daily, to reading and applying God’s Word (Psalm 119). We must engage in the regular gathering of Christians in the church, to hear the Word preached and to apply that teaching through prayer, sharing, need-meeting and worship (Acts 2:42-47). Truth without application leads to the sin of the pharisees. Application without truth leads to an unrooted, fading faith.
Are you taking your daily dose of truth? Are you asking God for the help to apply that truth? I certainly don’t want to be a pharisee, any more than I want to pass on a faith that fades at the first site of trouble.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is better on the water!