I was reading Manual of Church Order this afternoon, and I stumbled across a great quote from J.L. Dagg (1794-1884). He is recounting how he chose in his youth between the options of being a lawyer or a minister:
At length the advice of Mr. Powell rose before me, with success at the bar, and honor, and affluence. Over against those I contemplated the reproach of being a Baptist minister, and the poverty to be expected. In full view of the contrast, my heart said, ‘Give me reproach and poverty, if I may serve Christ, and save souls.’ From that hour, I never doubted my call to the ministry.
Today, it is a trend among baptist churches to downplay the…well, baptist part of their name. Many new churches don’t even put it in their name, and you wouldn’t know they were Baptist unless you found that one statement tucked snuggly in a corner of their About page online that reads: “We align ourselves with the Southern Baptist Convention”.
I understand their reticence for encouraging division (which is what most people see denominations as), and I can see how these churches feel like they will attract more unbelievers if the name “Baptist” isn’t on their sign. However, it seems like an unfair bait and switch if you ask me.
What is more, I believe that men like Andrew Fuller, John Bunyan, J. L. Dagg and a host of other men who suffered for wearing the name “Baptist”, were thrown in prison, denied preaching licenses, and were associated in general with the riff-raff of society, would be rolling over in their graves to know that Baptists these days are ashamed to bear the name proudly.
When Dagg, one of my favorite Baptist theologians, chose to be a Baptist minister instead of a lawyer, he knew he was choosing a career that put him at the bottom of society.
At these same churches, members are not ashamed to wear their UNC hats or Steelers jerseys, but they are somehow afraid that claiming a legacy of flawed, but admirable, Christians will turn people off to the gospel. We champion our sports heroes, why shouldn’t we champion our spiritual heroes?
Rather than seeing denominations as divisions, I’d rather see each of them–whether Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.–championing their distinct legacies, and lifting up their heroes as models for the church worldwide.
C’mon, Baptists. Be willing to claim the team. Get out of the closet!