Monthly Archives: July 2014

When Episcopalians Become Baptist

St. Phillip'sFor several years I have watched the struggle within the Episcopalian Church.  I have resisted commenting, because I am not Episcopalian.  I am a Baptist minster.  There is something about jumping into the middle of another family squabble that seems unmannerly, and in Charleston that is something that we dare not do!

But this morning on the front page of the Post and Courier, Jennifer Berry Hawes reported that the case is now going to court.  As I read it I was reminded of a conversation I had with a former Episcopal bishop over a decade ago.  The rumblings were beginning.  We were finishing up breakfast when I commented, “You need to read the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is going to be replayed!”  He laughed, slapped me on the back and said, “Don, that’s not going to happen!  We are Episcopalians!

I wish I could say that I was wrong, but as the years have passed, I have watched as the Episcopalians have become more and more Baptist—not only in South Carolina, but across the country.  Time and time again churches and dioceses have chosen to drop their polity, their way of doing church, their hierarchy in favor of the autonomy that Baptists have long treasured and endured!

I understand that!  The church I serve, Providence Baptist on Daniel Island was formed out of a difficult time in Baptist life.  Baptists have historically held firm to 4 freedoms—soul freedom–an individuals freedom to stand before God without an intermediary; Bible freedom–an individuals freedom to read and interpret scripture for themselves under the leadership of the Holy Spirit; church freedom—the freedom of a local church to choose thie own way; and religious freedom—the freedom from state intervention in matters of the soul.  Those are historical beliefs, ideas that made Baptist “misfits,” radical.   There was a sense that those freedoms were being undermined and so we departed.  We left, and have voted 3 times not to be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention!  We know what it is like to leave. It is hard!  It is messy! But it is at the core of being Baptist!

Now our Episcopalian brothers appear to desire to be Baptist!  They are beginning to value local autonomy over the hierarchical structure, with local congregations choosing not to follow the diocese, with the diocese choosing not to follow the national church.  So very Baptist!

At its core, however, they are engaged in a battle about hermeneutics.  That is a theological word that refers to how one interprets the Bible.  While many trace this current conflict back to issues around sexuality, at its core it is how you interpret scripture.  When the Bible speaks against homosexuality, are those verses gospel, binding on all Christians for all time?  When the Bible says that women should be quiet in church, is that authoritative?  The scriptures that speak about caring for the aliens among us, selling everything and giving it to the poor—do they still apply?  In short, the issue is how one interprets scripture.

It is a sticky issue!  No one, no one, takes the Bible literally!  No matter what they say!  We all pick and choose which scriptures are “more Bible” than others!  The question is how we decide!  How do we decide is, dare I say it, more important that what we decide! This struggle is one which every denomination, every church, every individual Christian will have to struggle.  It is one that will shape the face of Christianity.  It is not fun!  Ask the Baptists!  It has cost us seminaries, retreat centers, congregations, relationships.  It is painful!

I had so hoped that I would be wrong all those years ago, that our Episcopalian brothers and sisters could have avoided this battle!  Time and the courts will decide what happens next!  My guess is that we will all look a lot more “Baptist.”

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July 8, 2014 · 2:53 pm

Thoughts Getting Ready for the 4th

Tomorrow is the 238th birthday of the United States!  And we are going to have a party!  All across our nation we will have fireworks and cookouts and parties and parades.  It is going ot be a wonderful time—just the kind you should have for a birthday party.

But will we remember what it is about?

One year shortly after we moved to Charleston the girls and I went down to Marion Square on the 4th for a celebration.  As a part of the day, we heard the Declaration of Independence read—out loud, by a cast of performers.  It was incredibly moving.  It was the first time in my life that I had ever heard this important document.  It may have been the first time I had ever even read it.

Have you?  Have you ever gotten past those familiar first words?

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

Wonderful, poetic words!  We hear them all the time!  But have you ever gotten past them?  If you have, then you know that this document that we celebrate tomorrow is an incredibly radical document—238 years later!

I will read it again tomorrow—it has become a tradition now, and give thanks for the courage and the fortitude of those forefathers (and mothers) who pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

But I have to wonder about those of us who call ourselves Christians.  Do we ever read the foundational documents of our faith?  Do we ever get past “In the beginning…” or “For God so loved the world…”   Do we realize what a radical thing it is to declare that “Jesus is Lord?”

Do we ever take the time to read the Sermon on the Mount?  (Matthew 5-7)  Or the story of the beginning of the church?  (Acts 2:44-47)  Or the instructions on how to live?  (Colossians 3:1-17)  Talk about radical words!

It has become so easy for us to just wave a flag on the 4th of July, to watch the fireworks and say “ooh and ahhh” and to get teary at the national anthem and to confuse that with patriotism.  It is even easier to show up on Sunday and remember Sunday meals at Grandma’s, to recall that emotional experience at Youth Camp, to get all sentimental at Christmas and Easter.

It is a totally different thing to pledge your life, your fortune, your sacred honor.  It is totally different to really live that Jesus is Lord.

Tomorrow I am going to celebrate and give thanks for the undeserved grace of being born in the United States.  That is gift that few of us can really understand.  I pray that I might be worthy of such a gift.

On Sunday I will be in worship—praying that I might be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

How about you?  How will you celebrate this holiday weekend?

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