What is in a Name?

In the early days of the movement we know today as the Baptist branch of the Christian faith, those who were moving in a Baptist direction did not refer to themselves as Baptist.  They were called by Baptist by those who opposed them. It was a term of derision that was not meant as compliment. The Baptist accepted the name and made it their own by the mid 1600s.  They were small bunch of people with a whole lot of conviction and not much else.  Their status was bottom of the barrel and their ability to win friends and influence people was virtually nonexistent. For that reason, they always seemed to be getting kicked out or run off. In 1607, John Smyth, founder and leader of a band of believers that would become Baptists, led his people to Holland in order to escape religious persecution in England. In 1635, Roger Williams, the founder of the first Baptist Church in what would become the United States of America was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his nonconformist views on religious matters.  In 1770, James Ireland, a Virginia Baptist pastor, was kicked out of free society and into Culpepper County jail for preaching the Baptist understanding of Christianity. From the very beginning, Baptists have an established legacy of being made to feel less than welcome by those who had the power to make their lives uncomfortable.

Even in the 21st century some Baptists are still getting kicked out of places. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is about to kick the Tarrant Baptist Association out of the building that the seminary owns. The seminary is kicking the association out because the association has yet to make any effort to kick one of its member churches, Broadway Baptist Church, out of the association. The association is way behind schedule from the seminary’s point of view as Broadway has already been kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Broadway was kicked out of the SBC and BGCT because they would not kick any homosexuals out of their church. Now the seminary is kicking out the association because their failure to kick Broadway out of the association cannot viewed as anything other than tacit approval of Broadway’s decision to not kick homosexuals out of their church.

If all you know of Baptist history is the last thirty years, then you might be inclined to think that the Baptists in this latest dispute are the ones doing the kicking.  In the past three decades, Baptists have grown quite adept at kicking people out; running people off and making those different from them feel less than welcome. They seem to find a great deal of satisfaction in doing to others what was done in earlier times to very people who started the Baptist movement. Broadway Baptist Church and Tarrant Baptist Association are in good company. Smyth, Williams, Ireland and a host of Baptist forebears experienced the pain of exclusion, the threat of harm and the brute force of coercion at the hands of those who thought they were speaking for God.  Their courage and conviction bear fruit to this day in the resolve shown by Broadway, Tarrant and others who refuse to be bullied by church hierarchies that seem more concerned about their own agendas than in sharing the richness of God’s grace with one another and with the world.

In the beginning, it was the Baptists that were getting kick out of places.  Truth be told, it still is.