Upcoming baptisms have given me the chance to talk with the people participating in that ritual (welcome, Kerry and Jesse!) about the distinctiveness of our denomination. The four freedoms, those hallmarks of ABC life, are what I most look forward to telling people about.
They’re basically already on board with Religious Freedom (separation of church and state, in short), because that’s the lay of the land anyway. But to tell them about Soul Freedom and Bible Freedom – to say, “you’re invited to search after God yourself, and in community, and to discover the Scriptures yourself, and in community; you’re invited to wrestle with all of the big questions, and then you’re invited, and encouraged, to share your interpretations and your insights and your own big questions with the congregation” – that’s the best invitation I get to give as a pastor.
The fourth, church freedom, is one that matters a great deal to me these days. That core value of American Baptists asserts that each local congregation is free to follow God’s leading as it understands it, free to be faithful to its own understanding of the Gospel. If a church senses the Spirit calling it to participate in refugee resettlement work, or to establish a ministry reaching out to homeless youth, or to expand its care for the elders in its community, the church is encour-aged to do so. Not every ABC congregation has to settle on the same priorities or on identical statements of mission or vision or purpose. (How could we, given that we also encourage Soul Freedom and Bible Freedom?) It’s that encouragement and celebration of diversity that is distinctly American Baptist, and it’s long been important to people at FBC McMinnville. It’s what has allowed our church to follow its creative, progressive heart while remaining in communion with other congregations who bring other gifts and have other commitments. There’s a lot we can learn from each other.
As we consider who we’ve been, who we are, and who we are becoming, my prayer is that we find strength in these shared commitments to freedom that have long shaped our denomination. I give thanks for the openness they allow us to follow our Gospel call, the relationships they make possible with others who are following theirs, the way the vastness of God is revealed in the diversity of God’s church.
-Grateful to be with you,