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Examining Southern Baptists' Identity

Defining the identity of Southern Baptists isn't an easy task, but the latest film in the Forged by Faith DVD series seeks to do just that.

Forged by Faith: A Character of Commitment tells the story of Southern Baptists around the world and provides six examples of what makes them who they are. Just over seventeen minutes, the DVD is the third film in a series designed to help Southern Baptists better understand and appreciate their heritage and beliefs. Designed particularly for use in small group and Sunday School classes, new member classes, and special programs, the DVDS are produced by the SBC Executive Committee. Segments of each DVD can also be used for sermon illustrations and in worship services.

The first DVD in the series, Forged by Faith: The Early Years, told the story of Southern Baptists' early history, while the second DVD, Forged by Faith: One Sacred Effort, examined the Cooperative Program. Other titles are in the works, including a forthcoming one looking at the Baptist Faith and Message. Previews of the films can be viewed online at www.sbc.net/forgedbyfaith.

"The film series is an updated way to supply information Southern Baptists once regularly received through the Training Union curriculum," said Morris H. Chapman, president and CEO of the Executive Committee. "When the idea surfaced in one of our executive leadership team meetings, I immediately approved the development of a prototype and eagerly looked forward to its production. When that first film was finished, we telecast it during an annual meeting in the convention hotel. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and a series was born."

D. August Boto, who has written and produced much of the series, said he hopes the resource will continue to gain recognition as a useful training tool.

"I have heard of some churches which have incorporated the films into their new member training," Boto said.

One pastor using the films is David Hill, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Springfield, Ohio, and this year's chairman of the convention's Committee on Nominations. The DVDs are "extremely well done," Hill said.

"In fact, I showed them to my Wednesday night Bible study adult group, and they were so thrilled that they want me to do a sermon series on them. They want everyone to see them," he said. "We're going to use them for the whole church somehow. Since we no longer do disciple training here, we've really lost a lot in teaching our history and the way the Convention works. ... I had people [who watched the DVD] saying, 'We didn't know this. We've never heard this.'"

The narrator of the latest DVD, A Character of Commitment, acknowledges that defining the Southern Baptist identity "is a challenge of significant proportion" due to "their broad range of diversity." But, he says, there are six key characteristics that give Southern Baptists their identity.

Southern Baptists, the narrator says:

• are Christians whose first loyalty is to Jesus.

"They do not believe that being Southern Baptist makes one a Christian," the narrator says. "They believe the only way to be a Christian is through an individual relationship with Jesus. They do not claim to be the only Christians or the only true Christian denomination or group. Southern Baptists identify with and pray for their brothers and sisters in Christ who work to advance the cause of Christ under another denominational or descriptive banner or as independent fellowships."

• are a people of the Book.

"They view God's Word as indispensable. This stems from their belief that sound doctrine can only come from the Bible, which they also believe to be entirely reliable and authoritative. They credit their growth in ranks and ministry — at a time when other Christian groups have suffered decline — to their staunch adherence to this high view of Scripture which they hold openly and unashamedly and often in spite of contrary popular opinion."

The narrator references the Baptist Faith and Message's article on the Bible and says it is based on the Apostle Paul's definition of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16.

"A strong characteristic displayed by most Southern Baptists is their individual and collective conviction that the value of any religious belief rises or falls in direct proportion to its biblical underpinning."

• are evangelical.

"Basically this means that they believe they have good news to share — that good news being the Gospel message of the New Testament. They see the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19-20, as an assignment to all Christians. ... Southern Baptists are enthusiastically mission-minded in their beliefs and practices, supporting an extremely large missionary personnel force both domestically and overseas. Southern Baptists are known for sharing the Gospel as a part of every ministry they offer or perform."

• are cooperative, resilient and adaptive.

"They're not uncomfortable with diversity and welcome open and heart-felt debate about matters affecting church practice and doctrine. They recognize the Holy Spirit at work through the wide variety of giftedness possessed by their members and often distribute ministry assignments accordingly."

A tour of various Southern Baptist churches, the narrator says, would show a "full range of worship styles," including formal and expressive. Additionally, Southern Baptist churches "include both multi-cultural and specific nationality types."

• are independent.

"They follow a congregational approach where each local church is autonomous or self-governing. Southern Baptists consider the highest authority to be God, with the next highest to be their own local church. An institution known as 'The Baptist Church' does not exist, but rather only local Baptist churches. For this reason Southern Baptists do not recognize religious authorities outside or above the local church. ... A result of this mindset is that the various organizations with which the local churches choose to affiliate — such as associations, state conventions, and even the national Southern Baptist Convention — have no authority over any church."

• advocate and support religious liberty and have historically been its guardian.

"In fact, most Americans are unaware that their Constitution's statement protecting freedom of religion is the direct result of political involvement by Colonial Baptists in the South. This is an illustration of the Baptist ability to navigate a healthy tension — in that while Southern Baptists believe that government should not intrude into matters of faith, they also believe that an active faith should cause Christian involvement in government and public life. Southern Baptists maintain that keeping the identifies and functions of church and state completely separate is best for both — for when one has controlled the other down through history, corruption has resulted, and Christian work and reputation suffered."

Southern Baptists, the narrator says, "are as varied as God is creative."

"No two are alike," he says. "What draws them together is ... their joint and cooperative commitment to a common goal. Defining that goal goes a long way toward understanding who Southern Baptists are. So what is that goal? Simply stated, it is to reflect God's character as accurately as possible and to be at His service doing what He wants."

 


 

The Forged by Faith DVDs can be ordered online for $15 each at http://www.sbc.net/ForgedByFaith or by calling 1-866-722-5433.


Michael Foust is a member of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and an assistant editor for Baptist Press. With reporting by David Roach, a writer based in Louisville, Kentucky.

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May 2008 Edition
Volume 16, Issue 7
May 2008