Friday, April 30, 2010

To Be a Better Baptist

Through this blog, I hope to help Baptists become better Baptists, Methodists better Methodists, Presbyterians better Presbyterians, and non-denominationalists better non-denominationalists.

But already we hit a problem!

What does it mean to become a better Baptist?

To put it another way: How can Baptists become "better" if becoming better "Baptists" must ultimately mean rejecting something of what it means to be "Baptist" to begin with in order to replace it with something better?

Let me clarify: I'm not speaking about the person who is not following common Baptist mores--such the prohibition against consuming alcohol--by consuming an occasional beer; or a person who is not following Baptist beliefs by denying the trinity; or a person who is not following Baptist ritual by refusing to attend church every Sunday.  Such a person, according to the Baptist perspective, would need to become a better person by becoming more Baptist.

I'm talking about how can we improve the Baptist version of Christianity itself.  More importantly: how can we move Baptist Christianity forward/up rather than laterally/sideways?  Is it possible to conceive of making the Baptist faith "better" and not just "different?" 


It is difficult to conceive in today's Christian climate of bettering Baptists since measuring such a forward improvement assumes an objective, unchanging standard--some knowable goal--toward which Baptist Christianity is progressing.

For instance, if someone, somehow, knew which interpretations of the Bible and of sacred Christian Traditions were true and which were false, then such a person could conceive of the Baptist faith improving by keeping all the Baptist doctrines that are true and discarding those that are false.

If someone knew which elements of liturgical worship were taught by Jesus and the apostles, then we could improve Baptist liturgies by maintaining those elements that are necessary, discarding those that are forbidden (I'm not suggesting there are any), and including those elements that have been commanded.

If someone knew what moral teachings conform to the will of God--and conform the human will to God--then we could improve the Baptist moral code by reinforcing all the more strongly those prescripts that lead to holiness, discard those that unduly bind the conscience, and add certain moral laws that are not currently being taught or followed.


Catholic convert Scott Hahn is known for teaching that "God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to allow us to stay that way."

To return to the beginning: I hope that I can encourage Baptists in their faith by both encouraging them in those parts of their faith that are true, holy, and beautiful, while simultaneously helping them to become better Baptists by seeing clearly those parts that have to be discarded in order to move forward.

The good news of the Catholic faith for non-Catholics is this: it is possible to move forward.

Not every change to a denomination needs to result in more splitting, which historically is precisely what has happened.  If every denomination was able to move forward toward that which is objectively true and holy, then our changes would result in greater and greater unity!

But can we conceive it?  And do we want it?

Some people can not conceive it precisely because they do not want it!  The will, we can not forget, is the guardian of the mind.

The Catholic Church is different from every denomination that has split from her in that she remains, as she has since her inception, the objective standard.

Does this mean that the Catholic Church can not improve?  Absolutely not!  However, the Catholic Church always improves by becoming more true to itself.  It is the Catholic Faith that is the standard--the Catholic Faith that has been passed down in the form of authoritative teachings, a rich liturgical tradition, an unchanging moral code, etc.--and it is this standard that the church of every century must always dynamically work toward.

The ancient Catholic Christian faith is also the standard Jesus has established by which non-Catholic Christian faiths can be measured.  Only when non-Catholic versions of Christianity each begin measuring themselves by an objective standard will forward movement become not just possible, but conceivable.  The wonderful gift of infallibility, which Jesus has given as a gift to the apostles and their successors united with the chair of Peter, is the means by which our Lord has maintained an objective standard throughout the centuries.

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