Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of the forthcoming Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. We asked him to list 10 things he wishes people knew about Southern Baptists.
1. Westboro Baptist Church isn’t one of us.
Sometimes people assume when they see Westboro Baptist Church with its hateful signs, picketing, and protesting that this church is one of ours. It isn’t. As a matter of fact, Westboro pickets us, too, most years. They reject what we believe is the core of our belief — that the gospel is offered to all persons — and instead they believe that God delights in condemnation and damnation.
We are a missionary people, who want to see everyone — including people who hate us — reconciled to God through the gospel. That’s why, when I have reason to write about the group, I usually do so with the Westboro Baptist (sic) Church (sic). If I lived in a place called “Westboro,” I would probably add a third sic.
2. We emphasize hellfire and brimstone, but probably not how you think.
Southern Baptists — like all orthodox Christians — believe in a coming Day of Judgment. Like Jesus and John the Baptist, we warn people of the eternal consequences of their spiritual decisions. But some think that Southern Baptists think the judgment of God is reserved for people who don’t believe or behave like we do. That’s far from true.
One of the first things we learn as children is that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That includes us, and when we speak of “sinners,” we are speaking about all human beings (except for One notable exception).
3. We are defined by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is good news.
We share our faith with our neighbors and send missionaries all over the world because we believe that God has made a way for sinful humanity to be reconciled to God. We believe Jesus took on our humanity, died under the curse we incurred with our sin, was raised from the dead, and stands now as our High Priest before the throne of God.
Our lives are hidden in Christ, so that his cross is our cross, his life is our life. We are forgiven of sin, but this is not just some sort of amnesty for the afterlife. In Christ, God has adopted us as his children, and we are named “joint heirs” with Jesus so that his future is our future — and it is more than we could even imagine right now.
This sort of peace with God is offered to anyone, no matter who that person is or what he or she has done, on the condition of repentance from sin and faith in Christ. When we’re not as joyful as we ought to be, it’s because we need to be reminded of how good it is to be those who were lost and are now found.
This commitment to the gospel is why Southern Baptists, through their International Mission Board, support 4,734 international missionaries around the world and why the North American Mission Board supports 5,611 missionaries, not to mention 3,600 Southern Baptist chaplains who serve in the U.S. military.
It’s why when there’s a disaster — whether it’s Hurricane Sandy or the Nepal earthquake or a famine in Africa — Southern Baptists are among the first in and the last out to minister to those affected.
4. Southern Baptists are committed to a believers’ church.
We don’t baptize babies because we believe that people come into the Body of Christ not by physical birth but by a new birth that takes place when one is joined to Christ in repentance and faith. Baptism, for us, is a sign of our identification with Jesus in death, burial, and resurrection.
That has implications for how we admit members to our churches — only those who profess personal faith in Christ and who follow him in baptism and in how we hold one another accountable in our churches to live lives that reflect the lordship of Christ.
5. We don’t agree on everything, but we’re more united than you might think.
Many think Baptists are always fighting, and there’s some truth to that. We were birthed, after all, in dissent from established churches and we’ve lived through all sorts of controversies, so there’s a fighting side to us.
That said, Southern Baptists are unified around a common theology. We believe, for instance, that the Bible is completely true and is the Word of God. Our theological consensus is found in our Baptist Faith and Message statement.
There are lots of other secondary issues where Baptists happily agree to disagree. We all believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, but we don’t all see eye-to-eye on the timing of the Rapture, and so forth. We all believe in both the sovereignty of God and in the responsibility of human beings, but we don’t all agree on how those two fit together.
We gladly join together across such differences to affirm primary doctrines together and to work together through our funding mechanism (we call it the “Cooperative Program”) to send missionaries, plant churches, and train future leaders.
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Russell D. Moore