Our Baptist forebears were known for their creative and bold thinking. It brought them much trouble as a consequence, as they argued and acted in the interests of freedom of religion. The leaders argued consistently that faith was something which people decided for themselves. Until that time, one’s beliefs were dictated by the state. In England, this saw a to-ing and fro-ing between Catholicism and Church of England, according to the dictates of the reigning monarch. Baptists entered the fray and argued that the state could not compel belief, which had more potency when people were convinced according to their own conscience.
Early Baptist leaders were imprisoned for promoting this ideal, and for preaching without a state-issued licence. Amongst their proclamations was a defence of the rights of atheists not to believe - a consistent position which earned the wrath of other church officials.
One of the hardest acts is to defend the position of someone with whom you disagree, even if their position is consistent with a fundamental tenet of your own beliefs. It requires respect for others as individuals, and a trust in something greater than ourselves. Our Baptist forebears believed in the power of the gospel to the extent that they were prepared to let others place their case equally. This has grown to be a fundamental tenet of the modern era, which underpins much of the Western world. It is a tenet under threat from a number of quarters.
But rather than address the ‘global’ threats to such a position, we need to remind ourselves that it is a fundamental act of love to serve another. We cannot serve unless we are prepared to accept another just as they are. It is a challenge when we encounter lifestyles which are based on beliefs and values different to our own. Why do we demur on such occasions and hide behind condemnations and other words?
One suspects that we lack a degree of confidence in the gospel, and in our own lives to demonstrate the truth of what we proclaim. Certainly the authority of the church to speak as one ‘beyond reproach’ has been severely curtailed in recent years. We ought not defend such actions, nor resile from speaking the gospel, and allowing our lives to serve as an example of what the gospel means.
To listen to another, and to accept them for who they are is a powerful act of love. As Jesus stood up for the woman caught in adultery, and reached out to the people whom others rejected, we too are called to echo that courage of love. Who can love like this, if not those who proclaimed to have received such love?
May 28, 2006