Genesis 1:26-27 and Joshua 24:14-15
Second Sunday After The Epiphany, January 15, 2023
Second in a Pastoral Series on Practicing Baptist Principles Dennis W. Foust, PhD, Senior Minister
People are surprised by the broad diversity of Baptists. Here are a few names of some well-known persons who have been members of Baptist churches: Oprah Winfrey, Billy Graham, Roberto Clemente, Jerry Falwell, Stevie Wonder, Loretta Lynn, Chuck Berry, Harry Truman, Abraham Lincoln, Magic Johnson, Aretha Franklin, Kevin Costner, Jimmy Carter, Booker T. Washington, J. C. Penney, Kamala Harris, Ron Paul, Tony Campolo, Beth Moore, John Lewis, John Grisham, John D. Rockefeller, John McCain, Jesse James, Jesse Helms, and Jesse Jackson.
Just as there are many lanes on the road of Christian discipleship, there are several types of Baptists in this church. This is the way it has been from the beginning of our Baptist tradition.
The very first Baptist church was founded in Amsterdam in 1609. Those Baptists had fled England because they refused the coercive uniformity imposed by the Church of England.
They were second generation Protestants following in the spirit of the Reformation.
One hundred years earlier, Martin Luther splashed down to begin the Protestant movement.
When Baptists stepped forward, they emphasized the necessity of individual freedom. Freedom of conscience some called it. Others came to use the term, ‘soul freedom.’ and responsibility.
As Baptists, we value individual freedom. We do not have a creed establishing uniformity of doctrinal beliefs. Our St. John’s Church Covenant is an important guide for us – but is not a creed. Our charter members wrote our church covenant in 1922. Six years later, in 1928, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a document named The Baptist Faith and Message. However, St. John’s never adopted it. Just like today, our charter members understood freedom.
Last Sunday, I offered a sermon emphasizing how free and faithful Baptists are people of conscience. We have consciously committed ourselves to God by allowing Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle practices to shape our lives. We call this Christ-shaped conscience ‘discipleship.’
We express this conscious choice because we are created in God’s image.
The verses from Genesis 1 read by Sara this morning tell how the Jewish people have always understood individual freedom to be woven into our human identity. The Jews wrote this creation story to include how humanity is created in God’s image. Therefore, humans have freedom just as God has freedom. God chose to create humanity. The words, “Let us make humankind in our image,” includes God’s characteristic of the capacity to choose.
The Jewish creation story includes the Lord instructing humanity to choose obedience. They could enjoy every fruit of the garden except the tree of knowledge between good and evil. In other words, they were given the freedom to choose – what you could call ‘Soul Competence or Response – Ability.’ You are created in God’s image. So, you have freedom or the ability to respond to God’s love as you make your choices.
Walter Shurden is a Baptist historian and a friend of churches like St. John’s. Some of you know him as Buddy. In recent decades, Buddy Shurden has written and edited numerous books clarifying principles and practices for free and faithful Baptists. In his book, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, he tells the personal story of running through an airport to catch a connecting flight and noticing this message printed on a sweatshirt: MAKE UP YOUR OWN MIND. Buddy commented, “It screamed Joshua 24:15 – ‘Choose this day whom you will serve…’”
Making Up Your Own Mind is your gift from God. And Baptists proclaim God’s gift to others. Baptists began by protesting against external compulsion and amplifying the freedom of the individual Christian. From the beginning, a consequence of this freedom has been plurality.
Today, you have new challenges as you Make Up Your Own Mind. The term, ‘Dataism,’ was introduced by David Brooks in 2013. Dataism describes the mindset that forms because of big data. In the past few years, social philosophers have started studying how the constant flow of information over social media – whether based on facts or falsehoods – has emerged as a new ideology. Dataism changes how you receive and process information to make up your own mind. Increasingly, algorithms limit the information which comes to you. This presents new challenges for your Response – Ability. You must be more intentional as you separate trustworthy data from information void of facts. Echo chambers are expanding as we only read what confirms our biases and fears. There is an acceleration of opinion bubbles as the opportunity for you to read or hear a plurality of perspectives limits your opportunity to change your mind. Therefore, you must practice your Response – Ability with increased fervor.
In recent Baptist history, one of our finest Baptist voices championing soul freedom was James Dunn. I first met him in 1988 during my ministry in San Antonio. In the early 1990s, James became a primary source for me as I wrote and edited resources for free and faithful Baptists. Hear his words: “Freedom and responsibility are inseparable. To be created in the image of God means that you are both responsible and able to respond to your Creator. God gives you the gift of freedom to respond to divine love in an intimate relationship with The Living God.”
Let me tell you about Mustafa. He had been a faithful Muslim prior to his conversion to follow God in The Way of Jesus. As he learned about his Ability to Respond to God in obedience, he wrote this prayer. “O God, I am Mustafa the tailor. The whole day long I sit and pull the needle and the thread through the cloth. O God, you are the needle and I am the thread. I am attached to you and I follow you by following The Way of Jesus. When the thread slips away from the needle it becomes tangled and must be pulled to be put back in the right place. O God, help me to follow you wherever you may lead me so I do not get tangled. For I am only Mustafa the tailor.”
Mustafa was a Baptist who understood soul freedom and Response Ability.
He took seriously his ability to respond to God’s leadership in his life.
Beloved, I encourage you to pursue this Baptist practice of soul freedom by making daily investments in your relationship with The Living God. If you do so, you will experience spiritual growth.
Amen and AMEN! May it be so.