For nearly 400 years, Baptists have baptized people by immersion, symbolizing a changed life, and a desire to walk more closely with God, who has saved and redeemed them, and who calls them to worthy service in the new kingdom on earth and in heaven.
This practice reflects a major tenet of our Baptist Liberties, Soul Liberty, which can be defined as “shaping one's own relationship with God.” Soul Liberty is the conviction that every man or woman can enter into direct relationship with God without outside mediation. Baptists resist anything that appears to oppress freedom of the soul. Our practice of believer’s baptism arises out of our insistence upon Soul Liberty. No one, not even a parent for a child, can decide another person's relationship with God. Thus we baptize only after an individual has made a personal decision of faith.
C. Brownlow Hastings, a Baptist minister, teacher and biblical scholar, had this to say about Soul Liberty: “It is easy for us to yield our integrity and responsibility to some accepted authority: beloved pastor, honored teacher, influential book - even a specific edition of the Bible, respected parents, or a dynamic church. These all have their proper influence, but the final choice of belief and practice must be made in the secret of the soul's naked presence before God alone. "
Baptist leaders over the centuries have exercised their Soul Liberty when they discerned and answered the call to articulate a vision, and created bold plans to shape the future. Adoniram Judson answered the call to establish a mission in Burma. Walter Rauschenbusch saw a link between the gospel and social change in his ministry in Hell's Kitchen in New York City. Martin Luther King, Jr., looked beyond the pew of his church, to follow a call to address the needs of a whole people.
The question this Lent is: “How do we practice our faith and be true to Soul Liberty
in shaping our own relationship with God?” How is God calling each of us to practice our faith in 2016?
When I was in junior high school, my church school teacher gave each of us a copy of Charles Sheldon's book In His Steps. The story takes place in the fictional town of Raymond, where Rev. Henry Maxwell, the pastor of First Church, has a life changing experience in the death of a homeless man. The experience causes a great change in Maxwell. He realizes that Christians should be willing to sacrifice and consecrate their lives. He invites members of his congregation to take a pledge for one year to ask the question “What Would Jesus Do?" when facing every decision in their lives. The book goes on to depict the changed lives and stories of those who accepted the challenge.
Will you accept the challenge to “Practice Your Faith” in 2016? How will you shape your own relationship with God in a deeper, richer way?
C. Brownlow Hastings quotation is from Down By the Riverside – A Brief History of Baptists by Everett Goodwin.