During the first weekend in May hundreds of Baptist Ministers, leaders and some church members, made their way from all ends of the United Kingdom to our cosmopolitan city of London for what is the annual Baptist Assembly. This is a gathering that happens every year around this time in different towns and cities in England. However this year was extra special as we celebrated 400 years a s Baptists in the UK all the leading leaders of the denomination were sharing what has made Baptist distinctive over the years and what the future is holding for the church in the UK. During Saturday afternoon many lectures and workshops were given, some were full others no so much. All were excellent depending on each person’s likings. New Ministers were welcomed into ministry while others were commissioned overseas with theirs families, some were going to places that none of us would even consider as holiday destinations.
But what today was very fancy conference in Westminster Hall opposite Parliament and the Big Ben, which enjoys one of the most prestigious places in London, surrounded by commodities and all the gadgets to make a meeting of a few thousand go smooth, was a very distance even unthinkable though for the first Baptists in England, whom once gathered by the tens somewhere in a much less prestigious place in London 400 years ago. That small gathering was not even a ministers and missionary gathering nor could even be called conference. It was simply a group of people who had, as the center of their lives, Jesus as Lord and who did not have anything fancy about them, and if anything was distinctive about them it was their strong faith and up to the point that some had to pay their commitment with their won lives.
What marked the difference? Their way of life, better known as the people who practiced the baptism of believers. They thought that going into the waters was not for the parents to decide over the babies’ life, but for the adult who had come to know God and had made his/her decision to follow Him into the waters and a life of service empowered by the Holy Spirit. Their desire to follow and obey was so distinctive that ministry was not limited to the clergy but extended to the church. They believed that in comparison to the Catholic Church who believed that the church was the Pope, the Priests, the Nuns and the Monks, that the church was and is all those who have been rescued by God thought Jesus. And it was them who stated that church meetings were the place to understand the mind of God and to go forward together as Church
The pass 200 years
But the story did not end there, after they found their own feet in this land and after going through a lot of tribulations up to the point of dying for their faith, they did not stop there or feel discouraged, on the contrary, they understood that once we conquered our home, our Jerusalem we are to go out to the end of the world, and so they did. After the first 200 years the Baptists went out of their comfort zone and launched themselves into the adventure of believing that the one who called their brothers 200 years earlier was empowering them too 200 years later, and so they went out to spread the gospel around the world.
Today 400 years later the same question is passed to us. Does the story end here with predictions that some denominations like the United Reform Church would have vanished by 2020, and the church in England later to follow. 200 years ago The Baptist family, a lot bigger and stronger than the one 200 years earlier, took the church to another level, the level of sending missionaries all around the world, known as the modern missionary work. Unfortunately todays picture of the church is not as brave as the one 4 Centuries ago. We have become more relaxed, more complaisant and too afraid to upset anyone, many churchgoers can’t really tell in an articulate manner the foundation of their faith. Some see God and the Gospel as an aid, an assistance, I might go as far as to say that for some, God has become an app the ones we have in our IPhones to help us with practical stuff in our lives. The church of today sees ministry as something for the Paid Minister, the leader, and the deacons to do. In a way coming back to the very thought that once departed the Baptist from the Catholic church but that now for convenience reasons we somehow agree wit silence words, and so we don’t mind flirting with that idea from the pews as we get confortable as all we do is to listen to sermons, sing songs and go back to our business. Tony Complo was saying in one of the evenings that we are happy to be Christians up to a point, as long as it does not interfere too much with our confortable lives.
There is a way forward, it is not a new way it is just a different way from what we are falling into. I encourage you to take the example of those first Baptists who did not leave church to be done by the minister or an association, well none of that was available to them. But who took the calling of God in their lives as something personal; those Baptists who were not only willing to believe but follow Jesus, to go out of their comfort zone to make a difference.
We here in Clapham Baptist church are passionate about including our members, our church in the calling that God has done to the minister, deacons and leaders. We believe that this calling is not for the few but for the many. We have created space for each one of you to develop you knowledge of the Lord, your gift, and talents. Either as young baby in the Lord or as someone who has been in church for many years, we have created a place for you to grow. However this is not going to happen from the comfort of our pews two hours once a week every Sunday. As we have to make the time to make a fife outside work and family commitments, a life to follow Christ doesn’t deserve any less but much more.
1 Peter 2: 1 – 5