KOH2RVA: Day 38

Yesterday was one of those days when I needed to be in two places at the same time.

I needed to be at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond trustee retreat, but I also needed to be at the quarterly meeting of the First Baptist Endowment Board.  I did the best I could.  I spent most of the day at the trustee retreat but slipped out in the middle of the afternoon for the Endowment Board meeting.

Let me tell you why:

The First Baptist Endowment Board manages an investment portfolio of some $20 million dollars, but unlike some boards this one is committed to using money for ministry.  I learned recently that in the last 20 years the Endowment has given away more than $22 million dollars.  Now, before you pick up the phone to make a request for your favorite charity please understand that most of these are long-term commitments.  For example, the Endowment underwrites 65% of the church’s television ministry and has for 25 years.  When that ministry needs new equipment the Endowment typically writes the check.  And when the elevator at First Baptist broke down recently we went to the Endowment, asking for money, and the Endowment helped us out.

But the Endowment’s generosity goes far beyond the walls of First Baptist Church.

When I think about KOH2RVA—our year-long, every-member mission trip—I think about the way the Endowment supports ministries right here in our city that regularly bring heaven to earth.  I’ve published the full list below, but some of the ones I’m most familiar with are ACTS (which works to keep people from becoming homeless), CARITAS (which provides temporary shelter for the homeless in area churches), the Central Virginia Foodbank, Crossover Health Services, the Daily Planet (currently collecting donations of hats and gloves), Richmond Friends of the Homeless, and others that labor to help the poorest of the poor.

But that’s not all.

The Endowment also supports organizations that defend religious liberty, minister to immigrant populations, strengthen marriages, champion theological education, promote justice, provide for children and youth, care for the aging, and foster spiritual growth.  I often say, “There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth,” and the Endowment Board seems determined to find out.

Take a look at this list:

  • ACTS
  • African Community Christian Church
  • Baptist Center for Ethics
  • Baptist Joint Committee
  • Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond
  • Baptist World Alliance
  • Boy Scouts (Heart of Virginia Council)
  • Camp Alkulana
  • CARITAS
  • Center for Congregational Ministry
  • Central Virginia Foodbank
  • Chaplain Services of the Churches of Virginia
  • Children’s Hospital
  • Cross Over Health Services
  • Daily Planet
  • Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference Center
  • Ebenezer Community Church – Brooklyn Center MN
  • Embrace Richmond
  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes
  • First Things First
  • Good Samaritan Ministries
  • Rosie Grier Youth Pavilion
  • The Healing Place
  • Home Again
  • John Leland Center for Theological Studies
  • MARCH
  • Piankatank Camp and Conference Center
  • Religious Herald
  • The Resource Center
  • Richmond Baptist Association
  • Richmond Friends of the Homeless
  • Richmond Hill Retreat Center
  • Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity
  • United Way
  • Virginia Baptist Historical Society
  • Virginia Baptist Homes
  • Virginia Baptist Mission Board
  • Virginia Commonwealth University – Medical Center Chapel
  • Virginia Home
  • Virginia Home for Boys and Girls
  • Virginia Union University – School of Theology

If you’d like to participate, there is a way.  The 1780 Society is a group of First Baptist members and friends who have made gifts, bequests, or other donations to the Endowment Fund.  Some have taken out life insurance policies and named the Endowment as the beneficiary.  Others have simply written it into their wills.  These people trust the Endowment Board to keep on bringing heaven to earth even after they’re gone, and if you’d like to be one of them you can call Billy Burford at (804) 355-8637, ext. 152, and tell him you’d like to join the 1780 Society.  He won’t ask you how much you plan to give or how you plan to give it.  He’ll just add your name to the list.

Striking Similarities

childrenIn my last post I talked about the difference between making disciple and raising disciples. 

When it comes to making disciples, no group of Christians has been more committed than Baptists.  We take the Great Commission seriously, heeding Jesus’ call to “go into all the world and make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19-20).  When I talk to people of other denominations about what it means to be Baptist I say that one of the things that sets us apart is our historic emphasis on missions and evangelism.  We see it as our duty to share the good news about Jesus with the whole world.  But it occurs to me that in both missions and evangelism we are bringing the Gospel to adults, primarily, just as those first apostles did.  In that sense we are being truly biblical, following the pattern of the Book of Acts by going to those places and people who have yet to hear about Christ and boldly sharing our faith.  When those people respond to the invitation to become disciples we baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Nothing could be more biblical. 

But again, the Bible doesn’t tells us what happened when those new Christians began to bring their children and grandchildren to church.  We’ve had to “invent” that part of our tradition.  Early on in the history of the church people began baptizing babies, because they didn’t want them to be left out of this wonderful new life they had discovered.  For centuries that was the norm in the undivided Church of Jesus Christ.  But during the years of the Protestant Reformation people began to read the Bible for themselves and the people who came to be called “Baptists” noticed that there was no mention of infant baptism in the Bible.  Partly out of reverence for Scripture, and partly as an act of protest against the state-controlled church, they stopped bringing their babies for baptism, waiting instead until their children were old enough to make up their own minds about Jesus and profess their faith for themselves.  Only then would they baptize them, initially by pouring water over their heads but eventually by immersion, plunging them under the water just as the Greek word baptizo suggests.

That’s been “the Baptist way” ever since. 

But we don’t ignore our children in those early years.  We don’t wait until they reach the age of accountability and then start telling them about Jesus.  On the contrary, we bring them to church as soon as possible after they are born (Elmer West jokes that his mother brought him to church a good while before he was born).  We dedicate them in a beautiful ceremony which acknowledges the truth that even before they have done one thing right or wrong God loves these children and wants them to be his.  We bring them to the church nursery, where dedicated Christians hold them and rock them and sing to them and change their diapers.  We teach them about Jesus in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School; we do everything we can to raise them in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  Eventually they come to that place where they are ready to make up their own minds about Jesus and when they do we celebrate.  We baptize them publicly and rejoice right along with the angels in heaven. 

What strikes me is the similarity between that approach and the approach of almost every other Christian denomination.  In the Presbyterian church of my childhood, for example, I was baptized as an infant.  Yes, some water was sprinkled on my head in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, but essentially it was a way of acknowledging that even before I had done one thing right or wrong God loved me and wanted me for his own.  I grew up in that grace, shining my sturdy Buster Brown shoes on Sunday morning and clipping on my bow tie for church; studying the tiny pink paperback catechism I had been given so I could answer questions like, “What is the chief end of man?”  (Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever);  and learning to recite the Apostle’s Creed, which begins “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…”  If I had stayed in that church long enough I would have eventually attended confirmation classes, where the pastor would talk to me about what it means to be a Christian and belong to a church.  Finally, at the age of 12 or 13, I would have stood before the congregation and professed my faith, saying out loud so everyone could hear me, “Jesus is Lord!” 

When you look at these two ways side by side—the Baptist way and the Presbyterian way—you see that in each we do something in infancy to acknowledge God’s grace and we do something at a later point to acknowledge the child’s faith.  In between the two we do everything we can to help the child grow up Christian, because it’s not only Baptists who want their children to become mature believers some day: it’s Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians as well.

When I look back through the difficult questions in that little catechism and the dense theology of the Apostle’s Creed I think somebody was trying hard to make a thoughtful Christian out of me, and so if it sometimes seems that I think too much about these things you can do what I always do:

Blame the Presbyterians.

Dangerous Gospel

I got e-mail from a former church member who has been reading the Book of Acts, amazed by the way the power of the Holy Spirit transforms ordinary people into extraordinary witnesses.  “What a time it relates!” she wrote.  “How is it that so many churches turn out to be ‘blah’ in our time? How has the church lost that zeal and become so mainstream, self-satisfied, and comfortable with the status quo?”

 

Good questions, all of them.  When you read about Peter standing up in front of a hostile crowd and accusing them of killing the Messiah, or Stephen being stoned to death for his fearless witness to Christ, or Philip baptizing an Ethiopian eunuch (of all people!), it does make you wonder what’s happened to the church.  When did we get so… domesticated?

 

Fortunately, not all of us know how we’re supposed to behave.  I’ve mentioned Dennis Danaeue, who was baptized on Sunday, and who is “as sincere in his desire to follow Jesus as anyone I’ve ever met.”  Dennis responded to that blog entry (“Oh, Heavenly Days!) and told me the story of what happened the night he was baptized.   

 

He said he was hungry, and went looking for some food.  He knows the manager of a local pizzeria who sometimes gives him any leftovers they have at closing.  On Sunday night the manager gave him nine pizzas which, as he says, “suddenly made me everybody’s best friend.”  There were a few men standing on a nearby corner.  He gave them some of the pizza and when they said thanks he said, “Thank God!”  But then he bumped into a crowd of homeless people who had come into Richmond on a freight train, traveling like hoboes.  These are people who are known to be violent and, as Dennis reported, they were wearing “Satanic patches on their clothing.” 

 

So, here’s Dennis on the street at midnight with a stack of pizza boxes, and a group of homeless Satanists with a reputation for violence.  If he had been in the church a little longer he might have known that in such a situation you are supposed to drop the pizza and run as fast as you can.  But he’s a new Christian, freshly baptized, still glowing from the experience and exuding the aroma of Christ (well, that and pepperoni).  So he swallows hard and recites a snatch of Psalm 91: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”  And then he offers these people some pizza. 

 

There is a line in his report that might have come straight out of the Book of Acts.  Dennis says, “As we ate together I spoke of God and how much God loves them…”  Did you hear that?  As they ate together (Dennis and a gang of Satanist hoboes) he spoke of God and how much God loves them.  Whew!  He reminds me of Philip, this one—baptizing Ethiopian eunuchs in the wilderness, preaching the gospel to Samaritans, getting carried away (literally) by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

I guess I’m going to have to be more careful about who I baptize, and spend a lot more time teaching people what it means to be Christian.  No more of this bold witnessing!  No more turning the world upside down!  If Jesus had wanted us to behave like that he would have told us so, wouldn’t he?

 

With a wink and a sigh,

 

Jim

 

 

Church on the Porch

 

On Sunday, August 24, the last day of my vacation, I attended worship at the “Church-on-the-Porch.” 

 

You may not have heard of it.

 

The porch belongs to my brother Gray, who lives in Summerville, South Carolina, not far from Charleston.  I had stayed overnight at his house on the way back from the beach and since I was still on vacation and not really in the mood to get up early, shake the sand out of my shoes, and go to someone else’s church I asked if we could have a family worship service instead.  That seemed like a good idea to almost everybody.

 

We gathered around the table on the screened back porch rather late on Sunday morning.  Some of us were still in our pajamas, several of us were having a second cup of coffee, all of us seemed to be enjoying the novelty of the experience.  I had located the lectionary readings earlier and my sister-in-law, Debby, volunteered to read Psalm 124.  When she finished, I asked the congregation to offer up silent prayers of adoration, which we did, distracted only slightly by a neighbor cranking up his lawnmower.

 

That’s how the service progressed: a reading from one of the four lectionary passages, followed by some time for reflection and discussion, and then a prayer.  I used the old acronym “ACTS” to guide us through prayers of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  The prayers of adoration and confession we did silently; the prayers of thanksgiving and supplication we offered aloud.  It was moving to hear what each member of our little congregation was thankful for, and tender to hear their requests for prayer. 

 

The time went by quickly and I was surprised to see, when I looked at my watch later, that we had been at it for more than an hour.  As we talked about it over lunch we agreed that although we wouldn’t want to do it that way every week the service had been perfect for the occasion.  The insights shared in our discussion of the Scriptures were as relevant and helpful as any we might have heard elsewhere.  The prayers made it a real worship experience and not just a Bible study.  Perhaps the only thing missing was a rousing hymn or a soaring soprano solo which my brother’s dog tried to make up for by barking at a passing motorcycle near the end of the service.  It wasn’t all that musical, but it came from the heart, and when it comes to worship…

 

…that’s what matters most.