What kind of Baptists are we?

Published 6:03 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2019

By Charles Qualls

Sometimes, conversations begin like this. “Oh, you’re the pastor over at the Baptist church. Yeah, I’ve been reading about you all in the national news some.” At which point I reply, “If you’ve been reading about Baptists in the national news, that’s usually not us. We’re a little different kind of Baptist.”

Then, the real conversation begins.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was embarking on a six-week sermon series, at our church, titled “Why I Am a Baptist … and why it still matters today.” I’d like to say that the six weeks have flown by, but I’m not bold enough to judge whether our people have enjoyed the ride as much as I have. Those I have heard from suggest that the topic has been a healthy reminder of where we’ve been. Some have told me they have learned a lot.

I also promised you that I would not use this column for six weeks as a digest of those messages. It’s sort of a family conversation, if you will. I did also speculate that I would share one entry from the series here.

What kind of Baptists are we at Franklin Baptist Church? It’s hard to speak for an entire congregation in our polity. I do want to attempt to capture a summary, because we took a historic vote back in 2002 that truly does make us a different kind of Baptist than most of you probably think.

Let’s start in the middle and work backward. Then, we’ll end by moving forward. What happened in 2002? Franklin Baptist voted itself out of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Some would brand us a liberal congregation, but if you knew the people who make up our congregation, you would realize that can’t be true. We are, however, quite progressive by some measures. It’s just that in American culture, we tend to call anyone left of us “liberal,” even though in our case that would not hold up ideologically, culturally nor theologically.

Beginning in 1979, a seismic political shift had begun within our mother convention. The issues ostensibly were around interpretation of the Bible and about women in ministry and church leadership. Digging much more deeply, though, they also impacted everything from local and denominational polity to mission efforts. Eventually, the denomination’s revised Faith and Message statement voiced a Baptist understanding that simply did not speak for our folks.

Baptists originally formed in 1609 because of a conviction that a state-run religion had become oppressive and distorted by the whims of politics. We here at Franklin Baptist tend to hold to some historic Baptist freedoms and practices, established even that far back, which are still important to us. In our local autonomy, we had long since begun ordaining women to the office of deacon and to pastoral ministry. We had been doing this since the 1980s.

Things progressed to where our congregation held a series of conversations and studies that led to leaving the convention in 2002. Importantly, this action was taken during a pastoral interim. That speaks volumes to me about the organic conviction that had arisen.

Since then, we have enjoyed our local freedom to be who we are without pressure or coercion from a state or national governing body. We affiliate these days with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a network of a few thousand churches and individuals around the country who have taken similar stances.

This is not about better, best or even worst. Franklin Baptist simply exercised its own freedom and charted a course that works for her. We cherish our local Baptist neighbors, but function mostly as a mainline Protestant church rather than as an evangelical one.

Today, we exist as a church that has stood on our corner since 1871. Our motto, like many churches, is “Every Member a Minister” which actually speaks to the historic Baptist practice of “soul competency” or “priesthood of the believer.” However, our sign in the front yard proclaims that “All are Welcome.”

We have four clearly delineated generations in our church. Our current deacon chair is a woman, as was our last one. The search committee that came to Atlanta and chose me was led by a woman. Our recent churchwide visioning process was led by, you guessed it, a woman. The popular “Faith on Draft” group that meets at Fred’s probably seems a little out-there to some. But, the discussions are meaningful and priceless.

We are a different kind of Baptist. It’s hard to describe. But, I thought you ought to know. Oh, and remember one thing: All are welcome.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.