Walter Shurden is one of my favorite Baptist historians, and really not just for me but many fellow Baptists appreciate his contributions through the years. I had the privilege of meeting “Buddy” several years ago on a week long sabbatical at Mercer University. It was a wonderful time of reading, reflection, and personal transformation during a time when I was determining where my denominational identity would rest. I appreciated the opportunity very much and still look back on it as a pivotal experience.
One of Shurden’s key works “Four Fragile Freedoms” serves as a primer on the meaning of being a Baptist. Those freedoms include Bible freedom, Soul freedom, Religious Freedom, and Church freedom. As you might imagine, the key word in each of those chapters and in fact for Baptist life in general is freedom. Freedom is a watchword for free and faithful Baptists, and I am grateful for Shurden’s reminding us all about our heritage and responsibility to cherish our heritage and live out our faith in a responsible way.
I’ve been a Baptist all my life, having grown up Southern Baptist and like others have found a home among Cooperative Baptists. On this weekend in particular, I give thanks for my mentors and professors who have passed along their devotion to historic Baptist distinctives. I am grateful for my theological training and the opportunity to utilize my gifts among people who share a vision for sharing Christ and impacting our community with the Good News.
In addition to these Baptist freedoms, I want to say how grateful I am to live in a free country where it is possible to carry out the work of the church without fear of persecution or danger of government interference. It doesn’t mean that I agree with everything the government does but it does mean that I am free to share my faith and learn from others along the way. I also believe there are certain things the church is responsible for as well as certain things the government is responsible for. Religious people of all beliefs are still trying to figure out this “wall of separation” and how faith intersects with political life. I won’t go into a lot of the discussion here, but suffice it to say that I do believe we need to be careful about confusing Christianity in America with our patriotic feelings toward our country.
Most of all, I am thankful for faith in Christ and the freedoms that go along with this relationship. I have so much more to learn about being a follower of the Way, and my hope is that the faith that means so much to me will be lived out not only by confession but also by conviction. The church is still the greatest instrument for proclaiming the Gospel on the planet, and the people of God need to exercise our freedoms through worship and service. I’m grateful to live in this country to have that privilege each and every day.