All Saints Day 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days about what it must have been like for Martin Luther. On October 31, 1517, he nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg church. This was done at a time and place for the most impact as people would have made their way into church for services.

I can’t imagine the courage it must have taken for him to challenge the Catholic Church, and for him later to confront the papacy with the words “here I stand, that is all I can do, God help me.”

His efforts have been rightly credited with starting a movement known as the Protestant Reformation. Baptists are part of the radical wing of that movement. We continue to stand for and on the principles of “sola scriptura” and “sola fide.” These values of scripture alone and faith alone are pillars that the Baptist community are built upon.

I’ve been fortunate to have followed in the footsteps of some great professors and mentors who have modeled what it meant to be Baptist in an ecumenical perspective. Today I pause to give thanks for those men and women for their investment in me. They poured out their life experiences and instruction so that I could walk in their footsteps. I am grateful for my education and the opportunities I’ve been given to serve through the local church. I’ve been the opportunity to teach in a Baptist college and seminary, and now I am part of a community of faith who values those Reformation principles and the fragile freedoms that historian Walter Shurden wrote about: soul freedom, Bible freedom, church freedom, and religious freedom.

There are times I wonder whether theological distinctives matter too much anymore.  People get upset and leave their church family over personality disputes and differences of opinion more often than theological ones. I marvel at how we can so easily give away what so many before us valued and spent their lives fighting for. Yet, it is important to cherish and share what it means to free and faithful as the people of God. And I’m glad there are places where men and women can go to learn in this tradition.

This Sunday we will be promoting our partnership with Central Baptist Theological Seminary. We will welcome a student from the school who will speak to us, and there will an opportunity for our current students to learn more about the place of learning. I believe God still “calls” men and women to service. My hope is that while I am still breathing, I can encourage them to consider a lifetime of vocational service if not vocational discipleship.

So, it is “all saints day.” I haven’t located an instance in the Bible where an individual is described as a “saint.” It is only recognized as “saints” in the plural for the people of God. We may not feel like saints or look like saints or act like saints sometimes. But we are “saints” because we have been set apart for service through “sola fide” in Christ alone. It is because of what He has done that we celebrate being part of God’s greater family and remember all those who have gone before us.

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