Until 15 years ago, I was a Baptist. A progressive Baptist…which isn’t an oxymoron, as many would suppose. In truth, the phrase is redundant.
True Baptist values are best described in terms of freedom–freedom for the individual to interpret Scripture for him or herself, freedom of conscience, freedom for congregations to govern themselves, and religious freedom (manifest in a strong commitment to the separation of church and state). It was and is my belief that any exclusive or coercive policies or beliefs espoused by Baptists or their institutions is a departure from true historic Baptist principles.
In the last decade before I joined the United Church of Christ, I found myself frequently responding to folks who were surprised to learn I was Baptist. “I’m not that kind of Baptist,” I would assure them.
A lot of what I’m reading from progressive Christians these days feels familiar. “I’m not that kind of Christian,” they say. I get where they’re coming from. Statements some folks who call themselves Christians make–especially those that belittle or demean others–leave me in a constant state of rage. But is telling the world what kind of Christian I am not going to help the world to heal?
Jesus once asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” But that question was just a set-up for his real question: “Who do you say I am?” In one of his better moments, Simon gets it right when he says: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Jesus says. (That’s a rough translation.) “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but God in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
It wasn’t in describing what the other people said of Jesus that Peter became the rock upon which the church was built. It was in describing his own personal understanding of who Jesus was. Peter was named only as he named Jesus for himself.
I know it’s frustrating to hear the hate-filled rhetoric and see the terrifying patterns of behavior of those who call themselves Christians. Even so, I suspect the question that still most interests Jesus is not, “Who do people say that I am?” but “Who do you say I am?”
So, who is Jesus to you?