by Colin Carbno, Past Chair of Deacons,
and Joel Russell-MacLean, Lead Pastor
Both of us have been involved at First Baptist Church for over a decade. One of the major reasons is that in many ways FBC isn’t typical.
This is a church which is evangelical – but not in the way most people probably think of that word. The word “evangelical” has been so misused it needs some kind of explanation.
A good way to describe First Baptist Church is “historical evangelical.” The first “evangelicals” in 18th and early 19th century England were people who weren’t satisfied with just leaving things the way they were. They intended to change the world – and make it more like what they saw in Jesus – and they did. William Wilberforce led the successful campaign to abolish slavery in the British Empire. John Howard worked for reform of horrible prison conditions. In a time when different denominations of Christians would hardly speak to one another, evangelical women and men organized the cross denominational British Bible Society. William Carey, famous missionary to India not only preached the gospel and translated the Bible into dozens of languages – he also was a primary figure in the movement to abolish sati (widow burning). Robert Raikes established Sunday Schools to give a basic education to children from slums. A lot of what comes to many people’s minds today when they hear the word “evangelical” would have seemed totally bizarre to early evangelicals who were progressives and reformers.
Historically being an evangelical meant: a high view of the importance and authority of Scripture; an emphasis on the need for a personal confession of Christ’s lordship; belief in the deity of Jesus; a life of personal holiness – “walking the walk not merely talking the talk;” and a focus on culturally relevant evangelism inseparable from a commitment to social justice. It was just these beliefs which moved the first evangelicals to push for changes.
How does all that work itself out at First?
We too affirm that Scripture is authoritative in matters of faith and practice. But we also believe the Bible must be read thoughtfully asking questions like: “How did the author intend this to be read – literally or figuratively? Is this poetry or prose, history or parable?”
As we read the Bible carefully we see that God has called and continues to call both women and men to positions of church leadership.
As we read Scripture we find that the focus of the preaching of Jesus was the Kingdom of God, that is the will of God accomplished. That will is all encompassing. It includes inviting people to repentance and a confession of Christ as Lord. But it also includes feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, opposing injustice, political and economic corruption, and caring for the earth.
We take very seriously the words of Jesus, recorded in Scripture, that we are to love God with our minds. The life of the mind is part of our service to and love of God. God gave us minds to be used for thinking, asking, probing, questioning and discovering.
We aren’t about hiding from the world. In line with what we find Jesus teaching in Scripture we joyfully embrace all the good things in our world from the performing and fine arts to sports, books, and good conversation, to the natural creation. But at the same time we’re aware that this is a fallen world, estranged from God, and all is not as he wants it to be. That motivates us to work, like those early evangelicals, to change the world.
They were accused of being radical. So were the very first followers of Jesus who were said to be “turning the world upside down.” (Acts 17.6 NRSV). That’s exactly what we want people to say about us too.
Edited from the original by Dr. Mark McKim