To What Extent Is ‘Mission’ At The Heart Of Baptist Identity?

1690 words - 7 pages

Introduction

Using language ‘heart’ or ‘heartbeat’ connects two ideas conveying both the defining characteristics of a given situation and the mechanism by which those defining characteristics are given form; how the identity is passed and embedded throughout the whole. In either case, this striving for a description to sum up the whole is a striving for identity; what makes you, you.

So the following questions arise. What has defined, and continues to define, Baptist identity? If mission is, or ever was, a part of that identity how was that term understood in the past, and how is it understood today? And finally, can mission be seen as part of the Baptist heart beat into the future?

In answering these questions I will explore the following points. Firstly I will examine the historical aspect of mission relating primarily to the English Baptist church, looking at the pertinent political and theological forces which were at play through the centuries.

Secondly, I will briefly explore the theological concept of mission, and whether this has develpoed over time. What did ‘mission’ mean just prior to, and during, the inception of the Baptist church? Has that understanding been evolved by the Baptist sense of identity and calling? If so, has that led to wider implications (Carey, BMS etc). Lastly I will consider what impact mission may have on the future of the Baptist movement, how will it shape the church to come.

It should be stated clearly here that this essay deals explicitly with the development of ideas about mission based solely within arena the western thought and society from the 16th century onwards and does not reflect thoughts from other parallel developing traditions from other parts of the world. (Expand??)

From where we came

The English Baptist church was partly forged in and though the theological and political turmoil of the 16th and 17th century. Understanding the broad historical points helps identify reasons for the journey undertaken by a few faithful sojourners from England to Holland, and thus what followed afterwards. How those forces and historical events played their part in changing how mission was to be understood, and eventually how that view could be expressed.

The reformation period, which started in mainland Europe early in the sixteenth century, and slightly later in England, could be seen as the moment when competing political and theological forces eventually lead to a changed social landscape. These forces included a struggle between the Catholic Pope and the emperor for supremacy, recovery from the plagues, economic struggles of the poorer classes, moves from feudalism to capitalism, and changing cultural values.

Concurrently, renaissance scholars of the period were also highlighting the difference between what Jesus taught and church instruction and practice. ‘The theologians [of the time] were failing to meet the challenge’ of new thoughts and ideas. The tinder...

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