As Baptists, we have historically believed in the Biblical principle of the priesthood of all believers – I Peter 2:4. That individually, we can hear, discern, and execute the will of God. Consequently, our church polity has relied heavily on the fact that as fully spirit-endowed believers, we hold no ecclesiastical hierarchy over any individual or individual church. In fact, each church is governed and led by the congregation’s discernment of the Spirit. So, one can see why “believer’s baptism” and not “infant baptism” is the doorway into the church. But, of course, this brings up a whole other conversation about when the age of accountability begins for an infant/child and that infant/child’s Soul is no longer innocent. But, I will not attempt to dive into this matter in this article, but maybe at some other time.
I do, however, want to bear witness to the long-standing belief of the spirit-led manner in which Baptists have historically been able to arrive at making a decision and dispute that it is not as simple as a one-person-one-vote process. Instead, I would contend that genuinely Baptist-arrived choices depend on the spiritual grounding of each church member.
To my point, I believe that for the church to thrive and not just survive, we must lean into our history. Baptists are uniquely equipped, based upon our historical belief and practice of the priesthood of all believers. To borrow a phrase from Richard Rohr Franciscan Frier and Catholic Priest, the church must teach people how to see and not solely focus on what to see.”
Because we have historically affirmed the rights of religious freedom because we hold a person’s ability to read and interpret the scriptures and discern the promptings of the Spirit for themselves; we have traditionally been able to keep the tension between disagreement of interpretation and disfellowshipping over any single theological matter. Therefore, in my estimation, the one thing all Baptist churches have in common, as far as practice goes, is ensuring that people are equipped to grow spiritually. But again, this does not happen by telling people what to believe, but it happens by showing people what makes for good spiritual practice.
This spiritual formational practice requires a unique leader who trusts and expects the Spirit of God to act. It requires that the leadership be willing to grow. It also requires leadership to hold their beliefs, desires, and aspirations loosely about knowing what is best. This style of spiritual formation and discernment in a church assumes that the answer is not in one person or a small group discerning for all but in the collective participating and offering input. Key to this process is communication, and when the church body can keep both the vertical and horizontal lines of interaction transparent and open, the group will come to the truth and know the will of God in a matter. This process will take longer, but as the African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.