The liturgy started sleepily this fourth Sunday in Advent, people trickling in later than usual. A traffic jam made traveling downtown to our Anglican parish especially difficult. It turned out the standstill was caused by the Secret Service. As we, like the Magi, made our way to Christmas, the Maga were making their own pilgrimage, following a reality star turned politician to First Baptist Dallas. There, the 45th President was met with adulation and praise.

That event was the lens through which people saw and interpreted the second biggest news item of the week on Christian Twitter: Beth Moore’s conversion to Anglicanism. If Moore was walking away from the denomination of FBC Dallas, as “right wing” as it is, her destination must be “left wing,” mustn’t it? The answer is no.

Beth Moore becoming Anglican doesn’t in and of itself signal a slouch toward “liberalism.” It’s important for all of us to get this right, but it’s especially important for those remaining in the tradition of Bunyan and Broadus who presumably have an interest in keeping the next generation within that tradition.

To be clear, I do think there are people on a journey to a bougie sort of secular progressivism. Once one understands love to entail a tacit approval of every lifestyle, the days of picking up one’s cross and following Christ are numbered. Having said that, it behooves Baptists to understand the quest for a tradition as something different than a quest for worldly approval.

As a priest, I hear stories of people who are leaving the Baptist mega-church world for Anglicanism every week, sometimes every day. And when the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAGCON) interviewed me about my own journey, I heard from folks across the communion who made a similar pilgrimage to Canterbury. I know these stories as well as anyone.

In my experience, “Right” to “Left” is the wrong paradigm to understand the exodus happening from the institutions of the 2nd Great Awakening. Anglican converts don’t understand their journey as one from “conservative” to “progressive.” Those words, or their antonyms, are never used in my experience. Instead, the words are “loud” to “quiet,” “casual” to “reverent,” “consumable” to “permanent,” “transient” to “rooted.”

These converts aren’t looking for a political home, they’re looking for a spiritual home. They are looking for the grounding and sturdiness of a proper tradition. I suppose this is what frustrates me most about the antipathy many of these converts nurse toward the Baptist church of their past.

To love “the Christian tradition,” one has to have sympathy and respect for brothers and sisters who very imperfectly tried to live out their faith. How one can embrace “the Christian tradition,” with all its warts, while holding the church of their youth in contempt is beyond me. Of course I’m in favor of pointing out error where it’s to be found, but if we’re able to extend charity to folks in the 2nd century, why can’t we do the same for those in the 20th?

My purpose here isn’t to chastise those leaving the Baptist church, however, it’s to help the Baptists keep those thinking about leaving. My advice to them is simple: Embrace your tradition. Be Baptist.

What is often lost in these conversations, of course, is the simple reality that there really is a Baptist tradition. This is often forgotten in our day, but that doesn’t change the history. Baptists have long been marked by a deep concern with the new birth, a jovial confidence in the simple preaching of Scripture, and a keen concern with the church’s calling to be a people set apart from the world, holy, equipped for God’s service. Contemporary Baptists deny this tradition to their own peril.

Future historians will study the ways in which the modern Baptist church understood itself as “Merely Christian,” and future theologians will study the ways in which that self-understanding kept it from maturing. To improve one’s self one must criticize one’s self, to criticize one’s self one must reflect upon one’s self, and to reflect upon one’s self one must have a sense of self in the first place.

There’s truly much to commend in the Baptist tradition, but there’s no question that it’s a tradition, and an idiosyncratic one at that. It might be a lovely room in the house of Christendom, but it isn’t the hallway.

If they’re to move into the future, the Baptist tradition will need to grapple with itself as such. The good news is, there are plenty of Baptists who are doing just that. I think of the eminent historian Michael AG Haykin. I think of my friend Brandon Smith and all of his colleagues at The Center for Baptist Renewal.

Yes, many who’ve left the Baptist church recognize how noxious it is for a church to host Donald Trump in a worship service. But one need not use Anglican logic to critique that act, a public theology in the Baptist tradition will reach that same conclusion. These people aren’t being drawn to some Anglican utopia—the church of Henry VIII has some questionable political ties as well!—they’re being pushed away by the rootlessness of a tradition that has given up the project of describing and refining that tradition.

To my Baptist friends: The Anglican church needs you. Indeed, the whole catholic church needs you. It’s time to once again be you and offer your people a tradition that is, indeed, yours.

Be Baptist.

With Love,

An Anglican.

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Posted by Dustin Messer

Dustin Messer is a priest at All Saints Dallas and sits on the board of directors of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC-USA), a ministry founded by John Stott in 1968. Before completing his doctorate at La Salle University, Dustin graduated from Boyce College, Covenant Theological Seminary, and the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

8 Comments

  1. Having popped out of the womb with a Bible in hand as a Baptist, then nearly drowning on the way to Rome, eventually helping to launch an Anglican Ordinariate parish after the kind offer from Pope Benedict XVI, I am always reminded at Mysterium Fidei that (wait for it) Once a Baptist, Always a Baptist:

    ‘Saviour of the world, who by thy Cross and precious Blood hast redeemed us: save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.’
      
    [Source: Holy Martyrs of England & Wales Catholic Church, Murrieta, CA]

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  2. I left the “broadly evangelical” church for the orthodox Presbyterian Church. So many evangelical churches have lost the desire to preach the true gospel and teach theology in the classic tradition of Luther, Calvin, Augustine, etc. to their people. Instead, they deliver up life application teachings on how to live your best life now or focus almost entirely on the church “experience”. Give a man a fish and he can eat for today, teach him to fish and he can feed himself and his family. Theology Proper is important. Without it, the people are adrift and end up with all kinds of contradictory and errant beliefs. Preach our sin and Christ’s redemption, law and grace, our unrighteousness and Christ’s imputed righteousness. Peach the atonement and our desperate need for it. faith is not something you conjure up to get what you want, it is a deep trust in the unmerited redemptive work Christ in eternity and in the word of God, and it itself is a gift from God. The gospel must be preached in all of its facets, the utter sinfulness, rebellion, and misery of man and his alienation from God, the unmerited suffering of the perfectly obedient and righteous god-man Christ in our place, and our unmerited receiving of Christ’s righteousness as a free gift from god. Christ’s Atonement Is the heart of the gospel, the word, and the universe. If you don’t understand your dire need for the atonement you won’t understand who Christ is.

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    1. Quite the broad stroke. While I agree with your sentiment, it comes across as quite pious and a nagging thought the Lord’s disciples did not have your level of education.

      How did they do what they did?

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    2. The good ol’ OPC. It’s a great place if you believe young-earth creationism, think that the civil government ought to be rounding up and executing gay people, and want to be part of a denomination whose heralded founder was a segregationist.

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      1. As opposed to all the saintly founders of other churches? “Bitter table for one!”

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  3. Fr. Stephen Crawford December 25, 2021 at 11:28 am

    I look at these things from a slightly different angle, though I appreciate the author’s encouragement for Baptists to, one, see their tradition as a tradition and, two, to appreciate the gifts therein.

    Part of the scandal of division is that when brothers and sisters part ways, they both leave themselves deprived of the others’ gifts and deprive others of the gifts they themselves have.

    Baptists have a particular gifting in the Lord by the grace of the Spirit. As an ecclesial life, Baptist communities leave much to be desired. Still the Gospel is frequently proclaimed among them to powerful effect.

    I’ve increasingly come to appreciate that the Church fully gathered and suffering no wounds of division would be robustly Catholic, Charismatic, and Evangelical. That Evangelical piece is essential, and without it the catholicity of the Church is warped and the Church’s ability to walk in the power of the Spirit profoundly hindered.

    The Gospel is a great choral symphony that no one Christian can sing by herself. As we all join our voices, singing the parts we’ve been given to sing, the choir will sound with its full splendor. I take it that the Reformation marked a genuine recovery. One of the most haunting melodies of the Gospel chorus was being sung too quietly (still there more than many Reformers acknowledged, but not being sung with the gusto it deserved): that is the wonderful truth that we cannot save ourselves but that our salvation lies completely in Jesus’s hands. If you get that straight, everything else pops.

    So I agree with the article to an extent. Baptists who have left in search of the ancient Church: please remember and celebrate the gifts you’ve received and hopefully brought with you from your Baptist fathers and mothers. Baptists who have staid put: please celebrate your distinctive gifts, while looking for ecumenical opportunities to share your community’s gifts with your estranged brothers and sisters. If you do this, we’ll all grow stronger in the particular paths the Lord has given us to walk.

    (I always write these great comments, even though I’m pretty sure no one ever reads them. Maybe someday they’ll be helpful to someone, or maybe it’s just good for me to work out my thoughts in writing. At any rate, Godspeed to this forum of Christian reflection, and Merry Christmas.)

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    1. Fr. Stephen Crawford December 25, 2021 at 11:31 am

      You can tell I have been especially graced with humility.

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    2. I read them. I cannot say you are wrong. ;-)

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