Originally published in the January 2016 Monthly Explorer
January is known as the month for New Year’s resolutions – to watch the diet, to turn over the new leaf, to achieve a certain goal. It is a time when people change calendars, pack Christmas decorations, and anticipate the new year. It is a time of new beginnings.
For Baptists, New Year’s Day should be a red-letter day on the calendar. It’s made for them. With all its traditional and natural emphasis on new beginnings and resolutions, why, it’s designed for Baptists.
One of the chief Baptist distinctives is the doctrine of regeneration. It is an old-fashioned term no longer in vogue but it has ever-new implications. In theory, it means that each believer is a changed person. Jesus called it being “born again.” As a thinking and discerning creature with a spiritual dimension, each believer came to a time when the faith was accepted; and as a part of acceptance, Baptists expressed it as conversion from the old self to the new.
Baptists through the ages have held that a collection of these changed persons – regenerated or “made new” persons – gathered together properly constitute a church. It is a powerful thought.
Jeremiah Bell Jeter was a 19th century resident of Richmond – long before there was a River Road Church, Baptist – and as a denominational statesman he knew Baptist principles. He once wrote: “A spiritual, or regenerate, church membership has at the foundation of all Baptist peculiarities. Repentance, faith, regeneration were conditions of admission to their fellowship.”
Francis Wayland, the American Baptist leader, stated: “The change of heart is called, in the Scriptures, regeneration, and hence our belief is that the church of Christ is made up wholly of regenerated persons.”
Walter Rauschenbusch, the “Social Gospel” figure, declared “how great a thing it is for a church body to assert that a person may and must come into direct personal relations with God… [receive] pardon from God and living in conscious fellowship with him. [The church should] adapt all its life to create such direct spiritual experiences in others. What’s all the apparatus of church life good for if it does not help men and women to that experience?”
At River Road Church, Baptist we are embarking not only on a new year but collectively in a new beginning. We are “between pastors” and already the Pastor Search Committee is at work to present, in the fullness of time, a new pastoral leader for our church. During January there will be times for collective and individual conversation about the possible future directions of our church. It’s important to consider new possibilities. Why, it’s thoroughly Baptistic.