Activism: Impacting Culture
The tenth and final description of a Baptist New Mexican says, “He impacts his world by influencing its culture (morality, language, traditions, government, law).” No Christian should debate whether or not saints should engage culture, because such influence is natural and unavoidable. But, this description addresses a more intentional influence that is sometimes called activism or civic service.
Perhaps two of the clearest early examples of Christian cultural activism were Joseph and Moses. Joseph eventually served and rescued a nation from destruction by drought by civic service. Serving God in government, he rose to one of the two highest offices of the land. Moses repeatedly appeared before Egypt’s Pharaoh to seek the Hebrews’ release. He advocated for them before the highest power of the land. God had positioned them both for their roles. God still uses saints today to influence cities, states and nations.
Christianity inevitably connects a believer’s faith with his or her philosophies and expectations about the world and wider culture, including morality, traditions, government laws and the use of strong or offensive language. When God saves and changes a person, waves of influence from that change ripple out, touching people nearby. Some measure of cultural impact always follows a thriving Baptist New Mexican.
But, beyond that natural, unintentional impact, Christians can also intentionally impact their culture in many ways. Some Christians directly engage culture through various styles of moral, legislative, political or ideological activism. Some enter secular culture as immediate participants, serving as public office holders or government workers. Others gather groups of prayer warriors or engage in campaigns of attention getting kind deeds. In whatever form, they craft ways for their faith to challenge and alter culture.
Notice the placement of cultural activism in the list of descriptions. It comes last. The order of the descriptions suggests levels of value. Those practices described early are valued most, those later are valued slightly less. Though not devalued, the placement of activism suggests other Christian practices should have greater value - should be more primary pursuits. If prior descriptions are neglected, later descriptions are compromised. In a similar way, the strength of prior descriptions in a Christian’s life enable greater strength for those appearing later in the list. Thus, strength in the first nine descriptions sets a Christian up for significant intentional culture impact.
What is the purpose of culture impact? Baptists promote religious liberty because they know a person cannot be “made” into a Christian by the force of law or coercion. Forced conversion cannot be culture impact’s purpose. Neither governments, nor their laws, can produce the transformation and life-change God offers. Instead God’s eternal purposes, biblical compassion and advocacy, and God’s plan for government drive culture impact.
The strongest driver of Christian culture impact is, and must be, God’s eternal purposes. Those purposes are believers’ foundation for impact. Above all God has eternity in mind, as must His children. A Baptist New Mexican impacts and alters wider culture because their lives have been changed. That change prompts them to seek cultural impacts that are deeply spiritual, not merely behavioral or legislative. They want people to see Jesus. They want to help others know and experience the one true God. They want others to make peace with Him, His way. They want people to discover and acquire forgiveness and eternal life. They want to glorify God, to reveal His character, nature, will and plan to the entire world. Christian cultural impact injects God’s presence, His light into an evil and dying world.
Compassion and advocacy also fuel Christian culture impact. Through activities of culture impact, Christians act on God’s commands to care for people who are helpless, oppressed, infirmed, poor, afflicted or needy. Tyrannical violence, natural disasters, terrible accidents, droughts, floods, plagues and pandemics constantly replenish the earth’s inventory of human need. Saints respond out of God’s purpose of compassion. They respond in God’s name, with faith in Him, so the world can see him.
Out of compassion and advocacy, believers fight to protect life, families, parental rights and more. They also rebuild storm and flood ravaged homes, feed hungry people, dig water wells in deserts and more. They offer comfort and care - a kind of human hope - where people feel overwhelmed.
The final purpose driving Christians into cultural activism is God’s plan for government. God created governments to serve people, not possess them. Christians on local and world stages advocate for morality, human rights and humanitarian causes. In their own cities and villages, they promote the biblical punishment of evil doers and the reward of those who do good. They seek these things in the activities, laws and structures of governments.
Sometimes, Christian purposes parallel political purposes. At other times, Christian and political purposes diverge sharply. No political ideology, political party or government structure fully reflects God’s ideals, so Christians keep actively living their faith in public and on purpose for impact. They are Christ’s ambassadors in every place and on every issue.
Note: This series was written for The Baptist New Mexican the news journal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. It's ten descriptions apply to any Baptist Christian, not just Baptists from New Mexico. This is article 11 in the series.
Mature Believers & Baptist Beliefs
A Christian’s lifestyle constantly reflects either positively or negatively upon his or her Savior, Jesus. Actions and lifestyles matter. They affect Jesus’ message to humanity and either reinforce or discredit a believer’s doctrinal identity (like being a Baptist). That is why Christlike living must precede doctrinal identities and their theological debates.
The biblical writer Paul explained behavior’s influence. He described how New-Testament-era Christians, ones who were slaves, should submit to their masters – how their behavior affected Jesus’ message. He wrote: “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well pleasing … showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:10).
Through life-encompassing faithfulness, honesty and hard work, Titus said those slaves could “adorn” or decorate Jesus’ teachings. His use of the term “adorn” is a metaphor that means to “embellish with honor.” Those believers, in the way they conducted themselves, either embellished Jesus’ teachings with honor and respect or tarnished it with dishonor. Basically, the right lifestyle glorified and validated Jesus and His teachings.
With Paul’s principle in mind, I positioned the following description of a Baptist New Mexican just before the last item, not first: He embraces Baptist beliefs and practices. The placement may seem odd for a Baptist New Mexican. Since a particular collection of doctrines defines a believer as a Baptist Christian, why would that description come so late in the list. Paul left a clue.
People do not become Baptists when they believe in Jesus and accept His forgiveness. Instead, they first take on His name, Christian. Likewise, in the list of descriptions of a Baptist New Mexican, I placed Baptist doctrine late in the list. Biblically, basic Christian life comes first, not denominational life or doctrinal identity.
Both biblically and naturally, new Christians ask, “What do I do next?” They learn how to read the Bible, gather with other saints, worship God, etc. They learn Christian truth and the Christian lifestyle. They learn how to be a Christian and how to integrate Christianity into their daily lives. Only later, they realize that they are Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans or such.
Learning to live as a Christian before embracing a doctrinal label allows a person to glorify and validate Jesus and His teachings. That explains why so much comes before Baptist doctrine in our list of Baptist New Mexican descriptions.
Only after achieving a measure of spiritual maturity, should a believer embrace Baptist beliefs, support Baptist work and causes and participate in Baptist denominational life. Changing that order can weaken doctrine and devalue core, biblical concepts of Christianity.
So, what do established Christians, who are Baptists, believe? All Baptists share certain beliefs; Southern Baptists comprise a subset of Baptists. Below are some historical Baptist beliefs. Of course, some Baptists share other beliefs not listed here, too. Baptists’ derive their beliefs from Scripture, not from tradition or denominational edicts.
God. Baptists believe in a single, undivided, eternal, trinitarian God revealed as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – three persons who are each fully God, yet fully distinct. Baptists also believe that God possesses absolute, infinite power and authority, making Him both sovereign and capable in all matters at all times.
The Bible. Baptists believe that the whole Bible is true and error-free. They also believe that, as God’s instructions for humanity, it has ultimate authority in life, supreme over all other instructions or authorities.
The Gospel. God the Father sent His virgin-born Son, Jesus, to earth to live a sinless life, to proclaim the Good News of salvation for all people, to die on the cross as a substitute payment for humanity’s sins and to be resurrected, effecting victory over death and judgement. Those who choose to believe in Jesus and accept His death for sins - on their behalf - receive eternal life and the hope of living forever in heaven in God’s presence.
Humanity, Sin & Salvation. Baptists believe every person possesses a free will that can embrace or reject God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. They believe that people possess both the ability and the competency to make that choice. The offer to choose salvation is a gracious act of God that can only be accepted by faith. Along with free will, Baptists believe every person is born sinful at birth, needing salvation. Believing these things, Baptists prioritize local evangelism and world missions to offer everyone an opportunity hear God’s offer and a chance to accept it.
Heaven, Hell and Judgement. Baptists believe in a literal heaven and hell, places of eternal reward or punishment, respectively. They also believe that Jesus will return to earth personally and bodily to gather the church to Himself. Nonbelievers will face God’s judgement and separation from Him forever in hell.
The Ordinances. Baptists believe and practice two symbolic ordinances: believers’ baptism by immersion after salvation and the Lord’s Supper. Neither has an eternal, spiritual effect. Ordinances serve as opportunities for obedience, remembrance, proclamation and public testimony. They are not necessary for salvation, which precedes them both.
Local Churches. Baptist congregations gather for worship on the first day of the week, Sunday. They also tenaciously practice local church autonomy, meaning the local congregation, not a denomination or outside entity, governs and decides on matters regarding their church. Practicing that autonomy, Baptist church members make decisions together as a group. For Baptists, only immersion-baptized believers can be church members. Nonbelievers may attend activities of the church, but are not church members (nor may they participate in its governance) until they accept salvation and receive immersion baptism.
Access to God. Baptists believe that every Christian has direct access to God relationally and conversationally for prayer. Forgiveness is a transaction directly between him or her and God. No intermediary, like a priest is needed. Baptist pastors shepherd, lead, teach and guide believers, but have no greater access to God than any other believer.
Civil Government. Three beliefs guide Baptists’ interaction with civil government. First, Baptists reject government-imposed or government-favored religion – a state religion. They believe in religious freedom for all people, considering it a basic human right. Second, Baptists reject government intrusion into or interference with church decisions, operations and activities. Third, Baptists decry any kind of persecution – based upon person’s religious beliefs - by governments, other groups or individuals.
Baptists apply their views on government and religion to all religious groups. Also, Baptists reject notions (1) that religious people cannot hold public offices or governmental roles or (2) that religious in public and governmental offices or roles cannot practice or voice their religious views in their workplace or in the course of their work. They simply must not force others to favor or to practice a particular religion.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s 2000 Statement of the Baptist Faith and Message includes additional items beyond those historically held beliefs (bfm.sbc.net). Some churches under the label “Baptist” hold most of those beliefs, but diverge on one or two. So, variations do exist. No oversight organization exists to “police” Baptist doctrine claims or prevent gradual changes to Baptist identity and beliefs. That is the Baptist way.
Individuals desiring to know more about traditional Baptist beliefs should visit BaptistDistinctives.org.
Note: This series was written for The Baptist New Mexican the news journal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. It's ten descriptions apply to any Baptist Christian, not just Baptists from New Mexico. This is article 10 in the series.
A Biblically Compassionate People
The eighth of the ten descriptions of a Baptist New Mexican says, “He embraces biblical compassion by helping people who have no options (poor, orphans, widows, sick).” Though some may think compassion should be the first action of a church and its most visible characteristic, that is not what the Bible teaches. Yet, compassion is a necessary activity for saints. Its late placement among the descriptions does not minimize its importance. Its placement indicates the broad strength and devotion God fosters to undergird a saint’s compassion.
Since God is not a “respecter of persons,” He demands responsibility of all men. Thus, Proverbs distinguishes between the negligent poor (the sluggard) and those who are truly in need. Likewise, Scripture calls for families to care for their own widows before the church steps in with benevolence. God expects everyone to exercise self-responsibility to the greatest extent he or she is able. When that ability falls short, He expects His people to be ready to help with biblical compassion.
Biblical and humanitarian compassion are different. The former is driven by biblical truth and instruction. The latter is driven by the shifting morals and concerns of fallen, sinful society. Humanitarian compassion varies and drifts over time. But, biblical compassion maintains its focus, no matter what cultural shifts occur. Biblical compassion also reveals God to those who receive it through believers. It delivers much more than comfort; it delivers His presence and attention.
James ranked compassion in importance alongside moral purity (James 1:27). And, when Jesus described the people who would inherit the kingdom, he said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-26). He described acts of compassion.
In Jeremiah, God described people who do not “plead the cause of the orphan” or “defend the rights of the poor,” as wicked men, rebellious, stubborn, foolish and sinless (Jeremiah 5:28). He called those oversights iniquities or sins. Compassion manifests the heart and values of God among people with few or no options in life. Those who show no such compassion sin against Him.
The New Testament church reacted with compassion to widows needs when they mobilized the six men who are often described as the first deacons. The widows were being overlooked. Following the tradition of godly righteousness, those men acted to support the widows and ensure they were treated well. That first organized effort was a compassion ministry.
When John the Baptist sent messengers to see if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus’ response included, “the Gospel is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:15). Jesus so valued the poor that he used a poor woman’s gift to the Temple treasury as a moment to teach about generosity and giving. And, when Paul and Barnabas sought the Apostles advice on ministry to the Gentiles, Peter, James and John released Paul from teaching them the Jewish law. Paul wrote of their guidance, “They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do.” Compassion was the one element of the Law the Apostles sought to retain among the Gentiles.
God cares deeply about poor people, orphans, widows, prisoners and the sick, lame and infirmed. They attract His attention. In fact, Jesus conducted much of his earthly ministry among them.
God’s care for the poor and unfortunate was so consistent that the Bible says they could trust Him and depend upon Him. When Christians follow His biblical example, people who are trapped in life without options will say the same thing about Jesus’ church.
What did God and godly people in the Bible do for needy people? What does biblical compassion look like? It reaches beyond physical benevolence. The basics of compassion encompass providing food, clothing, hospitality (shelter) and safety. Beyond those things, God and His followers defended needy people and advocated for them and their rights. God sought justice for orphans, the poor and widows. Righteous men and women pled the cause of the poor. They felt and demonstrated pity, becoming helpers for people who could not help themselves. Men and women of God stood beside the poor and widows and included them, just as they did individuals who had sufficient means and needed no help.
So, as saints grow, they increasingly reflect God’s attitudes and actions toward needy people. They advocate for, provide for and guide those who have few or no options. Baptist New Mexicans grow into compassionate people who demonstrate the heart of God toward others.
Note: This series was written for The Baptist New Mexican the news journal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. It's ten descriptions apply to any Baptist Christian, not just Baptists from New Mexico. This is article 9 in the series.
In this eighth installment of my series on “A Baptist New Mexican,” I explore the sixth spiritual characteristic: he or she invites people to follow Jesus, recruiting them into God’s Kingdom. In past columns I have explained how each characteristic builds upon those that come before it. Though not absolute, they do tend to follow a sequence or order, stacking one upon another.
In the last issue, I described how one of the things a Baptist New Mexican does is share the Gospel. It was part of the larger activity of sharing truths from God’s Word. That sharing reached beyond repeating a learned presentation. It meant explaining the Gospel so it makes sense to someone else. After doing that, inviting someone to follow Jesus – recruiting them into God’s Kingdom – makes sense.
Having already explained the Gospel, how does a Baptist New Mexican invite someone to follow Jesus? It is as easy as inviting a friend to the rock climbing gym or inviting a fried to have lunch with you. Most people regularly extend a variety of invitations to others.
As a Christian grows into a Baptist New Mexican, he or she becomes a spiritual invitor, a host or sponsor of a new believer – a spiritual guide. His or her spiritual invitations solicit responses, clarify confusion and anticipate salvations. Real, heart-felt, spirit-stirred invitations are exciting and powerful moments for both invitors and invitees. That happened to an invitor named Vince and a lost person named Kevin Parker.
Invitations solicit spiritual action. Invitations do more than suggest, they solicit spiritual action from hearers. Invitors distinguish between explanations, suggestions and invitations. They want people to experience more than knowing what they should do. An explanation tells facts, describes their meaning and highlights their significance. Suggestions and applications describe how a person should use biblical truth. Gospel presentations include a description of a response, but that description is not an invitation. Invitors go one step further. They solicit a response from a person. They ask for an action, for a decision. Anything short of that is not an invitation. It remains merely a suggestion. Invitors solicit spiritual action.
Invitations dispel spiritual confusion. When explaining a response to the Gospel, a Christian may say, “To receive eternal life, you must believe in Jesus, trust that He died to pay for your sins and will forgive them, repent of your sins and desire to obey His instructions and commands.” Invitors eliminate the nagging question that follows, “What do I do now?” Despite clear explanations, lost people – just like those in the Bible – need to know the next step. They need a guide.
Invitors answer that question by leading people to action. Invitors guide people to actually believe, trust, repent and obey. They are those guides. When lost people want to take spiritual steps that they cannot understand, invitors dispel spiritual confusion. They say, “If you want to be saved, do this, right now. Are you ready? I’ll help you. Will you follow Jesus?”
Invitations anticipate salvation. Invitors extend Gospel invitations with expectation. They believe God’s Word is living and active. They believe God’s Spirit convicts. They believe Jesus is drawing all men to Himself. Their invitation puts their own belief into practice, just like their invitation calls on lost people to believe and take action. Invitors draw confidence from God’s truth, not from themselves, their experience or their training. All of those things help, but they know God wants to save people. No matter what happens, they know God’s Word was active; His spirit convicted; and His Son drew that lost person. They anticipate salvation because of God, His story and His promises. Those things allow invitors to be patient and silently wait for an answer - with expectancy.
Invitors feel urgency. Lostness troubles invitors. They know where it leads. As a result, urgency drives them to tell the Gospel, explain it and invite people to respond. Because God put urgency in their heart, the goal of their Gospel presentation is the invitation. They do not go out just to tell the Gospel. Instead, they go out to invite people to follow Jesus. Telling the Gospel is how they get there. They want to invite people to become like them: saved sinners following Jesus to Heaven.
So, as Baptist New Mexican’s grow in their faith, they grow into this characteristic. They become invitors. They solicit spiritual action from lost people. They dispel spiritual confusion. They anticipate salvations. They feel urgency. They go out inviting people to follow Jesus. The Gospel gets them there.
Note: This series was written for The Baptist New Mexican the news journal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. It's ten descriptions apply to any Baptist Christian, not just Baptists from New Mexico. This is article 8 in the series.
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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