Thursday, February 26, 2009

Moderate Baptists and Ash Wednesday

Associated Baptist Press has an interesting story today about the phenomena of moderate/liberal Baptist churches trending toward the observation of Lent (the 40 day period excluding Sundays before Easter). In the liturgical calendar, yesterday was "Ash Wednesday" and some moderate Baptist churches have even offered "the imposition of ashes." The above article notes that Baptist related Belmont University even had a Catholic Bishop co-preside in their chapel service!

What do we make of this? Many moderate Baptist churches are enamored with "high church" liturgical worship with smells, bells, candles, robes, and holy days. I think many are more than a little embarrassed by their blue collar, "low church" Baptist roots. So, they borrow the traditions of Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Likewise, when I went to a moderate Baptist seminary, reading Catholics like Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton was all the rage. When doctrine does not matter anymore, the line is blurred between Baptists and Catholics.

My guess is that some moderates like the mystical, visual, experiential, and tangible elements of such "high church." The irony is that they seek to borrow what they perceive to be "traditional" outward elements of worship style, while jettisonning traditional Biblical theology, roles of men and women, views of Scripture, etc. Another irony is that they don't realize that these expressions of "traditional" Christianity are more recent inventions in church history.

Sadly, they miss out on returning to their Reformation roots, and then to apostolic Christianity, to the simplicity and beauty of worship regulated by Scripture. We don't need ashes smeared on our heads to express repentance. We only need to read the Scriptures, to listen to the preaching of the gospel, to sing praises, to pray, to observance the ordinances, and to worship on the Lord's Day.



Anonymous said...

Hogwash! - what is being sought by some is symbolic meaningfulness versus production-styled irrelevance in worship experiences.

It has nothing to do with with being enamored with "high church" liturgical worship.

The Baptist litugical tradition of the alter call is recent tradition.

Baptists are radical separatists -not a part of the reformation.

Education at a "moderate Baptist seminary" can, it appears, be merely moderately absorbed.

Anonymous said...

I agree you don't HAVE to do it. On the other hand, the observance does have valid instructional value as a graphic story of Christ's torment, and it helps set an appropriate tone for Lenten Worship. If something like this helps bring people to Christ, and a true understanding of what He did for us, then it is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Very well written, Pastor Jeff. We sit in disbelief in a liberal Baptist church in Georgia. "They" are embarrassed to be Baptist, but refuse to change denominations. "They" want to bring the world into the church, but are embarrassed to take the word to the world. AMAZING. Thank you for your insight. By the way, I have also noticed that "they" typically grew up in Christian homes. I think perhaps they heard misuse of scripture from the pulpit and from home (and I really think it involved racism) and thus they refute everything from "traditional" Baptists, but embrace Episcopalean, Unitarian, and Catholic traditions without flinching.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Observing Ash Wednesday doesn't make a church liberal anymore than incorporating the Apostle's Creed or the Lord's Prayer into its services makes it conservative.

Whether to observe Ash Wednesday falls into the category of something that's part of church tradition that's neither commanded or forbidden in Scripture.

A worship practice shouldn't be avoided simply because its been traditionally observed within Catholicism or Anglicanism.