Baptist Catholicity: Community as a Locus of Authority

Mark 4 of Baptist Catholicity: Community as a Locus of Authority

I had the time of my life as a West Texas youth minister…

I was in a small town Southern Baptist Church, working with a congregation who had been through far too much pain, and kids who had been neglected as a result. Nobody had intended to let the students down, it was just that in the midst of a painful church split, death of a pastor, and fire through the church building, things like keeping kids involved in the children’s ministry, and creating compelling discipleship programming fell through the cracks. As a result, many lessons a church kid would cringe at hearing for the 10th time were fresh to my students. I remember as I had my students at youth camp one year, we heard a particularly stirring sermon one night on the power of Christ-centered community in spiritual growth and accountability. I had taught that lesson once before, but one particular student hadn’t been there for it, so it was literally the first time he had heard that part of the reason the church gathers is to help one another toward Christ in a way that can be invasive, authoritative, and scary. As we had church group time, he asked over and over again “am I really supposed to trust y’all with my deepest secrets?” and “Who in this room actually cares if I love God or become an atheist?” I explained over and over again to that student, for the rest of my time at that church, how community would ideally work in the Body of Christ, and he never quite believed me. You see, while he knew that the adults in that church loved him, he had no place for the church community to hold authority in his life. (I can understand that by the way. His example of church had left him behind in a nasty split)

As a quick aside, here is a summary video from that week:

– the place where something is situated or occurs : site, location
– a center of activity, attention, or concentrationMeriam Webster Dictionary

The Bapto-Catholic argument is that the church community should become the locus of authority in the life of the Christian. Sure, God is our ultimate authority, and God reveals Godself in the Bible. Beyond that we can find authority in tradition. But where do God, the Scriptures, and tradition combine in a community of people that can help and encourage you in the Christian life? Well, that would be the church. The problem is, like my student at camp, we don’t trust our church to be anything beyond a locus of suggestion for us. In an ideal world, we would become so close with our communities that we could trust them to seek the Lord, the Scriptures, and the Tradition along side us. In an ideal world, we would trust that they would have our best interest at heart. Now, we don’t necessarily live in this ideal world, and I’m sure that plenty of us have stories of churches we trust hurting us. So why go back to the church, and try to trust them again? Well, put simply, because Jesus instituted the church as a unique place where people and God collide with the world. As we seek the Lord together, perhaps we can hear the Spirit and find the will of God.

Trust is hard. Especially as a Baptist, when we are our own priests, giving authority to our autonomous church sounds suspect. But if we come at it together, perhaps we can find something good. Something holy.