Copyright 2005, Joshua Wood
My good buddy recently recounted to me a snippet he saw on CNN recently. I didn’t see it because I like to watch the news, not fiction or slant.
The host and a guest were discussing Jesse Jackson for some reason or another. The host, in an attempt to discredit Jackson’s credentials asked, “Didn’t Rev. Jackson even get voted out of his own church?”
The guest quickly replied, “In all fairness, he was at a Baptist Church. There system is extremely democratic. It’s almost like Mob-Rule.”
And, I dare say, Proud of it!
I’ve had enough of churches creating systems of government based on their own preferences. It’s ridiculous. I want a church that governs itself in accordance with the Biblical model.
Enter the Baptists.
Much maligned, and for what?, the Baptist system is, I think, dramatically misunderstood. Let’s examine the Biblical roots of Baptistness and hopefully find some understanding.
I think the best example of the Baptist system in the Bible comes directly from events surrounding Jesus’ death.
From Luke 23
1Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2And they began to accuse him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king."
3So Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?"
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.
4Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no basis for a charge against this man."
Same Chapter, A Little Later:
13Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him."[c]
18With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" 19(Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
22For the third time he spoke to them: "Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him."
23But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
Let’s let the story guide us in our search for an understanding of Baptistness. For example, Pilate, our pastor figure, is mentioned first.
Our Pilate interacts with the “assembly” in this retelling. The “assembly” is a group of the most religious among us. They are the vanguards of religion’s history. They protect the traditions of the church. They ensure the piety of all its members. They enforce the dress code. They are the wealthy who are thus entitled to make all the decisions for the church. They are to be revered.
Well, here we see the “assembly” bringing their problem to the pastor. In the story, Jesus was their “problem.” Today it would more likely be something like carpet color or hymn selection or pastoral wardrobe. But nonetheless, the pastor, our modern-day Pilate, is where the mob goes to complain and seek action.
It must be noted that before taking Jesus to Pilate, there was much scheming and internal discussion and various attempts to harm Jesus. If it seems a lot like the gossip tree in your church, that’s because it’s pretty much the same thing.
Our Pilate tries to get to the bottom of the story. He questions Jesus. “What’s going on, man?” Jesus, not understanding the importance of appeasing the “assembly,” in fact refuses to apologize and make pennance. In the historical context the “problem” – Jesus – has claimed to be the king of the Jews. Translated to current cultural context, the problem – carpet color – would be a disagreement between beige or khaki.
But Pilate is a reasonable man and wants to do what is right. He knows the Jesus has committed no crime, just like he knows beige and khaki are almost identical colors. So, he declares that the “assembly” hasn’t proven their case against Jesus.
In an attempt to pacify the raw emotion, he ships Jesus over to Herod for further deliberation. Our modern-day Pilate forms a committee to research the benefits and drawbacks of both beige and khaki carpets. Hopefully, the voice of a respected, or at least independent committee chairman will reinforce Pilate’s position that maybe there’s not such a big deal here.
When Herod, the committee, returns the problem – Jesus – the carpet color – with a “there’s no big deal here” we think the problem might be resolved. And in some other, non-biblical churches that might be true. But Baptists, to their credit, want to be completely faithful to the biblical account.
Instead, they demand swift resolution to their emotional crisis.
Pilate, still not believing the Jesus has done anything wrong, decides to go ahead and punish Jesus and then release him. Hopefully, by punishing an innocent man Pilate can demonstrate his commitment to church justice and appease the “assembly.”
This is a much under taught and underappreciated aspect of pastoral ministry: the art of appeasement. It’s very important to note Pilate did NOT think Jesus was guilty of anything. But Pilate was willing to compromise his own integrity, not to mention the truth, to give the “assembly” what they wanted – even though what they wanted was the death of an innocent man.
Can you say that about your pastor? It’s my prayer that you can point to specific examples where your pastor compromised truth and his integrity to appease your wounded feelings or ego.
But when Pilate saw that the feelings of the “assembly” were too strong to be appeased without the blood of an innocent man, he reminded himself that the majority rules. The will of the “assembly” should never be overruled. Knowing it was wrong, but respecting the system more than the oft-obscure truth, he acquiesced to the demands of the bloodthirsty “assembly.”
Pilate should be required reading for anyone wanting to be a pastor.
But far more important than the pastor was the “assembly.” They knew that the pastor thought Jesus was innocent. They knew he had done nothing sinful or illegal or redundant. But he wasn’t willing to uphold their traditions.
As culture shifts and changes it is crucial that the “assembly” guard the precious methodology of their religion. Their traditions, the rules they’ve added to their religion, their style and, most importantly, their personal preferences are certainly worth murdering innocent men to protect.
Is your “assembly” strong enough to stand up against a semi-confident pastor and demand that right be ignored in deference to tradition? Will they fight for the ineffective program, or will they relent and appropriate church resources to something far more “useful”?
Would your “assembly” be willing to kill Jesus to keep things the way they’ve always been?
If not, I suggest joining a Baptist church. For my money, it’s the best way to understand what Jesus experienced.
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