by Robert Earl Houston
Enough is enough! I’m writing today to express my convictions and enthusiastic support of my decision, made some 37 years ago plus to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior through a Baptist Church.
Nowadays, we’ve been the brunt of jokes, accusations, lies, hating, and really it’s ironic because in spite of some perceived and yes, some cases, real faults, the Baptist Church, especially the black Baptist Church, has continued to serve God while serving humanity. In every major city, there is a Baptist Church. In every small town, there is a Baptist Church. My goal in writing this blog post is to pen an opus to the Baptist Church.
The Baptist Church evolved historically from the loins of the Reformation, Martin Luther’s confession, King Henry VIII’s split from the Catholic Church, and in this nation, the U.S.A., has thrived through the years, even in the midst of history making controversy, separation and divide. We may not be all in the same denominational home, but there is very little that separates us doctrinally. To be honest, the Black Baptist Church denominationally has NEVER split over theology. We’ve split over power, publishing boards and position – but never over theology.
We all believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God. We all believe in the Articles of Faith. We all believe in the priesthood of the believer. We all believe in being led by the Holy Spirit. We all believe in the autonomy of the local church. And on and on and on. The Black Baptist Church were the “holy rollers” of yesteryear; The sponsors of higher education institutions; The front line spokemen of the Civil Rights era and even today important voices in the movement; The largest landowner of church buildings within our race; Entrepreneurs in our communities; Day care owners and operators; and the greatest benevolent endowment for African-Americans before, during and after the Welfare system.
Our preachers are prophetic and practical; Trained and Spiritual; Evangelistic and Personable. We are the first called to the scene of tragedy, we were the first called to the scene of community unrest and we’re looked to as role models within our communities. We are there at births, there at weddings, there at funerals, and community events.
Within our pews are professionals, day-skilled laborers, blue collar workers, white collar workers, the gainfully employed and they sit along side of those on Welfare, those who are seeking employment, those who have lost their jobs, lost their families, seeking direction, dealing with psychological and substance abuse issues – and yet these two extremes are always welcome at the Lord’s house and are inter-dependent one upon another.
The Word of God is not our sidelight, it is our main focus. We don’t chase theological rabbits and we’re not seeking the next mystical unicorn. Although our order of worship varies from pulpit to pulpit, one message resonates every Sunday morning, “He died . . . and then early Sunday morning, He got up with all power in His Hand.” It is effective whether it is preached, shouted, whooped, lectured or taught.
We refuse to say we don’t have as much Holy Ghost as others, in their arrogance, seem to suggest. We are spiritual men and women, boys and girls, who have accepted the fullness of the godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and we recognize the only manual for our faith and practice is the Word of God.
We called each other Pastor, Brother, Sister not in disrespect, but in a familial sense because we call our churches our “church home.” We musically don’t sit on the back row – Baptists have produced Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, Kirk Franklin, and for years supported artists and quartets who were welcomed into our churches when the Convention Centers, Arenas and Performing Arts centers were off limit to negroes.
Our worship varies – some of us sing reverently and some sing “full blast.” We’ve been known to sing, jump, run, flip benches, cry, weep, shout, and then have our moments of silent reflections.
I am proud of my baptist heritage. I’m glad to be in the line that produced the National Baptist Convention, Inc., the National Baptist Convention of America, International; the Progressive National Baptist Convention; the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America; the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International; We have branches of Baptist Churches which include Free Will, Regular Baptist Churches, and the like. We were the root of several pentecostal movements, of which we don’t condone attack because we are brothers and sisters in the Lord.
It was in the Baptist Church that I spoke publicly for the first time, sang for the first time, ushered for the first time, preached for the first time, played an instrument publicly for the first time. There are sons and daughters of the church who have gone on to other denominational homes, but they will tell you quickly, they had their start in the Baptist Church.Entertainers, athletes, judges, politicians and others will tell you of their genesis in the Baptist Church.
Finally, we have a rich worship heritage that runs from quiet to loud and we have produced some of the most prolific and practical preaching in the world. Our preachers have set the standard for preaching. I can point at an E.V. Hill, E.K. Bailey, Joseph Harrison Jackson, Gardner Taylor, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Donald Lee Parson, Jasper Williams, the Wade Family, R.A. Williams, Jr., The Thurston Family, The Sampson brothers, Mack King Carter, C.L. Franklin, the Evans brothers, Robert H. Wilson, Paul Sylvester Morton, O.B. Williams, Adam Clayton Powell, J. Andrew Boles, Kenneth Ulmer, Freddie Dunn, Earl Pleasant, Timothy Winters, S.M. Lockridge, William Augustus Jones, Bernard Black, Robert Smith, Carl Anderson, Warren Stewart, C.E. Williams, and other names of the past and present and then point to the promise of the future in preachers like H.B. Charles, Jr., E. Dewey Smith, James Walter Hills, II, Kevin Wayne Cosby, F. Bruce Williams, Freddie Haynes, and others who will be heard on platforms, pulpits and convention centers – both male and female, and television sets in the future. I don’t know where I’ll fit in history, but I don’t preach for fame, I preach to fulfill my calling.
Our worship rings in the major cities and can stop passer-bys on the sidewalk. Our preachers’ voices ring through the desolate areas of the deep, rural south. Our pulpits are made of glass, steel, and sometimes, homemade wood. Our baptismal fonts are grand modern designs or the nearest creek or riverbed.
I just want to give a shout out to the baptist church. The church I currently pastor is 180 years old which means that before the end of slavery, a baptist church in this community heralded freedom. This church fought, all the way to the State Supreme Court, unjust redlining when African-Americans were not “acceptable” in the downtown area. Our pews are reminders of the spilled blood of our mothers and fathers who believed that “a change is gonna come.”
We’ve built churches, fellowship halls, classrooms, daycare facilities, ball parks, discipleship training facilities on our own and corporately we have been schools, publishing houses, and much, much more. We don’t make a lot of noise about it, because we don’t judge our relationship with God in comparison with our buildings, net work and bottom lines. We base our relationship with God in light of our fellowship, followship and acceptance of Him.
This is not a rant against any other denomination. It’s an appreciation of the rich history and heritage we as baptists share. I’m proud to be a baptist born, a baptist bred and when I die, I’ll be a baptist dead.
I welcome your comments . . .