When CBF was formed, John Hewitt, the first elected moderator (who had also been pastor of Kirkwood Baptist church in the 1980’s) noted that we were “free and faithful Baptists.” It was a sound-bite that caught on, and I have used it scores of times through the years. Baptist historian Walter (Buddy) Shurden noted it would have been far better had the phrase been “faithful and free Baptists.”
The word “free” seems to put the focus on the individual. How many times have we heard the concept of “the priesthood of the believer” defined as “I can do what I want”? What a gross misunderstanding! But the notion of free (especially for our American culture) implies the individual.
The word “faithful” reminds us of higher responsibility. Back to the priesthood of the believer concept, faithful reminds each of us about faithfulness to God’s desires for our lives; for our relationship to brothers and sisters who are also part of the Body of Christ; and to those we meet each day and can be the presence of Christ.
As I observe Baptist churches I watch this same “free and faithful” play out. In churches, the key word “autonomous,” while certainly true, lessens the awareness of our inter-relatedness to other churches. A “faithful” focus heightens our awareness for the health of other churches.
Just this week a tragic event happened at a church in Kansas City. On Wednesday night at our church, the other church was listed on our prayer calendar. Our pastor prayed for the other church’s pastor whose burden is profound this week. Our church prayed for families and elderly members of the church. It was one of those moments when I experienced the “faithful” side of our Baptist inter-relatedness.
All to say, I am no longer a “free and faithful Baptist.” I prefer to consider myself a “faithful and free Baptist.”