In the discussion about relating and working together it was suggested that the house churches that we are planting should have a strong Baptist identity. What is wrong, they asked, in these house churches putting a sign out front saying "Baptist church"? Are they ashamed of being Baptist?
I tried explaining that all of these house churches were autonomous bodies of believers. They are free to do as they wish under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, but that I didn't feel it was my place as a missionary to tell them to put out a sign proclaiming that here is where a church meets. Are we a Baptist church because we have a sign out front saying so, or are we Baptist due to practice and belief? Would you want a sign out on the front of your house saying something to the effect that your home is a Baptist church? The home itself is not the church, it is those who gather there that are the church.
It was implied that the churches we are planting are not Baptist churches because they are not supporting Baptist missions causes. It was ironic to hear this come from the mouth of those who had just declared they no longer gave to Baptist mission causes themselves and had no intention of doing so until certain accounting matters were cleared up in the convention. Sitting right next to them was one of three Ecuadorian Baptist International missionaries who has faithfully received a promised $85/month from the Guayaquil house churches. In two years we have never failed to send in our promised pledge. Ironically, the convention has yet to send a single dime in support of their international missionaries serving overseas. Yet somehow our house churches are not Baptist because we don't give to Baptist missions causes?!?!
What was really happening yesterday is that people are upset that we are not longer planting traditional Baptist church buildings, with traditional Baptist programs, along with providing a pastor who is a Baptist seminary graduate, duly ordained by a local Baptist church. House churches follow their own formats of interactive meetings, are highly focused on every believer being a minister of the Gospel, less formal leadership, believe in "being the church" rather than "going to church." So therefore the conclusion is we are not planting Baptist churches.
All this got me thinking about what is it that makes a church Baptist vs. one that is clearly NOT Baptist?
It is very interesting to me that "being Baptist" (at least here in Ecuador) means following the traditions, practices, and models passed down over the years. It is clearly ingrained that a Baptist church must go through several stages--preaching point, mission, constituted church--until they have:
--a building (without a building how can you have a church?)
--a pastor (not officially recognized until ordained)
--a certain number of baptized believers
--recognized/authorized church program(s)
--formal church services (cultos)
What goes against the grain is that our house churches skip all the above steps and go from new believers to NT churches in a very short time. We focus not on these extra-biblical requirements, but simply on what Jesus said to do: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Those disciples are gathered into natural meeting places in their communities (usually homes) and ARE church from the get-go. They do not have to jump through a series of man-made hoops to achieve official church recognition. Once you have baptized believers who are being discipled into obeying Christ, who are meeting regularly and are committed to one another and Jesus as Head, you ARE CHURCH. Since all our teaching is Baptist, I have no problem in believing that these newly planted churches are Baptist or at the very least "baptistic."
What was encouraging about Saturday's meeting is that we are at least discussing these issues. After several years, this is the first time we have formally met with convention leadership to actually talk about these things. I am encouraged. It is only through dialogue that we can overcome our differences with one another and learn that we are all in this together to strive to see the Great Commission come about in our life time.
Are we commanded to plant traditional Baptist churches, or are we commanded to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord? I would be interested in any feedback anybody might like to share.