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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Equal Privileges - A Hallmark of Baptists

This is the seventh post in my Recovering E.Y. Mullins and Saving Soul Freedom series. Past posts include: The Golden Hour to Save Soul Freedom, Recovering E.Y. Mullins - Part 5, Saving Soul Freedom w/ James Dunn, On Being An Authentic Baptist, Priests and Prophets, and the original Recovering E.Y. Mullins.

Today's excerpt comes from the May 3, 1994 issue of the Report From The Capital of the Baptist Joint Committee. The author - James Dunn.
Quintessential democracy. The starting gun for sustainable human rights. A laboratory for soul freedom. The baseline for church polity and politics. A consistent corollary for the competence of the individual before God. A Baptist distinctive or hang-up or cantankerousness.

One of all of those phrases fits the affirmation that "all believers have a right to equal privileges in the church." It is elemental: Religious Liberty starts at home. It is a revolutionary doctrine. It's an idea to which most free church adherents pay lip service....

The notion, like all ideals, is far from being realized. Some churches bearing the name "Baptist" withhold equal privileges on the basis of gender, age, race or some other external factor. More individious and common perhaps is the de facto denial of full membership privileges because of some selective system of sin-sizing. A sin of certain assessed magnitude can cut off equal access....

So go back to the principle: All believers have a right to equal privileges in the church.

The same regard for Scripture protects one from believing that equality of privilege refers to an equality of spiritual and mental capacities. Nor does this rule of thumb diminish appreciation for diversity of gifts and differences of calling. The right of direct access to God makes the church a family. Brothers and sisters with a common allegiance to Jesus Christ do not take equality before God lightly or as an excuse for self-centered individualism.

The tangible reality of a fellowship of believers in real time with actual flesh-and-blood concerns bound by love serves as a powerful deterrence to cowboy Christianity. The principle of equal privileges in the church tends to curtail, not create Lone Ranger religion. At least, that is the way it ought to work. Powerful paradox: the lordship of Christ and autonomy of individual soul. "Jesus Christ is Lord" was the first confession of the church. As Mullins wrote, "The first and finest expression of Christ's lordship over the individual believer is the gift of autonomy." Pardox? Mystery? Yes....

...The working principle that all believers are directly answerable to Christ is dangerous, explosive, open to abuse. One can be certain that it will be misinterpreted and misused. Yet, the introduction of indirect authority, creedal filters, mediators and intermediaries poses a greater danger. That danger is the failure to see Jesus Christ as sole authority.

For Baptists to be faithful to our own best insights, for Baptists to continue to champion religious libety, for Baptists to be Baptists, we must practice freedom in our churches. We are guilty of high hypocrisy; full-fledged phonies if we talk freedom of religion and act less than freely at churh. Democracy and vital religion share this ennobled view of individual freedom. All believers have a right to equal privileges in the church.

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Blogger Beth said...

I am a Baptist in recovery - from many, many years of pretty much being told repeatedly that God is for freedom of Christianity in America; from being in churches with power structures, men only policies; from being discouraged from thinking for myself because it is God's will to "just let the pastor tell you."
I have a 22 year old son who rarely sets foot in a church because of all the years of seeing people play games and act out roles. And when I finally started to think for myself, of his mom being verbally (and in one instance almost physically) abused by so-called leadership.
Equal rights in the church? I am in a church now where that is true. I have a new friend at church who has endured abuse by fundamentalist pastors. She is afraid to set foot in a church that looks like a church. Our church is in a store front.
I live in a small town and left my church after 27 years. It took the pastor being abused by the controlling group (because he wouldn't play games with the power guys) for me to leave. I was as much a part of the church as I was allowed to be. No one called me to ask how I was. A few people let it be known they thought I was a coward for leaving.
Thanks for the post. It is educational.

2:26 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


you're doing a great job. your old man tells me I should start blogging, but seeing how high the bar is set by such writ as yours, I may just have to be a reader for a while.

carry on

barely a prof at Baylor

3:05 PM

Blogger Bart Barber said...


An interesting post, and one regarding an area (Baptist Distinctives) which we share as a passion.

What would you offer as a biblical foundation for this idea that "all believers have a right to equal privileges in the church"? Indeed, where does the New Testament speak to us in terms of rights and privileges at all? I thought we were all bond-slaves.

2:11 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Dunn is preaching Basic Biblical Equality 101 (simple egalitarianism).

I can't point to one proof text that trumps all. But the Center for Biblical Equality (and their Wikipedia entry) lays out the basic foundation for biblical equality with a plethora of Scripture references.

Though I assumed a complimentarian such as yourself would balk at my egalitarian notions...

This text

7:43 PM

Blogger Bart Barber said...


Don't reflexively jump to gender here. I'm not even arguing that all MALE believers have a right to equal privileges in the church. I'm just asking where one finds that sort of language at all in the Bible.

But I'll follow the links anyway, my brother.

7:45 PM


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