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Don’t play cards, don’t go dancing and don’t argue with a deacon. Don’t sass the church lady, don’t wear shorts to service and don’t drink alcohol. Don’t forget to tithe, don’t miss the meal afterwards and don’t run in church.

It seems much of what people know about Baptist churches are the “don’ts.” To the list of “don’ts” above, many more could be added. Some are biblical, such as, “don’t disrespect your mama.” And some are maybe not so biblical like, “don’t sit in Barbara Jean’s pew.”

It breaks my heart when I meet someone who has fallen away from their Baptist roots because of the overwhelming amount of “don’ts” that were preached to them growing up.

There are a lot of pros and cons to being Baptist. In my opinion, the former far outweighs the latter. I grew up saturated in the Baptist world in the best kind of way.

Many people my age don’t understand the role of Baptists in history, let alone their impact on today. Several young adults in my own small group don’t know Baptist lingo and phrases like “CP”, “BGCO”, “Church Planting”, or even “IMB”- organizations and practices that are shaping the Church as we know it.

So, what is a Baptist?

Webster’s Dictionary defines a Baptist as “A member of a Protestant Christian denomination advocating baptism only of adult believers by total immersion.” Is this wrong? No. Is this all that Baptists are? Absolutely not!

Baptists, simply put, are Christ-followers who, seeing the Word of God as holy and of ultimate authority, live to glorify God through living in obedience to Him and all that entails. It entails fellowship (hence the potlucks), hospitality (small groups), evangelism (hence all the summer camps), generosity (love offerings), knowledge of God’s Word (hence Vacation Bible School), missional living (hence the mission trips), caring for the least of these (like OBHC and BVC), stewarding our money well (hence the BFO), training and growing new believers (hence the BGCO and OBU), and uniting in one cause across the country to do all of these things well and excellently (hence the Cooperative Program).

Now, I’m tired just having typed all of that out, but did you realize that the Baptist Church as a whole is angled to live like what is described above? Do Baptists fail at this? Often. Do Baptist church members still gossip about each other? Of course. Do small groups get comfortable and forget the mission? Most definitely. The definition of “Baptist” is not perfect. In fact, it’s because Baptists realize how imperfect they are that they view God’s Word as perfect and holy. Because when people fail, we know without a shadow of a doubt that God will not.

Being Baptist, in case you haven’t noticed from this blog alone, means you deal with a ton of acronyms. In fact, when you were the age to attend GA’s at FBC, you learned the ABC’s of salvation at VBS after you got back from CT, which is run through the BGCO, which affiliates with OBHC. Once you left FBC to go to OBU, you learned about BCM through FC. After you got older, you set up your estate with BFO and spent the rest of your elderly days in the BVC in OKC. The acronyms are endless! Let me break them down for you really quick:

  • For kids: GAs (Girls in Action), RAs (Royal Ambassadors), Mission Friends, and more are programs that teach children of all ages to treasure God’s Word and live in obedience to Him. VBS (Vacation Bible School) is a week-long, Summer day camp where kids come to a church building for crafts, music and stories all centered around the Gospel message. CT (CrossTimbers Children’s Mission Adventure Camp) along with ACC (Associational Children’s Camp) both make up the exciting Summer camp opportunities for Baptist children (along with several other scattered associational camps). Lastly, OBHC (Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children) offers a safe place for children to live and grow in a Christian family environment, as well as offers training and support for foster parents.
  • For students: High school and middle school students can attend the huge Oklahoma Baptist summer youth camp called Falls Creek (FC). The camp has been around for more than 100 years, investing in lives and ministries to come. Did you know that Baptists have multiple universities across the nation? The one in Oklahoma is simply called OBU (Oklahoma Baptist University). Don’t want to go to a Baptist college? That’s OK, because there is a Baptist ministry at nearly every college in the state of Oklahoma through BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministry).
  • For everyone: The IMB (International Mission Board) is an organization that deploys and supports international missions, and NAMB (North American Mission Board) is an organization that plants and grows churches/ministries in North America. Did you know that every part of the United States is covered by some form of a Baptist convention, and the state of Oklahoma has it’s very own? The BGCO (Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma) is a resource center for many of the ministries mentioned above. It consists of ministry specialists, equipment, trainings and more. BVC (Baptist Village Communities) is an organization that reaches elderly or disabled people, and BFO (the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma) is a ministry that assists in setting up Baptists’ estates and churches’ finances.

There are a ton more, but I really want to highlight one acronym that represents one of the most innovative and powerful aspects of the Baptist life and denomination:

CP (The Cooperative Program) is one of the most ground-breaking ideas I’ve ever experienced in my life. The whole concept behind the Cooperative Program, simply put, is that one church cannot do it alone. We need each other. When we give money in the offering plate at a Baptist church that gives to the Cooperative Program, we are giving a bottle of water through NAMB to a Disaster Relief site. We are giving a fun social event for that widow who lives alone at the BVC. We are giving a carabiner to the ropes course at Falls Creek where a student will accept Christ. We are giving a Christmas tree to the IMB missionary family in Central Asia on their first Christmas away from family. I could do none of these things on my own, but through the Cooperative Program, one penny is like a thousand dollars.

Someday I hope the world does not remember Baptists as the people with all the “don’ts” and all the acronyms. In fact, I don’t even hope the world remembers Baptists. I hope that when the world thinks of the denomination, they think of the Savior of sinners, dying on a cross for their sins. I pray the world thinks of God’s sacrifice and lovingkindness toward a thousand generations. May Baptists all over the world be the biggest, most imperfect flashing arrow pointing to our perfect God.

I offer one last Baptist “don’t” for the road…

Don’t forget the power of an imperfect denomination in the hands of a perfect God.