Note to a Baptist Minister-turned-Episcopal Priest

Ahh, denominational tussles. Gotta love them. I came across this essay, “Episcopal and Baptist Christianity — The Essential Difference”, by the Rev. Dr. Richard Laribee. Rev. Laribee is a former Baptist pastor who left the Baptist fold because he could not, with integrity, continue to preach in the Baptist tradition of soul liberty. But he takes us Baptists to task as being too individualistic. Naturally, I couldn’t let it just lie there, unanswered. Here’s my brief response to Rev. Laribee.

Rev. Laribee: Your essay is both interesting but ultimately mischaracterizes Baptists. At least those Baptists I worship with. Two things I pose for your consideration. First, you wrote,

The Baptist focus on the individual, symbolized by the carrying by each individual of their own, personal copy of the Bible, looks at evangelism as getting people to become individual disciples.

Yes, and no. We are all called to carry out the Great Commission, both as individuals and as a member of the body of Christ, i.e. the church, regardless of denomination. This is as true for Episcopalians as it is for Catholics as it is for Methodists as it is for us pesky Baptists.

And this leads rather directly to your second mischaracterization, when you wrote:

We [Episcopalians] read the Bible in community, pray in community, serve Christ in community, and worship in community, not primarily because these help the individual (which of course, they do!!), but because these are our responsibilities as members of a community of faith. We are not our own: we belong to one another, and collectively, we belong to Jesus Christ.

This is exactly how I would characterize my Baptist church. Any Baptist who would say that he is only a disciple of Christ by and for himself is rather confused, and needs to be better informed.

Baptists were formed out of respect for the individual’s conscience; out of respect for our need to make up our own minds about how we worship God through Jesus Christ. We are every bit as much a community of disciples as the Episcopalians. Do not confuse a less formal liturgy with a lessened sense of community.

On a personal note, I’m a refugee from the ECUSA, having left in sadness at its lack of biblical faithfulness. I’m not angry; just realized that while there may be three legs on that stool (Scripture, tradition, reason), many in ECUSA had completely divorced their sense of church from Scripture. And no amount of reason, nor of tradition, can replace the Word of God.

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  1. Hi John,

    Here it is, March 2008, and I just stumbled across this. One would think that if you were going to send a note “to” me, you might have let me know about. It seems a little silly, 3 years after the fact, to respond as though it were a conversation. Don’t you think?

    Oh well.


    Richard Laribee

  2. Richard, the post isn’t really about you.

    The post, which still stands, is about TEC as it continues to stray ever further from God’s word.

  3. Ah, so it’s not about what it says it’s about in the first 5 paragraphs, it’s really about the “on a personal note” in the last paragraph.

    Well, thanks, that explains everything!

  4. It’s both sad, and perhaps a bit telling, that you would state, publically, that I had mischaracterized Baptists, while your supposed “response” to something you “couldn’t let stand,” not only mischaracterized me, but mischaracterized the essay itself.

    Naturally, you didn’t supply the link to the essay itself. For after all, if you had, attentive readers might have seen for themselves how you mischaracterized both the tone and thrust of the essay. Observe how to quoting two snippets that might, alone and out of context, give the false impression that the essay was somehow an attack on Baptists.

    My essay exists to answer a question I am asked, surprisingly often, by curious Christians of all flavors: “what could possibly explain why a Baptist pastor would become an Episcopalian?” I took enormous pains at the beginning to state clearly that my reasons should never be mischaracterized, as you did, as a criticism of the Baptists. But by cutting two snippets out of context, and posting them in public, you did the very thing you claimed I did: you mischaracterized both me and the essay.

    Moreover, your claim that I “could no longer continue to preach in the Baptist tradition of soul liberty” is a mischaracterization of me. It’s easy to imagine how you might have concluded that, but it’s not what I said, not what I wrote, and is wrong. It might have helped if you had checked with me for accuracy, before posting these things in public.

    But then, who can resist the temptation of appearing to brilliantly defend a straw man?

    I end this by quoting from the beginning of my essay, the point I most strongly wanted to make. It is based on the assumption of soul liberty, not the repudiation of it. It is an attempt to remind us that faithful Christians do choose different places in the world wide Church, for a variety of reasons. But the choice of one Christian to serve in one setting rather than another should never be inferred as a criticism or rejection of the choices of other faithful Christians:

    “I believe that Christians everywhere have more in common than they have differences.

    It is impressive, but not surprising, that the human genome project discovered that all human beings are nearly identical, genetically. That what appear to be huge differences in personality, race, or gender are explained by less than 1% difference in our genetics — that the two most different people in the world are more than 99% identical. So it is with the Christian Churches.

    The two most different churches in the world have far more in common than in difference.”

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