Changing times and a looming question
January 31 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Changing times and a looming question | Friday, Jan. 31, 2003

Friday, Jan. 31, 2003

Changing times and a looming question

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

The land that we call home is changing.

For most of the 20th century, Baptists covered the South like ants on an abandoned picnic sandwich. Baptists dominated the religious scene with a little competition from Methodists, Presbyterians and Pentecostals, but few others to speak of.

The Baptist-led preponderance of church-goers and tee-totalers by conviction (if not by practice) kept most of the stores closed on Sundays and free of legal liquor all the other days.

But those days are gone, especially in North Carolina's corner of the South.

In some ways, the changes are a reflection of shifting values across the country, simply reflected in the local population.

In other ways, the changes are due to a population influx from north of the Mason-Dixon line and from south of the border (with Mexico, not South Carolina).

A large percentage of those new arrivals call their worship times "mass" instead of "preaching."

A recent study by the Glenmary Research Center shows that the percentage of Southern Baptists in the Triangle area - to look at one slice of North Carolina - dropped from 23.8 percent in 1971 to 13.14 percent in 2000.

Meanwhile, the percentage of Roman Catholics grew from 2.5 percent to 6.67 percent.

Similar shifts are being felt statewide.

During the Baptist State Convention meeting in November, Executive Director Jim Royston noted that, if trends continue, Catholics will outnumber Baptists within 10 years.

Many Baptists would join Royston in the hope that the growth of Baptist churches and their influence might wax and not wane.

A few readers of the Recorder took offense, arguing that Baptists shouldn't think they have a lock on the way to salvation.

I believe it is possible to be an effective and growing Christian within either faith tradition - and equally possible to be far removed from God, no matter what the denominational label.

I'm bothered by any religious denomination that requires its members to affirm a creed before being allowed to serve, but Baptists (Southern Baptists, at least) no longer hold the high ground on that issue.

I have serious disagreements with several important pillars of Catholic theology, but am also troubled by some elements of the newly minted, increasingly specific Southern Baptist theology.

I'm uncomfortable with the Catholic practice of effectively deifying the Virgin Mary as an object of worship. I'm equally troubled that many Baptists exalt the Bible in similar fashion.

I wish Baptists had more Mother Teresas. I wish Catholics had more Billy Grahams.

One thing Baptists and Catholics have in common, beyond their belief in God as revealed through Jesus Christ, is a commitment to missions - a conviction that the love of Christ cannot rest easy within us, but cries out for sharing.

Though mission methods differ, representatives from both traditions have proven themselves willing to take the risk of representing Christ in spite of danger - to put themselves in harm's way that others might come to know Christ's way.

Nineteen Southern Baptist missionaries have been martyred during the convention's 157 years of mission work. Twenty-five Catholic missionaries were killed in the past year alone - 10 of them in war-torn Columbia.

No single denomination is the sole possessor of "the right way" to be Christian. The body of Christ includes people who call themselves Adventists and Anglicans, Baptists and Brethren, Coptics and Catholics, Mennonites and Methodists, Pentecostals and Presbyterians, plus more non-denominational groups than you can count.

All of us would probably prefer that the other groups should look and act more like us.

Jesus just wants us all to look and act more like Him.

That's a thought worth thinking, I think.

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1/31/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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