As we look beyond 400 years of Baptist life in England, I want to trace five theological footprints which marked early Baptist communities which might still be important as we ‘look beyond the horizon’ and ask what our vision might be.
Reading the Bible
There is a challenge to help churches to engage in reading the Bible. We may have colluded too much with a pulpit-orientated form of church life on the one hand, and an individualistic piety on the other. There are possibilities for imaginative ways of reading the Bible together. In looking at the role of the Bible for Baptists, I suggest that what has been distinctive for Baptists has not been a doctrine of biblical authority but rather a particular way of using the Bible. It is remarkable that in his ‘Short Confession of Faith’ of 1609 John Smyth does not include a clause about scripture. This might have been due to the fact that the document was written in a hurry. Even so, the omission suggests that a doctrinal formulation on the Bible was not at the forefront of Smyth’s mind. What did concern him deeply was how the Bible functioned in practice.
Living the Life
There is an emphasis in Baptist thought, as in Anabaptism, on the new way of life that is to be lived, but what is striking is the strongly Christ-centred framework in which this set. On the question of ‘living the life’, one of my own interests is in how biography can be used to shape our Christian stories today. There is much to explore here.