Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Path of Faith

If you've followed my online writings since 2005 when I first began sharing thoughts through blogs, you know that I am a Christian. I've even written a Christian devotional for athletes that I hope to have published. More than three-quarters of Americans identify as Christians. A little more than half identify as Protestants, about 23 percent as Catholic, and about 2 percent as Mormon.

I am a Baptist and have been since May 1, 1977, when I was baptized by Rev. Jerry Prevo at the Anchorage Baptist Temple in Alaska. I was 12 years of age at the time. More than 100 million Christians identify themselves as Baptist or belong to Baptist-type churches -- 50 million within the United States, making it one of the largest groups of Protestants in the nation.

I've never hidden my Christianity. I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Religion nearly 30 years ago and when I was in my early 20's had seriously contemplated becoming a pastor. Instead, I became a teacher and coach in a Christian school; taught Sunday school lessons at my local church; played my 12-string guitar on the church worship team; and, was a speaker at Christian retreats. My faith has been the foundation of my life and without it I would be lost.

So, as a Baptist... what do I believe? Well, there are many elements of the Baptist Church and I certainly won't write an essay about all that Baptists believe. I can say that the Baptist Church believes in Baptism only after a person has professed Jesus Christ as their Savior. The Baptism symbolizes the cleansing of sins. Some churches use a sprinkling of water as Baptism, but most practice full immersion, where the candidate is fully immersed in water. This symbolizes the disciples’ own baptism as stated in the Bible at John, chapter 3. The practice also stems from Romans, chapter 6, verse 4, which states Christians are "buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." Baptism is not a requirement for salvation and many churches do not subscribe to infant baptism. Instead, Baptism in the Baptist church is a public expression of faith.

Since the origins of the church, Baptists have said the Bible is the only authority for Christian faith and practice. Baptists believe that the Bible is the only authority because it is divinely inspired or has a divine nature. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is an oft-cited example of why Baptists believe strongly in the Bible. The verses say, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible and empowered men to record the truth about God and give directives on how to apply the Bible to the Christian life.

In the Baptist church, the Lord’s Supper, also known as communion, is a symbolic practice meant to honor the death of Jesus. Communion is not necessary for salvation. The practice comes from Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. At the meal, unleavened bread and the wine were served. The bread symbolizes the purity of Christ and the wine (sometimes grape juice) symbolizes the blood of Christ that was shed for his people. The Lord’s Supper is meant as a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross -- a time of devotion and prayer. In many Baptist churches, all are able to participate in the Lord’s Supper. However, it is true that different churches have different stances on who can participate in the Lord’s Supper. Some practice "closed" communion which permits only those who are members in good standing of that church to participate. Some practice "close" communion which is similar to closed but also allows others who are members in like-minded churches to participate. The last is "open communion" where all those who are followers of Jesus Christ, who have been baptized, and are participating with proper motives, can participate.

In response to Christ’s call in Matthew 28:19-20 to "make disciples of all nations," many Baptists encourage missionary work and evangelism opportunities. Baptists emphasize that millions of people around the world have not heard of Jesus and evangelism is the mission of sharing Christ’s message. Evangelism has a long history in the Baptist church.

Yes, I am a Christian... and for the past 41 years I've been a Baptist. Praise be to God!

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso