I am beginning to think that the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church might have more in common than we would expect. An article in the “life” section of Time magazine last week describes a growing group of American females who are ordaining themselves as priests in the Roman Catholic tradition, doing so against the will and intentions of the Vatican. The priesthood always has been, and according to Rome, always will be an office held solely by males. The increase of female priests, whether legitimate or not in their acknowledgment by the Vatican, comes as no surprise when virtually every Protestant denominational group is working through similar pastoral issues. Males and females are “taking a stand” to promote a relatively new reading of the Bible that will bring about the expurgation of what is considered to be not just an antiquated position, but one that is used to paint conservative evangelicals as near barbaric in their approach to basic human equality and rights. The Southern Baptist Convention and those who maintain leadership positions within the SBC umbrella are coming under increased scrutiny by our more moderate Baptists brothers and sisters to repent of its damaging and sinful means of dealing with the pastoral issue in Baptist life. Unlike the Episcopal church and others, it appears that the Vatican is not willing to concede their interpretation of and the historicity of the priesthood just yet.
But the similarities go beyond just one issue. I remember the shocking words spoken by Al Mohler a couple of years ago during a chapel service of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. There, to a group of several hundred SBTS students, he said of a visiting Roman Catholic scholar that “his words may be the most important you will hear all semester.” Not wanting to miss the most important words of the semester, I attended the lecture and listened to this Catholic Princeton professor use Scripture to discuss the sanctity of life. Mohler was right.
The Roman Catholic Church has helped me think through other important issues. My previous post concerning my email to a student about birth control elicited several emails; most were thanking me for opening their minds to an issue they had never considered. A couple thought I had lost my mind. Nevertheless, it is the position of the Catholic Church that has in part forced me to think through even an issue like birth control with a biblical lens. Perhaps their position is a bit too rigid and unwavering; yet I appreciate the reasons behind their conviction.
I have also found myself thinking more about Mary over the last few years. No, I don’t believe we should venerate Mary. No, she wasn’t sinless. No, we should not pray to her. But surely we as Baptist do not do enough to teach about Mary, to consider her position before God and man, and to reflect on our own piety through her life and example.
So, it seems the SBC and the Vatican might have more in common than we realize; both in terms of current cultural struggles and biblical thinking through issues. I acknowledge, of course, many doctrinal problems that rightfully makes us not Catholic and that makes them not Baptist. Many of those are irreconcilable. Yet, it could very well be the case that in many ways, we are not quite as estranged as we might think.