Baptist Catholicity and renewal
What do we mean when we use the term “Baptist catholicity”?
When we use the term “catholic,” we do not mean “Roman Catholic.” Rather, we are taking up the older meaning of catholic as “universal” or “worldwide” (Greek, katholikos: kata, “through” + holos, “the whole”). In this sense, catholicity is one of the four marks of the church, as confessed in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” While the New Testament most often speaks of the church (ekklesia) in local terms, it also makes reference to the church in this collective, universal sense (e.g., Eph. 1:22; 3:21; 5:22). To confess the church’s catholicity, then, is to embrace its universal scope and its worldwide dimension—the body of Christ that transcends space and time, province and denomination.
A uniquely Baptist catholicity seeks to situate the Baptist vision within this broader body of Christ. As the Protestant Reformation was a renewal movement within Western Christianity, so also the Baptist vision is a renewal movement within Protestantism—a renewal within a renewal, we might say. So as we call the church to greater faithfulness to Scripture (as we understand it in terms of Baptist distinctives) so also we seek to learn from other traditions as well. We are especially indebted to what many have called the “Great Tradition” of Christian reflection on the gospel and its Triune God.
Other Baptist groups and theologians have utilized the notion of “Baptist Catholicity” or “Bapto-Catholicity" (see, for example, the manifesto for Re-Envisioning Baptist Identity), but we are seeking to stake a claim for a particularly evangelical expression of this impulse.
For more information regarding Baptist catholicity see Evangelical Baptist Catholicity: A Manifesto.
What do we mean by “retrieval for the sake of renewal”?
When we speak of renewing Baptist life, we do not intend to communicate that the Baptist movement is dying and somehow in desperate need of our efforts to revive it. No, in many ways, the Baptist movement is as alive as ever, with many exciting stories to tell in terms of evangelistic fervor, missionary endeavors, cultural engagement, theological education, and so on.
But every movement this side of glory is always in need of greater renewal and a more thorough reformation. We believe that one of the most fertile sites for this kind of renewal can be found in the Christian tradition—not only in terms of our own rich Baptist heritage, but also in terms of the Reformation, medieval, and patristic traditions that lie behind it. As we retrieve the past, and harvest it for its doctrinal and liturgical “best practices,” as it were, then we will find new inspiration in our efforts to interpret and apply the Scriptures for our own day.
We are indebted to Timothy George for the language "retrieval for the sake of renewal." For a helpful introduction to this theme, see George's essay "Is Jesus a Baptist?"