One of the biggest concerns I have when we talk about Baptist distinctives is that people tend to understand the theological concept while neglecting to carry out the practical application of what we believe. Maybe that’s the reason so many people don’t really understand what it means to be a Baptist.

Our Baptist heritage was birthed in the fire of adversity, persecution, and theological discovery. Our forefathers came primarily from people of need and those who were considered outsiders by the religious elite. Truly, they were reformers and advocates for a transitional way of thinking as Kingdom Christians. As we celebrate our 400th anniversary as Baptists, please allow me to reflect upon why I am a Baptist.

I’m a Baptist because, when I ponder the priority of missions and evangelism, I immediately go to the concept of sharing the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus used human need as His entry point to share the truth with those He taught. His disciples, as they took leadership in the new Church, met the needs of the widows, those who had lost property, and those who were unemployed, to make truth the reality that God cares for every part of a person’s life. True Baptists are about doing ministry as the means of missions and evangelism.

I’m a Baptist because it’s important that I learn how to be a Kingdom Christian in the world. Baptists were at the root of building some of the greatest Christian universities the world has ever known. Texas Baptists are blessed to have nine universities that are building Kingdom Christians. From 1845 forward, our theology has emphasized that the best way to make a disciple is to teach Christians how to live for Christ in the real world.  It’s never been about just understanding the right theology or orthodoxy. It’s about being real, so that you can apply your theology to investing in the lives of others.

I’m a Baptist because Baptists have always believed that the Great Commandment of Matthew 25 is also about justice and mercy. In the 1870s, Texas Baptists gave birth to the Buckner ministries that would stress the pure and undefiled religion of the New Testament to serve widows and orphans. Texas Baptists helped build Baptist health care systems that today serve millions of people annually in the name of Christ. Our collective Texas Baptist human care ministries make real the mandate of Christ to serve all people.

So, rather than argue about what a real Baptist believes, my argument is for a real Christian who is a Baptist to act accordingly. I’m proud of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and support it financially and with committed advocacy, because I know that the distinctives of missions and evangelism, Christian education, and Christian service to the least of these is a priority for our free Baptist tradition.