For the better part of a month I have been working my way series called “Finding Our Freedom.” The more I prepare and preach, the more I see that I should have out an “S” on the end of it. While freedom is singularly wonderful word, its pursuit comes from the core of every craving, from desires dwelling deep down in the soul and psyche. There are a lot of freedoms we need to know and know. That’s true for everybody. And every church.
Our congregation is deeply rooted in the free church tradition, specifically its Baptist branch. We have been accused over the centuries of being too individualistic when it comes to personal faith and its corporate expression through the church. Five hundred years ago it was more than a rowdy idea that every person was competent to read the Bible and, under the leadership of the Spirit, interpret it. It seemed heresy to say that all souls could claim access to God through Jesus, and nobody else. Governments didn’t like it much when folks defied the dictate to stick to the nationally endorsed church and stay loyal to both. Neither did the power religious institutions who had cozied up to them. And if individuals could chart their faith and practice, it stood to reason our forebearers would claim the same for the local church.
Truth be told, we were a radical out-shoot to the way Christian faith was practiced for the better part of thirteen hundred years. And as is the case with most conscientious objectors, these pioneers paid a steep price. They were shunned and dismissed. They fled to lands not their own in search of a place where these liberties could be afforded. And many paid the price with their lives, and the hands of both the church and state. That’s the rock from which we are hewn. And that’s the faith foundation we stand on and stand by.
Let me be clear. Our “ecclesiology”, the way we understand being and doing church, is far from the only way. Depending on where you sit, it may not be the best way. (Though in its purist form, I believe it can be.) But it is our way. It’s a way born of and living in freedom. Bible freedom. Soul freedom. Religious freedom. Church Freedom. And I don’t want to live without any of them. As sage Buddy Shurden reminds us, these four freedoms are indeed fragile. But when they are clearly understood, intentionally lived out, doggedly fought for, respected and protected, their framework can hold up and house the most authentic of Christian expressions. “When the Son sets us free,” the Book says, “we are free indeed.” As both people and a people, that really does matter.