Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Arms
When we decide to follow Jesus, we're not just making a choice that alleviates a sense of guilt or shame for things we may or may not have done. The decision to follow Christ is the decision to follow the path of love. As 1 John 4:7-8 says, "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." Jesus' life exemplified what human love can look like. He showed us what perfect, self-giving, love can truly be; and, in the process, he showed us what true human flourishing can look like. By opening our hearts up to God, to be transformed by grace, we follow Christ's example and in turn see others as our neighbors - dignified and worthy of the same kind of love that we have received.
Baptists are interesting for three reasons. First, they're in the habit of dunking people. Second, they're kind of unruly. They like the idea of freedom and autonomy. Finally, they believe that churches should be governed from a bottom-up approach, rather than a top-down approach. Congregations, like people, tend to have their own journeys and experiences. This can lead them to have different ideas about things. As a people of faith, we believe that it's important to respect this. We're not absolute relativists, but we do think that it's important to come to respect the ways that God may speak into the lives of other people. It is only God's Word, as revealed through scripture, that is truly authoritative.
We believe that spiritual maturity is often shown in how closely we are able to follow Christ. Following Jesus requires us to submit to his example and his teachings. As people who are forgiven, we can be grateful and happy for that, but we should also try to spread the Good News of God's grace and love. It's easy to forget that Jesus only told the story of the Good Samaritan after he instructed an educated man to "love your neighbor as yourself" to which the man replied, "And who is my neighbor?" In Jesus' parable, only the Samaritan treated the man by the side of the road as a neighbor. We strive, with God's help, to love our neighbors - all of them - as we would ourselves.