Long time eastern Kentucky pastor Charles Stewart said someone once asked him,, "Brother Stewart, if you weren't a Baptist, what would you be?" Without pausing a second, Brother Chuck replied, "Why, I'd be ashamed!"
What a great answer.
Now, I realize, as the old gospel song says, there are no Baptists, or Methodists, etc in Heaven, only born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many denominations, and there are born again believers in every group. Devout Christ Followers, often differ on shades of doctrinal secondary and tertiary issues, but the one thing that unites us is the Gospel message. The story of the virgin born Son of God, His sinless life, His vicarious death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension to the Father, and His imminent return. The Good News that Salvation is found in no other than Jesus Christ, and the simple formula is "By Grace, through Faith". If we can agree on those points there should be Unity. On the other doctrinal differences, there should be Charity!
That being said, I am still proud (in a non sinful type of pride) to be a Baptist.
I am a Christian by the Grace of God (Eph 2:8-10). An Evangelical by command (Matt. 28:18-20), and a Baptist by conviction (2 Tim. 2:15), and a Southern Baptist by choice. Like many others, I grew up in another denomination but came to an SBC church because of certain doctrinal distinctions (see http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp). After uniting with an SBC church, I began to learn more and more about the Convention that further validated my decision.
For starters, the Southern Baptist Convention is not really a "denomination". It is a Convention. It is made up of over 43,000 autonomous local congregations of like faith, which have voluntarily decided to cooperate with one another to seek to fulfill the Great Commission and take the Gospel around the corner, and around the world. The actual "convention" only exists two days per year when it's churches send "messengers", (not "delegates") to the Annual Meeting. On the other 363 days of the year, the Convention is operated by several entities, each of which are overseen by a Board of Trustees which are elected by the messengers at the Annual Meeting.
The entities include the Executive Committee, which oversees the day to day operation of the convention, carrying out the policies and administering the convention budget, set by the messengers from the local churches. The International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board are primarily responsible for carrying the Gospel to every corner of the earth. There are more than 10,000 total full time missionaries overseen by these departments. Guidestone Financial Services (formerly the Annuity Board) serves as an entity to help pastors and local church staff members do retirement planning and funding, and provide various health care plans to our ministers at reasonable costs. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, serves as a clearing house of information regarding the cultural forces around us, and it provides the service of contacting our elected officials and public policymakers on issues of the day, from a Biblical world view. LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board) provides quality Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Discipleship training curriculum, and books, and other Christian literature and resources of all kinds. Beside their own publishing ministry, LifeWay has numerous Christian bookstores and operates two wonderful conference centers in North Carolina and New Mexico. The Southern Baptist Convention also operates six Theological Seminaries where pastors, evangelists, musicians, other church staff members, and missionaries can receive a world class affordable theological education from some of the most godly and knowledgeable teachers on the planet. The Women's Missionary Union (WMU) while not an official convention entity, serves as a catalyst for mission giving in the local churches, promoting the various SBC mission works.
The distinction, however, that I think makes the SBC such a special organism is the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is what makes all this possible. Besides doctrinal purity, what makes an SBC church an SBC church, is the local church's gifts to the Cooperative Program. Each local body of believers decides how much (or little) it voluntarily gives to the Cooperative Program. Those gifts go to the State Convention and a portion of the monies go for the operation of the various State Conventions and their mission work. The rest of the money is forwarded on by the state to the national Convention offices. There, distribution is made to the various SBC entities. It is the monetary engine that drives the mission efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention.
There is no hierarchy that tells the local church what to do or how to operate. The SBC believes that under God, the local church is the highest point in the organization. Local congregations, voluntarily banding together in local associations, state conventions, and the SBC have opportunity to impact this world for Christ in a powerful way, that has thus far been one of the most powerful movements in the history of Christendom.
Is the SBC perfect? No. Far from it. When we get together, sometimes the debate is lively. Sometimes controversies arise. Sometimes course adjustments and corrections are needed. Doctrinal issues are debated at times. But we have learned long ago that we can do so much more for the Lord together, than we could ever do individually.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Looking back over the years that I have served Southern Baptist Churches, I find myself in agreement with Brother Stewart. What would I be if I weren't a Baptist?
I'd be ashamed!