By Kyle Caudle
Thanks for leaving the doors open.
I happened to stumble in.
I wasn’t there when the party started, but still I was welcomed in without condition.
My early experiences of Baptist life were formed in the fundamentalist fervor of independent Baptist churches. The two main things I remember about these churches were that they were KJV-only and believed women should wear dresses, not pants. While the Southern Baptists were embroiled in “the controversy” between moderates and conservatives, we were still trying to thwart the onslaught of “modern” bible translations and worldly Christian rock music.
I ended up playing in rock bands and studying religion at a state school.
Following graduation, I was confused about how to reconcile my academic experience as a religious studies major and my conservative Baptist upbringing. I desired a faith big enough for deep questions and critical inquiry, but not merely intellectual or skeptical. I needed a living, breathing faith willing to wrestle with what it means to live out the gospel today. My world had grown larger and I needed a gospel large enough to embrace that world. I needed a gospel that was willing to follow Jesus into this world rather than running away. In addition to that, I was also trying to discern my calling as a minister of this gospel.
Thankfully, I found the Cooperative Baptists, or, perhaps they found me. Either way, I found a home.
I was a stranger and they welcomed me.
I ended up accepting a position at First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem working with youth. This church welcomed me and my questions. They gave me permission to fail, to learn, to grow. They weren’t scared of questions because they trusted that no questions were too big for God. This truly was—to borrow from Suzii Paynter— a “big net” church. The ministers and the laity held very diverse opinions in matters of theology, politics, and everything else under the sun—running the spectrum from conservative to progressive. They were old and young, homeless and wealthy. Many were not even from Baptist backgrounds. Somehow they landed in this net. They weren’t united by their “like-ness” but by their willingness to embrace the other. They were “forming together” well before it became a good slogan.
The kind of welcome I experienced at First Baptist Church is the same kind of welcome I continue to find of Cooperative Baptists wherever they are. We welcome the new and the young. As a divinity school student I was a CBF National Leadership Scholar even though I had only been a Cooperative Baptist for a couple years. CBF continues to invest in young ministers and theology students. CBF welcomes new churches, field personnel, and partnerships. I’m particularly impressed by our welcome of Latino congregations in our fellowship and our increased commitment to practicing racial reconciliation. These practices of welcoming the stranger reveal a theological commitment to God’s big embrace of this world. I am proud to be part of a net-work of friends who have been moved by God’s love and welcome.
For me, CBF has always been about life-giving, Christ-formed relationships. While beliefs, denominational structures, and practices all have their place, they can never come before relationships. Relationships—friendships—are the lifeblood of this fellowship. We are united in the holy bonds of friendship.
I am a CBF Baptist because you welcomed me in and we became friends.
My prayer for CBF is that we will continue to open our doors wide to all who may enter.
Who knows who might stumble in?
Kyle Caudle serves as Minister of Spiritual Formation of First Baptist Church Winston-Salem, N.C. This column is part of a yearlong series sponsored and hosted by the Baptist History & Heritage Society, one of the Fellowship’s partners, exploring and celebrating why young Baptists identify with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Keep up with this “Voices of Young Baptists” series throughout 2015 by signing up to receive the Baptist Studies Bulletin, the free monthly online journal of BHHS providing articles, editorials and book reviews on Baptist history and issues of importance to Baptist individuals and congregations.