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Why I Am an American Baptist

September 15, 2013

I have been asked many times, “Why American Baptist?” There are so many other religious communities that are more attractive and appealing. Why American Baptist? As someone who was born into the American Baptist family, I have never asked that question of myself. It’s like I am a Ng because my father was a Ng. I’m American Baptist by birth and when I became old enough to choose among others, I still chose American Baptist.

One of the foundational beliefs of Baptists is soul freedom, the belief that God created persons to have the capacity to read Scriptures for themselves in the context of an informed community of laity to discern the meaning of the Word of God and to know God’s calling. This is an incredible affirmation of God creating humankind in his own image setting them just like angels. Soul freedom as the words suggest frees us to read the Bible and to interpret the scripture, as we obediently understand God’s breaking revelation for us to see.  This is the reason why I am American Baptist.

Imagine what this means to me as a Chinese American boy growing up at First Baptist, Boston, a historic American Baptist church, in fact the 4th oldest Baptist church in America, to my personal development. This means that while my parents who did not know American Baptists before they came to Boston and definitely didn’t know Jesus Christ as Lord, the church instilled in me that I have the capacity to know Christ as my Lord and Savior and become an American Baptist. As long as I can think and read the Bible with an open mind, God’s revelation and truth will be made known to me. This is soul freedom.

In Boston where they make a big deal about being “blue-blooded” proper Bostonians and whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower, this Chinese American boy whose father only became an American citizen after serving in the US Army during World War II can still claim to have a rightful place in this most historic church that was founded in 1665! American Baptists gave me the confidence that I have abilities and capacity to make things happen.

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Soul freedom means that across this country and denomination of very diverse, different and unique people and churches that we can have very different opinions and viewpoints and still be called American Baptists as long as we stand on the central conviction that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. We have seen even in our own church in San Francisco Chinatown that we all don’t hold the same opinions and viewpoints about a number of pressing issues but in God’s grace and inclusiveness, we have remained the Body of Christ known as the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco.

When I was about to graduate from seminary in 1974, there were people in Boston who knew about James Chuck and FCBC. Honestly, I never heard of you since I was so focused on completing my studies and finding a church to serve. People told me about this historic congregation and that James was so entertaining when he spoke at an ABC convention in Atlantic City that I should consider becoming familiar with you. And just as God has a hand in the world, God’s hand was on me. I was called by you to succeed Debbie Allen after her 30 years of faithful work that I am now associated with FCBC. Who would have guessed that I have been with you for 15 years already?

Some of you have wondered whether my becoming the next ABCUSA President is because I have become bored with the ministries of FCBC. This is the farthest from the truth. The truth is just the opposite. It is because of you who have the faith in me over 15 years ago to call me as your Senior Pastor that I now have the sufficient credentials to be president. I may have had the pedigree of growing up at First Baptist Church of Boston or the denominational experience from the many years of serving in Valley Forge where I gained many of my skills in administration but what really qualified me to become president is serving as your senior pastor. In these past 15 years, I now have countless stories and real-life situations to share and impart wisdom to others in the ABC family. In the next two years, I might be physically away from you but I will never be spiritually apart from you.

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Soul freedom is our ability to interpret Scripture and to discern the will of God for each one of us. This is the central reason I remain an American Baptist. Being an American Baptist is an open door that welcomed you and me to be members of a large family of 1.3 million people. Being an American Baptist allows us to utilize our God-given gifts and abilities to read the Bible and to discern where God’s plan is for us as a church. And as your pastor, I am the American Baptist president-elect because you sufficiently equipped me to be so.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

Thank you, O God for calling together people known as American Baptists who have a distinctive and historic witness in the world. You have blessed us across the many years in many parts of this country and around the world to do mission, proclaim a prophetic voice, and to advocate for the importance of soul freedom for all. We pray that you continue to bless the dedicated leadership of Dr. Roy Medley as he serves as our General Secretary as well as his witness at the National Council of Churches in the USA. May we at First Chinese Baptist Church serve as active partners to advance your kingdom on earth. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.

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