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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Although practices vary, world’s Baptist churches share beliefscomment (0)

January 1, 2004

By Grace Thornton


By name and beliefs, the Baptist church sounded like any other Sarah Braddock might attend at home in the United States.

But the moment she signed her name on the roll book in precise English print — a stark contrast to the sweeping Chinese characters on all the lines above — she knew she wasn’t in the Bible Belt anymore.

Braddock, who works as a Southern Baptist Journeyman in a large city in Taiwan, said, “The body of Christ is the body of Christ anywhere you go.”

But, she noted, distinct differences are easily pegged between the cultural Christianity raging through the American South’s Baptist churches and the worship of the Taiwanese Baptists in a nondescript high-rise, concrete building.

“Entering the tiny sanctuary, I was struck by its beauty and cleanliness. It was clear they obviously treated this room with care and respect, as the place where they met with God,” Braddock said.

When she walked in, Braddock said, everyone was seated reverently, quietly preparing their hearts for worship.

“It was clear from the start they had not come for good songs or for a feel-good message but to meet with the Father,” she said.

And, Braddock added, no one seemed to mind that the service lasted nearly two hours.

“I’m pretty sure the services here don’t follow the unwritten rule of one hour services that are out by noon,” she said, laughing.

Are Christians openly persecuted? Not really, Braddock said.

“The people have the political freedom to worship however they want. However, there is great pressure — especially from families — to follow the traditional ways of worship, usually Buddhism or some other type of folk/traditional religion involving ancestor worship,” Braddock said.

The families feel following Christ is dishonoring them, Braddock said, and only 2 percent of the Taiwanese population even know about Christ.

“To forsake all other gods and follow the one true God can bring a little criticism,” she said. “Their spiritual beliefs are very intertwined with their culture.”

While in the United States being part of the Baptist denomination is common to many, the cultures of many other countries simply do not make being Baptist natural, said Ken Roxburgh, chair of the department of religion at Samford University.

Roxburgh, former president of Scottish Baptist College in Glasgow, Scotland, said while nearly half of the people in the United States attend church on Sundays (43 percent according to a 2002 Barna poll), only 4 to 5 percent do in Scotland.

“In Scotland, the secularization of society has set in,” Roxburgh said. “People talk about believing in God but do not want to belong to a church. Here (in the United States), people have a greater confidence in their Christian identity.”

Within the Baptist churches, the music is similar to that of American churches, but the Lord’s Supper is celebrated weekly and Sunday School is a learning tool used only for children, Roxburgh said.

And, he added, churches in Scotland have a hard time finding staff members and affording to keep them.

In India, finding a Baptist church at all is a challenge, said Edgar Sathuluri, an evangelist to villagers in his homeland of India. More than 80 percent of the country’s 700,000 villages have no Christian meeting place.

But when a church is found, complacency doesn’t reside there as it does sometimes in Baptist churches in the United States, Sathuluri said.

“I’ve been really concerned about the complacency and apathy I see in Baptist churches in the United States. I do see it in India, but not like here,” Sathuluri said.

Active, public faith

The American South is saturated with the gospel, and many people have a head knowledge without the heart knowledge, Sathuluri said. “Village churches [in India] are different. Baptism is a cut-off point for an Indian person — they are expressly and publicly sayiing they’re cutting themselves off from their religious and cultural roots.”

It’s very risky to be baptized, Sathuluri said. And believers parade through the village on their way to the waters so all can see. “There has been a lot of movement of God and His Spirit in the villages,” Sathuluri said. “Indians are resource poor but commitment rich, while in the United States, church members are as a whole resource rich and commitment poor.

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