What is a High Church Baptist?


I’m a Baptist.

That’s not always an easy descriptor to assign to myself because I am…you might say…”high church.”

What does high church mean to me?

1. High church is an adjective that, to me, helps differentiate my preference and personal theology of worship from “low church.”

2. Neither high church nor low church are preferable to God or general polity of denominations or congregations. One is not better than the other.

3. To consider one’s self high church does not automatically mean one is Catholic or Episcopal (or Anglican) or Lutheran. To consider one’s self low church does not automatically mean that one is B/baptist, Quaker, Pentecostal, Holiness or Primitive Methodist.

4. High church and low church are descriptors about worship preferences.

5. The distinction between high church and low church transcends a church’s carpet color and includes views on sacraments, liturgy, the lectionary and theology (and anthropology).

So, in this chain of thought, I’m a high church Baptist and there’s nothing contradictory there (at least that’s what I tell myself).

What does it mean to be a high church Baptist?

1. I consider the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper and the Word (Scriptures) to be the two fundamental aspects of worship. Worship, as Robert Webber points out in Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative
, tells God’s story (it’s not something we do, but something in which we participate). I wish we participated in the Eucharist more often in Baptist worship services. Much more.

Oh, and I prefer wine to Welch’s Grape Juice. WWJD? Just saying…

2. I adhere to the mystical nature of the sacraments rather than viewing them as memorial events celebrating the life, death or resurrection of Jesus. Instead, our ordinances or sacraments are real and meaningful symbols that defy our post-Enlightenment cling to rationality.

3. As a high church Baptist, I hold that the place of the minister is to serve the congregation and creation in order to help a) tell God’s story daily and b) bring about the realized Kingdom of God. Preaching is a part of that, as is daily pastoral care and counseling… but being a minister is much more and includes recognizing the need for sacraments in the life of congregants (and the creation) on a daily basis.

4. High church Baptists recognize the need and responsibility for ecumenical discussions and inter-faith dialogue with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Baha’i, and other forms/strands of faith communities. High church Baptists realize, through the Word and Table, the cosmic scale of our faith and are driven by the need to bring the creation into union with the Creator.

5. As a high church Baptist, I live my life in communion with God by participating in the Lectionary. It is an amazing experience to adhere one’s self to a daily and holy pattern like the Lectionary which helps us overcome the confines of a secular calendar and conception of time. Time itself is transformed and opens us to a move closer to the divine.

There you go. That’s my (always developing and always unfinished) conception of what it means to be high church and a Baptist.

Here’s a post that sums up things nicely in general (less specific and subjective) terms.

I’m sure I’ll post more on this as I reflect on these ideas over the coming months.