Confession of Identity"What life have you if you have not life together? There is no life that is not in community, and no community not lived in praise of God." T.S. Elliot Click here to read a process narrative from Pastor Emily
Watch the our story of the Confession
A Celebration of Good, Baptist, Work.
This Confession represents fourteen months of congregational conversation about our identity and six weeks of focused congregational conversation around the need for, and language of, a Confession of Identity. This Confession is the epitome of leitourgia, or liturgy, that wonderful Greek word throughout the New Testament that speaks of the “work of the people.”
The task is now to capture the holy ground upon which we’ve walked and the breath of the Spirit which so clearly animated the work of these months.
Our love for God and neighbor calls us to welcome, affirm, and celebrate all people in the fullness of who they are: beloved for their differing ages and races, sexual orientations and gender identities, means and sufferings, physical and mental abilities, levels of education and backgrounds, cultures and nationalities, doubts and beliefs. Why? Because God’s love knows no boundaries, therefore our love shouldn’t either.
The Gifts of Membership
We believe that any person who professes faith in God through Jesus can share in the gifts of full membership of First Baptist on Fifth, including baptism, communion, marriage, covenant with children and their families, ordination of deacons, ordination to the gospel ministry, celebrations of life, teaching, worship leadership, and pastoral care.
Confession & Lament
We lament that the witness of the church in our own time is divided and confusing, often betraying the very heart of God, the life-giving way of Jesus, and the liberating movement of the Spirit. Christ’s love compels us to confess the Christian church’s complicity in exclusion and division, and at times we have been negligent, indifferent, and silent in the face of injustice.
At the core of our community, we are folks who love each other well: bringing our true and honest selves, seeing, knowing, and caring for each other in that fullness, overcoming barriers that would otherwise separate us, and finding grace on the other side. Yes, sometimes it’s messy, and yes, sometimes we disappoint each other. But because we know the sting of loneliness and the salve of belonging, we are choosing to knit our lives together, time and time again.
Our downtown home isn’t just a city block in which our building sits. Rather, downtown Winston-Salem has become the place that shapes our priorities, our resources, our relationships, our imagination. Here, we are from, and from here, we are sent.
We seek to practice boundless compassion for all people by lifting the lowly, caring for the poor, pursuing and amplifying the voices on the margins of life, calling out injustice wherever we see it, extending our care for all of God’s creation, and working for the freedom of the oppressed. Our boundless compassion flows outwardly to our neighbor and inwardly to ourselves, for each of us is in need of God’s liberation from all that holds us captive.
In this season of our church’s life, those shared callings have opened our minds, hearts, and lips in cultivating the well-being of children, mitigating poverty in our community, becoming a teaching and learning church, and growing in number and faithfulness. These callings have prompted our deepening work for racial justice, our embrace of LGBTQ individuals and families, and our commitment to equity and inclusion for all people.
Practicing Our Faith
We practice because we’re learning to be more honest than we are and more loving than we have been. These practices help us remember who and whose we are. They orient us with intention away from our tendencies of scarcity and towards God’s gifts of abundance. They surround us with other practitioners on the road, so we know we are never alone.
Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever!
Why do we make this confession now?
“Because we simply can’t not speak ‘of what we have seen and heard.’ Because we must
loosen our grip on fear and act abundantly ‘with great boldness.’ Because for our
historically-white, predominantly-straight congregation, the burden of clarity is on us; our siblings
have borne that weight for too long. Because the witness of the Christian church in America has
become so distorted — particularly in recent years, even more so during the pandemic — that we
are compelled to make even clearer our convictions. Because it is an act of hospitality to those we
meet and an act of love to those already in our fellowship. Because it puts before us the witness of
the already & not yet.Because God’s Spirit beckons us ever forward, each step following in the
abundant way of Love.”
– Pastor Emily
Frequently Asked Questions for our Pastors
From Pastor Emily’s November 11, 2021 newsletter
What does a ‘confession’ mean?
It is a historic Baptist principle to resist adherence to any ‘creed’ (a formal, binding statement of belief) but that of Word (Jesus) and words (the Bible), and so the tool of ‘confession’ has been used throughout Baptist history to capture a broad consensus of distinctives in faith and practice. In the same spirit, our church’s Confession of Identity is not a binding document demanding that every member agree to every word, but rather a snapshot of our shared callings by God in this season and how they form us as a particular community of faith.
What does LGBTQ mean? And why do we need to specifically call out different groups of people in our Confession to love? Wouldn’t it be enough to say, “God loves all people, so do we”?
One of you said in a meeting with me this week, “isn’t it rude to call people by letters? People aren’t letters, they’re people!” I hear that, and so appreciate the care in which it was offered! LGBTQ is a common acronym used by (and in reference to) people who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. For generations, this group of people has been widely marginalized in and rejected by Christians and churches. Because of this grievous reality, it is an act of courage for a person who identifies with the LGBTQ community to seek out a church home. Therefore, naming our church’s commitment to welcome those in the LGBTQ community extends our hospitality in a clear, unequivocal way. (We’ll spend some time in the new year going deeper through preaching and teaching in our theological exploration of relationships and sexuality.)
What if I don’t agree with everything in the Confession? Will I have to leave the church if it passes?
I’m certain that not a one of us agrees with every single word of the Confession, nor do we agree with every last thing about how we interpret the Bible, how we think about God, how we pray, you name it! This variety of expressions of our faiths is precisely what makes a church deep in wisdom and broad in understanding. So no, you do not have to leave the church, and I sure hope that the love we share becomes the love we keep, regardless of difference. But if your conscience calls upon you to dissent, you will join a long line of faithful Baptists for whom freedom in dissent was an expression of faithfulness.
How do you know it is the Spirit of God and not just culture leading you?
Hands down, one of the most helpful books I read in divinity school was the 1955 classic from Reinhold Niebuhr called Christ and Culture. In it, he outlined five ways that Christians engage in the cultural world around them: Christ Against Culture (e.g. culture is all bad and Christians should reject it), Christ of Culture (e.g. culture and Christianity should exist in harmony), Christ Above Culture (e.g. culture is, as all things, guided by God, and should not be rejected because it is neither good nor bad), Christ And Culture In Paradox (e.g. holding loyalty to Christ and responsibility for culture is a dynamic tension and often a conflict), Christ Transforming Culture (e.g. because God in Christ is always making all things new, so too with culture that Christ can transform; our role as Christians is to aid in that transformation). That final category became a clarion call for me in understanding the role of the church.
Because I believe that Christ calls us to the work of transformation, and because I believe that the work of Christian transformation is and should be more important, wide-ranging, and orienting than any cultural pull, to me, I see that the work of the Spirit aiding in cultural transformation is precisely the work we’ve done together! Jesus was temporal — rooted in a particular time and place, in a particular culture and way of life — and showed us how to live within that particularity while also seeking transformation. That way of living was a way of love and hospitality, a way that pointed people to God, a way that lifted the lowly and let the oppressed go free, a way that moved religious people beyond long-held boundaries to the life abundant on the other side.
I know the Spirit has been with us because I have experienced it. My feet have stood on holy ground. My eyes have been opened to what I hadn’t yet seen. My ears have heard testimony and witness to God at work. My cheeks have held tears of lament and tears of joy. My lips have spoken of what I have seen and heard. My story may be familiar to you, because you have shared similar stories of your own. The Spirit has indeed been at work, and transformation has been the feast!
How will we actually live out the Confession in our church’s life together?
Let’s find out together! Truly – this work will become a road map for us as we move forward, but the particular turns and stops, detours and sights to see will be ours with God to discover. I’m so encouraged to hear your dreams for how we live most fully into God’s dream for our church!