As we celebrate what we’re thankful for tomorrow, I have many things to be thankful for this year. As I thought about which one I wanted to write about this week, my mind kept coming back to the one that brings many of us together: our identity as Baptist Christians of faith.

During my time as a student in the Campbell University Divinity School I had the opportunity, in a church history class, to work on a project where I delved into the history of the Baptist tradition, particularly its beginnings in England and Amsterdam. Through this research, I gained a greater appreciation for the deep theological and humble beginnings our tradition went through in the 1600s as its two main founders, John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, separated from the Church of England to answer a call they had received from God.

Helwys’ journey from wealthy origins to dying in Newgate Prison (put there by King James of the King James Version of the Bible because he dared claim that King James was not the true head of the church), all in the name of what he believed, was of special meaning to me as it shows that as a Baptist my beginnings did not start the night I walked into a Baptist church and accepted Christ, but rather with people who literally gave up their lives so that I can hold to Baptist beliefs.

Beliefs such as autonomy of the local church, the freedom to connect with God directly without an intermediary, the freedom to interpret the Bible as the Holy Spirit leads, the desire to fight for religious freedom, and even the deep understanding that we are a non-creedal tradition (not holding to or signing any type of creed as authoritative for Christian faith or practice).

I’ve also come to appreciate the Baptist tradition’s deep calling to serve others. From Adoniram Judson to William Carey to Lottie Moon, the Baptist tradition is full of those who gave everything to share the message of Christ with others. These tenets of the Baptist tradition along with those of religious freedom, soul freedom, and a deep reliance on the Bible are all important reasons why I will always be a Baptist at heart, no matter where God may call me.

I can’t say that I agree with every Baptist movement or denomination out there but I can appreciate the deep tradition we all have in common.

There is no way to express how thankful I am for the Baptist churches that have taken a chance on me over the years. From the churches that helped me grow from a new Christian to a congregational leader to those who have affirmed my call to ministry as I’ve served over the last fifteen years, there is no way to put into words my gratitude. I will always find myself deeply indebted to every one of those Baptist congregations who welcomed me into their community and allowed me to discover what kind of Christian and minister God has called and continues to call here in Benson, me to “be.”

I am also grateful for my Baptist Divinity schools and how they have afforded me the opportunity to explore my theological beliefs and discover who I am as a follower of Christ and how my own personal theology fits into the way I live out my call to share the Gospel with the world. Of course, I can’t say that I have it all figured out or that my theology is not changing,  but I can say, with certainty, that I am stronger theologically thanks to my time as a Divinity School student.

As a Baptist-affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I am thankful to be able to experience a tradition that celebrates a person’s call to ministry, man or woman, and ordains them to serve God in that calling. This “Fellowship” is also one that is uniting churches, fighting hunger, making strides in religious freedom for all and transforming communities through the love of Christ around the world. I am truly thankful for its presence in my life and ministry.

The Baptist tradition is in my blood, it is a part of who I am.  For the ways this tradition has helped me connect with the Gospel of Christ and for all of these other reasons, I am happily and deeply thankful to be a Baptist this Thanksgiving week!