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Minister stresses importance of Baptist future

Jan. 22, 2010

By Lela Atwood

As Baptists celebrate 400 years of existence, Martin Marty, University of Chicago Divinity School professor emeritus and ordained Lutheran minister, said Sunday. Young Christians are no longer tied to a denomination in their faith at his lecture on Sunday.

Marty's lecture, "The future of a denomination: Baptists in the next 400 years," was the culmination of Baylor's year-long celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Baptist tradition.

People under the age of 30 are influenced by their friends more than their families, Marty said.

Unlike previous generations, they do not grow up learning Bible stories in public schools.

New Orleans alumnus Ross Purdy was raised Baptist but once seriously considered switching to the Episcopal church.

Purdy said that it is good for students to know their denomination and its beliefs and to examine other denominations.

"If there's another [Christian] faith that strikes a chord with you, look into it," Purdy said. "It is good to question anything that makes your point stronger."

Marty also attributed the decline in denominational adherence to Sunday school programs that do not teach young people the fundamentals of their denomination and the foundational beliefs of these denominations.

Therefore, Marty said, the denominational association meetings and debates are not relevant to their lives.

Denominational apathy is not the only issue happening within the church's youth.

Marty said the youth do not often understand the importance of the controversies in the church and how they impact the church and the Christian faith as a whole.

These include what stance the church should take on issues such as gay marriage and stem cell research.

"Most young people wonder why the adults fight over gay marriage, and it is important to make clear the gravity of these matters," Marty said.

Seattle sophomore Sam Pomeroy spoke out against apathy among the general college student population.

"If we are to be stewards, we need to learn how to obey the commands of the church and learn how the church body is evolving," Pomeroy said.

Marty said the Baptist stance on technologies such as stem cell research, IVF and abortion will continue to generate much discussion.

The issues debated will be different due to technological advances and cultural changes.

It usually takes the church 200 years to settle something.

It is important to "keep the discussion going," Marty said. This discussion is essential as a denominational group of believers seeks to follow the Bible and make wise ethical choices.

"It's like a family reunion. It starts happy and you gather, go to the Baptist church sing, do a long Baptist prayer, and everyone loves everybody," Marty said.

"Then one hour later during the picnic, one kid cracks another kid in the shin with the baseball bat. Some more argue about grandma's amethyst, but you know that they'll be back next year."

Marty also warned that the danger of treating religion as a marketing venture will continue to be an issue.

He cited the mega-church trend of "prepackaging scripture" for large quantities of people as a topic of concern.

"Going verse by verse and making it work is missing in mega-churches," Marty said.

"I'm friends with some guys in Aspen who meet and cook pancakes, take a chapter of the Bible and you hear the most wild hermeneutics as they go verse by verse and make it work."

Marty has written more than 500 articles and published more than 50 books.

Though he enjoyed the lecture, Pomeroy said Marty did not adequately cover certain issues.

"He didn't address family, which is our greatest mission field," Pomeroy said. "If change is going to happen, it has to start with [college students] the next generation of families."