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now approximately 700 Azeri Baptist believers. It is these Azeri Baptists who are subjected to the most
pressure by the authorities. We met a wonderful group of Azeri Baptist young people, some of whom had
lost their jobs when they became Christian believers, and a few who had been subject to physical violence.
Such is the “cost” of their discipleship.
We were able to examine in detail documents submitted by two churches for their legal registration,
which had been refused by the government. We were then able to raise these two cases in our second
meeting with the Chair of the Committee for Religious Communities. These and other issues were
presented in an open letter to the state president specifically addressing the issues of harassment, obstacles
put in the way of church registration, imprisonment of pastors, and also a request that the early 20th century
Baptist church building in Baku confiscated in the Soviet period be returned to the Baptists.
And what were the results of our visit? We are encouraged that a few weeks later Hamid Shabanov
has in effect been set free, though his conviction has not been quashed. We will continue to monitor the
other issues we raised with the government. And above all, we came away from Azerbaijan encouraged
and humbled by the dedicated discipleship of our Azerbaijani brothers and sisters in Christ who even in
dark times continue to witness unflinchingly to the light of Christ.
Tony Peck is General Secretary for the European Baptist Federation and Regional Secretary for Europe
for the Baptist World Alliance.

Photo: Church building in Baku confiscated from the Baptists during the Soviet period and used today as a Cinema-Theatre.


Early Baptists drew on the patristic tradition such as the doctrine of the Trinity and the person of Christ,
with origins in the fourth century and later.
These claims are made by Steven Harmon, associate professor of divinity at Samford University’s
Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, in the United States, and a member of the Baptist
World Alliance Academic and Theological Education Workgroup.
Some early Baptist confessions and statements of faith, Harmon says, are traceable to “post-New
Testament patristic Christianity,” evidence that early Baptists adopted a Suprema Scriptura hermeneutic
rather than a strict adherence to a Sola Scriptura dogma. This adoption of patristic theology shows clear
examples of “a catholic spirit among early Baptists.”
Evidence of the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Apostles’ Creed can be found in John
Smyth’s Short Confession of Faith in XX Articles of 1609, The Declaration of Faith of English People
Remaining at Amsterdam in 1611, the Orthodox Creed of 1678, and other early Baptist confessions and
But due to a developed “Baptist tradition of antipathy toward tradition,” modern Baptists have often
ignored, or rejected, their patristic heritage. Harmon contends that Baptists need to retrieve “the ancient
ecumenical tradition that forms Christian identity.” His claim is that such a task is nothing less than “a
recovery of the surprisingly catholic ecclesial outlook of the earliest Baptists, an outlook that has become
obscured by more recent modern reinterpretations of the Baptist vision.”
Harmon, who is also a member of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Interchurch Cooperation,
believes that this retrieval and recovery of a forgotten or ignored tradition should be done primarily in the
worshipping community, as “worship is formative and normative for the theology of the church.” Such
worship is most fully expressed through “word and table,” that is, the reading of scripture and the sermon,
and sharing in the Lord’s Supper. The practice of the latter, he contends, receives short shrift through
Baptists’ “deeply entrenched anti-sacramentalism,” which leads to “an aversion to weekly communion.”
The patristic theologian invites Baptist theological educators, students, pastors and laypersons to join
him in this conversation on Baptist catholicity.
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