Union University’s Dockery lectures started off Tuesday, March 14 with their first address, delivered by Jim Patterson, Union’s associate dean for the School of Theology and Missions. He delivered a lecture entitled “The Baptist Ecclesiological Legacy: Some Problematic Traditions” in Harvey Auditorium at 3:30 p.m.
The Dockery lectures are named after former Union president David S. Dockery and his wife, Lanese Dockery. The lectures are focused around Baptist thought and heritage, tackling various theological and ecclesiological issues with the Baptist church.
Patterson’s lecture focused on what he saw as troubling trends in the Baptist approach to church life. He went through the history of Baptist thought and identified a problem of excessive individualism.
He described many churches as focusing so much on the independence of the soul that they lose the meaning of the church and forsake proper doctrine. He quoted historian Mark Noll to describe the approach as a “nearly messianic belief in the power of freedom.”
This individualism often manifested itself in churches becoming isolated and only working with members of the single congregation. Eventually, this individualism made it so, as Patterson quoted an old writer as saying, “every man’s hat is his own church.”
The other problem that Patterson saw in some Baptist church practice is an emphasis on pragmatism. He saw the Lord’s Supper, baptism, church discipline, ordination, and worship as often falling prey to a pragmatic focus on what is practical rather than what scripture asks.
He also warned against “managerial congregationalism,” which treats the running of the church as a business.
“A flawed or tainted Ecclesiology will obstruct the presentation of the Gospel,” he said.
Union released a press release quoting Patterson. In the release, he described how he was excited to present.
“I am thrilled to be designated as the inaugural presenter,” Patterson said. “David Dockery has contributed significantly to the study of Baptist thought and tradition, so I find it challenging to honor what he has already done, and also to explore some additional aspects of Baptist history that will help preserve our denominational legacy and suggest how best to define our identity in the 21st century.”
The lecture was filmed by Union University and was followed by another lecture that evening. The Dockery lectures will continue on later featuring different speakers.