Today on a whim R and I visited a different church. It's not a Baptist church (not that there would be anything wrong with that) but I heard a term I'd never heard before: "Particular Baptists". These are Baptists with a Calvinist streak, in that they believe in predestination: that is, that Jesus died to save only the elect. (Since a church member would not know whether or not another individual is a member of the elect, they are compelled to invite all to salvation.) In looking all this up, I ran across this list of all the different kinds of Baptists. I knew there were a bunch. I think of Baptists as arising from you're-not-the-boss-of-me Celts (although this may not be accurate) and that's why they tend to not have hierarchies. It's also why they have all these different subgroups. A very Baptist idea is "soul competence", that is, the ability of the believer to read and understand the Bible and not have to have a theologian explain it. So there are not set theological ideas handed down and dimly understood. I think that's a good thing, actually. Years and years ago I worked with an Egyptian Copt. He had some pamphlets written by an abbot in a Coptic monastery, which he lent to me because I was curious. One of them was about Christian unity. The writer said that it was a good thing that there are different kinds of churches, so that each believer can find one where he or she can most effectively worship, learn, and serve. He said that if people try to force unity they end up ignoring the things they have in common, which tend to be the important things, and focusing on the things they differ on, which are usually peripherals; and then if the groups get together, somebody had to compromise, which they may resent. Better for everybody to do his thing, so that at the proper time God can bring about real unity. That makes a lot of sense to me.
But the list of different kinds of Baptists reminds me of this: Our choir director told us that in one of his university music classes, they got partway into the semester and he told them he could list the students who grew up Baptist - and then he proceeded to do so. How did he know? They were the ones who always sang the repeats. And if you ever attended a Baptist church service and sang all 4,356 verses of "Just As I Am", you understand that. From my spot in the chancel on Sunday mornings I can look out and see the congregation. Once I saw a man who I knew to be a visitor, and I noticed that he was able to sing the hymns without referring to his hymnal; and that he seemed to know all the verses. "Oh, he's a Baptist," I thought. I told my mom about that later, and also that I noticed that as he sang he lifted one hand, palm up. "That's Free Will Baptist," she joked. And it might have been.