Missouri Baptists display beauty of cooperation
Southern Baptist cooperation is phenomenal. Thousands of local autonomous congregations work together accomplishing great ministry. Thankfully, we are often reminded why we cooperate at our conventions and conferences. Most participating Southern Baptists will tell you that we cooperate primarily for the purpose of missions. We work together to provide for education, religious liberty, etc., but worldwide evangelization is our main thrust. If there is one thing we communicate well, it is the reason for our cooperation. Recently, however, another important question has surfaced; one that is equally important but often overlooked. This question addresses the elements that are necessary to accomplish the ‘why.’ The question is simple. How do we cooperate? The answer to this question is what fuels the Cooperative Program, making it the most powerful cooperative mechanism since the forming of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845.
The Apostle Paul identifies some important realities that help to develop a response to this very important question. In Eph. 4, he calls our attention to one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father. This text addresses the objective reality of our unity in Christ. We are unified, though this may not always be recognized. Our disputes and controversies only affect our perception of Christian unity. In the fullness of time, Christ will have one church . . . His Bride.
We know what makes cooperation possible. According to Eph. 4, it is our common life and identity lived out in submission to our Lord as we confess a common faith. We know why we cooperate; it is for the sake of Christ and the lost world around us. Knowing this, we are prepared to consider the ‘how’ of our cooperation.
How do we cooperate? The following statements, I believe, provide an answer:
We cooperate through Mutual Love. We can’t escape the place of love within the body. Without it we are nothing. Without it we accomplish nothing. It is the external characteristic that marks us as the body of Christ. Love makes our experience as a family enjoyable. Love drives us to reconcile when disagreements arise.
We cooperate through Mutual Dependence. Though we affirm the local church, we must acknowledge the fact that no local church can operate entirely independent. It is dangerous to believe that we don’t need each other. Our American spirit of independence is a current that can push us into dangerous waters. We need other congregations for encouragement, support, accountability, etc.
We cooperate through Mutual Commitment. Our commission is clear and demands our passionate commitment. This commitment must be shared and celebrated collectively. This has a tremendous effect upon our focus and momentum. It should be obvious that this commitment involves our preservation and proclamation of Truth.
We cooperate through Mutual Participation. Cooperation is a mere vaporous idea without the involvement of congregations. We need the input and effort of every cooperating church. There are certain areas where only a few can directly participate, but we need a deep bench of willing participants to ensure a biblical, broad, enduring, and capable cooperative ministry.
We cooperate through Mutual Accommodation. As we work toward our goal, differences and disputes will come. It is sophomoric to believe we will ever see a day when we will all agree on every detail, or even most details for that matter. We must accommodate one another regarding non-essential matters of the faith, secondary methodological concerns, and denominational processes. We must value the freedom we have to differ. This is extremely important both for the majority and minority “camps” to keep in mind.
We cooperate through Mutual Submission. Though it is true we must accommodate one another, it is also true that we must agree upon organizational processes and procedures. As we do this, we must acknowledge that no approach is without its problems. But, once we have determined an approach to take, we must collectively submit to the process. An important part of this effort is trusting that the processes in place include the necessary checks and balances to prevent manipulation. When a process is in need of improvement, then we work together to bring about needed change.
How do we cooperate? We cooperate by participating together in a loving and orderly community of interdependence driven by a common commitment to Christ in spite of secondary differences.
On a personal note, I would like to call my fellow Missouri Baptists to love the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). Loving our state Convention should not involve denominational worship or naïveté. What it should involve, however, is an appreciation for what it represents, provides, and accomplishes. I do not believe that the Lord is obligated to use our Convention, but to the degree that we operate as the Body of Christ, I am confident He will. Join with me in loving this ship we call the MBC and when we recognize holes in the hull we can work to repair them with love, respect, and conviction. (Doug Richey is pastor-teacher at Pisgah Baptist Church, Excelsior Springs.)