We are one in the Holy Spirit, Missouri Baptists
Not long ago, I was traveling through a very familiar part of the Show-Me state when I happened across a very unfamiliar and unwelcome sight. I’ll refrain from telling you precisely where I was in the unlikely, but possible, event that the objectionable sight I observed was in your front yard? Is that possible?
I rounded a slow curve and looked to see three flags prominently raised in front of an average looking house. The three flags were displayed, one on top of the other, all on one flagpole.
The bottom flag was the state flag of Texas. Having lived several years in the Lone Star state, I am familiar with that flag and I recognized it immediately. Even though I was born and raised in the Show-Me state, I spent several good years in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and so I reminisced a little when I saw that flag. One thing I learned while living in Irving, Texas, is that Texas folk are proud of their home and their heritage. I can understand someone (likely a Texas native) displaying a flag representing their home state.
The top flag in this display was the Christian flag. Since I had just come from the home-going celebration (that’s a funeral for some of you) of a saintly Christian lady, I was especially pleased to see that flag. We buried John’s Garland’s wife of 60 years a couple of weeks ago, and her pastor, Randy Black, rightly described our hearts as heavy but happy. We have heavy hearts—sad that we will miss the company of a great lady. But too, we have happy hearts—knowing that she is now resting completely and resting forever in the arms of her Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. The Christian flag represents the love of Christ that put Him on the cross as well as the brotherhood of God’s people. I remember thinking to myself, “Yes. Fly that flag high. Right now, Bernice Garland is enjoying all the benefits of her salvation. Praise the Lord! Fly that flag proudly.” I was pleased to see that Christian flag.
But, the flag in between the top and bottom flags brought despair and confusion to my spirit. The flag that was flanked by the state flag of Texas and the Christian flag was the Confederate flag. Maybe some will disagree with me on this issue, but I am neither pleased nor proud when I see that flag. The Confederate flag represents a dark time in the history of our country. The Confederate flag represents hate.
The display of the state flag of Texas demonstrated a family’s love for their homeland. The sight of the Christian flag reminded me of the love of God for all of us, as well as the love of brothers and sisters in Christ for one another. But the exhibition of the Confederate flag depicts deep-rooted racial bigotry and hatred.
Immediately, I thought to myself, “How could anyone display those three flags together?” I remember thinking, “Do they not know what they have done? What about the harm that will be done to the cause of Christianity by this despicable display?” I was indignant. I really wanted to stop and preach to the people in that house. I began to formulate my sermon points. Point #1 would “Describe the Lunacy” of ungodly people who would do such a thing as to perpetuate the hatred of racism. Don’t they understand that “God does not show favoritism but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable by Him.” My second point would “Declare the Love” of God that is evident in Christian people like us. After all, we know and live the words of Jesus, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” We do live those words, don’t we? Regardless, point #3 would “Demonstrate that Loyalty” to Christ requires a loving attitude toward all men and women. To prove my point I could simply point again to the words of Jesus, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” I thought, to myself, how pleased I would be to also point these sinners to the abundance of Biblical commands to love one another. And, to the prayer of Jesus in John 17 where He prayed that His church (that’s us, Christians) “ … may be one as We [the Father, Son and Holy Spirit] are one.” I am telling you, I had a great sermon ready for the crowd responsible for those flags.
I was indignant. Righteously indignant, I thought. But then I began to think about my own circle of friends. I am a Missouri Baptist. Sometimes, I am proud to be a Missouri Baptist. Sometimes I am not.
There is a battle going on in the Missouri Baptist Convention. I am sorry if you are surprised by that statement. But there really is a battle raging in our Convention. It is a brutal battle among brothers and sisters in Christ. You should be aware that I am mindful that the battle lines have been drawn because of deeply rooted beliefs by highly principled people. I, too, am a Missouri Baptist who is adamant concerning doctrine and I am not easily swayed, even by the promise of popularity or prominence. I am also fully cognizant of the fact that I have friends and I have foes on all sides of every issue. The same is likely true for each of you. It is alright to disagree. It is not alright to attack.
Missouri Baptists, please know that I am not asking any of you to give up any of your principles. I am, indeed, asking that we all adopt the most ethical standards in everything that we do.
I also do not mean to insinuate that any of you give up the doctrinal guidelines, firmly held beliefs that give direction to your ministries. I do, rather, call for every Missouri Baptist to give utmost allegiance to the biblical fundamentals of the faith as we carry on the work of God through the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Finally, I do not wish to see any Missouri Baptist church compromise on matters that make us distinctly Southern Baptist. I, in fact, want us to clarify those issues as we recall that we are fellow Missouri Southern Baptists and brothers and sisters in Christ.
But, the question that has been haunting me ever since I saw that flagpole is this: “Do we look as odd as those three flags?” A flag that reminds us of the hatred of racism has no place beside a flag that represents the love of Christ. In the same way, people who are willing to assassinate the character of a fellow Missouri Baptist should not also claim to know and share the love of Christ.
The flags in that eastern Missouri front yard send a mixed message at best. Christians acting in an unchristian manner toward each other also send an unclear message. Even worse, advancement of the Kingdom of God is actually impaired because of our fighting. Jesus was praying for His church, for Missouri Baptists, when he implored of His Father, “May they be one as We are one … May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me.”
I want to be a part of the answer to that prayer. Please, join me.