The month of June is when our two major denominational partners, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, meet, respectively, to celebrate accomplishments and to conduct important business. While the number of attendees has declined at both gatherings in recent years, there is still a deep enough commitment to a cooperative approach to missions and evangelism among Baptists that more of us attend those two meetings than do delegates in other denominational bodies, most of whom do not meet on an annual basis as we Baptists do. Even in a day of “post-denominationalism,” the Baptist love for big meetings is still alive and well.
I must admit that I haven’t attended a Southern Baptist Convention in years. Nonetheless, because I believe in the work of the Southern Baptist Convention and serve a congregation that is “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC, I always keep up with the proceedings, because I know that in most years I am likely to be on the receiving end of questions about some topic that came up during the meeting. This year was no exception. A resolution offered by an African-American pastor from Texas on the SBC’s disavowal of the “Alt-Right” movement generated heavy attention from both the secular and religious press in an otherwise calm convention. At first, the messengers struggled to adopt the resolution because of objections to some of the wording in it, wording which some construed to be unduly critical of the President, leaving others to wonder if the hesitation of the body didn’t point to vestiges of white supremacy still lingering among those in attendance. Fortunately, convention leaders put their heads together and came forward with a revised resolution that was resoundingly adopted as a repudiation of all views “antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
This coming week the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship convenes in Atlanta, where it will be my glad privilege to serve as Moderator of the business sessions that will take place on Thursday and Friday mornings. Hopefully, there will be no contentious or divisive items that will come up during those times. Fortunately, if any does, I have the CBF Constitution and Bylaws on my side, which explicitly states that neither resolutions nor motions can be presented on the floor of the General Assembly. Registrants only act upon recommendations made by governing bodies, such as the Missions and Ministries Councils and the Governing Board, which I have also moderated this past year. Nonetheless, there has been enough conversation in the months leading up to the General Assembly over matters of human sexuality and declining revenues that I expect some of these concerns to be voiced during the week. And that is fine with me; I think being a part of a body that acknowledges diversity and is willing to face challenges head-on is what gives our witness substance, especially in a day when outsiders see denominational bodies as archaic, irrelevant, and out of touch.
So, I am asking you to do a couple of things. One, pray for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s meeting this week in Atlanta. Pray that we will be faithful to our sense of calling to form together in order to put our faith in Christ into practice in transformational ways. For that matter, pray as well for the Southern Baptist Convention, that it can move on from its meeting and fulfill its mission of reaching the world for Christ.
Secondly, I’d invite you to pay attention to actions each body takes, especially as those actions have bearing on what we do here at Mountain Brook Baptist Church to “love God and live with grace and generosity.” I never cease to be amazed at how non-Baptists tend to lump us together with anything any group of Baptists does. But in this case the actions of these two denominational entities do have bearing upon our church’s witness, in spite of the fact that because of our structure of local church autonomy, neither group exerts any control or influence upon our congregation. Sometimes we must interpret their actions. Other times we must explain them. Still other times we must advocate for them. And sometimes we must even apologize for them. I’ve had to do all those things at one time or another because of actions and positions each group has taken.
Why then do I still believe in supporting these partners? I am Baptist “to the bone” in my belief that we simply can do more together than any of us can do alone (even a church as talented and blessed as MBBC). That’s also why I continue to work toward Baptists coming together, if not jointly then at least individually. For only then will the cause of Christ be furthered in ways that not just all Baptists, but also all believers might applaud.
“Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).