Last Friday night the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. held a joint service in Washington, D.C. It was the closing session of the CBF General Assembly and the opening session of the ABC/USA biennial meeting.
The worship service was an opportunity to celebrate what brings us together as Baptists. The music styles were varied as befits our diversity. Church state separation was celebrated. Missions were emphasized.
Rather than featuring one person as the keynote speaker, we had the opportunity to hear from Roy Medley, general secretary of ABC/USA; Tyrone Pitts, general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; and Daniel Vestal, coordinator of the CBF.
These leaders shared their insights about the values that unite Baptists generally and the personal events that have brought them together as individuals. As Vestal said: “We need to get to know each other. There’s more to unite us than divide us.” It was fitting that we closed our worship at the Lord’s Table, where all believers are welcome.
It would be easy to gloss over the real organizational, cultural and procedural issues that do divide us at this point. Baptists represented at this meeting have some real differences to overcome, and we must be honest about those issues. However, we can continue to seek ways to come together around mission and ministry.
I came out of this meeting with several “feelings” about the future.
First, there are real opportunities for us to partner with “like-minded” Baptists if we are not concerned about uniformity, organizational unity or who gets the credit. As long as we work to network churches to do Kingdom work, we can accomplish a great deal. We can also really get to know each other as we get our hands dirty in that work.
Second, the future of our mission efforts as Fellowship Baptists lies in cooperation with groups like the ABC and Progressive Baptists. We are stronger together than we are individually.
Third, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Finding ways to work together can be a positive witness to the world that laughs at Baptist “cooperation” because of our fragmentation and combative history.
Fourth, Baptists are better than we have allowed ourselves to think that we are. Since we (moderate Baptists) have become a minority movement, many Baptists in the South have developed a negative self-image. We can no longer claim to being part of the “God’s last and only hope” to win the world for Christ. Many of us have learned humility, now we must learn how to use that humility to be true servants in the Kingdom.
Fifth, it is time for us to take some risks. We don’t have a great deal to lose. Let’s open the doors and make some new friends.
Friday night was a step in the right direction. Let’s not falter now.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.