Martin Luther tacked his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg’s Castle Church on Oct. 31, 1517.
That bold declaration triggered the second major split within Christianity. The first came when the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church parted company in the great schism of 1054.
After Pope Leo X excommunicated the Catholic priest Luther, one might say that Christian pluralism took off.
Anabaptists became the radical reformers of the Protestant church and soon divided among themselves.
The Church of England left the Catholic Church. Anglican priest John Wesley sought to reform the Church of England and then the Methodist movement took hold.
In the United States, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians have had their share of splits.
And Baptists? A seismic shift took place in 1845 between southern and northern Baptists.
Baptists split again in the 1920s over evolution and biblical interpretation. Southern Baptists lost their small moderate wing in the late 1980s.
African-American Baptists have divided over issues. One may often see a church sign that says Missionary Baptist Church and down the block another sign that reads Greater Missionary Baptist Church. A sure sign of division.
Baptist divisions are commonplace and efforts at collaboration are too infrequent. However, Baptist unity has notable roots in the Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905. Today, the BWA is the largest network of national Baptist bodies.
Often unknown and unappreciated are the BWA’s efforts at working with other Christian houses of faith.
The BWA began its third round of theological dialogue with the Catholic Church in 2017. The BWA has a parallel dialogue with the Methodist World Council.
EthicsDaily.com too has sought interdenominational collaboration. One noteworthy example is our documentary, “Gospel Without Borders,” which was underwritten largely by the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas. Interviewees included Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists.
“Through the Door” is another example of inclusivity with a focus on how Christians from different denominations are working together to lower the recidivism rate and equip women returning to civil society.
We had an all-Lutheran audience at a screening of “The Disturbances” at Milwaukee’s Hales Corners Lutheran Church, save a Baptist couple.
During the Q&A session, the wife said that one of the things that impressed her the most about the film was how the different denominations worked together to rescue and tend to Igbos.
I responded that we had found a letter in the Church of the Brethren archives. Roger Ingold, Nigerian field secretary, wrote on Oct. 25, 1966, to his mission board about the cooperation among the mission groups.
He referenced Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians. After he wrote Southern Baptists, he placed in parenthesis, “imagine!”
At other film screenings, viewers have expressed some surprise and talked gratefully of the humanitarian efforts of the different houses of faith during a time of tribal genocide.
While Baptists have often been standoffish, we do have positive examples of teamwork and we can build more goodwill in 2017.
One way to substantively signal far and wide Baptist partnerships with other Christians would be for Baptists to participate in the global celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Pope Francis traveled this week to Sweden to help begin the year-long celebration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s declaration. Clearly, the 500th anniversary is going to be a major Christian event in 2017.
Let’s join in with enthusiasm – and do the needed church education about our Baptist heritage and positive examples of partnering with other Christian groups.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing and rewarding to focus on collaboration for the common good?
We don’t have to have the same belief about baptism to share a common hammer for bridge building and a common shovel for well digging.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook. Order his new book, “The Disturbances.” It is available as either a paperback or an ebook.