I invite readers of EthicsDaily.com, their fellow church members, friends and the multitude of goodwill Baptists to sign “The Nazareth Manifesto” found in Luke 4:18-19, where Jesus announced his agenda.

Bible memorization was once a hallmark of Baptists. That tradition appears to have fallen by the wayside–in favor of a lot of talk about our commitment to the Bible or our biblical worldview or our biblical values.

Rather than talk about the Bible, we should “walk” the Bible with the memorization of Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (NRSV).

If we memorize the text, we will know the message. If we know the message, we will know Jesus’ agenda. If we know Jesus’ agenda, we will know what ought to be our agenda. If we know what ought to be our agenda, we will know what we ought to prioritize.

After all, as is often said: “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”

So, memorize these 51 words. When you do, you have signed onto the Nazareth Manifesto.

“The Nazareth Manifesto” is also the name of our forthcoming DVD, designed to introduce and encourage the study of Luke 4:18-19, the foundational text for the New Baptist Covenant Celebration, that gathering next year in Atlanta of North American Baptists.

Through six Baptist ministers, “The Nazareth Manifesto” DVD examines the text, exploring key words, interpreting phrases and applying the message to the contemporary world. While we are still editing footage, even today, we will soon have a video resource that can be used in Sunday school classes or during Wednesday night Bible studies. Video clips can be played during worship services or posted on church Web sites and personal blogs.

Our DVD is a companion resource to text-based resources that may be downloaded for free–right now. These free, online, undated resources include an eight-lesson Bible study on Luke 4 with a student guide, a leader guide and a commentary written by the faculty of the School of Religion at Belmont University. Also available is a document that has historical quotations from Baptists about Luke 4:18-19. Still to be released is the worship package related to Luke 4.

Rough cuts of the DVD are currently available online for viewing.

In the second chapter of “The Nazareth Manifesto,” Darrell Gwaltney, dean of the School of Religion at Belmont University, explains that the Greek word for poor is “ptochos,” which means the destitute, those without resources.

In the third chapter, Stephanie Crowder, assistant religion professor at Belmont, comments on the word captives: “When Jesus talks about setting the captive free, I maintain that it does have to do with economic freedom. That it does have to do with spiritual freedom. And I do believe that it has to do with political freedom.”

Aidsand Wright-Riggins, executive director of National Ministries for American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., warns that “we have become so privatized and personalized in our own society right now that we believe that Jesus only provides release from psychological captivity.”

The fourth chapter focuses on the year of the Lord’s favor or the year of Jubilee, while the fifth chapter asks the “What now?”

“Good Bible study really does lead to the common good,” says Wright-Riggins.

Brent McDougal, coordinator for Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, agrees, “I believe on this foundation of Scripture that we really can find some common ground to work together.”

William Buchanan, pastor of Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., says: “I would love for us to have a common text with a common understanding of the text. But the challenge is how do we do that? The first step is what we are attempting to do now–the Baptist covenant.”

Buchanan says, “We interpret the text collectively, establishing first a common agenda that the text is addressing.”

“And that really is what Jesus did,” replies Bill Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dalton, Ga. “He took these 12 disciples–diverse ethnically, sociologically, politically, economically–and he united them around a common agenda. And it was out of this text. And they got it. And if they got it, we can get it.”

Music is made possible by the generosity of Kate Campbell and Ron Poythress, who wrote “Day of Jubilee.”

Extra clips will be on the DVD and available online, including Wilson reading from the Cotton Patch Version of the Bible, Wright-Riggins reading from the King James Version, Wilson redressing the false charge of partisanship and Wright-Riggins inviting members of American Baptist Churches to attend.

With this cloud of witnesses, some of whom have contributed articles or interviews and others of whom helped with funding, we have a lot of biblically based resources for Baptists to focus their hearts and minds on a common text for a common mission together.

I hope you will sign the Nazareth Manifesto and get your friends to do so and their friends as well. Let’s memorize this text, learn what it’s about and strive to live out of it.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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