Friday, June 22, 2007

To See and Be Seen: On the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant

One of the reasons that folks attend events, so I’ve always been told, is “to see and be seen.” The old phrase means that people go to meetings to see other people and to be seen by them. It’s even one of the valid reasons that we go to church. We want to see our brothers and sisters in Christ and we want to be seen by them.

Our motivations are not always pure, of course, even when we go to church. Posturing is a potential problem; we may try to position ourselves as being something that we really are not. Or, we might be so focused on our encounters with other people that we miss out on an encounter with God. Or, we might go to church to project a public image that is not matched by a dedicated private devotion. Or, we might go to solidify a place among the socially accepted in the community of which we are a part.

The Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant that will take place January 30-February 2, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia is an opportunity to see and to be seen. It is an opportunity for Baptists from all over the United States and Canada who do not ordinarily meet together to see one another. I have been to meetings in my life with Cooperative Baptists and with Southern Baptists but I have never been to a meeting where American Baptists, National Baptists, Canadian Baptists, General Baptists, Lott Carey Missionary Baptists, and other sorts of Baptists will be together. It will be good to see my brothers and sisters from those varied Baptist groups.

The Celebration is also an opportunity to be seen. The world will have its eyes on us as we meet together.

Some will be watching who want to see things that they can criticize. I hope that we don’t end up trying to make the message that emerges from the meeting so palatable to everybody that we end up saying nothing to nobody. I hope that people will see things that make them uncomfortable and maybe even a little bit mad, so long as what troubles them is the legitimate proclamation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in all of its spiritual, social, and physical implications.

Some will be watching for signs that diverse groups of Baptists really can join in common cause. I hope that they will see that, because I think that great future ministry can be accomplished if we will indeed work together.

What else do I hope the world sees when it gazes upon the Baptists gathered in Atlanta in early 2008?

I hope that they see, as we all worship together, a preview of what future meetings of these Baptists are going to be like—and maybe even a little glimpse of what heaven is going to look like.

I hope that they see, as we all discuss ministry and missions together, the vanguard of a new movement of kingdom service that will be guided by kingdom principles.

I hope that they see, as we celebrate together what it means to be Baptist, people who appreciate—and practice—the priesthood of believers, soul competency, and religious liberty.

I hope that they see, as these varied and diverse Baptists from all over the United States and Canada meet together, a giant step forward in Baptist ecumenism that will lead to other steps forward in greater Baptist involvement in an even more broadly based ecumenism.

I hope that they see, as we listen together to the words of Baptist preachers and Baptist politicians, that Baptists can preach about, teach about, and work to do something about the problems that afflict our society out of a biblical and Christ-centered worldview that is not beholden to any particular political philosophy or party.

Those are just a few of the things that I hope the world sees as they look upon our gathering.

Yes, we will gather in Atlanta to see and to be seen. It will be good to see each other. It will be even better to be seen by people “out there” who don’t know or care all that much about Baptists but who know a movement that just might bring some healing help to bear on a busted up world when they see one. Won’t it be great if they look at us and say, “Well look, there's one now”?

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