Saturday, August 7, 2010
A very wise man in a church I once served as pastor liked to remind us, “That which unites us is stronger than that which divides us.”
That’s a good principle by which to live whether it’s in a church fellowship or in a fellowship between churches or in a larger fellowship between smaller fellowships of churches.
While that principle is not spelled out in the official statements of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), it nonetheless lies at the foundation of that fellowship. What unites the member bodies of the BWA is much stronger and more significant than what divides them.
Debra and I just returned from the 20th World Congress of the BWA that was held in Honolulu, Hawaii and we were struck, as I was when I attended the 19th Congress in Birmingham, England in 2005, by the unity in the midst of great diversity that characterizes the Alliance.
When I was a child I would sit in the Children’s Department Sunday School Assembly at Midway Baptist Church four miles outside of Barnesville, Georgia while we sang with great gusto “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Beyond having both girls and boys in the group, we who were singing were not a terribly diverse lot, although I’m sure that we meant what we were singing as much as we could.
At the BWA World Congress, though, representatives of all of those children so loved by Jesus—red and yellow, black and white—gathered together to worship, to fellowship, and to learn. Some 4000 Baptists from 105 countries attended the Congress and they came from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. About 1000 more who had registered were unable to attend because the U.S. government denied them visas; among the countries affected were Angola, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, and India. Still, the display of diversity was impressive.
“That which unites us is stronger than that which divides us,” my friend said. In a fellowship made up of such diverse groups from so many places—the BWA is made up of some 219 Baptist conventions and unions comprising a membership of more than 37 million baptized believers and a community of 105 million—there is ample opportunity to find things that divide us, be it differences in culture, language, theological interpretation, or approach to social or political issues.
And there is no doubt that, if I wanted to do so, I could examine the various conventions and unions (and the various other conventions and associations and churches and individuals that comprise them) until I found something with which I disagree or that I don’t like about every one of them, including the member organizations with which I am most closely related, namely, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, Georgia (whose pastor really gives me problems!).
Indeed, I could probably find reasons not to associate with every group that associates with the BWA; for that matter, I could likely find reasons not to associate with every Baptist church and every Baptist group and every Baptist person in existence until there was no one left with whom I could associate except me and then I would really be faced with a dilemma since I would be confronted with the wisdom of Groucho Marx who said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
In life we all have to make choices. Some Baptist (and I’m sure this is true of other Christians but I know Baptists best) people, as they make decisions about their association with other Christian people, choose to place great value on purity (as defined by them) of doctrine and/or practice; it was out of such a motivation, along with other motivations, that the Southern Baptist Convention several years ago withdrew from the BWA.
As for me, I choose to seek grounds for cooperation based on shared Christian values and shared Christian mission and am willing to accept, embrace, and even celebrate the diversity that exists within the unity of Baptist and other Christian fellowship organizations and to seek unity within that diversity. I am comfortable being guided by the well-known dictum "in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity."
I therefore choose to be a supporter of and a participant in the world-wide fellowship of Baptists known as the Baptist World Alliance.
What are the Christian values and mission championed by the BWA? The BWA vision statement says,
The Baptist World Alliance is a global movement of Baptists sharing a common confession of faith in Jesus Christ bonded together by God’s love to support, encourage and strengthen one another while proclaiming and living the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit before a lost and hurting world.
That’s a vision worth supporting and working to implement!
The theme of the 2010 Baptist World Congress was “Hear the Spirit” and the BWA theme for the next five years is “In Step with the Spirit.” At the conclusion of the Congress, a message was issued that summarizes the Congress experience. It reads in part:
Now, in step with the Spirit who gives and redeems life in Jesus Christ, we confess anew that all persons are created in the image of God and are therefore worthy of receiving his redemptive grace.
In step with the Spirit, we renew our commitment to: communicate, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the truth of God in Jesus Christ as the hope of the world. Because the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, we have been anointed to:
--develop greater familiarity with the teachings of Christ.
--cultivate a rich prayer life.
--bear witness to the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.
--provide examples of godly living reflecting the values taught by the Lord of the church.
(And, in step with the Spirit, we renew our commitment to:) support the values reflected in the UN Millennium Development Goals. Because the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, we have been anointed us to:
--remove the scourge of poverty and hunger
--support efforts to provide universal education
--work for environmental sustainability
--promote gender equality
--improve child health and maternal health
--combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
--develop global partnerships
Enabled by the Spirit, let us commit ourselves to create an environment in which God’s mercy and truth become evident. Let us shine the light of God’s love in every place of human need.
Indeed, let us.
And let us do so together—because that which unites us is so much greater than that which divides us!