The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly begins this Tuesday in Atlanta. I’m looking forward to the events of week and praying for a good experience. Having Lori with me will add to the enjoyment of these next few days at the World Congress Center.
The last time I attended a CBF meeting in Atlanta it was to hear former President Jimmy Carter. There were about 8,000 people gathered the night he spoke. I remember being overwhelmed at the attendance and moved by the former President’s remarks. Regardless of how you feel about him as a political figure, he has demonstrated a genuine concern for Baptist life and has been active in making the world a better place. Some have called him the best former president we’ve ever had. His comments on denominational life, in particular, struck a chord with me and I realized I had found a home with the CBF.
The CBF is not perfect by any means. One thing that I appreciate about the organization is its missions emphasis and appreciation for local church autonomy. This means that there are some churches out there that give financially to the CBF with whom I might differ theologically. This is confusing to non-CBFers and a source of criticism which tends to ascribe “guilt by association”. To buy into this tactic is to miss the purpose of the Fellowship. The primary concern of the CBF is to be resource for Baptist Christians and churches to “be the presence of Christ” in the world through our words and actions. If the confession “Jesus Christ is Lord” has real meaning for you, then you’ll find a home among CBFers.
It is a wonderful privilege to serve as pastor of a church that appreciates Baptist distinctives and celebrates our freedom in Christ. One lesson I’ve learned is that we were never “God’s last and only hope” and bigness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I remember one of my seminary professors saying “the greater the good, the greater the danger” meaning we can succumb to the temptation of pride in our accomplishments if we’re not careful. Our church has a good mix of SBC folks, CBFers, and some who don’t know or care what the fuss is about. The vast majority of our people, however, are concerned about the SEC (Southeastern conference–I do live in Tennessee). We don’t make these preferences a litmust test for fellowship or membership. It’s quite a diverse and educated group, one that proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord, affirms the authority of God’s Word, and is passionate about missions and caring for one another.
It is refreshing to find a larger body of people who believe these things as well. There is quite a lot of good outside the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message box. Anytime you meet with Baptists, there will be differences but hopefully we can agree that people need the Lord. The old adage “in essentials unity, non-essentials liberality, and in all things charity” resonates with me and other like-minded Baptists. I’m looking forward to rubbing shoulders with folks like that this next week at the General Assembly.