There has been another salvo fired against the formation of the New Baptist Covenant (NBC). Not so surprisingly, it comes from Dr. Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Page was quoted in a recent Baptist Press article as saying “I will not be a part of any smokescreen leftwing liberal agenda that seeks to deny the greatest need in our world, that being the lost be shown the way to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5/30/07). I say that this is not unusual but in a sense I had hoped that this SBC president would at least be more open to getting the whole story before condemning a gathering of more than 40 kinds of Baptists scheduled for early 2008.
Initial reports for this NBC meeting anticipate approximately 20,000 Baptists gathering in Atlanta to talk about what we have in common as Baptists and how we can work together across racial, gender, social, and economic barriers for the cause of Christ. This is the preliminary idea I’m getting from their website (newbaptistcovenant.org). With all the things that divide us, it is worth taking a second look at those issues that we all can labor together for to improve our world. That doesn’t mean that the gospel is diluted or that the particularity and uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven has to be dismissed. The NBC provides an opportunity to celebrate our historic Baptist distinctives and remember our denominational roots.
I’m not so naive as to think that the NBC isn’t above criticism but let’s wait until after the meeting to determine whether it’s a “smokescreen left-wing agenda.” The Atlanta meeting may very well turn out to be an affirmation of Jesus’ first sermon as recorded in Luke 4. Then again, the SBC president may very well equate both to be one and the same. There will undoubtedly be Baptists of a broad spectrum of theological and political stripes in Atlanta for the meeting in early 2008. This is a good thing, and if we can ever get past the label and libel technique in dealing with folks who don’t agree with us on everything, perhaps something substantive can happen. Like finding out that there are significant areas of agreement out there that stem from the words of Jesus as recorded in Luke 4.
I haven’t heard anything (yet) that remotely sounds like a denial of biblical authority or that Jesus Christ is the “way, the truth, and the life.” This is why Dr. Page’s soundbite is so disappointing to this Baptist. There is more to Baptist life than what happens in June at the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC president’s remarks are timely before the annual meeting and will garner some applause, but will it be interesting to see what the younger guard thinks of his criticisms. Several young SBC bloggers with a growing readership met with former President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center earlier this year to talk about the agenda for the NBC. They will decide for themselves what to think. This is a novel concept.
Jesus’ first sermon generated a lot of criticism too, as it infuriated the religious establishment of that day. It shouldn’t be too surprising that an emphasis on his words would generate a similar response. Let’s avoid the “shoot first and ask questions later” approach to dealing with people. Time will tell whether the NBC has any merit or not.