One of my preacher friends finally caught up with me after our move and mentioned a Jimmy Buffett lyric about a “change in latitude and a change in attitude.” That’s how I feel about moving to the show me state, even though I am still very much in a learning curve about our church, town, and state. I am excited about what the Lord has in store for our church in the days ahead. Part of the education process has been finding out that Missouri Baptist life is a bit more interesting than what’s happening in the Volunteer state. I can see how it would be easy to be consumed by it.
I’ve been very grateful not to be required to keep up with the events of the Southern Baptist Convention. In fact, I didn’t even know the Convention was meeting this month until I stumbled upon it in Marty Duren’s blog called “SBC Outpost.” Duren has gained quite a readership with his opinions and analysis of the factions now existing in the denomination. It was interesting to find out that after an extended period of time that he is putting down the laptop for good–at least when it comes to SBC news. I appreciated his candor is stating that denominational politics is akin to “trench warfare” and not for the faint of heart. It is easy to allow the topic to dominate one’s conversation and thinking. Sorting through his remarks brought back some feelings of frustration when the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message was approved. That moment was an epiphany for me, and I have been able to move beyond SBC politics. I have discovered, however, that there is more than one style of Baptist politics.
Recently I discovered that the Missouri Baptist Convention fired its BSU Directors. It appears the MBC is restructuring its student ministry. This is a shocking development and one that I hope does not compromise our ability to reach the college campus. Regardless, this development has ushered me into a world of Baptist politics that I’d sooner do without. Our church was one of 18 that the MBC booted out last year. Still, it is interesting and sometimes entertaining to watch the implosion of the convention from a safe distance. Both the national and state SBC organizations are caught up in narrowing parameters for participation and partnerships. Even among fundamentalists, there has to be an enemy and I’m amazed that there is still something for Southern Baptists to fight about.
The SBC doesn’t have a corner on preacher fights, and Baptists of all stripes have done a pretty good job of starting churches by having existing ones split. Baptists are a schismatic people, and have a rugged individualism that leads to a dogged determination to hang on to one’s personal beliefs and not have an outside authority enforce orthodoxy or conformity. Cooperation, not uniformity, is the operative word and one that I hope is demonstrated in Washington D.C. in a few weeks when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and American Baptist Convention come to town. It has been encouraging to see that each year there seems to be less and less concern for what the SBC has done and more in regard to new ministries and mission efforts of CBFers. When it comes to which side is “right,” I am reminded of what my new ministry friend said about it: “They’re all wrong!” He maintained that SBC, MBC, and CBF folks all have their problems and it’s sad that they can’t get along.
I think there is some truth to that statement, and realize there is no perfect organization for carrying out the Lord’s work. It is wonderful and sometimes frustrating that denominations exist. I remind myself daily that the headquarters for the Lord’s work remains the local church. Still, my hope is that the General Assembly and coinciding Centennial celebration of the American Baptist Convention will lead to new latitudes and new attitudes for support and mutual appreciation. We Baptists must realize that cooperation for the cause of Christ is better than rattling our doctrinal sabers at one another. The age old motto still rings true: “In essentials, Unity. In non-essentials, Liberty. In all things, Charity.”