Two years ago the Missouri Baptist Convention dismissed 18 of its churches for having affiliations with non-SBC entities. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but now that I am serving as pastor of one of these renegade churches it is reason for pause. The MBC’s actions haven’t affected the way we do business, only in the sense that we are officially not part of the MBC. Our people continue to give, serve, pray, and work to expand the Kingdom of God just like they did before this action was taken. We can thank the state convention for helping us direct our energies toward ministry partners we can support with our convictions and our dollars.
This is old news of a sort, and I revisit it only to remind me of how good it is to be part of a church that puts its convictions ahead of belonging to a convention. Baptist life is Missouri is an interesting case study, and it is taking a while to sort through the different dynamics. One thing for sure, and that is Baptists are a schismatic people who possess a rugged individualism which makes it difficult for one Baptist to tell another what to do. One basic Baptist conviction relates to the autonomy of the local church, meaning outside influences cannot tell a congregation what to do. It is true that autonomy in convention life exists on the association, state, and national level. With all the diversity out there and the need to work together, I cannot understand why a church’s ministry partners is the business of the convention.
I don’t have to be a “convention” Baptist, especially if it means sacrificing our local church autonomy distinctive for the sake of conformity. It’s possible to be a “convictional” Baptist and not have a denominational home. There are many who fall into the “none of the above” category when it comes to this issue. Recently I started wondering where I might put myself if pressed for a label, and what I’ve come up with are the ideas of convictional and cooperative.
I’m a convictional Baptist in that I maintain the historic distinctives of local church autonomy, priesthood of the believer, soul competency, and religous liberty. I believe in the authority of God’s Word and making missions a central part of all that we do. I’m moving into the missional concept, recognizing that the world is coming to America and the local church is the headquarters for the Lord’s work. This is why I am also a cooperative Baptist, not only in the CBF sense but also willing to partner with other groups to spread the gospel.
Baptists should have an ecumenical spirit in dealing with other denominations, recognizing that we don’t have a corner on the truth and that we can do a lot more when we don’t care who gets the credit for it. Cooperation, not control, should be the operative word when extending our influence through organizations already up and running. Baptists don’t have to reinvent a ministry tool if another faith group has something that is already working. It’s okay to work together without having to put a denominational label on it. This requires humility and unfortunately this attribute runs in short supply among some Baptists.
So, let’s have convictions that are rooted in the Bible and carried out through our distinctives. These have served Baptists well for centuries and are still relevant in the 21st century. Let’s also do all we can to be cooperative in our mission and ministry. This might not be acceptable to every person across the state, but it will be for those of us who remain free and faithful Baptists. Being Baptist isn’t for the faint of heart, but I maintain that it is still worth the cost.