We Baptists are not always known for our capacity to play well with others. Heaven knows that on more than a few occasions, we have not done much to give God a good name.
No doubt we will continue to struggle with how to live and love as faithfully as we should. But I find my hope being renewed by recent endeavors undertaken by my branch of the Baptist family tree, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
At our General Assembly meeting last week in Fort Worth, the 21-year-old Cooperative Baptist Fellowship adopted a new identity statement and organizational structure.
Churches that are willing to claim the CBF name now have a formal way of doing so, by sending a letter that outlines the details of their partnership with CBF to its national resource center in Atlanta.
This is good news for churches like the one I am privileged to pastor here in Memphis, Second Baptist Church. We desire a way to claim our place in “a community of Baptist Christians who cooperate together to engage people in missions and equip people for ministry,” as the newly-adopted identity statement reads.
Cooperative Baptists also are moving toward a new structure that creates a seamless community where a national organization, state and regional bodies, theological schools, and churches can share resources with one another without having to go through a denominational or hierarchical clearinghouse.
The CBF is taking steps to reduce the size of its national governing body and increase opportunities for individuals and churches to participate in mission and ministry initiatives.
If my church has developed a ministry that is meeting people’s particular needs in the area of care for the homeless, medical relief, or any other initiative, then CBF is positioning itself to be a hub for networking our congregation with others undertaking similar ministries. We believe that we are all on mission together with God and that we all have gifts to share for the sake of our common calling.
These changes, the result of a two-year study undertaken by a 13-member task force, reflect a deep desire for theologically moderate Baptists to more clearly articulate who we are, what we are about, and how we all participate in God’s work together.
We live in an age where denominational loyalties are in decline and local churches, as well as national religious bodies, are dealing with fewer members and an increasing strain on resources.
Gone are the days when congregations could call on their denominational headquarters to resource their every need.
Cooperative Baptists are recognizing these shifts. We have recommitted ourselves to obey the Great Commandment to love God and others. We have demonstrated our dedication to the Great Commission through our initiatives to serve the least, lost, and loneliest of our world.
We walk together, not in lockstep formation, but in response to God who has seen fit to use all manner of people from all manner of places to bring about faith, hope, and love in tangible ways for every community where we are found.
As I watched new missionaries commissioned to serve in global and local endeavors to bring healing and hope to hurting people all over the planet, I could not help but give thanks. I am grateful for a community of Baptist Christians who are honestly endeavoring to live into our name, “cooperative.”
Dr. Stephen H. Cook, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church, was a member of the CBF’s 2012 Task Force.