#8) Southern Baptist have a hopeful future if we can devote ourselves to a cooperation that is gospel centered and built around a biblical and theological core and not methodological consensus or agreement. (Phil 2:1-5; 4:2-9)
When I delivered the axioms message at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the Spring this axiom, for some reason, caused hesitation and concern for some. Therefore, let me take another run at it.
There are essential and non-negotiable components of biblical worship and work. The Word proclaimed, the ordinances administered, singing, praying and mutual service are necessary components of authentic church life. However, and we must be clear on this: there is no one specific biblical style or method ordained by our God. Within biblically defined parameters there is room for variety and difference. Is this not self-evident?
What will unite Southern Baptist in the future will not be style, methodology and liturgy. Any past hegemony of methods and programs is gone, and it is not coming back. How we do things will be expansive and diverse and that is ok. The key, and please hear this, will be that what we do is filtered through the purifying waters of Scripture so that we honor Jesus and glorify the Father in all that we do. Nothing should distract or detract from the gospel of a crucified and risen Savior. Nothing!
Different contexts will demand different strategies and methods. Cultivating the mind of a missionary we will ask, “What is the best way to reach with the gospel the people I live amongst?” Waycross, Georgia will look different than Las Vegas, Nevada. Montgomery, Alabama will look different than Portland, Oregon. Boston will be different than Dallas. Memphis will have a different strategy than Miami. Reaching Liberty, Missouri is not the same as reaching Seattle, Washington.
Various ethnic believers and social/cultural tribes will worship the same God, adore the same Jesus, believe the same Bible, preach the same gospel, and seek to glorify the one true and living God. However, they may meet in different kinds of structure, wear different kinds of clothes, sing different kinds of songs, and engage in different kinds of gospel-centered ministries. The point I want to make is this: we must treat the United States missiologically and do so with the same seriousness that our international missionaries treat their people groups missiologically. As long as it is done for the glory of God, has biblical warrant, and theological integrity, I say, Praise the Lord! It is foolish to grip about organs, choirs and choir robes, guitars, drums, coats and ties. It is also a waste of time. It is time to move on with the real issue of the Great Commission!
If we seek to build a consensus around style or methods we will continue to balkanize, fracture and lose important ground, to use David Dockery’s term and insight. If we will build a consensus around Jesus and the gospel, we can, we will, cooperate for the advancement of God’s Kingdom and He will bless us.
Theology should drive our cooperation not tradition. The message of the gospel will unite us not methods!