Surrender: A Body United
Psalm 133-134; Mark 9:33-42; Ephesians 4:1-13
Today (Feb. 1, 2004) is Baptist World Alliance Day on the Southern Baptist calendar. Today we celebrate unity among Baptists around the world. This unity is based on our common acceptance of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the mission that binds us into one body of faith. It is a day to remember that we are a small part of a global people bearing witness to God’s love and gospel of redemption.
From our earliest beginnings, Baptists have sought out means to come together to accomplish what the local gathering of believers could not accomplish. Over the years, we have formed societies, associations, and conventions. As missionary efforts resulted in new Baptist bodies overseas, we recognized the need to develop Baptist unity beyond national borders. Ninety-nine years ago, Southern Baptists helped to form the Baptist World Alliance, the largest example of unity and cooperation among Baptists around the world, now uniting 211 Baptist unions and conventions around the world. This alliance was designed to unite Baptists worldwide, lead in world evangelism, respond to people in need, and to defend human rights. Baptists of this alliance represent the fruit of missionary efforts throughout the world, including that of missionaries from England, Germany, Korea, Mexico, and Brazil. We can celebrate, for much has been accomplished over the last ninety-nine years to spread the gospel around the world.
Amid celebration of what has been accomplished is a certain irony, for the SBC Executive Committee is meeting this month to vote on a proposal to sever ties with the Baptist World Alliance. The BWA was created to foster unity and cooperative mission among the world of Baptists, but now SBC officials propose to sever the ties we created. In this month’s newsletter, you will find a partial list of individuals and entities from six continents who have written to express their dismay at this proposal before the executive committee. Their dismay is my own as well.
The Bible calls us to unity. Psalm 133 speaks to the blessings of living in harmony with fellow servants of God. Psalm 134 calls us to praise and serve God as one. The call is not optional. It is a command. Jesus speaks to the disciples in Mark 9 about welcoming and accepting all who come in His name, with emphasis on the insignificant members of society. He chastises them for worrying about who is greatest, prompting them to focus on accepting and receiving all. When they reported stopping one who was not of their band from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, He reprimanded them. He told them that it would be better to die than to cause another to fall away. Jesus called the disciples to set their own interests aside to receive others. It was no small request.
Paul understood the need for unity. He knew firsthand the problems with forcing conformity on issues of faith. He had done his share of forcing his understanding of truth on others. When he encountered Jesus, God ripped apart the box in which Paul had tried to enclose the Almighty. Jesus’ call for unity in purpose and service was passed on to Paul. Paul saw fit to pass it on to Christians in Ephesus, Corinth, Galatia, and Philippi.
In Ephesians 4, Paul reminds us of the constant need to strive for building bridges of unity to enable us to fulfill our mission. We are but one body in Christ Jesus and we are to strive to live in harmony with one another. We are to seek the things that edify us in unity, even shunning those who engender division, dissension, and controversy. “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”
Paul didn’t think too much of most doctrinal controversies of his day. He called some garbage in contrast to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. He spoke harshly of, and to, those who would press their personal views upon others while destroying the unity of the body of Christ by forcing the conformity of legalism. He urged believers to come together in love and humility, uniting in the service of the gospel. He urged us to lead lives worthy of our calling in humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance.
He also told us not to allow ourselves to be deceived by empty words, but to expose that which is not of God. We are to discern God’s will and follow Christ. His path is unity. His desire is that we reflect that we are one body—not just those of us at Rocks Baptists Church, but Baptists around the globe, even all Christians. We need not give up our identity as Baptists. We need not give up our personal convictions. We must give up misplaced loyalties, our submission to any lordship other than that of Christ Jesus. We are charged with growing together as the singular spiritual body we are. “For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.”
Our convention leadership is failing to make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” They choose to work for unity limited by constricted doctrinal parameters. They have chosen not to put away falsehood, but bear false witness of others to excuse their failure to reach the mark. They are taking the path of division. Rather than growing together as one body into Christ, they demand for conformity to a political agenda. Some choose to sacrifice alliance with fellow Baptists to promote a cause other than conformity to Christ.
Baptist leaders around the world did not write to say “Good riddance!” Rather, they show grace by calling on Southern Baptists to remain at the table of global fellowship. They show patience in asking Southern Baptists to partner, dialogue, and minister with the diverse members of the body of Christ around the world. They have pleaded for Southern Baptists to stand against division and for unity. They recognize that the body of Christ must stand united in the gospel, not divided by personal agendas.
How shall we answer their call to unity? How shall we answer Paul’s call to unity? How shall we answer the claim of Christ Jesus over our lives? “United, we stand; divided, we fall” by failing to live up to the demands of the gospel. Which path shall we choose? Will we surrender all to be the presence of Christ, or will we be the cause of another’s stumbling?
—Christopher B. Harbin
NRSV, Ephesians 4:15.
NRSV, Ephesians 4:4-6.
NRSV, Ephesians 4:3.
Ephesians 4:25. See footnote 1, Rocks Baptist Church newsletter, Feb/2004.
Chris and his wife Karen, are former IMB missionaries to Brazil who were victims of the purges in the Southern Baptist Convention related to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
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