By Suzii Paynter
The church is that community of witness which confesses Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God. In confessing Jesus as Lord, our Fellowship is united with all who confess his name. One aspect of Fellowship identity is the affirmation of the witness of Christ-followers across and beyond the boundaries of geography, race, theology and time.
What does a cross-cultural Baptist family look like? Better yet, what do we act like?
At the recent New Baptist Covenant Summit in Decatur, Ga., a group of 75 Baptist leaders began to map out what that collaboration looks like in their cities. With gratitude for one another in our past relationships, we named a new covenant of mutual support and cooperation, resulting in a higher level of missional collaboration. We recognize that we are part of a larger movement of God’s Spirit among Baptist congregations and individuals.
We honor our history and heritage while seeking to be a witness in this time. We are born into this time and God is asking something of us. The demand that confronts us is the redemption of the world.
How shall we live into this kingdom vision? Covenant is the key. To be in covenant with one another, we must see each other, hear each other and stand as the gospel for those beyond our walls.
CBF has sustained partnerships of collaboration and common work with other Baptists and Christians in missions and ministry. We have commissioned field personnel jointly with American Baptist Churches USA and the Baptist Missionary Society (United Kingdom). CBF serves together with 14 other Baptist bodies at the table of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty as well as on many other boards and leadership teams.
This has been a hallmark of our Fellowship! The days and years ahead are beckoning us to more collaboration and a closer kinship for the transformation of our cities. We are being called to break down the barriers of privilege and blindness that keep us from the full power of the gospel.
As Carlyle Marney reminds us, “In this time and place the church is more than conscience; it is also will. God’s will — to be and to do, working in the world. This requires…a radical obedience (to the will of the Father) in the teeth of some things painful to face: war, race, poverty, education, the state and all orders of society and creation; within them and often counter to them, the church must live its life as conscience, will and compassion.”
Too often, we allow racial, cultural, geographical and theological differences to create barriers and boundaries rather than covenants. The work of a cross-cultural kingdom takes intentionality.
The Covenants of Action pledged by the pastors, staff and leaders of churches in Dallas, Birmingham and Atlanta at the New Baptist Covenant Summit are worthy of our support as beginning templates for our Fellowship across all states and regions, to explore and partner — pastor-to-pastor, leader-to-leader, congregation-to-congregation — to accomplish something gospel-worthy for our common union in Christ.
In these cities, as in every city, we recognize the autonomy of supporting congregations, individuals and governance bodies. But, we also recognize a strong mutuality in our mission that leads us to covenant together in prayer, affirmation, collaboration and partnership.
What is the witness when Baptists of different racial and ethnic backgrounds join together for sustained work in the name of Jesus himself? It’s personal.
These Covenants of Action will be a multiracial Baptist Christian witness to feed children, curb predatory lending, address violence and support education for children and parents in these cities. When asked, “Why will you make this public commitment to reach across town and work with another church?” one minister replied, “When I get weary of the effort that it takes to build lasting relationships with others that are culturally different, I remember that it is this effort that surely pleases God, more than many other things I will do.”
Suzii Paynter is executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This column first appeared in the February/March issue of fellowship! magazine. Download the PDF of this column here. Sign-up for your free subscription to fellowship! – the bimonthly magazine of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.