By Doug Dortch
One of the hallmarks of Baptist life, at least among Baptists in the South, has been our ability to link hearts and hands with one another in order to advance the cause of Christ in our world. Because we have seen how much more we can accomplish together in fulfilling Jesus’ missionary mandate, we have chosen to pool our resources with those of other churches and individuals so that we might make the greatest impact possible for the Gospel.
At times, such cooperation has challenged and stretched us because, like snowflakes, each Baptist has a different take on matters of faith and practice; and sometimes our differences have resulted in lively conversations with one another. But at the end of the day, we usually have been able to come together around the priority of missional endeavors because of our choice to focus on those convictions we share in common instead of expending energy debating whatever differences may exist; and as a result, we’ve been God’s instruments of transformational change.
The underlying premise of our cooperative practice is that unity is not the same as uniformity. Uniformity demands that every member of a group be in total agreement on every aspect of their shared life. It also requires that some authoritative party impose it when some in the group feel compelled to stray. Unity, on the other hand, recognizes that differences will inevitably exist among us. But instead of ignoring those differences and pretending they don’t exist, people committed to unity will work diligently at finding ways of overcoming those differences, even while maintaining them! Granted, while the consequences of that sort of work may be messy at times, the upside of experiencing such a deeper sense of community is most definitely worth the effort.
We’re at a place in our present cultural context when division seems to be the order of theday. You don’t have to scratch very deep to find the points of polarization that have put people at odds with one another. Discord is all around us. But instead of griping and groaning about our present situation, what if we in the Fellowship came together to counter it? How much more of a hearing would we get if we offered a counter-narrative to the prevailing one, which promises only cynicism and despair? Most importantly, how might our unity stun a separated society into contemplating the difference that the same love of Christ that compels us to solve our differences might make in their everyday lives as well?
Have you ever been with someone when a storm sprang up and there was just one umbrella between you? In such situations you face a choice. You can either wrestle with the other person to gain control of the umbrella, which will most likely result in the both of you getting wet. Or you can decide to stand side-by-side under the umbrella, each of you gripping the handle, so that you can proceed together toward your destination. You know from your experience which of those two options is the better way.
So let’s come together in the midst of our present disturbances and make sure that our
umbrella is big enough to accommodate all who need shelter. After all, we’re all in need of
moving toward a place of peace and rest, and the Christ who compels us in that direction
wants more than anything to see us walk together. I believe that sort of missional journey is one about which our kind of Baptists could get most excited.
Doug Dortch serves as the 2016-17 CBF Moderator and is senior minister at Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.