By Dr. Paul Baxley
This month, my family and I will make a gift to the Offering for Global Missions of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I am especially enthused about our contribution this year because last June at CBF General Assembly our Fellowship embraced a new vision for CBF Global Missions.
We committed ourselves to a mission of cultivating beloved community, bearing witness to Jesus Christ in word and in deed, and seeking transformational development. Faithfulness to this call means we are now more committed than ever to the centrality of long term, gifted CBF field personnel who build relationships around the world, carry out ministry, and open doors for our congregations to come alongside and join in. Because God enters into real and lasting relationship with us in Jesus, our mission endeavors must encourage authentic and abiding relationships. The funds contributed to the CBF Offering for Global Missions are now used to support this absolutely necessary long term presence.
As a member of the CBF Governing Board, it was my privilege to work with the CBF Missions Council and our CBF Global Missions staff throughout the prayerful collaborative process that led to this new vision. I came away convinced that our commitment to Global Missions binds us together. This compelling mission is more than any one of us can undertake in our own congregations alone, or even in a state or regional organization or some other affinity group. It requires all of us, offering the best of what we have.
Yes, it requires all of us; our gifts, our presence, our participation, our faithfulness. That is one reason a project of discernment introduced by CBF in June at the General Assembly is so critically important for the future of CBF, and why the other members of the steering committee of this “Illumination Project” join me in asking for your prayers and full participation. We are in the earliest stages of the work before us, but in this process we are praying that the Holy Spirit will “illumine” a path toward deeper unity even though we do not all see matters of human sexuality in the same way.
For the sake of the mission God has given us and the opportunity it provides our Fellowship to bear witness to Christ, we are compelled to pray in this way. Just as our congregations and individual believers today do not all have the same views on matters of human sexuality, we know that at the end of this process, our Fellowship will still include a wide range of perspectives, stories, convictions and practices.
Our hope is to find ways to listen to Christ together, to be open to the Spirit speaking to us through each other, and to find ways of being more united than ever, so that we might be even more faithful to our mission. If we do not seek and find a faithful way of remaining together, we will find ourselves walking away from a mission just after hearing a call to it with renewed clarity and joy.
Congregations in our Fellowship have long embraced varying styles of worship, claimed unique approaches to local mission, emphasized different parts of the Gospel and given voice to Baptist identity in distinct ways. We have never understood unity as uniformity; we have never believed unity is sustained by coercion or strengthened through expulsion. Instead, our ultimate commitment to Christ and a shared embrace of the mission he gives us allows us to live together in a much richer tapestry of relationships than we would ever have if we were confined only to our own congregations or with those who already share all of our convictions and practices.
Our polarized culture and our Baptist inclination toward independence combine to tempt us to believe that the only response to difference is division. The anger that so often dominates public discourse today lures us to question one another’s motives and the sincerity of the faith of those who don’t speak and believe exactly as we do. The echo chambers that increasingly hold us hostage challenge us to only listen to voices that confirm what we think we know. The fear all around us most often seeks to turn us against each other.
Through the Scriptures, the Risen Christ challenges us to be different. He tells us again and again “Be not afraid.” He calls us to the humble recognition that “we know only in part.” (I Corinthians 13:12) Even in the face of disagreement, we are called to a love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13:7) In Ephesians 4, our calling in the face of difference is most clearly stated: “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” These texts challenge us to really be a priesthood of all believers, learning from one another, and patiently growing together in faith, hope and love.
So this December I ask you. Give generously to the CBF Offering for Global Missions. It has never mattered more. Pray fervently that the Spirit will illumine a path to deeper unity and faithfulness so that we might live a life together worthy of our calling and offer an even more powerful witness to the world.
Dr. Paul Baxley serves as senior minister at First Baptist Church of Athens, Ga. He is a member of the Illumination Project ad hoc committee of the CBF Governing Board and is the former chair of the ad hoc Committee on Global Missions Structures and Staffing. Learn more about the Illumination Project at www.cbf.net/illuminationproject.