June 29, 2017
By Aaron Weaver
ATLANTA — “How can Cooperative Baptists strengthen our unity in the face of differing beliefs and practices in matters of human sexuality?” This question was the focus of a report on the progress of the Illumination Project given by committee chair Charlie Fuller during the Thursday morning business session at the 2017 CBF General Assembly.
The Governing Board launched at the 2016 General Assembly an effort to seek ways to model unity through cooperation in the midst of cultural change. This innovative project, called the Illumination Project, aims to shed light on the qualities that have built unity in CBF and, through discernment, to design and develop models of dialogue and decision-making by which the Fellowship can grow through cooperation — now and in the future.
“The overall objective of the Illumination Project is to develop a toolbox of possible methods that churches and organizations can use to deal with contentious issues,” said Fuller, who serves as executive pastor of First Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., and CBF Governing Board member. “While we develop these approaches, we are also exploring a specific question: How can Cooperative Baptists strengthen our unity in the face of differing beliefs and practices in matters of human sexuality? How will our continued cooperation impact our current CBF hiring policy. So we are, in effect, building an airplane even as we fly it.”
Fuller reported that over the last 12 months, the Illumination Project Committee has hosted more than 15 conference calls, four in-person meetings and given presentations in 30 different cities with Cooperative Baptists. The committee has also conducted more than 30 two-hour structured interviews, “trying to hear deeply the powerful stories of our people.”
“We’re seeking to learn what the fellowship thinks about cooperation, about our shared mission, how we think about faith, and how that plays out when we consider our hiring policy,” Fuller noted. “It’s been a series of absolutely holy moments as we’ve heard intimate stories of passion for Christ, his Church, his Fellowship and those who so desperately need the loving presence of Christ.”
“Fellowship, please know this about our work,” Fuller continued. “We are seeking to be truly and genuinely Baptist in our process. We’re particularly focused on two uniquely Baptist values. These cherished convictions are a part of what distinguishes us from our Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian sisters and brothers as they have also experienced contention over matters of human sexuality. We believe that our uniqueness is a powerful asset for us in this process and we’ve designed our process to try to address this in a uniquely Baptist way.
“First of all, we both celebrate and have informed our process by the priesthood of the believer. As Baptists, we champion the Reformation value that all of Christ’s children have direct access to God and that each of us needs the guidance of fellow priest believers in the work of discernment. Therefore, if we are to hear from Holy Spirit, we must work to hear from the people who sit in our pews, people who represent an incredible richness and diversity. These ‘priest-believers’ all across our Fellowship are God’s voices speaking in all that richness and diversity. Both this morning and in the workshops to come, you’ll hear more about how we’re seeking to hear Holy Spirit speak from all of us to all of us.
“Secondly, we are champions for the autonomy of the local church. CBF does not ordain clergy, and we do not place pastors in congregations. CBF doesn’t tell churches how they are to worship, what they are to study, how they must read the Bible. The autonomy of every church to listen to Holy Spirit for themselves as groups of ‘priest-believers’ is a bedrock value of CBF. Because of this value, the Illumination Project will not be telling any church what they are to do or not to do regarding this matter or any other. Twenty-five years ago, we adopted this as a bedrock value of this Fellowship and we will not depart from it now.”
Paul Baxley, Illumination Project Committee member and senior minister of First Baptist Church in Athens, Ga., emphasized the biblical foundations that underpin the work of the committee, citing Acts 10 and the work of the early church in discernment in diversity. The response of the early church is encouraging as it remains united in spite of differences, he said.
“Our committee lives each day in hopeful waiting for the emergence of a more faithful path forward, and we stand before you today not in fear, but rather in the hopeful conviction that together we will see that still more excellent way when the Holy Spirit reveals it to us,” Baxley said. “We dare to believe that way will be a witness in and of itself, and a path to a new season of thriving for our Fellowship.”
Through embracing the approach of Integrative Thinking, the committee seeks to faithfully hear and feel the Spirit moving among the priesthood of all believers, Baxley said.
Watch the full video of the Illumination Project Committee’s report below:
Read the published update from the Illumination Project here with detailed information about the committee’s process and progress.
The Illumination Project Committee is hosting two identical workshops at 3 p.m. on Thursday and 1:30 p.m. on Friday at the Atlanta Assembly. For additional information about the Illumination Project, visit www.cbf.net/illuminationproject.
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.