The Tie that Binds?
Blest be the tie that bindsOur hearts in Christian love; The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.
Remember that old hymn "Blest be the Tie that Binds"? I grew up as a child singing that hymn about the center of our unity as followers of Christ. As I think about that song, and more importantly, the theology behind it, I am reminded that we stand together, united as followers in Christ because of our common faith. In Southern Baptist circles, it seems to me, there are some who would challenge this notion, at least so far as it represents our affiliation within our denomination.
I ran across this article today and was startled by it, to be honest. One statement in particular jumped out at me. Dr. David Crosby, Senior Pastor of 1st Baptist Church of New Orleans, LA, was debating the importance of a resolution affirming the Cooperative Program (CP). In the course of his affirmation, he said the following, The CP is the glue that binds us all together.... I feel strongly we should make this statement.
What struck me is not his support of the CP, personally I'm a big fan of the CP. I think it's a marvel of financing expertise. I think its creation will forever be known as a defining decision in the missions enterprise of the Southern Baptist Convention. There is little doubt that we could not have grown to the size and influence as a convention that we have apart from the CP. I lead a church that gives 8% of her undesignated receipts to the CP, and whose giving ranks as one of the top 10-20 churches in our state. There are many churches in our state larger than we are who give less. If I did not believe in the CP, we would not be supporting her. With that being said, I find the thought troubling that the CP is the proverbial "glue" which holds our partnership together. Over recent days, as I listen to discussions within our tribe known as Southern Baptists, I am increasingly hearing a sentiment that affirms this very viewpoint.
As I think through this support, I believe it is founded by a desire to honor the CP; to maintain a passionate commitment to cooperative missions funding. I can appreciate that. In fact I even think it's a good and noble desire and one which I agree with. I have, at one point, had my own salary and benefits provided through the CP, while working for the IMB. However, in an attempt to continue support for the CP, I think we must be cautious not to elevate a program, a man-made one at that, to the singular, defining characteristic that holds our partnership together. Again, let me state for emphasis, this is not an attempt to strike any blow at the CP. I love and value the CP. It is, however, part of a desire to make certain that our priorities are in order.
When we decide that the basis for our partnership is a business model, albeit a wise and often effective one, we will find ourselves pushing our partnership to the edge of extinction. This thought process makes our method the purpose of our existence. Instead of working diligently to advance the mission (a theological concept), we will instead spend countless time and monies defending the existence of a program. If the program is that which unites us, it becomes the supreme, the ultimate object of our concern and affection, instead of being a tool used to help us accomplish our purpose. In fact, believing that any program is that which binds us is tantamount to the worst kind of pragmatism. It shows evidence of a misplacing of priorities.
The alternative option, and the preferred option in my opinion, is to unite around a purpose, a theology, a Gospel, and to serve that Gospel with any and every appropriate means possible until we have achieved said purpose. In fact, in that vein, the Cooperative Program can be an incredibly important part, so long as it works most effectively at accomplishing the mission. We Southern Baptists are an odd bunch at times. Whatever we may often be, we are nothing if we are not united around our belief in the Gospel and our desire to advance that Gospel and to do so in a way which is faithful to specific theological qualities that have long defined us as Southern Baptists. Believer's baptism, regenerate church membership, local church autonomy, and so on. So long as the CP, or any other program or concept, is the most effective tool to serve that end without denying our theological core, then by all means let's exhaust it in an attempt to accomplish our mission. Please, however, do not make the dangerous mistake of believing that our very existence is vitally dependent on the CP or any other program. This betrays a misunderstanding of our purpose.
Our existence is dependent on one thing and one thing alone - advancing the glory of God into every corner of the globe through the advance of His Gospel, and doing so in a way that is faithful to the biblical convictions that Southern Baptist hold closely. This is the only cause I know worth uniting around in such a way that I willingly, and passionately ask my church, my family, and even myself, to exhaust our collective energy and resources to pursue. Can I plead with each of us as Southern Baptists, please commit to this end, and no other. Everything else falls miserably short of this great aim.