What We Believe- Article XIV, Cooperation

The next article that we come to in our trek through the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is the 14th covering the issue of cooperation:

XIV.  Cooperation

Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.

Exodus 17:12; 18:17ff.; Judges 7:21; Ezra 1:3-4; 2:68-69; 5:14-15; Nehemiah 4; 8:1-5; Matthew 10:5-15; 20:1-16; 22:1-10; 28:19-20; Mark 2:3; Luke 10:1ff.; Acts 1:13-14; 2:1ff.; 4:31-37; 13:2-3; 15:1-35; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:5-15; 12; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Galatians 1:6-10; Ephesians 4:1-16; Philippians 1:15-18. 

It’s funny, but my main thought in reading through this article is that is serves primarily as an apologetic for the organization which commissioned its writing in the first place, the Southern Baptist Convention.  Nice.  But we must ask ourselves, Is what it says truly biblical?  Reading through the verses used as justification and scaling back the language used in the article which sounds more of corporate or political organizing I think that we do see a biblcal truth portrayed here, at least to some extent.

Many of the passages used in justifying the claims here are passages speaking of general cooperation between Christians which may or may not be usable in a context wider than the local church.  Texts such as those given in Ezra and Nehemiah demonstrate the principle of helping out our brothers, living a servant lifestyle, or what I would more generally put as “bear[ing] one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6.2).  However, that verse, Galatians 6.2, is conspicuously absent from the justification list, most likely because it is traditionally interpreted as a local church verse.  The question I ask is, If we are claiming a universal church of all believers, how is cooperation at all divorceable from this call in Galatians?  And if it is not, then how come we seek to make a special distinction for “associations and conventions”?  I’m not sure if I see this myself.

One special exception picturing a larger specialized gathering might be found in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.  At this point we see a special convening of the church to deal with particular controversies that had arisen in the early days.  This certainly sets a precedent for coming together in a unit larger than the local assembly for clarifying doctrine, but is this what we are doing in the Southern Baptist Convention.  In part yes, but we are also doing much more.  We have things like the Cooperative Program which function on a large scale like Paul’s offering for the church at Jerusalem in 2 Corinthians and elsewhere.  We also have our missionary organizations, NAMB and IMB, which are collections of skilled people trying to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28 and Acts 1.8.  All of these fall under the umbrella of the SBC and all are good and God-honoring things.  However, to say that they are specifically laid out as the pattern of Scripture seems like a stretch to me.

On another note, a very interesting statement is made when the article says,

“Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”  

Why is this so interesting?  Well, I, at least, find it interesting in light of recent cries foul by certain commentators among the non-Calvinist wing of SBC life who berate upstanding Southern Baptists like Al Mohler and Mark Dever for their associations with Presbyterian and charismatic and even just plain non-SBC brothers through ministries such as Together for the Gospel, Ligonier and Desiring God.  In particular I recall the provost of one of our great Southern Baptist seminaries commenting at a recent (controversial) gathering that it is confusing for Southern Baptists to be so friendly with paedobaptists.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t joining “together for the gospel” be a justifiable end for teaming up across denominational lines with people maybe a little more reformed than ourselves?  What does that say when even our seminary leaders are having trouble affirming the BF&M in its entirety?

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