By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
What does the new year hold for Baptists in Missouri? I’m not sure anyone would dare answer that question. Who could have predicted all that happened among Baptists in our state in 2007? Certainly not I.
The running count suggests there are at least four different groups of Missouri Baptists (at least those that have sprung from the traditional Missouri Baptist Convention tree). Organizationally, we now have two state conventions and a fellowship — Missouri Baptist Convention, Baptist General Convention of Missouri and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri. There is some overlap.
A rather public schism has been particularly evident within the MBC during the past year. No one really knows how that will play out either.
Each of these Baptist groups has its challenges, as does every Baptist congregation and every Baptist. That comes with the territory when you try to work with other Baptists and other Christians. (Choosing not to cooperate with other Baptists has its own challenges, and there are a few that prefer to go down that road.)
We Baptists joke about our propensity for duking it out over weighty theological matters, but often we jaw about such things and never really settle anything. I’ve run across brothers in local associational meetings over the years who sparred over the same issues — usually interpretation of some part of Scripture — every year, apparently for the sport of it.
Sometimes we get very official about such things. Often when a new bunch comes into office, a study committee or a task force is set up to clear out the cobwebs and errors of the previous bunch. Sometimes such exercises on the surface are meant to find truth, but they too often wind up becoming exercises in sniffing out error. It doesn’t take a genius to point out someone else’s errors and shortcomings — real or imagined.
I recall a missionary in south-central Chile several years ago telling about one of the church members who only prayed lying prostrate on his face, even on the dirt floor of the little church. Why did he always pray that way? The man had read a verse where the Bible said to lie prostrate when you pray and “he just went to seed on that verse!” the missionary explained.
It might not have been a problem for the Mapuche brother to fall on his face every time he prayed. But it became a problem when he suggested everyone else should do the same lest they pray less correctly and with with less depth than he.
To be convinced of one’s own correctness can be a dangerous thing. Pointing out the perceived incorrectness of others can become a bona fide spiritual responsibility. It’s not hard to see why some people relish such a “responsibility.”
Most Baptists I know are happy to cut others a little slack. They don’t assume the worst about another Baptist or Baptist groups. They are reluctant to assign motives, and they do not — in their zeal — fabricate information about others.
Each of the Baptist groups in Missouri is engaged in ministries that are intended to focus on the immediate and eternal needs of others. That is true of all the institutions and agencies among us — every one. The two state conventions and the fellowship are passionate about their missions partnerships. They take pride in well-executed ministries.
Certainly Missouri Baptists have issues to settle during 2008, whether they relate to litigation and agencies; governance of boards and committees; or how to best utilize ministry resources. How some of these matters play out will depend upon the will of concerned Baptists. How Baptists in Missouri choose to work through issues will be as important as what they do.
Without a doubt, the constituents of the MBC, BGCM and CBFMO relish the kind of leadership that operates well beyond any form of pettiness and discord. They know that being a part of Kingdom endeavors calls for an approach that conveys mutual respect. They will continue to respond to such leadership.
The first of the year is a time for fresh starts that can have the impetus of the Holy Spirit behind them. Many of us are wary of resolutions. Good intentions often have limited value.
Surely every Christian will want to make a renewed commitment to be more like Christ in everything we do during this new year. I never live up to my potential in Christ, but I have no excuse for not giving it my best effort. And neither do you.
On many occasions, I have heard Missouri Baptists pray across some of the more recent boundaries that separate us. For the past few years, the Word&Way staff has done that regularly when we gather for intercessory prayer. A good starting point for the new year would be for all of us to make such a commitment and stick to it.
What does the new year hold for Baptists in Missouri? That depends upon all of us, but the year is ripe with potential.