DALLAS — “I don’t pretend that living into this oneness instead of sameness is easy business,” said Jerusha Neal, assistant professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School, during the June 15 worship service at the 2018 General Assembly in Dallas.
“There’s all kinds of unanswered questions—I mean, how can you form disciples without some conformity, right? How do you make safe spaces for people and still make space for diverse perspectives? How do you honor global church connections and prioritize local autonomy at the same time? These are hard questions.”
The burden of these questions, Neal said, could be alleviated by remembering and living into distinct Baptist principles: freedom of conscience, the ministry of every believer, God’s decision to include us in the world’s renewal, and the living Word that finds, claims and renews us through scripture.
Neal challenged the Assembly to live out these values in support for the CBF church starters, chaplains, pastoral counselors and field personnel commissioned later in the service.
“Live those values, CBF. Shine the light that God has given you to shine, because those being commissioned tonight need you,” said Neal. “They are leaving behind the security of their sameness and they are stepping out in faith into a oneness that is hoped for, but not yet seen.”
This oneness is that of Galatians 3:28, where Paul claims ‘there is no Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ And this oneness, Neal noted, is not that of erasure or sameness, but a oneness that holds the church together even in our differences.
“For Paul this isn’t about identity politics, it isn’t about difference for difference sake,” Neal said. “But if we are who Paul says we are, when we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we became part of a living body.”
In baptism also, we were buried with Christ to rise again. We were buried together in the Christian faith and arose out of the waters as part of one body. And as the body of Christ, we are called to support those we commission and send out for service, she added.
“They need to know that they are buried in a community’s heart. They need to know that they are from somewhere—that they’ve got a home and a people that stand with them and intercede for them,” Neal urged. “And more than this, they need to know that this church is more than an institution and more than a social club, because they’re putting their lives on the line for it. They need to know that we all are buried with them in Christ. And we need to know it too. So, come to the table tonight. Let the Spirit bury you again in Christ’s body. Let us be buried together so that in Christ we might rise.”
Celebration of Communion and Commissioning
The 2018 General Assembly concluded with the celebration of communion in Spanish and English as well as a commissioning and blessing service of new CBF field personnel, church starters and chaplains and pastoral counselors.
“Chaplains and pastoral care providers follow Christ by carrying the burden of care—care for those who must bear the heavy burden of the death of a loved one, of illness, of incarceration, deployment, violence, depression, doubt and despair,” said Joanna Tarr, Navy Reserve Chaplain of Kansas City, Mo. and chair of the CBF Council on Endorsement, to the 21 newly-endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors.
“We as the endorsing body of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship bless them tonight, to carry on the burden of Christ’s care and love for a beautiful and hurting world. We, as your family of faith, commission you tonight to go forth with the strength of our love, prayers and support as you fulfill your calling to follow Christ to the least of these.”
Eight new church starters were also commissioned, representing five new church starts in Georgia, Texas and Arizona.
“To those being commissioned, we challenge you to not pursue the easy and cheap Gospel,” said CBF Church Starts leader Andy Hale, who blessed the church starters alongside Harry Rowland, CBF’s associate coordinator of congregations and leadership.
“Rather, seek the Gospel that reflects the radical compassion of Jesus for all people,” Hale said. “We challenge you to do the Gospel work of removing the labels of society and religion, so that the oneness in Christ might rise to the pinnacle of who we are and what we do.”
The Assembly also commissioned two new field personnel. Karen, who has served as an associate pastor at a Baptist church in Atlanta since 2012, will provide pastoral ministry with refugees and ministry in North Africa. Rick Burnette will join the CBF Global Missions team to coordinate and manage the Fellowship’s domestic disaster mitigation and response efforts in collaboration with CBF state and regional organizations. Burnette, who is based in Fort Myers, Fla., is also engaged in the community-level food security efforts of Cultivate Abundance alongside the Rural Americas Team and Together for Hope, CBF’s rural development coalition.
CBF Global Missions Coordinator Steven Porter thanked Cooperative Baptists for their generous support of the Offering for Global Missions and challenged Karen and Burnette to “lift up Jesus.”
“We don’t build the Kingdom of God in our strength,” Porter said. “We have a responsibility according to John’s Gospel to lift him up, to be witnesses to this Kingdom made visible in Jesus. As a fellowship, we have done this faithful work of witness among dozens of people groups around the world for more than 25 years.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter led the Assembly in a blessing of the commissioned church starters, field personnel, chaplains and pastoral counselors.
We end our Assembly as many seeking to be one,” Paynter said. “What an impossible task for any of our congregations to be in all these countries, counties, places of distresses, all these hospital settings, military settings, places of chaplaincy services. Yet, with no great burden on any one of us, we are all there. But these new church homes, these missions, these ministries would be erased and gone were it not for us here tonight.”
“This is holy. This is miraculous,” she said. “We will praise and honor God in this co-missioning of what we do.”