The journey toward bold faithfulness demands more of ourselves and more of the church in this current cultural moment marked by racial injustice and the sins of white supremacy, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley preached during the Thursday evening (June 25) worship service of the 2020 virtual CBF general assembly.
“We cannot remain silent,” he said.
Baxley focused his sermon on scripture texts of 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 and Acts 4:5-13, passages centered on Peter and John boldly proclaiming the power of Jesus. He asked the Cooperative Baptists gathered virtually to consider what it was that caused people to turn their heads in amazement at the pair — what would be signs of boldness in these disciples?
“You might say that when Peter gives this testimony … that he speaks with such openness and confidence and courage. You might say that it’s in that particular moment that they see boldness,” Baxley said. “And it’s true. But it’s also true that if Peter and John had not healed that paralyzed man … Peter would have had no reason to give testimony.”
This boldness, Baxley added, could only lead the astonished religious leaders to draw one conclusion: that these men must be companions of Jesus. Peter and John had the power to live and act in ways they couldn’t have imagined before — because they met Jesus and it was not just the religious leaders who took notice of this bold openness and courage, but the early Christians as well, Baxley continued.
“And when the early Christians hear that testimony, you know what they do?” Baxley asked. “Their hearts are so freed, their imaginations are so captured, that they cannot help, but pray that they will have the same kind of boldness. They recognize that the boldness that was evident in Peter and John is not a boldness that people can have on their own. It’s a boldness that comes through companionship with Jesus.”
The work of John and Peter was powerful testimony and powerful action — words and deeds that changed the world, Baxley emphasized.
“The foundation of bold faithfulness — of a faith that stands out and doesn’t blend in — is deep companionship with Jesus,” said Baxley. “A bold faithfulness does not begin in an independent decision to be socially active. It begins at the heart of a relationship with Jesus that is growing more and more alive so that more and more of Christ’s ways are evident in our lives. And when people hear us speak and see us act, they say, ‘They have to be companions of Jesus.’ Bold faithfulness. It’s the Holy Spirit trying to form us for bold faithfulness.”
In the fall, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship started wrestling with this notion that God had a bigger dream for our congregations than just meeting the budget, he said.
“We began to struggle with the question, might God have a holier aspiration for our ministry around the world than just getting to next year? Might God be preparing us for a future of love, healing, justice, joy and companionship that would change the world?” he explained. “Those were the questions that led us to begin what we’ve been describing as a journey toward bold faithfulness, because we believe God has work for us to do and that God is gifting us in ways and pouring out his Spirit on us so that we can speak and serve in ways that change this world.”
Baxley added that while this journey began before the world was experiencing a pandemic and preceded the American public’s response to heightened racial injustice across the country, the moment we find ourselves in calls out for a bold faith.
“In these days, my sisters and brothers in Christ, I also find myself asking the question as we watch the boldness of Peter and John, and we consider praying a prayer for bold faithfulness in our Fellowship, I can’t help but wondering if we’re being called to a bold faithfulness in the face of this glaring pandemic of racial injustice that has afflicted this land for almost 401 years,” Baxley said. “I cannot help but wonder as we, the church of Jesus Christ, black and white, come to terms with all the ways these wounds of injustice are still at work in our lives and in our world.”
“In this moment, I do believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to speak clearly about some things that have to change,” he added. “This moment is requiring us to repent for sins of white supremacy, to repent for the abuses of white privilege. This moment is requiring us to demand more of ourselves and more of the church, because the church, at its core is better than that. This moment is requiring us to speak clearly against any kind of injustice, any form of police brutality that is based on race. We cannot remain silent.”
Baxley spoke to the vision of the early church in Acts — the church drawn from every nation under heaven.
“What would it mean for us to create a world where we lived out of the conviction that all of us, in spite of racial difference, in spite of ethnic difference, in spite of language difference, that we are all the children of God,” Baxley challenged. “And we see one another not as others to be feared, but as brothers and sisters in Christ to be loved as children of God, so loved by God that God gave his only son. What would it mean for us to speak that kind of world into being and what would it mean for us to act in ways that bring healing to this torn and tattered land?”
“I wonder if white Christians can join with black Christians in encouraging our churches and our larger communities to encourage thriving of black-owned businesses and historically black colleges and universities. I wonder if we can take other actions that restore the injustices of many generations. It won’t be enough for us to speak about justice if we’re not willing to hear the call of the prophet Micah and do justice. As we contemplate how God is calling us to speak and how God is calling us to act, we must always remember that extending racial justice and racial healing is not a political agenda, but instead, the commitment to racial justice and racial healing comes from the heart of the life of God.”
Baxley emphasized that the “forerunners of our faith” have spoken “courageously for decades and generations’ and done so from their own places of conviction, privilege or suffering.
“Those voices cry out to us, along with Peter and John, they call us to a boldness that will set us apart,” Baxley said. “I hear a calling. I sense the Spirit pushing to boldness. In these days, my prayer for our Fellowship, my prayer for our congregations, my prayer for all of our leaders, is that when we see the boldness of Peter and John, we’ll have the same reaction as those first Christians who caught wind of it.”
The two-day 2020 virtual General Assembly will continue Friday morning with scheduled votes on the 2020-2021 budget and governance nominees. Virtual attendees will also hear a report on the Toward Bold Faithfulness initiative and remarks from incoming CBF Moderator Carol McEntyre, pastor at First Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri.