The Baptist Faith and Message has become much more prominent in Southern Baptist life over the last six years. With its revisions that were adopted by the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention it has been used as a standard to help define the doctrinal borders of official SBC agencies and institutions. Article 14 addresses the issue of cooperation and makes some very good points that need to be taken seriously by SBC churches and leaders.
I am providing the full text of the article in this post, along with part of an exposition of it by Professor Mark Terry of Southern Seminary. Read carefully the wording of the article itself and also the insightful comments of Dr. Terry. In the next few days I want to comment on this article and show the way it provides some helpful markers for churches that want to cooperate thoughtfully with other churches in kingdom work.
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.
Mark Terry’s exposition includes these comments:
Each Southern Baptist church is autonomous and self-governing under the Lordship of Christ. These churches, though, may decide to cooperate with other like-minded churches to provide for mutual encouragement and the advancement of God’s kingdom through evangelism and missions.
Since the 1600s, Baptists have formed associations. An association is a group of churches that voluntarily join together for fellowship, encouragement and missions. Churches are the members of the association, but the association does not rule its member churches.
Churches may also choose to form a convention. In the United States, Southern Baptist churches have organized both state conventions and a national body, the Southern Baptist Convention.
Churches comprise the membership of state conventions and the SBC. They join voluntarily and may withdraw voluntarily.
Conventions exercise no control over the churches. Each level is autonomous. Thus, an association cannot dictate to a church or to the state convention. Of course, the reverse is true as well. A church might be a member of one body but not another, though that is unusual. Associations and conventions are governed by votes cast by messengers sent from member churches.