We have been systematically studying the doctrinal positions of the Southern Baptist denomination. We are nearing the end of this series, with only 5 sermons to go... Today we will look at how our churches work together in cooperation with each other to accomplish tasks that individual churches can’t do alone. Then we will spend two weeks discussing our responsibilities as citizens to our communities and country, including what should be our political worldview. Then we will talk about the family, marriage, and our beliefs regarding the home. Finally, we will close the series by reviewing the specific Baptist Distinctives that we’ve touched on during the past several months. For now, here is our doctrinal statement on 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.
We will break this paragraph down into 5 points - the aim of cooperation, the allies in cooperation, the authority of cooperations, the advantages of cooperation, and the approach to cooperation.
The aim or goal of cooperation is to accomplish the "great objects of the Kingdom of God". The Lord has left us with tasks that are much larger than any of us can handle alone. He did this intentionally, that we might realize our dependence upon Him and our interdependence upon one another. Some of these great responsibilities include missions and evangelism, education and discipleship, and benevolent ministry. As Christians, we are commanded to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, to teach and train our future leaders which Biblical learning, and to meet a multitude of various needs. These are monumental assignments - a load that no church could or should try to carry by itself.
We are to be allies in cooperation. That is to say that we are friends, not foes. Jesus said in Mark 9:40 referring to Christians working in the Lord's name but in separate groups or congregations, "He who is not against us is for us." Translation - we may not be members of the same assembly, clique, or even denomination, but as born again believers we are all on the same team. Yes there are some differences in the specifics, but generally as Christians we are all brothers and sisters within the family of God. As such, we should work together both within and without our denomination, partnering with all Christians to advance the Kingdom of God.
As churches begin to join with each other in the cooperative spirit, all authority remains held by the local church and each is fully autonomous. There is no hierarchical structure within the South Baptist denomination. No organization or body holds any authority or rank over any other. While representatives of the group may provide advice or counsel to its members, there is no compulsion or coercion. Membership in such organizations is purely voluntary and can be withdrawn at any time. Members are free to agree or disagree with the opinions and/or decisions of the majority and to run their own congregations in the manner they see fit. This is known as congregational freedom or liberty and it is a Baptist distinctive. While Baptist churches are autonomous, they should voluntarily cooperate with each other and foster a submissive spirit. Our independence should not result in isolation! We should work together not because we have to, but because we want to.
The advantages of cooperation are rather obvious. By working together we can elicit, or “to draw out of" people, skills and gifts that can be used in ways that might not be opportune in our local church. We can provide diverse and numerous avenues for the redeemed to answer their particular calling. By pooling our resources together - such as our finances - we are able to accomplish much more, and to do so more efficiently. Together we can direct our energies and maintain a particular focus, which will help our work to be more effective. Also, within the activity of cooperation we discover unity. As we work together toward common ends, we are drawn closer and function properly as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).
The approach that we use is to organize various associations and conventions of churches. At the local level, there is the Ministerial Alliance. In Seymour (like in most towns) various Christian churches in the city work together to sponsor various community ministry events, such as the recent National Day of Prayer observance at the court house. At the regional level, our church is a member of the Bi-Fork Association which consists of several churches in the surrounding counties and we send teams on mission trips, we support the Baptist Student Ministry at Vernon College, and much more. At the state level, we are members of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. We work together with 5700 plus churches to accomplish various ministry tasks in Texas. At the national level, our church voluntarily associates with the Southern Baptist Convention. Through it we (and approximately 47,000 other congregations) send missionaries all over the world, fund our theological seminaries, and engage in countless other ministries that touch the entire globe.
In closing, we can do more together than we can do separately. The Christian life is meant to be lived in cooperation with one another, working together to accomplish the great objects of the Kingdom of God. I hope you will take some time this week to learn a little bit about our various cooperations, associations, and conventions. Just follow the links above. I think you'll be amazed at the impact we have by working together.