Southern Baptists must rise above the rampant individualism and isolation that characterize today’s world and embrace each other in new partnerships for the sake of the gospel, Union University President David S. Dockery recently told Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary students.
“Ongoing disharmony and differences could well lead to our collective ruin,” Dockery said. “Today I want to urge us to move beyond consensus … to move beyond cooperation, which many of us have championed, to a new and even higher calling, toward an intentional and purposeful collaboration.”
Speaking in a chapel service at the Wake Forest, N.C., seminary on Feb. 14, Dockery addressed Paul’s words in Philippians 1, specifically verses five and 27, in which the apostle affirmed the Philippi church’s “partnership in the gospel.”
David Dockery shares his desire for more unity within the Southern Baptist Convention during chapel service Feb. 14 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Paul was writing in the midst of opposition from without and conflict from within, Dockery said, and challenged his readers to live as worthy citizens of their heavenly homeland. In doing so, Paul appealed to their civic responsibility within the Christian community.
In that appeal, Dockery said, Southern Baptists can learn how to live as dual citizens of earth and heaven, and between the Gospel and the culture.
“It is the standing firm in one spirit that makes it possible for them to participate as partners, striving together for the cause of the faith,” Dockery said. “For Paul, the gospel was the beginning and end of everything.”
Paul encouraged his readers to embrace both resolve and unity at the same time, which allowed them to address disharmony within the church and external opposition, Dockery said. That challenge is applicable to modern Christians, Dockery said, because people in today’s culture have grown increasingly disconnected and isolated from each other.
Even Christians have succumbed to the culture’s trend of privatization, whether they realize it or not.
That disconnection stems largely from the Enlightenment, Dockery said, which elevated science and reason above belief in the supernatural and caused the separation of faith and reason from revelation.
“As a result, most of us live through life in compartmentalized ways, and it all comes as a result of this philosophy that undergirds all aspects of contemporary life,” he said.
In response to this movement, Dockery said Christians often embraced one of four alternatives: pietism, which largely disregarded intellectual challenges and advocated only maintaining warm hearts toward God; liberalism, which discounted some of Christianity’s difficult theological issues; fundamentalism, in which people withdrew from culture entirely; and pragmatism, which accepted ideas and practices only if they worked.
“All of these were usually well-intentioned at the time as an attempt to save the faith from what was going on around them, but it usually led to further disconnection – separating heart and head, piety and education, tradition and inquiry, the gospel and the rest of life.”
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is not immune to this fragmentation, Dockery said, with mission board and entities that sometimes don’t connect. SBC entities and state convention entities at times are unaware of what the other is doing, he said, and universities and seminaries sometimes find themselves competing with each other instead of working together.
Such a “lone ranger” mindset must be changed, Dockery said, and the convention must begin to rebuild partnerships and prioritize unity and cooperation to advance the gospel. He acknowledged the difficulty of that task and said humility is the key to success.
“We need a new kind of humility that says we cannot do this alone,” Dockery said. “A new kind of humility that says we recognize our need for one another. A new kind of humility in which together I will be the first to say, ‘I need to repent of my pride and arrogance.’ …
“We need partners to work together for the good of the gospel, holding hands to advance this work,” he continued. “Much grace will be needed to build such a collaborative partnership. We’ll need faith-affirming and grace-filled convictions to frame and guide these efforts if indeed we are to contend as one in this lofty calling.”
Dockery added that Southern Baptists will need confessional convictions and biblical boundaries without uniformity of interpretation in matters that aren’t of primary importance.
Dockery called for a new connectedness between and among all elements of the SBC – including churches, entities, mission boards and educational institutions – a connectedness that is faithful to Southern Baptist polity and not one that will lead to “connectionalism.” He said Southern Baptists also need a “new gospel-focused motivation” for proclamation, service, teaching and learning, all of which are informed and shaped by the gospel itself.
In addition, Dockery said the convention needs a new vision that connects the gospel with all of life, an appreciation of the multi-ethnic and multicultural society in which Southern Baptists find themselves and a new recognition that gospel partnerships will lead to a focus on the glory and grandeur of God.
“Let us not miss this moment,” Dockery said. “It is a special opportunity that God has given to us. Let us not fail to see the global opportunities for the gospel are incredible, like nothing the world has seen before.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations for Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)