Richard F. Lovelace, in his work Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, explains how the Puritan Richard Baxter labored extensively on developing a core doctrinal belief that would unite all English Christians.
Baxter, according to Lovelace, leaned on the words of Rupert Meldenius, a lesser-known 17th century European theologian, who said, “Unity in essentials, liberty in incidentals, and in all things charity.”
This adage rightly characterizes the heartbeat of a big tent convention that works hard to maintain unity in diversity. We cannot proclaim theological incidentals unfounded in scripture as universal maxims, but when someone errs in this regard, we must approach the erring party with a spirit of grace and truth (Proverbs 15:1-4, 25:11; Ephesians 4:29-30).
Baptist churches come in many shapes, forms and sizes. Some of us meet in traditional red brick buildings while others meet in storefronts. Some love the traditional hymns with piano accompaniment while others sing modern praise music to the beat of electronic drums and the rhythm of an electric guitar, and yet others love southern gospel, Negro spirituals, contemplative silence and upbeat Latin worship expressions. Some of our pastors preach in ties and others preach in jeans and may not own a tie. Some have “Baptist” in their name and some do not. Some of our leaders are seminary trained and others cut their teeth in ministry by learning from a seasoned pastor.
While we are not the same, and do not see eye-to-eye on every issue, we have more in common than not. Every church can find unity and support in the Southern Baptist family regardless of church title, location, ethnicity or economic status. We are a big tent convention stabilized by four pegs.
What are the four pegs?
First and foremost is a high view of scripture.
The Bible is authoritative for faith and practice. It shapes our presuppositions and ignites our passion to know God and reach our world for Christ. We unashamedly read the Bible like Jesus and the Apostles read the Old Testament. They believed in the absolute authority and sufficiency of the Word of God to shape one’s worldview. God’s Word reveals God’s mind without any hint of error. The inerrant Word shapes our identity so that we can faithfully engage a culture committed to a revisionist picture of Jesus Christ.
Second, we are committed to the Great Commission.
Jesus says we must “make disciples” of all people groups. In order to do this, we intentionally seek out loving relationships with unbelievers, praying for an opportunity to snatch souls from the fire as an act of love (Jude 21-23). I will lamentably admit that sometimes the hustle and bustle of life distracts me from the most important thing – personally sharing my faith with the lost. I am sure you have had a similar experience, but you can change that by leaning on the Word of God, your local church and your convention’s servant-leaders. We are committed to train our churches to do the work of an evangelist so that every man, woman, boy and girl around the world has an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel.
Third, the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) reflects our common confessional beliefs.
As a convention, we must fight the fight of faith by avoiding “theological tribalism.” We are Baptists. We should no longer define our Christian friends based on geographic location, ethnicity, economics or school affiliations. The BF&M was designed in 1925 to serve as a confessional rudder, rather than a creedal instrument, to keep SBC churches from being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. The confessional document experienced two revisions with the final revision given at the turn of 21st century. The BF&M can serve as a necessary guardrail for any Baptist church in our beloved family.
Fourth, our commitment to cooperation displays biblical maturity.
We advance the gospel together by powering missions and ministries through Cooperative Program (CP) giving and living. I say living because CP was created to give life to the Great Commission. By God’s grace, He has provided us with an ingenious tool to advance the gospel throughout the nations. Every church. Every nation. Our churches have the ability to be like the Macedonian churches who gave exceedingly above their perceived ability because, as the song says, “people need the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
If these pegs are in place, our convention will be secure in the gospel against the winds of change.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Curtis A. Woods is co-interim executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. This column first appeared in convention's news service, Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com.)