What would happen if goodwill Baptists from around the world all studied the same biblical text?
BWA attendees flood the escalator to the Sunday morning worship service for the closing gathering of the 20th Baptist World Congress.
I'm waiting to see. For you see, I ascribe to the mustard seed conspiracy. I believe that God is working through 4,000 Baptist leaders, who gathered at the 20th Baptist World Congress in Honolulu, to influence the moral agenda of the 37-million member Baptist family.
That's the message of Jesus' parable of the mustard seed: The seeming insignificance of a few leaders in Bible study can bring significant change for millions of others.
At last week's Baptist World Alliance meeting, attendees heard five addresses centered on Luke 4:18-19. Additionally, three concurrent morning Bible studies on the Luke 4 text were offered in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish.
"We are either poor in the material things or poor in spirit... The good news is to the poor in general regardless of their form of poverty. The Spirit of the Lord brings hope and transformation for the poor," said Paul Msiza, general secretary for the Baptist Convention of South Africa and president of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship, one of the five theme interpreters.
"Every year the G8 (the eight richest countries in the world) meet... One of their discussion points in their agenda on Millennium Development Goals is poverty alleviation. It would seem that the more they speak and set goals to reduce poverty, the more the world sinks into serious poverty. It therefore becomes clear that spiritual poverty, in a way, exacerbates material poverty. Because those who are rich materially but poor spiritually, usually fail to share their riches with others," said Msiza.
"The greatest thing that holds the world captive is sin," he said. "Sin brings blindness to the truth, oppression of the weak and the suffering of God's people," Msiza said. "When we stop hearing the voice of the Spirit and become selfish and arrogant, our lives become destructive even to the environment that God gave us to live in happily."
Looking at the word "poor" in Luke 4, Janet Clark, academic dean at Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto, said, "The poor most definitely are the economically poor."
She added that "we also see in Scripture how the term is used in the holistic sense of those who, for any number of reasons, are poor and needy, relegated to the margins, the spiritually impoverished."
Clark said, "In Jesus' day, many were looking for a messiah who would be a political liberator from the occupation of Rome. In our day, evangelicalism – especially in its Western manifestations – has tended to over-spiritualize the references to the poor and oppressed and ignore their political and social meanings."
Pablo Deiros, president of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina, observed that "to proclaim" in Luke 4:18 is the Greek verb "euaggelisasthai."
"This expression was used in ancient Greek with regards to a slave who was announcing the victory of a general," he said.
"In a world sunk in dungeons of darkness, with chains binding minds, hearts and hands, we are given the unique task of proclaiming freedom. We are the announcers of a Gospel that is light to quench any dark thoughts; it is love to heal any broken heart; and it is power to release any bondage of sin," said Deiros.
"Christ invites us to be radically involved with the poor, the captives and oppressed," said Alongla Aier, co-founder and associate professor in English and communication at the Oriental Theological Seminary in Northeast India.
The word for poor is "not just the economic poor Jesus was talking about. It is for the pious poor as well," she said. "The recognition of one's spiritual poverty for them is the good news."
Assigned Luke 4:19, Allan Demond, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia, said the reference "to the year of the Lord's favor" harkened back to Leviticus 25 where the Hebrew people learned about "God's social reform vision."
The plan for the year of jubilee "was simple." It involved "three courageous commitments from everyone: (1) leaving the soil to lay fallow, (2) forgiving debts and (3) liberating slaves. These things are revolutionary. Could you imagine the economic and political challenge of such a program?" asked Demond.
He said the jubilee people needed "to trust God, not our capacity to earn or work or be self sufficient;" "to be generous;" and to "confront the system" that "crushes the weak."
The Australian pastor said, "Jubilee people...take practical steps to address their complicity in the wrongs of society. They use fair-trade products, stand up against poverty, confront injustice with their own resources and seek to obey when Jesus confronts them."
Luke 4:18-19 was also the foundational text for the 2008 New Baptist Covenant Celebration.
For that event, EthicsDaily.com developed an undated, online, eight-lesson Bible study written by prominent North American Baptists to prepare goodwill Baptists for the Atlanta gathering.
Accompanying "The Agenda: 8 Lessons from Luke 4" was a Bible commentary from the School of Religion at Belmont University.
We invited EthicsDaily.com readers to memorize the 51 words in Luke 4:18-19. "If we memorize the text, we will know the message. If we know the message, we will know Jesus' agenda. If we know Jesus' agenda, we will know what ought to be our agenda. If we know what ought to be our agenda, we will know what we ought to prioritize," we said.
Three years later, the BWA prioritized the study of Luke 4.
Isn't it time for other goodwill Baptists to do the same? Why not include Bible study and sermons on Luke 4 in your church this fall?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Editor's note: To order "The Agenda: 8 Lessons from Luke 4," click here. To order the accompanying Leader Guide, click here. To order the Bible commentary, click here.