|GREENSBORO, N.C. -- How can Baptists maintain an effective witness into their fifth century of existence? More than 400 participants gathered at First Baptist Church Feb. 9 to mark the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement and to anticipate what the fifth century of Baptist life might hold.
Sponsored by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC), the “Convocation for a New Baptist Century” drew guests and CBFNC ministry partners from across the state and as far away as Texas and Washington, D.C.
CBFNC coordinator Larry Hovis said that if Baptists in the next century are to be faithful, they must preserve and live by bedrock Baptist principles, pursue the mission of God, and work together in missional collaboration.
Hovis highlighted the traditional Baptist hallmarks of believing in the Lordship of Christ, trusting the Scriptures as authoritative, recognizing that every believer is a priest before God, appreciating the autonomy of the local church, promoting religious liberty, and intentionally cooperating with others.
In pursuing the mission of God, Cooperative Baptists must recognize their need for one another, Hovis said, and “provide an authentic Baptist community where we can celebrate our oneness and respect our differences.”
Past programs of cooperation among Baptists have focused on funding from the churches and governance of funded institutions by the denomination, Hovis said. He pledged that CBFNC, in contrast, will facilitate mutual collaboration based on conversations between representatives of the churches, the supported ministries, and CBFNC leadership.
Entering the new century, he said, CBFNC is ready to serve as a “robust catalyst” to assist collaborative partners “as we pursue God’s mission together.”
Earlier in the day, Baptist historian Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School, presented a paper addressing “The New Baptist Century in Historical Context,” and responded to questions in a time of lively discussion.
In a closing message, Mike Queen, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilmington, said Baptists are “tribal people.” Christians have divided themselves into many tribes, he said, and Baptists have developed tribes of their own, but “that’s how it’s always been in the Kingdom of God.
Queen noted how Moses instructed the Israelites to encamp by tribes surrounding the tabernacle, each flying its distinctive banner. Thus, “both unity and uniqueness were celebrated” in the peoples’ “corporate identity as children of Israel and particular identity as members of their tribes.”
As a former president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) General Board, Queen was a tireless advocate for unity within the BSCNC during the 1990s, an effort that ultimately ran aground in the rising conservative tide that now dominates the state convention. During the same period, CBFNC emerged as an alternative nexus of cooperation and fellowship for those who felt disenchanted with or disenfranchised by the BSCNC.
“I spent a long time chasing the wrong things in Baptist life the past 25 years,” Queen told the congregation. “CBF of North Carolina is my tribe in the Baptist nation,” he said, “but it is not a denomination to be won: it’s all about mission and freedom.”
“It’s exciting to be a part of something that is still new and filled with hope we can scarcely imagine,” Queen said. That hope can be found in Jesus alone and calls for vigilant focus, he said, for “When you fall in love with an institution, you may lose the ability to follow Jesus.”
“The easy part of our faith is to believe,” Queen concluded. “The following part gets hard: that’s where we need one another.”
In a key component of the convocation, representatives from 23 organizations recognized as CBFNC ministry partners joined CBFNC leaders and the congregation in a litany of common mission and mutual support.
A choir composed of students from North Carolina Baptist colleges led participants in worship, concluding with a rousing choral benediction that brought participants to their feet.
Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today, where he blogs.