Global Baptists worshipping together in Vancouver during the 2016 BWA annual gathering. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
The Baptist World Alliance should not be understood as merely a group of like-minded people sharing a common heritage called Baptist.
Nor should it simply be a space for networking by various autonomous entities that see real advantages derived from associating in this global Baptist organization.
The basic reason for this is that BWA is an ecclesial body. It is more than a voluntary aggregation of independent church groups.
As the framers of the original BWA constitution put it, BWA was formed to give expression to "the essential oneness in the Lord Christ Jesus, as their God and Saviour, of the Churches of the Baptist order and faith throughout the world."
Even if the wording of this important statement from the original BWA constitution has been altered, the original vision of BWA's purpose has not changed.
Secularizing trends and tendencies may suggest that this lofty goal is reducible
to the trite notion of BWA as a body that networks the Baptist world for Christ.
In the perspective of certain assumptions of post-modernism, the institutional dimensions of the Baptist movement's life can properly be pushed to one side to allow networking to flourish.
Yet, hardly is this an appropriate perspective for those who assert the supernatural dimensions of the church's existence.
That we are part of the "people of God," "the body of Christ" and the temple of the Holy Spirit is not an identity from which we can safely separate ourselves.
If we do, we will not remain an authentic community that is faithful to the One who called the church into being and provides for the church's ongoing vitality.
I wish to encourage Baptists around the world to recognize their common bonds in Christ and the common heritage that draws them together.
If we are able to discern in all who are united in BWA the hospitable spirit that welcomes other Baptists not yet participating in the fellowship, a common vision of the place of the church in God's plan for the salvation of the world and a common sharing in the ministry of Christ through the church, what a glorious future awaits us.
Baptists are also urged to recognize their common participation in a global family of Christ's faithful people that extends beyond our own narrow denominational borders.
We are a people in communion with God and in communion with other Christians to God's glory.
In this perspective, we are ready to abandon a hostile autonomy and an unjustifiable independence.
We gladly adopt a communitarianism that does not reject individuality, but restores it to the arms of the sacred community in which its interests are brought into dialogue with the common good and its God is the God of all.
Ours will be a great future if we remain constantly ready to listen and respond affirmatively to the guidance the Holy Spirit provides.
The future holds in store creative ideas that we will share with each other as we go forward on God's mission.
It will be marked by a joyful spirit of
mutual accountability that has no room for paternalism, imperialism or self-righteousness.
God works mightily through ecclesial movements that are formed for service in the name of the triune God and dedicated wholeheartedly to the glory of God.
Five hundred years after the Reformation, we have learned that the Holy Spirit does accomplish the work of renewing the living organism called the church, making it a vibrant body that is truly responsive to its given vocation.
We have also learned that our ways of applying the lessons we learn and the wisdom we gain can actually end up harming the very cause to which we have dedicated our lives. That is why we pray perpetually, "Come, Holy Spirit, we need you."
And we pray and work for the day when all God's people shall discover the unity that God has given us and, through the prism of that unity, discern our mission in the world in which we still affirm "one Lord, one faith and one baptism."
Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana, in 2007. He is retiring at the end of 2017. A version of this article first appeared in the October-December 2017 edition of Baptist World magazine - a publication of the BWA. You can follow BWA on Twitter @TheBWA.