When Churches Appreciate Their Unity in Diversity
Baptists are a "people of the book." That book, of course, is the Bible.
Through the years, however, Baptists have had blind spots when it comes to what exactly the Scripture says to us.
The Bible is an extremely popular subject; the book remains the best-seller among all books.
Despite its popularity, there remains disagreement over its teaching and meaning. Sometimes the differences about the Bible can become so great that people become violent and combative over it.
A man walked into our building for the first time on a recent Sunday morning. After talking with several members, he was pointed in my direction.
His first words to me were, "Do you all have elders?"
I thought for a moment. We do have a sizeable contingent of people who are 70 years old and older, but I didn't think that was what he was talking about.
"We don't have elders," I told him. "We have deacons and a pastor." I felt pretty good about this configuration from 1 Timothy 3.
"Well, who makes sure the pastor doesn't get out of hand?" he asked. This was obviously a man who didn't know about the people in our church.
"The pastor is accountable to the congregation and the Lord, ultimately," I said.
"How can this be a biblical church without elders?" he replied.
We went back and forth a few moments while he grew more and more frustrated. As he walked out of our building, I could hear him say aloud, "This isn't a biblical church."
I felt sorry for this man. He didn't ask about our approach to missions or our view of Jesus Christ.
There were so many weightier matters upon which we could have found common ground. Sadly, I didn't sense any love, joy or peace when he verbally assaulted me.
This article isn't about elders. Some churches have them; others don't. But having elders doesn't make you "more or less biblical" than those churches that don't.
As a pastor, I deal with all kinds of views about the Bible. I am especially mindful of how the Bible can be publicized for political purposes.
Last year, the state of Tennessee attempted to pass a bill that would make the Bible the official state book. It would have given the Bible the same status as the Mockingbird and Iris - the state bird and state flower of Tennessee.
The governor, Bill Haslam, vetoed the bill, saying such action "trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text."
He added, "Our founders recognized that when the church and state were combined, it was the church that suffered in the long run."
It's important to note that several multimillion dollar Bible publishers are located in Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Gideons International and United Methodists Publishing House.
It's ironic that so much attention is given to elevating the status of this book while so little attention is given to its contents.
The topic most mentioned in the Bible is God, of course. Second to that, however, is treatment of the poor. The Bible references the poor, widows and destitute many, many times.
And Jesus talked more about the Kingdom of God than any other subject. His second most mentioned subject? Money and material things.
It's a beautiful reality: We don't have to have the same view on all issues, yet we can sit in the same pews and worship the same God.
Sadly, this is not the case in all churches. Sometimes there is a political or theological litmus test to pass in order to remain in fellowship with each other.
I'm grateful our church is part of a larger Baptist family who continues to embrace historic Baptist distinctives like "the priesthood of the believer."
I hope that we will always appreciate our unity in diversity when it comes to differences of opinion. Doing so doesn't make us "less biblical" than others.
The early church confession was "Jesus is Lord." I think that still works pretty well today.
Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ChisholmDanny.