The New Baptist Covenant gathering in Atlanta exceeded all my expectations, and I hope it marks the beginning of a new day for Baptists in North America.
I confess I drove to Atlanta in “observer mode.” My inner cynic was alive and well. Something unexpected happened. Starting with the first worship service and continuing until the final benediction, I was swept off my feet, drawn into the experience in a deeply personal way. My cynicism washed away. In its place, the Spirit of God took hold of my mind and heart. God brought life to my dry bones.
God used several factors to bring this to pass. My heart started to melt when I saw Afro-American, Anglo, Hispanic and Asian Baptist Christians gathered in one place for worship. Great preaching followed, preaching that demanded we take Jesus seriously, especially with regard to his own mission statement as found in Luke 4: 18-19. Jesus occupied center stage throughout the worship services.
Each speaker was a person of power, an acknowledged leader, articulate, capable of moving men and women to action. Yet I sensed each of them, lay and clergy, made a conscious effort to place the interests of Christ before any personal agenda. That’s not easy to do. Their actions demonstrated it is possible for Christians of various backgrounds and agendas to worship and serve alongside each other, provided all are willing to treat Jesus as Lord of All.
As I left Atlanta for the long drive home, I pondered what might come next. For what it might be worth, I suggest the following actions be taken.
(1) Plan to meet again, perhaps every two to three years. There is no substitute for spending time together in worship and fellowship. Such gatherings model the possibilities for the Body of Christ.
(2) Create a simple mechanism through which congregations might partner with other congregations across denominational lines to engage in Luke 4 ministries. In fact, title the mechanism: “Luke 4 Ministries.” This will keep Luke 4 central to the movement. It will also help congregations and individuals get to know one another and foster the development of meaningful relationships.
(3) Embrace and celebrate our historical diversity. We share one confession: “Jesus is Lord.” We share one experience: a personal relationship with Christ, who has saved us by grace through faith. Otherwise, we come from varied traditions with regard to worship, church governance, denominational structures, cultural expectations and the like. Enjoy our differences, but seek unity only in our shared commitment to Jesus and his mission.
The New Baptist Covenant holds the potential to transform the witness and work of Baptists. I am ready to invest myself to help make it so.
Mike Smith is pastor at First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn. This column appeared previously as his personal blog.