In many ways local Baptist associations are struggling and even denominational life as it was known in previous generations is passing. Some predict that we live in a “post-denominational” age and others don’t seem to care much about even having the conversation. I personally still believe that we can do more together than we can individually. I believe in the power of cooperative efforts internationally, nationally, throughout the state, and most personally through local associations of likeminded churches. I offer these four primary benefits regarding the usefulness of a local Baptist association with the hope of seeing this most important cooperative relationship restored and enjoyed.
A local Baptist association should be...
RELATIONAL - We need each other. There is strength in numbers. The sheep who tries to run alone will be eaten by the wolves. These are truisms we preachers preach to our congregations but too often do not live ourselves. Jesus called His disciples to follow Him and He taught them to love one another as a group. They were not just known individually but also as “The Apostles”. Paul was supported by Barnabas, worked with Silas, traveled with Luke, depended upon Timothy. He dared not think that he could do ministry without accountability and support. The relationships that need to be built for lasting power in ministry most naturally occur locally. Paul was glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus because “they refreshed my spirit and yours.” (1 Cor. 16:17) I know we have social media, phones, Skype and other modes of communication but there will always be something especially refreshing about sitting face to face with brothers to pray and encourage. They need you and you need them. We all need each other.
CONFESSIONAL - Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” The answer is obvious and its implication clear. We need likemindedness to be most effective. It should be clear to all that confessional agreement does not mandate rigid conformity on every minute doctrinal matter but provides parameters which define who we are as Christians and distinctively as Baptists. There is the “no-creed-but-the-bible-crowd” who decries confessional accountability but they still offer explanations for what they believe, which is some sort of confession. Confessions of Christian belief are found in the New Testament, the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, and on down through the ages. The early Anabaptists unanimously endorsed the Schleithem Confession (1527). English Baptists made their contribution to confessional testimony (17th-18th centuries) and then in America our early Philadelphian brethren, the New Hampshire Confession (1833) and our own Southern Baptist statements (1925, 1963, 2000). It is only reasonable to expect confessional agreement in our cooperative relationships. It seems strange to me that anyone would expect this confessional agreement for extended ministry relationships but be willing to ignore it on the most intimate level of local association. B.H. Carroll once said, “The modern cry: "Less creed and more liberty," is a degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy. Definitive truth does not create heresy it only exposes and corrects. Shut off the creed and the Christian world would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but none the less deadly.”
RESOURCEFUL - As churches work together to reach their communities for Christ they should be able to network together and share resources with one another. 1 Cor. 16:1 mentions “the collection of the saints” that was collected for Paul’s journey to Jerusalem and the missionary efforts in which they shared. They also seem to prayerfully share with him in the “great and effective door” which has opened and has “many adversaries”. It may be something as simple as sharing some tables and chairs with a sister church for an outreach event or sending evangelism teams to help saturate a community or joining together in prayer, but we have more resources together than we do individually. In the day of mega and super sized churches (which do a great work) larger churches may not need to depend on others for ministry capital but they certainly have much to offer smaller churches. Smaller to medium size churches can harmoniously unite their gospel shining brightness for a more intense illumination. This opportunity to share with others in their efforts to lead people to Jesus most naturally takes place through local relationships and can effectively be coordinated by an association.
MISSIONAL - The Great Commission was not given to an individual or even a group individually. Jesus commissioned a group of disciples collectively to “go and make disciples”. They understood the urgency of their hour and once the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost they wasted no time in taking the gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth. We also are motivated by a great evangelistic emphasis. We want people to know Jesus, it drives much of what we do. But the disciples realized an interdependence among the churches that is mysteriously scant today. New churches were birthed out of missionary efforts that were supported by other churches and when there was conflict they depended upon each other for help. Local church autonomy was preserved but independent operation was not even a thought. They shared in sufferings and rejoiced in victories. 1 Cor. 16 describes Paul coordinating efforts of multiple churches and the strategic maneuvering of Timothy, Apollos, Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus, Aquila, and Priscilla for maximum gospel effectiveness. The DFW metroplex welcomed over 375,000 new residents in 2013. There are now over 300 languages spoken in our local area and the most ethnically diverse zip code in America is in west Irving. We need each other to start new churches and reach those who are lost. I recently read that David Uth said the only thing worse than being lost is to be lost and have nobody looking for you. Brothers, let us not be guilty of such tragedy. “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you (2nd person plural) you all.” (John 20:21)