The Southern Baptist Catholic Church?
I admit it, I can be a selfish Christian and I am constantly discovering just how deep the selfishness runs.
I like to win. I like my team to win. I like to have things my way. I want people to believe like me, act like me, etc. Now wanting people to be like me isn’t always bad since I ought to be able to say with the apostle Paul, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) But I can be very self-centered and self-glorifying – just like you.
I think our churches and denominations get this way too and it can often sound very spiritual. Here’s a tweet from Baptist Press: “@baptistpress: Less than 5,000 SBC missionaries are trying to reach 6.8 billion people. Accept the 1% Challenge.” This is an admirable challenge tweet. We can and must do more to reach the Christ-less nations. But inadvertently it suggests that Southern Baptists have the sole responsibility to evangelize the world. It sounds like this: “If Southern Baptists won’t do it, who will?” The answer is that a lot of other people who are on our team who are doing it and will do it. We aren’t the only group of Christians who are trying to reach the nations.
This troubling paradigm is not new. Richard Baxter (1615-1691) wrote: “It is a great and a common sin throughout the Christian world, to take up religion in a way of faction; and instead of a love and tender care for the universal Church, to confine that love and respect to a party.” (The Universal Church is: “The true church of Christ in all times and all places.”)
Of the multitude that say they are of the catholic Church (Not necessarily the Roman Catholic Church, but rather a person who belongs to the universal Christian church as defined above), it is rare to meet with men of a catholic spirit. Men have not a universal consideration of, and respect to, the whole Church, but look upon their own party as if it were the whole. If there be some called Lutherans, some Calvinists, some subordinate divisions among these, and so of other parties among us, most of them will pray hard for the prosperity of their party, and rejoice and give thanks when it goes well with them; but if any other party suffer, they little regard it, as if it were not loss to all the Church. If it be the smallest parcel that possesseth not many nations, no, nor cities on earth, they are ready to carry it, as if they were the whole Church, and as if it went well with the Church when it goes well with them. We cry down the Pope as Antichrist, for including the Church in the Romish pale, and no doubt but it is abominable schism: but, alas! And as the Papists foist the word Roman into their creed, and turn the catholic Church into the Roman Catholic church, as if there were no other catholics, and the church were of no larger extent, so is it with many others to their several parties. Some will have it to be the Lutheran catholic church, and some the Reformed catholic church; some the Anabaptist catholic church, and so of some others. The peace of their party they take for the peace of the Church.
Of course we should be careful who we associate with. Of course we should avoid people, local churches and denominations who teach a gospel that really is no gospel at all (Galatians 1:8-9). Just because someone says they are a church doesn’t mean they are biblically a church. Just because someone says they are Christian, doesn’t make them a Christian. We must use biblical and Spirit-led discernment. Additionally, we can’t practically and visibly partner with everyone, though by the unity of the Spirit we are unified and partners with everyone who is in Christ and is a member of the universal Church.
Neither am I down on being a Southern Baptist, though at times I wonder why we are doing what we are doing. We say and do some unhelpful stuff – but who doesn’t? I was born and raised a Southern Baptist and I have chosen to be a pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. I’m thankful in Christ that we are biblical and mission-driven partnership of people – at least that’s what we profess. But our party isn’t the only party that is getting the mission of God done in the world. In some cases, others are doing it better and with more success. We should be thankful about their success too.
What we must not do is intentionally or unintentionally act like we are the only authentic and mission-minded “party” in the world. We are not. I might not agree with everything other Christians or local churches are doing, and I might, out of biblical conviction, choose not to associate with certain churches and so-called Christians, but if they are in Christ then I am unified to them by one Spirit (Ephesians 4:3-4), and I should want them to succeed and they should want for me to succeed in living for the praise of the glory of Christ in the world. After all, we are Jesus’ church. Or are we?