Following is another in a series of columns on The Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
Southern Baptists realize the limitations of their own local-church resources and understand that joining hands with other like-minded churches enables them to accomplish more together than they ever could alone.
Article XIV of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:
“Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”
Southern Baptists cling tenaciously to the doctrines of the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church. At the same time, they embrace the Baptist distinctive of voluntary cooperation. As Herschel Hobbs puts it, “Baptists are an independent but cooperating people.”
Members of local Southern Baptist churches work together for the sake of the gospel in their communities. They also realize the limitations of their resources and understand that joining hands with other like-minded churches enables them to accomplish more together than they ever could alone.
This idea of voluntary cooperation is rooted both in Scripture and Baptist tradition. Perhaps the earliest New Testament example is the Jerusalem council in A.D. 49, which was convened to address doctrinal purity (Acts 15; Gal. 2). Representatives of the churches in Antioch and Jerusalem met voluntarily to discuss the Judaizer controversy. They respected each other’s autonomy while reaching an agreement that preserved both unity in fellowship and the doctrinal conviction of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Another example is the apostle Paul’s plea to the churches of Macedonia and Greece to gather funds for the relief of suffering Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 8-9). This was a voluntary offering. And though the Macedonians themselves faced economic distress, they “begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4).