Baptists hold to voluntary cooperation with others for the proclamation of a common Message and the fulfillment of a common Mission. Their message is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and, in a more comprehensive way, the Christian Faith or, as Jude 3 states, “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
Their mission is the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ and all that this mission entails. They have cooperated to more faithfully and effectively accomplish these ends, to an extent that would not have been possible acting as individual congregations. Others have rightly referred to this cooperation as “Stewards of a Larger Work.”
The Baptist Faith and Message has described this broader shared mission as “the great objects of the Kingdom of God.” (Article XIV) While Baptists have always held this cooperation to be voluntary, their confessions make it evident that they have always considered it to be necessary. It can hardly be overstated how necessary this is today.
Baptist churches cooperate with others on at least two levels. First, they cooperate in certain Kingdom ministries with other Christians who are not Baptists. For example, serving with others in a city-wide Billy Graham Crusade, or joining together with other Christians in speaking to and supporting moral issues, such as the sanctity of human life, religious liberty and biblical marriage, or in certain compassionate ministries.
However, cooperation must be accomplished so that there is “no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.” (BF&M Article XIV) Secondly, they cooperate with their fellow Baptists, more particularly Southern Baptists, to carry out their common mission.
Baptists find New Testament reasons to accomplish their essential Christian and Biblical ministries by uniting together voluntarily, organizationally and financially, all achieved cooperatively. These ministries are facilitated with and for local churches, through their associations, conventions (both state and national) and agencies, particularly missions agencies, such as the International Mission Board (IMB) and the North American Mission Board. These ministries include training and equipping the church for its ministries, the preparation of leaders, which would include Baptist Collegiate Ministries, colleges, universities and seminaries, among others.
Of special mention for all of us who are Oklahoma Baptists is the indescribable impact of Falls Creek, the largest Christian youth camp in the world. How have Baptists been successful in accomplishing all of these ministries?
The Cooperative Program has been the biblical and organizational approach for cooperative Kingdom ministry by local Southern Baptist churches for nearly a century. Even the smallest churches have joined together with other Southern Baptist churches to have a global and Kingdom impact. We have yet to find its equal.
Let me conclude with a brief personal testimony. I was a new Christian when I completed my active duty service in the U.S. Army and came to Oklahoma to attend Law School. At that school, I was invited to the Baptist Student Union (now BCM) and while there, to a local Oklahoma City Southern Baptist church. At that church I met my future wife (Amen!), was baptized, discipled and later licensed to the gospel ministry. Our family was called to missionary ministry at a local Southern Baptist church, attended a Southern Baptist seminary in preparation for service and served as missionaries with the IMB for nearly 13 years.
We also have served planting Hispanic churches through NAMB. I served on our Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma staff, completed a Ph.D. at the same seminary I first attended, and accepted a position as a leader and faculty member at one of our seminaries. I later accepted a faculty position at one of our colleges and another SBC seminary.
From there I accepted a calling to my present position at Oklahoma Baptist University. During those years, two of our three sons were called to vocational Christian ministry at Falls Creek, they were educated at Baptist colleges and universities and now seminaries, and are serving in Oklahoma in pastoral, worship and local church ministry. One of them even served as a collegiate minister here in Oklahoma!
My wife completed a master’s degree at one of our seminaries to equip herself for greater ministry. One of the churches we were a part of planting together with the IMB in Guatemala City has grown to become one of Baptists’ most significant churches in its region. That church sent one of its leaders to be a missionary in Oklahoma City to pastor an Hispanic church that I had helped plant a number of years before. The church that helped start this Hispanic church is the very same church where I met my wife and became a Southern Baptist (more than 30 years ago).
Every part of my family’s Christian service has been facilitated by local Southern Baptist churches serving together through the Cooperative Program. Today, we are privileged to continue that service joining together in “cooperation” with fellow Southern Baptists in proclaiming a common Message and fulfilling a common Mission, through the Cooperative Program.