Baptists have many distinctives. For example, we hold to certain doctrinal distinctives. The very name “Baptist” comes from the uncompromised belief that the New Testament teaches baptism by immersion as the only true method of baptism. Another distinctive is the belief in the proper place of the local church in relationship to the denomination. This distinctive refers to the polity of Baptist life.
A hallmark of Southern Baptists has always been a firm belief that the local church is the most important and most fundamental institution. This belief is anchored in the teaching of the New Testament. Southern Baptists believe it is the local church that is responsible for evangelism, discipleship and missions.
The historic position has been that the local church gives direction to the denomination and her entities, not the other way around. For example, the constitution of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) clearly states that the convention “will have no ecclesiastical authority over the churches.” There are no bishops or popes who give direction to local pastors or churches. Leaders among the churches have influence earned by trustworthy service, not authority.
Throughout history, Baptists determined that our ability to impact the world near and far was better served through cooperation among the churches than through independent non-affiliation with one another. Associations and conventions were formed to give greater ability to accomplish Kingdom ministry than was possible by one church alone.
In some ways, cooperation requires a certain level of submission of autonomy for the good of the whole. When Oklahoma Baptists come together for ministry, the shape of that ministry reflects a cooperative vision and not that of one church. The convention ministry is only as strong as the cooperative vision of the churches and their dedication to see that vision fulfilled.
Everything that is done on a convention level finds its ground in cooperation. This cooperation results in the exponential extension of the local church and its ministries to accomplish remarkable things not possible alone.
As the convention meets this week for the annual meeting, messengers from BGCO churches will celebrate the spoils of victory through cooperation. We will hear of the mighty things God has done in multiple arenas of service and ministry.
Cooperation is not a perfect system. Certain things might be done differently if decisions were made personally, but the beauty of a cooperative spirit is the desire to serve the common good. Do not misunderstand; Baptists do not hold to a mindset of cooperation at any cost. We are willing to find middle ground regarding personal preference in methodology to see a greater good accomplished. We are unwilling to compromise clear teaching of Scripture to maintain cooperation.
I am thankful Oklahoma Baptists have maintained a cooperative spirit through the challenges of denominational disruptions, financial stresses and personality-driven fractures. I am also thankful that the truth of the Scripture has not been compromised. It is good to be an Oklahoma Baptist.