Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Daniel Vestal, CBF, and the Missional Movement

This is a copy of an e-newsletter sent out by the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship - some reflections from Daniel Vestal on the relationship between "Baptist" and "Missional." I can't find this online - I'm sure it's on the CBF website somewhere (see links on the right), but I can't find it. (Updated 3/11 - the day after I post this, Churchworks sent out a link to the column. You can find it here to read it with appropriate formatting and everything.) I think there's some interesting stuff in it, so I'm posting it in its entirety. Feel free to comment - I'll probably have comments of my own at some point.

I couldn't get it to post with formatting included, so I've reformatted a bit to try and get it back to its original appearance. Hopefully I've avoided creating errors. If you'd like me to forward the original email to you, send me a note and I'll be happy to do so.

-Chris (what follows is from Daniel Vestal - as always, I don't necessarily endorse everything, I just think it's worth reading)

Being Missional and Being Baptist
By Daniel Vestal
March 5, 2008
As I interact with Baptist congregations, it is encouraging to see how many of them are seeking to define themselves as missional. Yet I often hear the question asked, "Does being missional have anything to do with being Baptist?" And the opposite question is asked, "Does being Baptist have anything to do with being missional?" The following reflections are an effort to explore the relationship between the two.

Being Missional

The word missional is a relatively new word in the Christian vocabulary. It is an adjective to describe a Christian or a church that discerns God’s mission and is discovering what it means to participate in that mission.

God is on a mission to transform the world through Jesus Christ. God’s mission is to create a global community of justice, peace and love. We are invited to participate in God’s mission by following Jesus Christ and being a continuation of Christ’s presence in the world. As individuals and as congregations we participate in God’s mission when we:
-depend upon the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit
-engage in spiritual formation and make disciples of others
-embrace a biblical world view by seeking and serving the Kingdom of God above all else
-think and act locally and globally with the least evangelized and most neglected
-embrace and serve those who are poor and who suffer
-practice authentic community and celebrate God’s blessings

Being Baptist

I have written a number of sermons and articles on what being a Baptist means to me, but in all honesty, being a Baptist doesn’t have a lot of meaning until one decides to become a part of a church. Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is a personal decision but it is never intended to be a private decision. We are meant to live in fellowship and unity with other Christians, encouraging one another, supporting one another, worshipping God together and serving Christ together. This community, this fellowship, this togetherness is what the New Testament calls the church.

But here’s the problem: What kind of church? What kind of Christian community is one to join and be joined to as a Christ-follower? It ought to be clear that there are many different kinds of churches where genuine followers of Christ come together for fellowship, worship and ministry. We need to be clear about this because I can remember a day when people would say, "My church is the only true church." Hopefully that day is over. But having said that, let’s ask the question again, "What kind of a community am I to join as a Christ-follower?"

Without giving a lengthy version of Baptist history or beliefs, let me offer a few statements that summarize this tradition called Baptist. It is a tradition that was birthed about 400 years ago and has resulted in thousands of churches being started.
-Baptists have believed that salvation is experienced by the grace of God as an individual freely and voluntarily trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. No one can trust Christ for someone else. No one can be a proxy for another’s faith and commitment. Neither can we coerce another person to trust Christ. It is always voluntary.
-Baptists have believed that after trusting Christ, one should publicly and freely confess faith in the waters of baptism. Baptism is a voluntary act of obedience to the command of Christ.
-Baptists have differed over the mode of baptism, although most have practiced immersion. But the important thing to say about baptism is that it is a public act of confession.
-Baptists have believed that every person who trusts in Christ is competent both to respond to God and represent God to others. Every believer is a priest who can go directly to God. Every believer is a minister who is gifted by the Holy Spirit and is called to use those gifts both in the church and the world to further Christ’s mission.
-Baptists have believed that the Scripture is the inspired Word of God and is authoritative for our faith and practice. However, Baptists have also believed that every person is free to read, interpret and apply the Scripture as the Holy Spirit leads them. This means that Baptists have resisted the use of human-made creeds to force conformity of belief. Their source of authority has been the Bible and not a human interpretation of the Bible.
-Baptists have believed that every church is autonomous and ought to be free of eccelastical control or government control. In a Baptist vision, there is no such thing as "the Baptist church." There are only Baptist churches and each church is free to determine its ministry, plan its worship and choose its leadership.
-Baptists have believed that just as churches ought to be free of government control, so government should be free from the control of churches. This means that Baptists have rejected a church state just as they have rejected a state church. They have argued for a free church in a free state.
-Baptists have believed that individual Christians and local churches should voluntarily work together for the sake of the Gospel. This is sometimes called the "associational principle" and it has resulted in many remarkable, collaborative ministries. Cooperation and voluntary connection is as much a part of Baptist history and identity as individual autonomy and freedom.

Being Missional and Being Baptist

Now what does all of this have to do with being missional, particularly in the 21st century – a century that is sometimes called post-denominational? There are many missional churches that are not Baptist, and of course there are Baptist churches that are not missional.
-In a missional church that is Baptist every person will be valued because each is a priest before the Lord and a minister of Christ. There are no "first-class" and "second-class" members. Distinction between "clergy" and "laity" is not that important or significant. The ordinances of baptism and The Lord’s Supper can be administered by any member of the congregation if the congregation so chooses.
-In a missional church that is Baptist there is no hierarchy of authority. Rather there is shared decision making and shared ministry. Baptists have varied in their history on the role of elders, pastors, deacons and other leadership. But in a Baptist vision there is equality and an egalitarian spirit that permeates the entire congregation.
-In a missional church that is Baptist the Scriptures will be central to its life and ministry. Because Scripture is authoritative, Bible study is important. Because Scripture is authoritative, Bible truth will be sought and applied more than the opinions or interpretations of other people.
-In a missional church that is Baptist differences of understanding and interpretation of Scripture will be respected. People will be valued even when they differ from one another. If we accept freedom of conscience and the priesthood of every believer, we must expect differences and learn to love one another across those differences. The church that has a strict/narrow spirit and communicates an attitude of "my way or the highway" is not true to a Baptist vision.
-In a missional church that is Baptist there will be voluntary cooperation with other Christians to fulfill Christ’s continuing mission. Although we believe in the priesthood of every believer and the autonomy of every church, that doesn’t mean that we act in isolation from other churches. Rather we cooperate in a spirit of mutual trust and respect. We realize that the needs of the world require cooperation and collaboration.

Can you imagine the transformation that would take place in the world if Baptist churches discerned God’s mission in the world and discovered their participation in it? It would be revolutionary. Can you also imagine the energy that would take place in Baptist churches if they discovered and interpreted the Baptist vision for the 21st century in missional terms? It would be revolutionary. In Cooperative Baptist Fellowship we are working and praying for such transformation and energy.

Daniel Vestal is executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, serving since 1996.

Copyright 2008 The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

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