We hear a lot about "dysfunctional families" today, but I have come to the conclusion that most families fit the description. In fact, most of the family stories we have in the Bible are about troubled families beginning with Adam and Eve and their sons and going on to Abraham and his sons, David and Absalom, Hosea and Gomer, and innumerable other families. In our own families, we live with the consequences of perceived favoritism, unwise choices, and "the roads not taken." Even so, we try to get the family together for special occasions and holidays to break bread together and celebrate our common heritage.
When I consider our Baptist family, I see a lot of dysfunction. As Bill Leonard has said, Baptists were conceived in such a way that conflict is assured! The slavery issue was a key conflict that resulted in the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 and created a major division in the Baptist family in our country. In recent days, the SBC controversy has led to strained relationships among Baptists in the south as we seek to clarify our identity and maintain our integrity while often cooperating with one another in local congregations.
Some may say, "Why do we even bother to try to work together as Baptists? Let's just do 'our thing' in the local church and forget everything else." The reason is that the New Testament testifies to cooperation between local bodies of believers. Cooperation is biblical! The desire to cooperate and work with others is built into the Baptist DNA (as much as we may try to ignore it).
Later this month, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the American Baptist Churches USA will convene their national meetings in Washington, DC, and will hold one joint worship service and share in some auxiliary events. This is not a move toward consolidation, but it is an opportunity to celebrate both our commonalities and differences. It is a time to "break bread" with our brothers and sisters in the ABC tradition.
Early in 2008, a number of Baptists from various parts of the family will join in Atlanta to celebrate the "New Baptist Covenant." Here again, the goal is not unification but unity around common concerns and promoting a positive Baptist witness.
What Baptists need in the 21st century is not union but opportunities for fellowship, dialogue, and mutual service. We need to be able to sit down around the family table, acknowledging that we have hurt one another and even been estranged at times, but we are still part of the family. Anytime we can do that, it is a good thing.