“Before there was Creation, there was Community” --- God’s triune nature as God the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit shows at His very core of cores He has always existed as a community. We are created in His image and therefore He has made us to desire community biologically, socially, and spiritually. This is at the heart of the Great Commandment (Mt. 22.37-40) and the Great Commission (Mt. 28.18-20) where we are to love God, love His people, and add to their numbers by making disciples. I believe the Word of God’s multiple references to “one another” teaches us one of our strongest witnesses is when we exhibit that harmonious community (John 13.34-35; John 17.21).We are created to relate to each other in a manner that will honor God and reflect His nature (which is community).
I am a big fan of associational life where we voluntarily cooperate and collaborate with each other to establish and emulate this holy community. This was illustrated in the recent Disaster/Send Relief mission trip as several churches banded together to support eleven of us from Mt. State. We joined teams from around the country, and ministered together in the towns and villages of Puerto Rico in partnership with the North American Mission Board. It was further illustrated by the fellowship & training our pastors and wives recently experienced at Pipestem State Park during our annual retreat. In light of this, consider two terms often used synonymously that actually have different usages in our associational churches and our surrounding areas----“independent” & “autonomous.” In church life not all that is independent is autonomous and not all that is autonomous is independent. Scratching your head? Let’s unpack that last statement. “Autonomous” emphasizes self-governance; the directions/decisions of a congregation are made by the members and them alone. “Independence” is the state of not being dependent on another. SBC churches alone determine their directions and decisions (autonomous), but voluntarily choose the level they wish to cooperate together. We are interdependent, not surrendering autonomy but entering into a voluntary, covenantal relationship with other churches that is synergistically beneficial. (Synergy occurs when two separate entities pull together. They haul more combined than individually and/or haul it for longer periods of time). Independent churches are often more interested remaining apart from everyone else (“we’re not dependent on anyone or anything”) than in being more effective in ministry by partnership with others.
Sometimes this hinges on one’s concept of the family of God. Family to white suburbia usually means parents and immediate children (and that is rapidly morphing in our degenerating society); in many other cultures family is an extended grouping of uncles, cousins---multiple generations living either under one roof or in close proximity. An overly localized version of this in church life exists when a church has one or two blood lines of related members and is mistaken for the true family of God and all others “not exactly like them” are excluded or not counted as family. This trivializes and miniaturizes God. Jesus’ ministry was largely built around enlarging the frame of reference as to what constituted God’s family (see his first sermon in Luke 4), that those not against us are for us (Mk. 9.40, Lk. 9.50). Paul continued this thought in passages such as Gal. 3.28 and Col. 3.11.
The preamble of our MSBA constitution speaks of the necessity for cooperation, fellowship, missions, education, Christian service, and the preaching of the Gospel---together. I pray our association will not major on who we’re NOT and rather major on WHOSE we are. We are Mt. St. Bapt. Assoc. and our stated purpose is “to counsel together for the enlargement and strengthening of God’s Kingdom and to promote unity and growth among the Churches who compose it.” Let us complement each other’s strengths, cover for each other’s weaknesses, and covenant together to advance our Lord Jesus’ Kingdom.