"And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8).
Paul's example of meeting with people who were different than he was seems to me to be an example of wisdom that might be applied, as well as a behavior that could be imitated, by those of us in the Southern Baptist Convention. When Paul met with the Jews of his day in their synogogue, it did not mean he accepted what they said, nor that they necessarily approved of what he said. Paul's presence, however, did present an opportunity for the Jews to hear the truth about Jesus being the Messiah.
The objections to any Southern Baptist participating in the Celebration of the New Covenant Baptist next January in Atlanta, Georgia, seem to be based upon five various forms of reasoning:
(1). The Celebration is simply a veiled attempt to rally Christians to vote Democratic just a week before the actual Democratic primaries.
A Response: It has been said repeatedly and consistently, by every Celebration leader so far, that the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant is intentionally and conscientiously seeking to transcend politics and avoid anything that would be controversial in the political arena - whether it be Democratic or Republican. A person either has to believe the organizers, or choose to disbelieve them. Paul gives the imperative in I Corinthians 13 that Christians are to believe all things said by other Christians until they happen to be proven wrong. I have displayed a willingness to gently but firmly point out when someone does not follow through with their word, and I'm sure others would do so as well if required, but it seems a tad premature to chastise the leaders of this Celebration before they have even had the opportunity to prove the reliability of their word by making the conversation and fellowship at the Celebration revolve around Jesus Christ.
(2). The organizers of this Celebration do not believe the same gospel as Southern Baptists.
A Response: In essence, this argument requires the person making it to allege that the organizers and participants are not Christian. I will not - yes, I cannot - even begin to go there.
(3). The participants and organizers are affiliated with the Baptist World Alliance, a liberal Baptist organization and participation would be an affirmation of liberalism.
A Response: Those of us who are conservative in our theology are not affirming 'liberal' theology if we happen to attend. Rather, we - like the Apostle Paul in Acts 19:8 - are simply showing a desire to dialogue about the kingdom. If there are Baptists at the Celebration who are neo-orthodox or flat out liberals (some would not say 'if' but 'since'), then maybe my conservative, evangelical friends, through conversation and dialogue, will show those Baptist liberals a better way. If we keep pulling out from fellowship with everyone that is more 'liberal' than us, then maybe we ought to keep our mouths shut about such convocations being 'liberal.' What do you expect? There are no gracious conservatives present to balance out the 'liberalism.'
(4). Jimmy Carter, the primary organizer is a universalist and inclusivist theologically, and has said some very intemperate things recently about President Bush. Attending the Celebration is to accept Carter's theological and political views.
A Response: To say Jimmy Carter is a universalist or inclusivist is proclaiming something directly opposite of what President Carter says about himself. Further, even if Carter actually believed those things, does the presence of thousands of other Baptists at the Celebration, many of whom are more conservative theologically than even Southern Baptists, mean they all believe the same way as Carter? The Jews in Paul's day (Paul himself being a Jew), did not believe in Jesus the Messiah. Paul's appearance in the Jewish synagogue did not mean Paul himself denied the Trinity. Likewise, like the presence of someone in the SBC at the Celebration would not make that person a universalist and inclusivist.
(5). Southern Baptists have nothing in common with the Baptists who will be gathering and should not seek to build relationships with those Baptists or begin a new work with Baptists who are not like Southern Baptists.
A Response: Again, it has been both publicly and privately stated by the organizers of the Celebration that there is no desire to begin a 'new' denomination or a 'new' missions organization. The purpose is to simply fellowship, dialogue and network among the autonomous Baptist churches and Baptist agencies that will be present at the Celebration. For Southern Baptists to stay away from what could very well be the largest African American and Caucasian Baptist convocation since prior to the Civil War does not send out a very good message to the world at large.
It would seem to me, in following the example of the Apostle Paul, that the Southern Baptist and Christian response to the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant should be both gracious and kind, and if called by God to do so, participatory. In no form or fashion should we treat with animosity and hatred those Baptists who attend the Celebration. We owe our very enemies love, and I know enough about the Baptists of all stripes who will be attending the Celebration to know there is no reason for me to despise or hate any of them, or denigrate them.
In fact, like the Apostle Paul, we should . . .
(1) Pray for those various groups of Baptists who will attend the Celebration,
(2) Present our particular views of the truths of scripture when the opportunity arises,
(3) Preserve as much as possible a civility between everyone involved, and
(4) Resist being controlled by the fear of what someone will think, say, or infer from our faithfulness in relating to all people in love, even those with whom we might disagree in some fashion.
In His Grace,