John 17:20-23 (NIV)
20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
I do not think it was an idol wish on the part of Jesus. I believe the scripture teaches the “body of Christ is one.” Paul certainly understood the church was one body.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NIV)
12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
The oneness of the body of Christ is a theological reality which church is seeking to live out each day. It seems incredible that Baptists, who profess to be a people of the Book, could so easily ignore its teachings. The Christian church is one under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Yet, our experience of the church is so fragmented and divided. I am not naïve about the difficulties of bringing the modern-day body of Christ together. In many respects we more closely resemble the warring religious parties of the New Testament era than we do the church Jesus Christ died to establish. However, surely a first step is to seek to build relationships within the “Baptist” portion of the Christian church.
This commitment is why our convention is a part of the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. But it is not enough to be brothers and sisters in name only. We must genuinely become one. We must love each other, serve each other, and serve our Lord together. We cannot possibly do that unless we know each other and begin to build genuine friendships and relationships. The Baptist Border Crossing is a call to the Baptist family across the Midwest to come together crossing all the borders and barriers which traditionally keep us apart—geographical, racial, denominational, economic, political, etc.
I believe the Baptist family and the larger Christian community is stronger when we collaborate and partner for the sake of the Kingdom. We miss a great deal when we isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not a simple thing to bring a diverse group of Baptists together for worship and discussion, and it is even more challenging to explore a meaningful ongoing relationships. I can appreciate the incredible challenge before us as we seek to explore what God is doing in this Baptist Movement in a way that engages and involves our denominations and organizations and yet avoids the dangers of attempting to institutionalize a movement.
Baptists need each other. We need to get over our biases and work through the racial and cultural differences that have often kept us apart. This does not mean we have to merge into a single body; however, it might mean that we eventually have fewer Baptist bodies. Most importantly, it means we find a way to work together for the sake of our churches and Christ’s kingdom. It means we humble ourselves enough to admit that we can learn from each other. I serve an organization made up of predominantly Anglo congregations. We could profit a great deal by a greater sense of collaboration and partnership with our African-American brothers and sisters. Black congregations often do a much better job of identifying with and engaging their communities. Many times they do a better job of empowering leaders for service, and many of us have come to understand the vitality and power in their worship is much more than can merely be attributed to the cultural differences expressed in worship styles. We have much to learn from our Black brothers and sisters. Our first step is to get to know each other.