WHAT WE BELIEVE – COOPERATION
First Corinthians 12 tells us that the church is like a human body. Each one of us is one body made up of all kinds of different, unique parts that function together, with unfathomable harmony and interdependence. Whether those different parts are prominent or obscure, strong or weak, they are all necessary, and they all depend upon the others. So it is with the body of Christ, the church.
The church is one, yet with many members. All the members are necessary, and each member depends on the other members. The church as a whole requires harmony and interdependence between its members to work like it should, often in ways we don’t always see. This is true of individual churches, and it is true of the church as a whole.
To live this out, as Baptists we recognize two principles that work together. First is what we call the autonomy of the local church, which means that every church is its own body, directly accountable to Jesus Christ as its head. Second is what we call cooperation, which means that we recognize that as believers and churches we share a common salvation and are called to common purposes that can best be accomplished by working together.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states this concerning our understanding of cooperation: “Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner.
“Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”
Cooperation is not merely an administrative idea carried over from the business world. Cooperation doesn’t emerge from politics, sociology, or sentimentalism. This concept is biblical (e.g., Acts 15; Gal 2; 1 Cor 16:1; 2 Cor 8-9). It is also deeply rooted in the Baptist tradition. The very first Baptist churches in London organized themselves into an association, and associations formed very early on in the United States (Philadelphia in 1742, Sandy Creek in South Carolina in 1758).
Cooperation is necessary because as Baptists we believe in congregational church government. This means that the primary biblical understanding of the church is of a local body of baptized believers under Jesus Christ. Yet we understand that just as Christians are not merely individual believers, disconnected from the body of Christ, individual Baptist churches are called to cooperate with other congregations for gospel purposes. Because cooperation is not established by hierarchical structures that can command it, it is voluntary. Churches that share a common commitment, convictions, and values voluntarily associate themselves together in order to do together what cannot be accomplished alone.
What we do together is for the sake of accomplishing gospel purposes. As individuals and as churches, we combine our efforts in missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries. All this is done in the name of Christ for the extension of his kingdom. This type of cooperation is grounded in a shared understanding of the faith, based on a shared understanding of the gospel (cf. John 17:14-24). As Southern Baptists, our primary vehicle for cooperation with other like-minded churches is the Cooperative Program. When we give to the Cooperative Program, we join with thousands upon thousands of other churches to advance the cause of Christ at the state, national, and international levels.
Praise God for how he works to accomplish his purposes in us and through us, and praise God that we are able to join together to do what we could never do on our own!