A long-time family friend e-mailed me recently. We had talked a few months ago about a matter in his local church rising to the level of denominational point of contention. Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, OK made public a lengthy study into the relationship between church membership and baptism. Our state baptist paper waded into the discussion with a "special edition" – albeit a bit one-sided in the scope of its articles. I have been made aware this may in part be attributed to few who would write representing what appeared to be the church’s leaning. The local association of which HHBC is a part took a step to clarify its understanding of the matter. Since that time all has been quiet until last week.
The Elders of HHBC released a "Statement of Closure." Church polity remains the purview of a local congregation among Baptists. The community of faith that is HHBC trusts its leadership to its elders. This is an agreement of the community. It is a commitment. All communities, real communities, form around commitments. Agreement to these commitments may come in the form of taking up residence in a given local geo-political communnity – a town like Tuttle or Edmond. These commitments are both voluntary and involuntary. Since we do not move into a community under coercion – at least not in normal circumstances – the commitment to a community is voluntary. Once in the city limits of a given community, the new resident takes up the commitment to community and experiences the ethos of that community in which it now participates and may be involuntary. For example, if a community to which one moves is mono-cultural then the new resident involuntarily lives under the ethos of that culture. It may be the person grew up in a multi-cultural urban center. His or her sensibilities prefer a diverse culture. However, now living in a mono-cultural community these sensibilities must be managed.
Reading an article Nathan recently pointed me to describes something of the resulting commitments made to community. Central to the development of community lie commitments to that community. In a recent ETREK conference call Dallas Willard noted the commitment to the people of his church held his interest to continue participation. He acknowledged he could well find another church with which he might find greater agreement but he was called to the people with whom he continues to learn to be a lover of God. In The Missional Church the writers quote David Lowes Watson, "we find narcissism … and individualism … masquerading as personal salvation and religious experience , … as privatized soteriology and spiritualized discipleship, … leaving the principalities and powers of the present world unchallenged." When our commitment is to ourselves we may well think we look for community and the greater good, but what we really look for is a therapeutic community in which we look to have not only our beliefs ratified but a place to continually be reminded we made the right decision at some point in time.
Eventually we face conflict. We all face the discomfort differently. We know the idiom, "Fight or flight." These polar opposites tend to undermine a third way – conversation. I am glad for the illustration of Henderson Hills. I am not naive enough to believe some people did not leave when the matter surfaced publicly. It appears however that after thoughtful discussion and prayer the community found strength in its commitments to one another through the conflict so that in the "Statement of Closure" it could be noted,
2. This difference of opinion does not indicate ill will, hostility, or a division among council members. It is simply different ways of looking at aspects of the subject of baptism.
3. We do not foresee a consensus of understanding on this subject. Therefore, barring an unexpected and obvious divine intervention, this matter must be dismissed in order for the council and church to move on with helping people improve their relationship with God and each other.
Those who remained illustrated a commitment to one another. The matter is larger than any one individual’s opinion. Our greater allegiance is to the mission of God – bringing the realities of the Kingdom to bear in our communities and social environs in ways a the principalities and powers of the world may be challenged. When our ethics follow the virtues of the Kingdom the look, feel and experience of our relationships illustrate life under the rule and reign of God; a way of life calling others to join in the Kingdom of God.
Gerald, thanks for the e-mail. Henderson Hills we needed the healthy illustration of commitment and conflict in the church for the glory of God and the blessing of the world.