DALLAS—Living into “oneness instead of sameness” can be challenging, Jerusha Neal, assistant professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School, told the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship general assembly.
“There’s all kinds of unanswered questions,” she acknowledged. “I mean, how can you form disciples without some conformity, right? How do you make safe spaces for people and still make space for diverse perspectives? How do you honor global church connections and prioritize local autonomy at the same time? These are hard questions.”
The burden of these questions could be alleviated by remembering and living into distinct Baptist principles—freedom of conscience, the ministry of every believer, God’s decision to include his people in the world’s renewal, and the living Word that finds, claims and renews Christ’s followers through Scripture, she said.
Neal challenged the CBF to live out these values in support for the church starters, chaplains, pastoral counselors and field personnel commissioned later at the general assembly.
“They are leaving behind the security of their sameness and they are stepping out in faith into a oneness that is hoped for, but not yet seen,” she said.
The Apostle Paul describes that oneness in Galatians 3:28, where he wrote, “There is no Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” she observed, adding it is the kind of oneness that holds the church together even in its differences.
“For Paul this isn’t about identity politics. It isn’t about difference for difference sake,” Neal said. “But if we are who Paul says we are, when we were baptized in Christ Jesus. We became part of a living body.”
In baptism, Christians were buried with Christ to rise again—buried together in the Christian faith and rising out of the waters as part of one body.
Support those commissioned for service
As part of the body of Christ, the Fellowship is called to support those whom it commissions and sends out for service, she added.
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“They need to know that they are buried in a community’s heart. They need to know that they are from somewhere—that they’ve got a home and a people that stand with them and intercede for them,” Neal urged.
“And more than this, they need to know that this church is more than an institution and more than a social club, because they’re putting their lives on the line for it. They need to know that we all are buried with them in Christ. And we need to know it too.”
The 2018 CBF general assembly concluded with observance of communion in Spanish and English, as well as a commissioning and blessing service of new CBF field personnel, church starters and chaplains and pastoral counselors.
“Chaplains and pastoral care providers follow Christ by carrying the burden of care—care for those who must bear the heavy burden of the death of a loved one, of illness, of incarceration, deployment, violence, depression, doubt and despair,” said Joanna Tarr, Navy Reserve Chaplain from Kansas City, Mo., and chair of the CBF endorsement council, to the 21 newly endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors.
CBF also commissioned eight church starters, representing five church starts in Georgia, Texas and Arizona, and two new field personnel for service through disaster response and in North Africa