Operation Giver is a project connecting young Texas Baptists with older professors, pastors and theologians to discuss Baptist Distinctives. Similar to the book, The Giver, our goal is to pass on wisdom from seasoned Baptists to the up-and-coming generation. While times continually change, the beliefs we share as Texas Baptists have held true for more than 130 years. Facilitating these conversations will help educate and encourage younger Baptists as they continue in the biblical tradition set before them.
Transitions tend to mark who we are. It is during the transitions we live through in which we get the opportunity to show what really matters to us. A perfect example of that for me is when I have moved to a different place. Every time I have moved somewhere else, I have to go through all of my stuff and decide to myself what is really worth keeping and what is not. In a way, moving serves as a process of purification, a time in which I evaluate what things I have to let go of, and what things seem to have a future with me later on. As I am coming to the conclusion of my time with Texas Baptists I have thought of those two things, what is worth keeping and what I have to get rid of.
Voluntary Church Cooperation speaks of an idea we have left in the back-shelf, and it is hardly ever considered. So when it comes to considering something I do not want to get rid of when I leave my internship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, I think of the Voluntary Cooperation Among the Churches – a fragile and yet valuable Baptist distinctive.
Gerald Davis, Disaster Recovery and Development specialist at Texas Baptists, has had plenty of experience in cooperating with other churches. And although the requirements to truly cooperate with each other are costly, the results are nothing to give up on. Davis' experience with churches cooperating together to achieve a common goal has not only happened during his time at Texas Baptists, but he has also experienced this with his church, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Dallas.
Among churches, just like in personal relationships, it is easy to want to offer help when in doing so we try to get a sense of validation and satisfaction. Churches with plenty of resources sometimes offer aid to smaller churches that might be involved in the inner-city, like Cornerstone Baptist Church. But the help comes with structure and demands, and that should not be how cooperation among churches works.
"Cooperative work is done for the Kingdom," Davis said, "and that means they have to learn how to share the stage."
This means the cooperation among churches is a true attempt to let go of our control and see the work God has been doing before we showed up, and which is also the work God has done in people other than us. As ridiculous as it may sound for many, church cooperation is an invitation for us to come and learn from others who may not have as much as we do, people who we classify as not having it as well put together.
Throughout our Baptist Distinctives we can see the common idea of the individual's freedom and capacity to approach and understand God, we also see how those freedoms are given to the body of the local church. There is a defined area in which those individual capacities come under, so they all flow out of the idea that Jesus the Christ is part of the Holy Trinity – God in three hypostases – and that God guides, and sends the Church.
As a millennial, I easily understand most of those distinctives as freedoms I have as an individual, and as a Christian of the Protestant tradition, I hesitate in taking any other tradition which will impose against those distinctives. But, as I am about to finish seminary and go somewhere else to participate in ministry, I hope to hold on to the example of cooperation that Davis has spoken of.
As Davis said, this cooperation simply enables us to "allow the Lord to really be the Lord of our hearts."
Even when churches cooperate with other churches that do not have as much, they get to learn what it is to truly rely on God. The greatest gift is that churches learn the new life to which Christ has called us to can only be lived together.
It is hard for me to say that I've seen many churches aim at cooperating with one another, especially since I have been in areas like the Bible Belt of Texas. But it is when we allow ourselves to only work separately that we allow division to permeate the unity we find under Christ. It is only under Christ, and along with each other, that we get to experience life. It is only when we see God through the eyes of our brothers and sisters that we get to grow.
For a long time, I've thought of the many differences between the church of today in the West, and the church we get to hear about in Acts. A church which has everything in common and has no one in need is far from the church I see now. Cooperation is a step we can take towards that. Let us hope that in the act of cooperation, may we also find reconciliation. In the act of cooperation, may we find dependence, and joy in dependence. And in the act of cooperation, may we find more of Christ. Because although we all have the capacity to follow Christ on our own, we follow Christ better when we do it together.
"Mistakes are going to be made, so we have to commit the time and the patience," Davis said, "but you can't miss out on having the opportunity to be in the presence of Christ."Isa Torres is a student at Truett Seminary in Waco. He served as an intern with Texas Baptists in the spring of 2015.