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.
"Sometimes it is easier to have someone tell you what to do than to do it yourself," said Dr. Mike Williams, a professor and former dean in the college of humanities at Dallas Baptist University. Surrounded by a plethora of books, sports memorabilia` and Civil War pictures, I met with Dr. Williams in his office on the DBU campus. I doubt there was any piece of human history not represented on Dr. Williams' walls.
"What does the phrase, 'The Autonomy of the Local Congregation of Baptists' mean to you?," I asked. "It is self-rule," he said plainly. "The congregation under the authority of God ties into the belief of the priesthood of believers followed by all Baptists."
I thought long and hard about what he was saying and left remembering the rich history of Baptist individuality I had been raised under.
Every Baptist church is different, but extremely similar. Growing up in East Texas in a Southern Baptist church and being born into the family of a long-time minister in the Baptist faith, I can hardly imagine church life without the people whom it involved. Smaller churches understand more than any congregation the importance of the involvement of its members. Without their personal involvement, the spiritual gifts and willingness to serve each other their church would either live or die.
The church is the equivalent of the people it entails, and the pastor is the shepherd charged with leading that part of body in the example of Christ. This model is replicated amongst the churches with each church serving in a unique and diverse way crucial to spreading the Gospel message to believers within its sphere of influence.
1 Corinthians 12:12 tell us we are one body with many moving parts with each serving a particular purpose for Christ's kingdom. Can a hand always perform with the same effectiveness the specific function of a foot? Or likewise can a foot grab a cup and help the body drink or eat? Just as parts of the body have particular roles and are connected to one body, this also describes how individual, and connected Baptist churches can serve each other, and ultimately God together.
Our autonomy in Baptist churches allows us to become culturally, ethically and socially different from each other, creating a different story and a unique background for each church. And much like Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 9 of becoming "all things to all people" for their salvation in Jesus Christ, Baptists allow their very structure to be fluid and dynamic. So what can be said of autonomy? It is a Baptist ideal and principle, leading to unique churches across Texas and around the world creating a people belonging to God from every tribe, every tongue and from every nation (Rev 7:9).
Matt Reynolds is studying a Dual Master's of Theological Studies and Worship Leadership degree at Dallas Baptist University. He is a graduate from Texas A&M-Commerce, and is currently working in Arlington, Texas at a Bible translation company called The Seed Company.