The Joy of Cooperation
This article was featured in the July 2023 edition of The Baptist Courier.
Although this article will publish after the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in New Orleans, I am writing before that gathering and in anticipation of it.
Among other matters, messengers to the national meeting will be asked to consider a contested mid-term presidential election, the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force’s recommendations, a debated constitutional amendment, and the appeal of several churches for reinstatement in the convention after being disfellowshipped by the Executive Committee earlier this year. I do not know what the outcome of any of these votes will be, but I do know that given the current culture of distrust, frustration, and various tensions, whatever is decided some will be disappointed and others pleased.
I fear we are in danger of losing the joy and beauty of a Baptist kind of Great Commission cooperation. For now, the forms and systems of our cooperation remain, but the pleasure of it often evades us. Since 1925, a consensus of Baptists has publicly confessed that “Christian unity in the New Testament sense is a spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people,” (1925 BF&M Article XXII, 1963 and 2000 BF&M Article XIV). We’re still singing the song, but our harmony seems faint.
Ecclesiastes 4:9 is a foundational verse for my personal theology of cooperation: “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.” Recently, the two preceding verses have also arrested my attention. In verse 7, Solomon notices another “futility under the sun.” Above the sun, things are not as they often are below it. Above the sun, the Godhead works today as He has for all eternity – in perfect triune cooperation. The standard of heaven is harmonious, effective, joyful cooperation. One futility of the sin-scarred earth is divisive, disruptive, and prideful aloneness. “This too is futile,” Solomon notes, “and a miserable task” (v.8).
The loner, in verse 8, has performed his work with excellence and devotion. He is a self-made man, having earned riches by the efforts of his own two hands. But in so doing, he has deprived himself of “good things.” The best things are not found in dollar signs or annual reports. The best things are found in relationships. Working alone, he has deprived himself of exactly that.
In life and ministry, it is possible to get all the work done with excellence yet walk in futility and meaninglessness. How does that happen? When we walk alone. When we ignore the harmony of cooperation. Alone is easy, but ultimately futile. Cooperation is hard, but always rewarding.
In the week leading up to the SBC gathering, I have been reminded of the deep friendships I enjoy with brothers and sisters across the nation, the far-reaching impact of our missional cooperation, and the love of Christ I expect to see on many faces and hear in many voices. I am reminded of many “good things” around me, in South Carolina and across the nation and world, that I don’t want to miss while I put my hand to the plow in Great Commission advance. I don’t want to get to the end of my season, then look around and see that while I have produced much for the Kingdom, I have plowed through friendships like disposable rags and co-laborers in the Kingdom like tools for trade. It’s not just the “good reward” (v.9) I’m after. It’s the “good things” (v.8) as well.
Interestingly, the “good reward” of verse nine will not come apart from the “good things” of verse eight. I believe if we pick our eyes up from the plow for a few minutes to look around us with charity, as a large Baptist family, what we will see are biblically minded, missionally driven, joyful cooperants in Great Commission advance. What we have together is meaningful and rewarding. It is in our togetherness that the reward is great, and the work is meaningful.
South Carolina Baptists, let’s not just get the work done. Let’s get it done together.
-Tony Wolfe, Executive Director-Treasurer