After the Celebration: Now what?

In the closing address of the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant last night, former President Bill Clinton was gracious, biblically-astute, politically nonpartisan, insightful, personal — and a bit off topic.
He rightly called his fellow Baptists to relate in loving ways, even to those who are critical. He correctly described the different (and often divisive) ways persons of faith can view biblical authority and interpretation.
However, his focus was almost exclusively on the division in the Southern Baptist Convention over the last quarter-century between fundamentalists and moderates that led to the formation of new, more inclusive Baptist ways of belonging.
Not only have many recovering Southern Baptists, affiliated with groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist General Association of Virginia and/or the Baptist General Convention of Texas, already moved on — but many others in attendance at the Celebration have had no previous SBC ties.
They are happily involved with other denominational groups such as the American Baptist Churches, USA, (whose breakup with Southern Baptists occurred more than 160 years ago over slavery) and/or various historically black National Baptist groups.
An effort to cross racial divides and build respectful relationships was a major aspect of and attraction to the New Baptist Covenant.
The Celebration was a step forward to new relationships, not a backward step to ones that painfully failed.
The purpose of the New Baptist Covenant was/is not about the impossible task of reconciling alienated former Southern Baptists with those who know not reconciliation, only dominance.
(In fact, the very week of the Celebration, one agency board of the non-participating SBC pushed out a trustee over the “crime” of dissenting opinion from the majority.)
Despite the repeated questioning of reporters and the attention given to the subject in Pres. Clinton’s address, the historic gathering was not about the SBC at all.
The larger conglomeration of “other Baptists” of varied hues and histories came together in Atlanta to build new, hopeful relationships based on mutual trust and respect, not to revisit old ones severed by suspicion and condemnation.
The New Baptist Covenant is about a promising future of inclusion and cooperation.
While certainly imperfect and without a completely cohesive message, the Celebration was enriching and inspiring in so many ways.
Worship was uplifting, abundant and varied in style. Many wonderful gifts and talents were shared.
In special interest sessions, Baptists with similar concerns — yet often previously unacquainted — tackled some of the most challenging issues facing churches and communities today.
Now here on the morning after, when the Georgia World Congress Center is vacated by Baptists, the dominant question remains: What does this gathering mean for the future?
The answer will not come immediately, but over time.
But most importantly, we must realize that the “celebrity Baptists” got us talking, got us to town and got us to listen. However, the potentially deep impact of the New Baptist Covenant does not rest with those who stood behind the podium this week.
The significance will be defined and determined by the growing relationships and cooperative ministry efforts that occur outside the glaring spotlight of an Atlanta stage.

(Photo by Billy Howard)


  1. The division that existed before still exists and will continue to exist because it is a division that ought to exist. There can be no reconciliation between modernists who pretend to be Baptists and Baptists who actually believe that the Scriptures are true.

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

  2. Mark,
    Do you actually consider yourself something other than a modernist? After all, you seem to have no problem utilizing the technology of modernism to post your rather stunning claim. The fact is that we are all modernists shaped by a late capitalist view of the world. Any attempt to understand Jesus or the scriptures in our own time is mediated through our modernists lenses. We can’t help it – its who we are. To suggest that somehow you and others are free from that lens simply because you believe the Scriptures are “true” is to make yourself out to be non-historical, uninfluenced by your own day and time.

    The fact is that Baptists have always been modernists in their approach to church life and interpretation of scripture. There was a time when an open Bible for all to read and interpret was a “modernist” notion. The idea of democratic government is rooted in a modernist vision of humanity where all are afforded certain “rights” and given intrinsic value. Baptists notions of church and state are steeped in modernists assumptions about the separate roles of each.

    To suggest that those gathered in Atlanta are Baptist pretenders because they are modernists makes no sense. To declare yourself something other than a modernist and a Baptist at the same time simply flies in the face of history.

  3. Scott,

    My use of modern technology has no bearing on how I understand the Bible. You said,

    “Any attempt to understand Jesus or the scriptures in our own time is mediated through our modernists lenses. We can’t help it – its who we are.”

    I don’t doubt that we have all been influenced by our culture, but to say that “we can’t help it” is to deny what Jesus affirmed, namely, that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. But you said,

    “Baptists notions of church and state are steeped in modernists assumptions about the separate roles of each.”

    Actually, the exact opposite is true. The separation of church and state was advocated by the Baptists before it was actually implemented in modern society. Baptists were advocating separation of church and state when it was still a dangerous thing to do so and played an important part in the implementation of it in this country.

    Baptists believe in separation of church and state because it is taught in the Bible. However, real Baptists do not subscribe to the perverted ideas of separation of church and state that have been advocated by the modern theological and philosophical left. You said,

    “To suggest that those gathered in Atlanta are Baptist pretenders because they are modernists makes no sense.”

    What I know is that the sort of Baptists who gathered in Atlanta, with Jimmy Carter as their ringleader, aren’t a 42nd cousin to what real Baptists are nor to what is actually taught in the Scriptures. And it is to that aberration I most heartily object, by whatever name you want to call it.

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

  4. Mark,

    Unless you heard what was said this week in Atlanta, how can you judge its content? Or does it not matter what was said, because you have the wisdom to totally discount anything spoken by those “sort of Baptists”? Sorts like President Carter…evil men who work for peace and teach Sunday School each week.

    What “sort of Baptists” affirmed slavery through the authority of Scripture? And gender inequality? And segregation?

    Did the Holy Spirit guide them into all truth? Whatever “sort” they were, I’m proud to be the other “sort”.

    Blake Dempsey
    Rose Hill, NC

  5. tbd,

    You asked,

    “Unless you heard what was said this week in Atlanta, how can you judge its content?”

    A. I have read reports on what was said there.

    B. I know the sort who convened the meeting.

    C. I’m sure they didn’t all get together in Atlanta and decide that the Bible is absolutely true after all.

    You said, sarcastically,

    “Sorts like President Carter…evil men who work for peace and teach Sunday School each week.”

    If a man uses a Sunday School class to teach that the Bible isn’t true, then, yes, he is evil and he is not a Baptist.

    I have read two of Mr. Carter’s books defining his faith, which are supposedly based on what he teaches in Sunday School, and what he calls faith is foreign to Christianity and the Scriptures. His faith is more a contradiction of Christianity than an affirmation of it.

    You said,

    “What ‘sort of Baptists’ affirmed slavery through the authority of Scripture?”

    One’s who actually believe what the Bible teaches about slavery.

    You: “And gender inequality?”

    Ones who believe what the Bible teaches, that God created the woman for the man and not the man for the woman.

    You: “And segregation?”

    Hypocrites who ignored what the Bible says about God being no respecter of persons and about all God’s people being one in Christ.

    You asked,

    “Did the Holy Spirit guide them into all truth?”

    I didn’t say that the Holy Spirit guided every man into truth. Whether or not He does depends on whether or not we follow. He certainly didn’t guide the New Covenant Baptists to go to Atlanta and make a grand stand for throwing the Bible out the window and tolerating false doctrine and moral debauchery.

    You said,

    “Whatever ‘sort’ they were, I’m proud to be the other ‘sort’.”

    I’d proudly stand by a godly slave owning Baptist, a godly Baptist slave, a godly woman who was in submission to her husband, or a godly man who exercises godly authority over his family.

    I would rather die than to join hands with a bunch of modernist liberals who, pretending to be Christian, condone what God condemns and condemn what God condones.

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

  6. Mark,

    Your obvious disgust for Jimmy Carter seems to color your interpretation of the entire meeting. I am not sure what it is about Carter that stirs you up so much. Jesus speaks of the great judgment only once in the gospels -Matthew 25 – and he warns that the criteria for judgement will not be what one believes but how one lives out ones life in respect to “the least of these”, namely the poor, the marginalized, and what Howard Thurman has called, “the disinherited”. By Jesus’ standard here in Matthew, Jimmy Carter seems to have heard him loud and clear, for his contribution to alleviating the suffering of the poor is loud and clear. Visit those throughout Africa, whose lives have been changed by Carter’s efforts at eradicating river blindness and guinea worm and hear their witness concerning his life. And how about his many contributions to housing families through his work on behalf of habitiat for humanity? Then there is his rather risky stance on the evils of racial descrimination and segregation in the period prior to his run for governor. All efforts, according to Carter’s own testimony, to live out his Christian faith.

    I may not agree with Carter on every theological issue that confronts the church, but I am forced to take pause when I read Matthew 25 and reflect on what motivates this Baptist Christian. If you believe that the scriptures are true, how do you stand up against the statements of Jesus? I know that I have much work to do -but I find inspiration in Carter’s work, but even more in his firm belief that what Jesus said about judgement in Matthew 25 is “true”.

  7. Scott,

    You said,

    “I may not agree with Carter on every theological issue that confronts the church, but I am forced to take pause when I read Matthew 25 and reflect on what motivates this Baptist Christian.”

    Maybe you ought to compare what Jesus actually said in Matthew 25 with what He actually said in the sermon on the mount:

    “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

    Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

  8. Mark,
    The passage you quote in Matthew six is a warning aimed at all who use almsgiving for self promotion. You seem to be suggesting that something that Jesus says in Chapter 6 undermines my interpretation of chapter 25. But how does it detract or change what Matthew 25 states? How does it blunt the hard truth of Jesus’ basis for judgement in Matthew 25? How does that resolve the issue I raised? Are you suggesting that Matthew 6 somehow minimizes the passage I refer to in Matthew 25?

    Jesus goes on to state in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7.16) that you will know them (that is, true prophets from false ones) by their fruits. I can only assume from your comments that you think Carter to be motivated by personal gain and self promotion. Do you really know the heart and mind of Jimmy Carter? Can you really judge his heart and motives and read the 7th chapter of Matthew with out some sense of conviction? Or is Jesus always aiming his warnings to those who may differ from your interpretation?

  9. Scot,

    You said,

    “Do you really know the heart and mind of Jimmy Carter?”

    I have read two of Jimmy Carter’s books defining his faith. If he really believes what he wrote in those books, he has no understanding of Christianity whatsoever and is a false teacher.

    So far as his his charitable work, that proves nothing in the world other than that he has done some charitable work. Atheists can, and doubtless have, done charitable work. Does that make them honorable Christian men?

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

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