Faithful to God’s Vision

Several weeks ago, while on retreat, I was able to visit a sister church very much like our church.  I was able to join Sunday school because they use the same curriculum as my Sunday School class.  I was able to follow along in worship because they, like our church, follow the Christian Calendar.  I even ended up meeting people who knew me (although I didn’t know them) because they have folks who served in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

The worship was good and the music was good, but what most impressed me was that the church knows who it is. 

In every communication, bulletin, and aspect of worship, the church expressed their distinct identity as they seek to serve their community for Christ.   There was a unity there that led to a sweet, sweet Spirit in that place.  And I knew I was part of a larger family of faith!

Identity and unity are vitally important for thriving, healthy congregations.  Over the past year, we at First Baptist Church of Vero Beach have reinforced who God called us to be as a church.  We know the importance of values and of identity– In this time of divisive rhetoric and religious toxicity, we know that the way to thrive is to be faithful to God’s vision and mission in our specific context.

When we articulated our Core Values this season, we leaned into our long history, cultural context, and unique missional identity.  We learned that core values are like convictions: if we were to omit or change any one of our values, we would become a totally different church. .

Each value points to a larger piece of our identity and call. Here are the four Core Values of FBC, and we hope they will encourage you in your walk with Christ, or perhaps inspire you and your church to think more critically and strategically about God’s call in your context.

We are Compassionate in sharing God’s love and the Good News of Jesus Christ.  You might think that this is not unique to our church and that all churches are compassionate, but that’s not always the case.  Some churches are very narrowly-focused and only show compassion to people with whom they agree.  Others are hostile and weaponize the Bible to exclude people from experiencing God’s love in Jesus Christ.

We are neither hostile nor inhospitable.  We welcome people to hear God’s transformative message of salvation in Christ, and we encourage all people to grow in Christ.  We do not add any “works” to God’s gift of salvation, assuming that only people who look like us can become a part of our family of faith.  We welcome people because God, in His gracious mercy, has welcomed us: “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

We are Christ-centered in ministry and discipleship, with a focus on growing in God’s Word.  This core value is so vitally important because it means that we take our identity, interpretation of Scripture, and marching orders from no man or ideology, but from Christ alone.  We do not read Scripture backwards, from our theology, and then reading it back into Scripture.  Rather, we read and apply Scripture through the person, work, ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and then work our way outward. 

The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message states simply, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”  It is Jesus’ values, commands, principles, and ethics that drive our ministry and discipleship, and we are Christ-followers concerned about the very people Jesus was concerned about.  Our Baptist identity begins with Jesus!

We are Creative in worship, communicating the whole story of God’s Plan of Salvation. When we worship God, read and preach Scripture, and determine the rhythm of our life together, we do not leave out any parts of Scripture.  We read the whole Word of God from “beginning to end”, by the Word of God–Jesus (John 1:1)– and cultivate a life-giving faith that shapes our fellowship and informs our worship.   Therefore, following thousands of years of corporate worship, we follow the Christian calendar and incorporate various textures and tapestries of tradition ancient and modern.  

We sometimes confront critics who label our worship as being too liberal, too conservative, too traditional, too contemporary, too Catholic, “not Baptist enough” (whatever that means), or too “high church”. These critics don’t do us any favors because we don’t identify well with shallow labels.  Rather, we shape our life of worship because of who God called us to be as a church that values tradition, celebration, generosity, outreach, and missions.  Labels devalue our community and do not do justice to the unity we share in the midst of a rich diversity of Bible-based, mission-minded believers. 

We are Cooperative in Great Commission Work through local and global partnerships.  As a hub of missions and outreach, First Baptist Church partners with a diverse group of Christian ministries.  On campus, we host some half-dozen ministries in addition to our own, including Youth for Christ, Risktakers, and the Food Pantry of Indian River County.  Beyond our campus, we support Carenet, the Treasure Coast Baptist Association, and a host of others.

What makes us most unique, however, is that we partner with multiple mission-sending partners.  We work with the Southern Baptist Convention, in all of its aspects of outreach, from church planting to disaster relief.  We work with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, engaging in missions in the Caribbean and around the world.

We have been dully-aligned for over 30 years and will remain as such!  This is what it looks like for brothers and sisters to “dwell in unity”! We do not see these partnerships in terms of an “either/or” paradigm, but as part of a larger Baptist network of missions that spreads God’s message of salvation in Christ to the “ends of the earth.” 

We are a family of Baptists; and our partnerships reflect that, in this family, we may not all think the same way, but we are moving in the same direction as we follow Christ’s example and pattern for evangelism and outreach.  This is our core.

These past two years of pandemic and hardship has affirmed, for me, that our church’s identity is both sound and faithful to God’s call on us.  We are Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, Bible-believing, disciple-making, and God-blessed!

Being Pro-Life means not Celebrating the Taking of Lives no matter the Circumstances

Leviticus 19:16 – “You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor” (NRSV)

I am reading through the book of Leviticus this season.  When people read through the Bible, they often skip this technical and seemingly repetitive book.  It is chapter after chapter of laws, technical notes, instructions on sacrifice, and rules for ancient practices of hygiene and healthcare.  But I don’t know why we skip it: It’s a wonderful book because it shows us God’s attributes and love for us just as much as any other book in the Bible. 

For one, it shows us that God cares about the details of our life.  God wants the best for us, and what comes off as technical rules are really specific points of care and concern for health, well-being, and righteous living.  The entire book has love in mind: This is how we love God and how we are to love our neighbors because we are God’s people!  No life is left without God’s hedge of protection, from immigrants and convicts, to animals and the fields of the earth (read, for instance, Lev. 19).

Second, it shows just how much God values life.  For as long as I have followed Christ, I have been staunchly pro-life.  But why am I pro-life?  Because God is pro-life.  God makes boundaries that establish justice, reparations, and ways of reconciliation for every circumstance in which death occurs.  There are rules even for people who accidentally take the life of another, knowing that a person who takes another person’s life no matter the circumstance will suffer trauma and guilt. 

God provides avenues of repentance and of reparations so that justice, not tribal retaliation, determines the ethical fabric of God’s pro-life movement.  Even rejoicing over the taking of a life—even at the hands of what society might deem a hero—is not to be celebrated or rewarded because each life is made in God’s image.  Life and all of life’s details are precious, and the taking of a life has life-long consequences that affect both the oppressed and the oppressors.