I intended to put this post up on Monday. Then Bill Wright called me, all gallantry and faith, while suffering from cancer in his bones, and that was the end of the day for me. For those (their name is Legion) who believe I will never suffer heart failure because I lack that organ, let me tell you my empty cardiac chamber reverberated with solemn prayers from then to now.
Here is this post, a day late and I miss my own deadline.
In Defense of It All: Day Four, Finally
If few attend the meetings, fewer give the money and if, as it seems, the (recently held) traditional religious corporations seem in decline, is this a good time to do away with them and their kind? I freely admit this is an incendiary (and wordy) question to begin a post in defense of cooperative ministrymissions, but it accurately reflects the thoughts of people who are voting for just such a measure, right now, with foot and purse.
We could take a few lines to describe the events leading up to the death knell of the old structures, but it is Christmas, most nearly, and I would rather be the Scrooge of the morning, not the Ebenezer of the late evening. So, this is a post about why we will have cooperative ministries in the years ahead, not why the old ones will become the Ghosts of Conventions Past.
We will cooperate. We will do so institutionally, even corporately, because the world is so small any more. The world is small, flat and getting more smaller and flatter. While no one cares much about what happens in the old structures any longer, there is a real concern in many hearts about how we will concentrate the power we still hold.
The great power of cooperative missions (not the corporate mess set in place to protect itself and gobble resources) is its intent and ability to concentrate power. Texas did not win the Second World War, no more than America won the war alone. The war was won by the Allies over the Axis, saving Western civilization when it was thought Western civilization was worth saving.
Texas baptists of whatever stripe will not save the world, nor contribute overmuch to its salvation. Cooperative ministry requires each man do his best, fulfill his calling and finish his race, but cooperative ministry succeeds or fails on its ability to concentrate all those best efforts on the issues at hand.
The current miserable failure of (recently accepted) religious institutions is directly tied to their inability to concentrate power where it is needed. Indeed, the present power-elite lack the prescience to call for sacrifice quite because they seem unable to think beyond their comfortable seats.
The person in the pew will sacrifice for ministry. Few will drive across the state just to be counted. Fewer still will write a check so some pusillanimous denominational nabob can sit enthroned.
We will not have what we have had because what we have had is no longer worth the holding. We will have cooperative ministry, even in some kind of convention apparatus because, used correctly, corporate Christianity can help us focus on needs on the other side of (our own) Main Street.
We will not have what we have had because what we have had has demonstrated sufficiently its insufficiency; morally, professionally, pastorally, prophetically. We will have cooperative ministry, even in some kind of denominational apparatus, because, when one can be had that is not morally compromised, a central office can meet its obligation to appeal to our highest calling. We need no more poorly produced videos or mail order gospels. There is something better out there for us.
We will not have what we have had because what we have had has taken its power and run amok. We will have cooperative ministry because, when operating benevolently, cooperative ministries (even of a corporate nature) function to constrain power. An incompetent bully may strut his stuff for awhile but he is a long-term loser and a cooperative ministry is more likely to sniff out degradation better than some one man totalitarian state.
I suggest the common failure of the recently deceased para-church organizations and the coming deaths of others is not because they do not have power but because they use power poorly. People will come to watch a fight but no one actually jumps into the ring to join it. You could get hurt in there.
After one side or the other is beaten down to defeat, well wishers jump in for a place with the champion. They tend to go away when he loses his punch and, so, his place. What we had has lost its punch and its place. There is less need for balance when our equilibrium only holds us on a thin wire between two equally deep chasms. The fall will kill you, either way.
No, we need reform. Reform, in the style of reformation. Reform, morally and in competence in "high" office. Reform, not half way measures.