I differentiate the “Big C” church from our individual church in Llano. The “Big C” church includes Christians from all traditions—spanning geography and history. This is not just a cute designation. It is a biblical one with important implications for how we carry out our work and experience ministry.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, as he encourages them to work together, he interjects this tidbit applying not only to a local Roman congregation, but to Christians separated by space and geography: “So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5).
Differences working together
What might it look like if Christians truly realized we all belong to one another? I got a glimpse of this possibility as Christians and church leaders across Llano recently gathered to help ready school supplies for a community effort called “Jackets for Success”—referring to our school mascot, the yellow jacket.
The effort provides school supplies to every student on every campus in Llano. In addition to many businesses in our community, every church represented also provides financial help in making this possible.
As a parent of two young children and a husband of a public school teacher, I cannot exaggerate the blessing this is to our community on many levels. At the most immediate and basic level, it blesses students by ensuring they have what they need, and it blesses parents by relieving a financial burden often exacerbated in the fall when students also need new clothes.
In addition, it blesses teachers, because it ensures students will have the correct supplies teachers request, and it keeps teachers from digging into their own pockets—something they do far too often—to provide what is lacking.
On a spiritual level, Christians are able to rejoice in the blessing of taking ownership of the community that belongs to them, as they recognize we all belong to one another.
Don’t get me wrong; I am a devoted Texas Baptist. You won’t catch me genuflecting with the Catholics, sprinkling with the Methodists, speaking in tongues with the charismatics, barring instruments with the Churches of Christ, eschewing modern translations with the Independent Fundamentalists, or being too trendy with the nondenominational folks. And you certainly won’t find their devotees adhering to my traditions and ideals.
It is right and proper for us to uphold the individual points of theology, doctrine, polity and tradition we find important in our practice of being individual churches. As we do so, however, we must not lose sight of the fact that in Christ, we belong to one another. This not only is helpful in enabling us to be the “Big C” church better together. It also highlights our distinctives, as our individual churches seek to live into the unique mission and call God has for us.
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Distinct parts of one body
Every year in November, I attend the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Our church associates with the BGCT, and I know many people who attend. It is refreshing for me to reconnect with other pastors I went to school with and friends I have served alongside over the years.
The unique fellowship I experience in these gatherings is special due to the distinctives we have in common. But if this is the only kind of fellowship and cooperation to which we give ourselves, we remain myopic and anemic.
The truth is, being the “Big C” church takes work. It does not come as easy or as natural as associating with those most like us. It can be tempting to isolate ourselves into religious ghettos and become convinced we are the holiest, most righteous and most important due to our unique brand of devotion and service to the Lord. This misses the point of our denominational distinctives.
A few weeks ago, I “pulpit swapped” with Bryan Rogers, pastor of Lutie Watkins United Methodist Church in Llano. After we preached in each other’s churches, we were heckled lovingly with similar remarks, something like: “Your sermon wasn’t too bad for a Baptist/Methodist.”
Our families attended with us. My children never had been a part of a service in which a historic Christian creed is recited and a more formal liturgy is performed. At the end, I asked them if they were ready to become Methodists. They both shook their heads vigorously, with my daughter exclaiming emphatically, “This isn’t our tradition!”
This did not stop them, however, from participating in their second Vacation Bible School of the summer with Lutie Watkins United Methodist Church.
Recognizing we belong to one another in Christ does not mean losing our traditions. On the contrary, it helps us appreciate our uniqueness, even as we celebrate the broader significance of the “Big C” church. Join me in thanking God for his whole church, as well as the unique space our Texas Baptist family occupies in this diverse group.
Matt Richard is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Llano. His bachelor’s degree is from East Texas Baptist University, and he has a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. The views expressed are those solely of the author.