Jesus said, “I am the door..."
Lynn Green shares reflections on the recent Baptist World Congress held in Durban, South Africa
Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:8-10 NKJV)
These verses underpinned the theme of the Baptist World Congress, “Jesus, the door”, held in Durban, South Africa, in July 2015. I had the privilege of attending with my family and was struck, not so much by the theme of the congress, in which our relationship with Jesus as the door to everything with purpose and meaning in life was explored by some rousing speakers, but more particularly about the colour and shape of our world Baptist family.
Being in Africa afforded the opportunity for many who would not have had the means or opportunity to gather on other continents.
Particularly inspiring was the plethora of traditional formal wear by which delegates expressed their national identity while at the same time engaging in worship that seemed comfortably familiar, regardless of the delegates’ origins.
Beyond the comfortable familiarity of a quintessentially Baptist gathering, it was clear that many of the delegates don’t have a share in the relative comfort and peace that we so often take for granted in our English churches, where we might easily take offence when church life and worship don’t always follow our expectations.
I can only imagine the inner pain of delegates who have come through tragedies which have unfolded at their churches – in particular, the delegate who was present at the recent church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, or the delegates whose home churches live in constant fear of attacks from Boko Haraam, El Shabaab, ISIL and other religious extremists.
For many, being able to gather in relative safety and obvious solidarity with Baptist kin, was a source of profound joy, hope, love and understanding.
A clinical analysis of the congress organisation, events and administration will expose many flaws. As with most big Baptist events in my experience, the daily programme was well timed and choreographed and professionally executed.
The absence of a recognisable children’s programme was a disappointment given the quality of those at previous world congresses, notwithstanding that many delegates probably could not afford to bring their families, and the “youth event” could best be described as a gathering of youth leaders continuing to struggle with how to engage with disaffected young people.
What was clear is that Baptists the world over share similar worries when it comes to engaging with upcoming generations. The coincidence of the next world congress and world youth congress in vibrant Rio in 2020 might open many eyes.
However, the specifics of the congress will not be my lasting memory. I will continue to be inspired by the congress theme, “Jesus, the door” to everything that has value and meaning for life and faith, but I prefer to view the congress retrospectively through the lens of Acts 17:26-27 also in the NKJV:
“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”
The Baptist World Congress for me therefore remains a snapshot in time, that whatever we look like and wherever we come from, we are indeed “from one blood”, whether in the created order or more importantly in our common agreement that we are all born again through the “one blood” of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus the Christ, one universal family called Christian, and in particular those of us who gather under the Baptist banner.
Callam calls on Baptists worldwide to unite
The Revd Lynn Green is General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
Ethics Daily produced substantial coverage, with news and opinion, filmed interviews and Pinterest.
Read Congress reflections from Jenni Entrican, the President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.