Carter on the Celebration

December 12, 2007

Former President Jimmy Carter recently wrote a column on the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. It appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and is entitled "Global divisions faced as Baptists plan to convene." Here are a few highlights:

For the first time in more than 160 years, we will have a major convocation of Baptists in America with neither our unity nor freedom threatened by differences of race, politics, geography or legalistic interpretations of the Scriptures.

On Jan. 30, as many as 20,000 Baptists are expected to gather in Atlanta for a three-day meeting. These Baptists will look for common ground under the theme "Unity in Christ" as they celebrate a New Baptist Covenant. One of the basic premises will be that the doors will be open to all Baptists who choose to share this long-awaited experience.

Our common ground will be the words of our Savior when he returned to his home town in Nazareth after his miraculous ministry had been demonstrated around the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."

These words are both inspirational and a call to action as we strive to emulate, in our own individual ways, the perfect life of Jesus Christ. There is no way to avoid his emphasis on "poor," "brokenhearted," "captives," "blind" and "bruised." We pray that the "spirit of the Lord" will also be upon us.

We meet at a time when the global Christian church is numerically strong and changing rapidly, but is sadly afflicted with unnecessary divisions that sap away the strength of our collective ministry.

... In the inevitable competition with other beliefs, extant since the founding of the first Christian churches, our advantages are derived from the purity and attractiveness of Jesus' commitments: to peace, justice, humility, service, forgiveness and alleviation of the suffering of others. Our strength and effectiveness are predicated on a willingness to work harmoniously with other Christians to achieve these common goals. This will not be easy. The temptations of self-congratulation and self-exaltation are powerful, as are our inclinations to be enjoyably inspired and then lapse into relative dormancy. It is only right that we approach Atlanta with thanksgiving, high hopes and expectations but also with humility and prayers that our deliberations will be guided by the permeating spirit of Jesus Christ.
Amen! Despite what some have inaccurately claimed about Carter or the Celebration, it should be obvious from this column that both are firmly focused on Jesus and the gospel message. I hope all Baptists will make plans to attend or at least join in praying for this endeavor.