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Theological diversity must not hinder
CBF as presence of Christ, Vestal says

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP)–The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a blending of different streams in Christianity — including charismatic, sacramental and evangelical believers — that act together to be the presence of Christ in the world, said Daniel Vestal, CBF Coordinator, June 27.

Vestal’s remarks came in his coordinator’s address to the CBF general assembly during the group’s annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C.

Citing Jaroslav Pelikan’s book, “Jesus Through the Centuries,” Vestal said, “The character of Jesus is understood in the historical culture and context of each age.” In different generations, believers understood Jesus in different ways, he said. For example, different generations of Christians have understood Jesus as “the King of Kings,” “the Son of Man,” “Christ crucified,” “the monk who rules the world,” “the universal man,” “the teacher of common sense,” “the liberator” and “the man who belongs to the world.”

Jesus is so profound, Vestal continued, that being the presence of Christ may be a confusing task.

“Which Christ are we to follow? Which Christ are we to proclaim? Which Christ are we to incarnate?” he asked.

“I believe Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a place where these streams can converge and create a flowing river that brings healing and renewal. The CBF is a place that celebrates the contemplative and the evangelical, the holiness and the social action, the charismatic and the sacramental. We can be a Fellowship that embraces the equal value of faith and freedom, of mind and heart, of personal and social, of the private and commercial,” Vestal said.

Vestal cited two prongs in the CBF vision of being the presence of Christ in the world.

First, CBF must be the presence of Christ together.

“CBF can be a place where we affirm each other’s gifts and also recognize that none of us is the Body of Christ by ourselves. No one of us stands alone. No one of us has a corner on the truth. No one of us has a complete understanding of the Gospel. We will be the presence of Christ together,” he said.

For the CBF, “together” signifies a common identity of “collaboration and collegial relationships rather than hierarchical relationships.” It also signifies partnership with institutions and a commitment to multiculturalism, he said.

Second, CBF must be the presence of Christ today.

CBF affiliates must neither focus on past struggles nor set their vision completely on the future. Rather, they must be the presence of Christ today, he said.

“This is our time. God has used us this day. And it makes no sense to retreat into an idealized past or long for a perfect future. At some point it’s foolish to keep on complaining about our time or keep on bemoaning our lack of resources or even whimper about our time,” Vestal said.

“I realize that many of you live and work in very stressful places,” he continued. “Many of you serve God on what seems to be an island surrounded by a sea of fundamentalism. Others of you work daily in an environment where people are hostile to Christian values. Some of you are in churches that are characterized by conflict, and others of you see little fruit in your ministry. And all of us at times feel overwhelmed by the violence and the death and the destruction in our world. But brothers and sisters, this is our day.”

The Body of Christ looks very different depending on one’s theological and hermeneutical presuppositions, Vestal said.

He asked in conclusion, “Can we, as a fellowship in all our diversity, maintain unity around this vision?”

“I believe we can, and I believe we will.”