Baptist leaders from around the world were urged to unite and become one in Christ at an annual gathering of diverse Baptists taking place this week in West Africa.
"The testimony of unity is powerful," said Steve Asante, president of Ghana Baptist Convention, according to the Associated Baptist Press. Asante, who is also the pastor of the Asukwa Baptist Church in Kumasi, called on fellow Baptists to pursue oneness in Christ.
The Ghanaian pastor spoke Monday at the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Annual Gathering, which has convened more than 500 delegates from over 50 countries in Accra, Ghana.
Asante pointed out that government leaders across Africa were also meeting in Accra to develop greater unity and cooperation among African nations – calling the concurrent meetings prophetic.
"When Baptists work together, we show what we can do," the African preacher said. "If we have a voice, it will only come through our unity, through our oneness."
The theme of unity has become an increasing concern for Baptist bodies around the world, which, like many other denominations, have experienced significant division over theological issues. Last week, in the United States, the American Baptist Churches and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship worshipped together for the first time as part of an effort to celebrate their common heritages as Baptist Christians and to affirm their commitment to working together more collaboratively.
The American Baptist Churches USA - the second largest Baptist group in the nation - also urged its members at its biennial meeting to unite with one another after experiencing conflict and losing some member churches over theological issues, including homosexuality, last year.
Also, in response to growing criticism of those associated with the "Baptist" label, former president Jimmy Carter is spearheading an initiative to counter the negative Baptist image and demonstrate Baptist unity centered on social concerns. He has invited a broad-range of Baptists to the initiative's convocation next year, although the Southern Baptist Convention – the nation's largest and most conservative Protestant denomination – was not formally invited.
At the July 2-7 gathering in Ghana, Denton Lotz, outgoing Baptist World Alliance general secretary, confirmed that unity is a major theological issue for the 110 million Baptists the Alliance represents.
"Some Baptists seem concerned only about doctrine," said Lotz, according to ABP, "but Jesus talked about unity as a great doctrine of the faith."
Attendees at the gathering will also discuss social issues such as HIV/AIDS, genocide, poverty as well as missions.
The gathering in Ghana, whose country is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence, is the first time BWA has met in West Africa.
On Thursday, a special service of memorial and reconciliation for the slave trade will be held at the Slave Castle at Cape Coast to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolishment of slavery. The castle was formerly used to hold African slaves before they were shipped to the Americas.