When my three grown sons were small children, we would often play with a wooden train. Because they were so young, the boys would sometimes construct a track that ended up becoming two separate sections. The train could not continue to run because it would fall off the track. It was at that point that one of them would request with excitement: "Daddy, build me a bridge."
And so I would. The train could then run smoothly.
I am a part of a denomination that has many tracks but few bridges. And if we don't start building some bridges quickly, God's hand of blessing may move beyond us.
Let me share with you an example of recent days. I spoke last week at the Baptist Identity Conference at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. From an outsider's perspective, one might conclude that the crowd was like-minded. After all, it was a gathering of mostly Southern Baptists.
But I knew better. Present were five-point Calvinists and others who would not affirm all five points. Also in attendance were cessationists and non-cessationists, people with differing views of women in ministry, bloggers, and print-media writers. There were some who thought leaving "Baptist" out of a church's name was wrong; and there were others had already taken the denominational label out of their church's name. The views on eschatology held by the attendees were many.
It was a diverse group of Southern Baptists indeed.
I spoke to many people before and after my formal presentation. One person commented to me, "Dr. Rainer, I better leave you before people start wondering why we are speaking with each other." Admittedly, his comment was meant to be humorous. But it did have a sting of truth in it. The labels had already been applied. The sides had been chosen. And you had better be careful about the side you chose or the people with whom you associated.
I reject that line of thinking.
As far as I knew, everyone at that conference was my brother or sister in Christ. As far as I knew, everyone was a Bible believer. I refuse to let labels keep me from building bridges.
My six years as a seminary student were difficult. Though I met many godly men and women and professors, I also witnessed firsthand much aberrant theology. I was and still am a firm supporter of the conservative resurgence. I knew we could not continue down the path we were headed.
But it seems as if we just can't stop fighting even though the battle for the Bible is over and won.
I understand the risk I am taking by writing these words. But silence is not an option. I must be about building bridges.
Please understand that I have no illusion that my words will start a revolution or that many will listen. But I can only be held accountable before God for my own actions.
I choose to build bridges.
Though I am a fallible and sinful person, I will seek God's power to stay true to the following:
1. I stand firm on the inerrant Word of God. I support without reservation the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
2. Though I may disagree with some on secondary and tertiary issues, I will not let those points of disagreement tear down bridges of relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ.
3. I will seek to join with those who will work together on the common causes of missions, evangelism and the health of the local church.
4. I will seek God's will in prayer before I write or speak a word of disagreement against another brother or sister in Christ or even a non-Christian. I will seek to see the plank in my own eye before pointing out the splinter in another person's eye. I will follow the truths of Matthew 18 when I feel that I need to confront a brother or sister in Christ.
5. I will spend more time rejoicing in the Lord (Phil 4:4).
6. I will seek God's power to have a more gentle and Christlike spirit (Phil 4:5).
7. I will pray that the lost and the unchurched world will know me by my Christlike love.
Such is my commitment.
If God so leads, I invite you to join me in building bridges.
Dr. Thom Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist.