Jesus said the litmus test for a believer is love. He said people will know we are his followers by the way we love one another (John 13:35). Love is an action verb. One of the ways we show our love is when we work together for the gospel—when we cooperate. There is no greater cause for which to cooperate than the advancement of the gospel.
In my experience, there are four levels of cooperation among Christians and churches:
- Individual cooperation for the gospel is between two or more believers. As followers of Christ, we have the privilege and responsibility to work with other believers. Believers of different traditions can experience this as long as they share a personal relationship with Jesus. According to 1 John 1:7, we can fellowship or cooperate under the blood of Jesus with other believers. When two believers are in agreement on salvation, they have a common foundation. My uncle, M. B. Lane, was an Assembly of God deacon. He loved Jesus. He prayed for me. I have said that I would rather have him pray for me than half the Baptist preachers I know. When he died, he went to heaven. We never talked about the security of the believer. A discussion on that topic could have ended our fellowship.
- Congregational cooperation is the establishing of a body of believers as a local church. The local church is the center of gospel ministry. Churches have the right and responsibility to establish parameters of fellowship. Belief and behavior are two natural expectations for cooperation within the church. A New Testament church should hold certain truths. Salvation by grace, baptism by immersion, and the Bible as the final rule of faith and practice are only a few. People who practice a lifestyle contrary to biblical truth must be held accountable in order to maintain unity within the church and provide a testimony outside of it. Congregations determine their identity by the expression of their expectations for membership.
- Ecclesiastical cooperation is a term I use to describe the relationship among churches. Churches come together within a confessional statement to accomplish a common goal. In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention was established for “eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the denomination for the propagation of the gospel.” For 80 years, with an implied doctrinal standard and through a societal giving plan, churches cooperated for this noble purpose. In 1925, churches decided on a formal statement of faith coupled with a unified giving plan known as the Cooperative Program. More than ever before, churches can have confidence in ecclesiastical cooperation through the Southern Baptist Convention. No church is so large that it can advance the Kingdom alone. No church is too small that it cannot have a part.
- Moral cooperation is when churches as well as individuals join with those of differing spiritual views to accomplish good for the culture. Believers should find points of cultural engagement where others of differing faith traditions or maybe no faith tradition can be allies. Current flashpoints like traditional marriage, opposing the legalization of marijuana, advocating religious liberty, or standing for the sanctity of life attract a wide range of supporters. SBC leader Jimmy Draper, speaking about working with Catholics, Methodists, and even Muslims, said, “We may have differed considerably in our theological positions, but we weren’t trying to start a church together. We were coming together to accomplish something for the betterment of society.” [“Peculiar and Proud of It,” Facts and Trends (September-October 2004): 4-5.] Article 15 of the SBC Baptist Faith and Message Statement (2000) says, “In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.”
As you can see, there are various levels of cooperation. Believers can fellowship under the blood of Christ. Churches establish doctrinal and behavioral expectations for fellowship. Churches join together within a confessional statement to further the gospel. Churches and individuals team up to improve culture for everyone’s benefit.
Cooperation is almost a lost practice in some of these areas. There are no Lone Ranger Christians or churches. Whether you call it networking or teamwork, we are stronger together.