By Larry Haynes
In God’s providence, it became my great privilege to sit, learn and fellowship with a number of those wise and cherished brethren who were among the early associational leaders. They were men of great faith, commitment and deep devotion to their Lord. Their greatness was seen in their servant spirit more than their achievements or credentials (though they too were significant!). Such were the spiritual “giants” among us with dynamic passion for a format for the Lord’s Churches to biblically and harmoniously work together in advancing our Lord’s Kingdom. It was not then, and is not now, an easy task. But, their vision was clear-eyed and biblically focused. I am convinced the Lord had, indeed, raised them up for such a time as this. Yes, they were, as we, flawed men with feet of clay. However, they were men consumed to the core of their souls with sincere and honest desires for a God-honoring, Christ-centered and biblically principled method of the Lord’s coequal churches to scripturally labor together for His glory.
As a young inexperienced pastor, my first national meeting was at Shreveport, La. in 1963. Overwhelmed and intimidated would be an understatement. However, it did not take long to realize that all present were brethren and we were there as messengers of the Lord’s churches to do the Lord’s business! My take away from that meeting (and many subsequent annual meetings) was that they were fully aware of the daunting challenge of the Lord’s departing instructions to His fledgling church (Matt. 28:18-20) and constantly referred to by the brethren as the Great Commission, which would and could only be accomplished through the reality of the activity of the Holy Spirit filling every church with the Great Commandments (loving God and loving people, Rom. 5:5 and Matt. 22:37-38)!
I do not remember going to a national association meeting in the early years when there was not a consistent emphasis made regarding the importance of the doctrine of the church and associational principles. Those early leaders knew how important those foundational truths were, and they were committed to keeping the main thing the main thing long before it became a cliche! Simply put, the doctrines and nature of the New Testament church must be the underpinnings of any system of cooperation among New Testament churches. Every activity assigned to the association must conform to those principles. Each ministry, in particular, had to stand and exist on its own spiritual contributions to the Lord’s “Co-mission of Go!’ Evangelism, doctrine (teaching) and baptism were paramount in initiating and nurturing new believers through genuine, spiritual discipleship. The mission was to establish a spiritually mature body of believers (Eph. 5:23; Rom. 8:29) with Jesus Christ being both the Head and the Foundation: a New Testament church, all for the glory of God (Eph. 3:21) and the on-going mission of making disciples of all people!
There was a mutually shared conviction among those early visionaries of the BMA that was unalterable — churches alone (independent, autonomous assemblies) are commissioned by Jesus himself to be His earthly spiritual body and were sent by Him to do His work, just as His Father had sent him in an earthly body (I Cor. 15:48) to earth to do His work: ….as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you (John 20:21). The association must be a spiritual organization, but the New Testament church is a spiritual organism empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) on the day of Pentecost to perform the purpose of the Lord’s spiritual body through the preaching of the gospel throughout the world.Association activities (ministries) were intended to accommodate, not usurp, the churches in their mission just as a hammer accommodates a carpenter in doing his work. It was often spoken of in this way: “The tail must never wag the dog!” The term may be a little crass, but the point was well made. In other words, the association was not the “boss,” it was to be a servant with a servant spirit. It would be less than honest to say that an association has never attempted to usurp its role. However, as long as the churches remember who their Lord is and where their power lies and “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) that will be avoided. God’s men must be both promoters and defenders of the faith. Our present culture continually reminds me of a statement made by journalist Thomas Sowell; “When a person wants people to do something that benefits them, they will tell them what they want to hear. But, when a person wants to honestly benefit people, they will tell them what they need to hear.”
The visionary discernment of our past leaders saw great potential benefit in several “tools” that would spiritually complement the churches’ toolbox. Their value would be in direct proportion to their spiritual contribution to strengthen and aid the churches in fulfilling their mission. The “work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ….(I Thess.1:3) first resulted in creaton of : a Department of Missions, which could be considered the heartbeat of the association. Three “secretaries” were elected to oversee and promote the missionary program of the churches. The first would have the general oversight with the other two focusing on the “interstate” and “foreign” mission emphasis; a Publications Ministry, which was second to none; an Educational Ministry (the seminary), which the Lord used mightily to teach, train and equip hundreds for pastoral, missionary and teaching ministries that would be a blessing to multiple churches and individuals; a Broadcast Ministry (Harvest Gleaner Hour, later known as Lifeword) that would eventually reach millions around the globe; a Missions magazine (Harvest Gleaner) that gave a connection between the missionaries and the churches and genuinely bonded their souls together; and a Youth Ministry (Daniel Springs) that has witnessed the salvation of hundreds of boys, girls, young men and women, plus scores of young men surrendering to the Lord as preachers and missionaries. These “tools” would all have a definite spiritual impact on the churches and their mission. They would have at least four things in common:
• Their purpose and function would be to assist in the furtheranceof the mission of the churches.
• They would be totally under the authority of and accountable to the churches.
• They would always be guided by the Doctrinal Statement and Principles of Cooperation adopted by the participating churches.
• That all financial support — designated or otherwise — would, without exception, be used as expressly instructed.
Just as the tail might sometimes attempt to wag the dog, tools tend to get dull, rusty and out of calibration when used, ignored, misused or abused. With wisdom and tender loving care, they can usually be efficiently refurbished, recalibrated and wonderfully restored to their original intent! There are occasions when this becomes true of associational ministries and the churches composing them! Are there not times when this is true for each of us who are flawed and have feet of clay? May the Lord of the church send us all a refreshing spiritual recalibration from His Holy Spirit that His will alone be done! “Unto God be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:21).
As one ages, memory can easily become mere nostalgia rather than remembered facts. Emotions and circumstances that existed in past events can affect honest memory as much as stated truth, even though one’s intent may be totally honest, unbiased and without prejudice regarding the facts. It is still possible to err. And, I must confess that as I looked back in this endeavor, I truly miss those bygone days and long for the day to come! In the spirit of what Dr. R.B. Hoshaw was fond of saying, “There is nothing wrong with my remember-er. It is just that my forget-er is better.” So I humbly apologize for my forget-er and ask for any necessary forgiveness for this old-codger!
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