Hispanic Baptists gathered Sunday night at a rally, which marked the end of the Hispanic leadership conference and the beginning of the broader Texas Baptists Annual Meeting.
"This year's focus is the Baptist distinctives; we're emphasizing who we are as Baptists and what makes us unique," said Rolando Rodriguez, director of Hispanic Ministries for Texas Baptists. "And our distinctives are not only what make us unique – they make us strong biblically, spiritually and as a denomination."
Between worship music sets, the evening's speakers elaborated on three Baptist distinctives: Jesus is Lord, the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church.
Mario Alberto Gonzalez began the night's teaching on the distinctive that Jesus is Lord using Philippians 2:10-11 as his key text. Gonzalez is director of multi-housing and house congregations for the Texas Baptists department of missions mobilization.
"In that passage we learn that one day every knee will bow down in front of the Lord, whether you believe or not," Gonzalez said.
He emphasized that unlike other Christian traditions, which celebrate the role of Mary or look to the leadership of the Pope, Baptists look exclusively to Jesus.
"Jesus is the only Lord," he said. "There is no more. He is the only one. Our institutions aren't the Lord and our churches aren't the Lord: Jesus is the Lord. He's God; He's divine. He's not only a very important key person in history, but He's God in the flesh."
Gonzalez summed it up with a common Spanish expression: "Donde manda capitán no gobierna marinero," or "There can only be one boss."
Joshua del Risco, who serves as evangelism lead for Texas Baptists, expounded on the priesthood of the believer.
"As believers, we are all priests before God," del Risco said. "The functions of the priest are to worship, to witness and to offer sacrifices. We are not in the Old Testament times, so we don't offer animal sacrifice, but we are called to present ourselves as living sacrifices before the Lord. We are all called to serve as priests – that is, to be the servants, to be the ministers."
Del Risco said God has given us pastors and teachers and evangelists to train and prepare the body of Christ for the work of ministry. He said he hopes to see individuals in churches empowered to accomplish their calling and the particular mission God has for them.
"Right now a lot of times churches will have a super pastor, and people come to receive and come to be ministered to, rather than asking, 'How can I minister? How can I give?'" del Risco said. "It's my particular conviction that when we get the people sitting in the pews mobilized to live out their faith as priests, we'll change culture."
Julio Guarneri, lead pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, wrapped up the evening's teaching with his thoughts on the importance of the autonomy of the local church.
When taken to its logical conclusion, Guarneri said, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers leads to the doctrine of the autonomy of the local church. He taught from 1 Timothy 2:5, which describes Jesus Christ as the one mediator between God and men.
"The Radical Reformation led by Martin Luther finds its fulfillment in the autonomy of the local church," Guarneri said. "That's really important to champion and to celebrate. Our churches don't need to sell out for the sake of doctrinal uniformity, but to celebrate our differences in unity."
Amidst his talk of autonomy he urged churches to continue to work together to accomplish more for the Kingdom.
"Local church autonomy does not mean isolation," Guarneri said. "It requires cooperation among churches, but it is voluntary and for the purpose of mission."
Lauren Sturdy serves as Prospect Research Coordinator for Buckner International.