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Southern Baptist Tradition: What Is It?
Tuesday, June 17, 1980

Chapman Response to Welcome at 1980 SBC in St. Louis, Missouri.

“What is Southern Baptist tradition?”  Southern Baptist tradition is, on one hand, conservative theology and on the other, cooperative methodology!

Our conservative heritage is based upon the belief that the Bible is the authoritative, inspired, infallible Word of God, inerrant in the original autographs.  Traditionally we have accepted by faith that when God revealed His Word, it was first recorded without error.  When men have stood unequivocally upon this truth, their teaching has been enriched and their preaching empowered because God is a God of Truth.  Either the Bible is the Word of God or it is not the word of God.  Historically, when a denomination has failed to stand upon this truth, it begins, sooner or later, to fall for anything.  The Bible is God’s perfect Word for an imperfect world.  We also know deep in our hearts that our enthusiasm for evangelism and missions will not exceed our convictions about biblical authority.

We have always been held together not only by conservative theology, but also by a cooperative methodology.  Just as we are a people of the Book, we are also a people who are one in the bond of love.  This tie that binds our hearts in Christian love has given birth to the cooperative program, cooperative missions, cooperative education, cooperative literature, and above all, a cooperative spirit.  It is a spirit to be treasured and we must never lose it.

In our convention there are some who tend to be conservative, but not cooperative, and there are others who tend to be cooperative, but not conservative.  However, the rank and file of Southern Baptists is both conservative and cooperative.

The world just waits for controversy to erupt among us, but what the world needs is to see the love of God explode within us.  For without love, what we do and what we say will be “as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.”  We may have the faith to remove mountains, but without love, God says, it is nothing.  We are on the threshold of the mightiest movement in evangelism and missions in our history and with the love of God in our hearts, we can take this nation for Christ.  We remember that the only living thing on which the curse of Jesus fell was a fig tree that bore no fruit.

Some years ago, someone called attention to the unity which Southern Baptists have achieved under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  As he spoke he read Ephesians 4:16, “From Christ the whole body, joined and held together by every supportive ligament, grows, and builds itself up in love, as each part does its word (NIV).  Then he said, “All joints (ligaments) are not alike, which illustrates our diversity, that voluntary principle which Baptists so correctly prize.  To be sure, there are Baptists who seem dedicated to separatism, who refuse to play on the team, who prefer to return their own punts, call their own signals, do their own blocking, run their own interference, and set off for a goal line diagonal with the field.  They refuse, however, to recover their own fumbles.”

These words were spoken by J. W. Storer of Oklahoma who was president of the convention in 1954 when it met in St. Louis.  These are words of caution, but also words of encouragement, for they show that through the years, we have been a diverse people, but not divided in our loyalty to Christ.  The genius of Southern Baptist tradition is that we have been able to speak our minds without losing our heads.  Our forefathers intended that we ought to be a denomination of convictions, not convenience.  They determined that we ought to be a denomination of cooperation, not coalitions.

We have come now to St. Louis with our people praying all over this nation that our heartbeat will be heard around the world, for we know that, although we have excellence in programming, a revival cannot be programmed up, it must be prayed down.

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