The Southern Baptist Convention
The Great Commission Resurgence
Morris H. Chapman
SBC Executive Committee Presidential Report
June 23, 2009
The Southern Baptist Convention and the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ have never been strangers to one another, and so long as the convention and her agencies and institutions stay anchored upon the inerrant Word of God and focused on the unconquerable Cross of Christ, she will stand against every wind of doctrine that blows across the great theological divide, against every ecclesiastic fad that promises innovation at the expense of confessional fidelity, against every subtle temptation toward uncooperative narrowness and unorthodox ecumenism.
While Southern Baptists pursue the fresh wind of the Spirit and contemplate new approaches to send our missionaries to the farthest, darkest corners of the earth, we must maintain a careful balance between cultural adaptation and Gospel proclamation.
We must NEVER subvert the changeless Gospel to an inordinate fascination with changing cultural forms and sociological trends. To hide the lamp of the Gospel under the bushel of cultural compromise is a grievous sin against the Spirit. Some of the church-growth methodologies that masquerade under the guise of Bible exposition are increasingly known for the crude themes and the vulgar language of their strongest advocates. The sacred desk is no place for the carnal, the sensual, and the sensational. Ministers of the Gospel must exercise great caution when rushing in where angels dare not tread, and churches and pastors of the Southern Baptist Convention must avoid even the appearance of evil in this regard.
We should never speak ABOUT the Lord and his work in a way that we would not speak TO the Lord. We all stumble in many ways – it is true – but we must not encourage, commend, or reward a careless, carnal tongue. Christ must be Lord of our lives AND our lips.
There is a new call to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, in our churches and in our convention. “What would it look like if Jesus were truly Lord of our convention?” How might things be different? I propose that we can get a clearer picture of ourselves when we look at the mirror of Scripture than when we look at each other. Like the apostles whom Jesus called as his first ambassadors, we are frail and fragile -- often selfish and scattered.
Too often, we are jealous of how the Lord is blessing one of the brethren. We look at the enrollment of the other seminary, the endowment of the other institution, the building or the budget of the other church. We count the numbers and we wonder why God is doing more for them than he is for us.
To those of us who are always pressing for a higher profile in convention life or climbing the ladder of ambition, the LORD would tell us that the greatest place is the place of service. It is the lowly floor of the basin and the towel, not the throne of power and authority. We must prefer to kneel at another’s feet in service, than to stand in the synagogues and street corners. And when God chooses to bless one of his servants for their faithfulness, we must avoid watching with benign interest – and often a critical spirit. We must follow the example of Christ himself, and seek to be the servant of all.
A jealous, critical spirit is the death of cooperation. It is the black cloud that will overshadow our joy in the Great Commission.
To those of us who are always curious about what another church, or another trustee board, or another administration is doing, the LORD says, “Feed my sheep.”
If we go about our business of feeding His sheep, that spirit will pervade our cooperative work in the Great Commission and we would indeed become a gospel-centered convention.
A gospel-centered convention is necessarily a Cross-centered convention . . . an empty-tomb centered convention.
It is be a convention where – like our Lord – we die to self and sin; where we abandon all of self for all of Christ; where we put the blessing of others in front of the benefit to ourselves.
The Convention is nothing more than a body of churches. When the churches fail or falter, the Convention fails or falters. When one of us is suffering, we all suffer.
The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation without a faith response on the part of man.
Some are given to explain away the “whosoever will” of John 3:16. How can a Christian come to such a place when Ephesians says, “For by grace are you saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8)? I do not rise to become argumentative, or to change minds already convinced of one perspective or the other. But I do rise to state the obvious. Man is often tempted to design a theological theory in light of a biblical antinomy in order to clarify what God is trying to say.
Man’s system will be inferior to God’s system now and forever. Why is it so difficult to accept from God what we cannot fully explain? After all, He didn’t begin to tell us everything He knows, but what we need to know to be redeemed and live righteously. The belief that sovereignty alone is at work in salvation is not what has emboldened our witness and elevated our concern for evangelism and missions through the ages. This is not the doctrine that Southern Baptists have embraced in their desire to reach the world for Christ.
If there is any doctrine of grace that drives men to argue and debate more than it drives them to pursue lost souls and persuade ALL MEN to be reconciled to God – then it is no doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man both are taught in the Bible. Both are necessary elements in the salvation experience. A healthy tension (an antinomy) exists in the Bible with regard to these two important biblical truths. Both are present in the salvation experience.
Going beyond the work of God’s Spirit in salvation, I believe the time has come to stop talking of “what made the SBC great” or “what will make the SBC great again.” All these questions are in direct competition with the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our chief aim, or first and greatest concern, our most passionate commitment must be to ask this question “What will give HIM the glory?”
What difference does it make?
It makes a difference to the 7 billion people on the face of the earth who are waiting to hear about the forgiveness of sins that is preached in the name of Jesus.
It makes a difference to the thirsty child in a remote African village waiting for a drink of water in the name of Jesus.
It makes a difference to the churches from Alaska to Florida, from Canada to the Caribbean, and from North Dakota to South Padre that need the encouragement of association to fight the good fight, to run the race, and to finish the course for Jesus.
It makes a difference to the 10,000 students training in our seminaries, to the 5,000 missionaries serving in foreign fields, and to the retirees and annuitants who depend on our support.
The Southern Baptist Convention is not too big to fail. It is possible that we could become weary in our walk; that we could faint in our run. It is possible that our focus could become blurred and our faith could become weak.
No committee, no president, no agency, no institution and no executive director can renew our strength. No program, no report can revive our soul.
The Southern Baptist Convention has hit troubled waters before. In her earliest days, there were controversies about who the real Baptists were, and what their identity was. There were those who wanted to purge the convention of those whose “identity” as Baptists didn’t meet their approval. The Whitsett Controversy was exactly this. It was here, in Louisville, more than a century ago, that Landmark theology sought to force its own "Baptist identity" upon our agencies and institutions. The seminary was engulfed in the controversy, and the whole convention was arrested by the confusion. But while the controversy raged and theologians were arguing about Baptist identity, Lottie Moon was boarding a boat to the distant shores of East Asia.
Through the years, other theologies have arisen that -- if unchecked -- promise to distract us from our Great Commission mandate.
We must never forget that the Day of Pentecost -- the day that Christ empowered his Church -- was a day of bold witness to the lost, of mutual edification and love, and of a supernatural dispensation of Heaven's power. The church did not -- upon receiving the Spirit of God -- write a theology text, or form a committee, or establish a bureaucracy, or construct a building, or engage in idle arguments about the extent of the atonement, or the nature of election.
When the early church was baptized with God's Spirit, they instead hurled themselves to the farthest corners of the earth to preach the soul-saving name of Jesus. From day one, they were steadfast in prayer, praise, and proclamation. They were a missionary people before anything else. We would do well to remember this. Sure, there were struggles and hardships from the very beginning. But they refused to lose their focus in the midst of the difficulties.
When the Southern Baptist Convention has shouldered immense financial burdens and frustrating disorganization, she found the will to press on. The Cooperative Program was launched as a tool to keep the SBC FOCUSED on the Gospel rather than on the budgets and buildings and bureaucracy.
Today, the Cooperative Program is just that…it is a tool. A means of organizing ourselves to KEEP US focused on the main thing. Jesus said that where a man’s treasure is, there is heart is also. 95% of the SBC’s receipts go to our missionary and relief efforts, our centers of theological education, and to plant churches for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
The victories of faith in the life of the convention did not happen because men and women loved doctrine. They happened because they loved Jesus. Where will we be and what will we be doing when Lottie Moon is once again boarding a boat to the distant shores of East Asia? Better yet, what will we be doing when Christ comes again? What will we have done for His glory between now and then? What if it were to be soon?
With this in mind, there are some questions that Southern Baptists must ask in this hour.
1. Is a Great Commission Resurgence more about the Great Commission than about the Southern Baptist Convention?
2. Like the Conservative Resurgence, does the Great Commission Resurgence offer a clear objective and a transparent process for achieving that objective?
3. Does the Great Commission Resurgence seek to bring together all Southern Baptists – at the national, state, and associational level – or does it unnecessarily alienate certain demographics?
4. Does the Great Commission Resurgence honor the long-established trustee governance of our entities wherein the trustees are elected by the Southern Baptist Convention from among pastors and laymen throughout the Convention?
5. Does the Great Commission Resurgence seek personal transformation of our hearts, or institutional transformation of our structure?