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Baptist associations’ roles underscored

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Following the model of the early church, Baptist associations should encourage doctrinal integrity, foster biblical fellowship, promote genuine worship and advance the cause of the Great Commission, said Russell Cook, president of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions.

Cook, in his president’s address at the SBCADOM June 8-9 meeting in Indianapolis, said associations must encourage doctrinal integrity, particularly in light of movements like the Emergent Church that minimize the importance of doctrine.

“The Baptist association exists to encourage doctrinal integrity, to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” said Cook, director of missions of the Pottawatomie-Lincoln Baptist Association in Shawnee, Okla. “You may say, ‘Well, this is a given.’ May I suggest to you that this is no longer a given. This continuation of the apostle’s doctrine mattered a whole lot to the early church and it should matter to us as well. It really matters to God what we believe.”

In addition to Cook’s address, several SBC entity heads addressed the meeting, which was attended by 75-100 directors of missions.

LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer said a key reason only 6.5 million people out of 16 million members attend SBC churches on a given Sunday is because churches don’t place high enough expectations on their members.

“There is a fine line between expectation and legalism,” Rainer said. “But I don’t think many of our churches are guilty of having too high of expectations. We have dumbed down church so much that it doesn’t mean a thing to people.” Rainer focused on results of research he and his son Sam Rainer III examined in “Essential Church,” to be released by LifeWay’s B&H Publishers in September. The Rainers studied whether people consider church to be essential, for example, and found that for many — even professing Christians — it is not.

O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, warned of an egocentrism among believers that threatens to subvert the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“The New Testament Gospel is about self-denial,” he said. “There is a new trendy gospel that is all about self-fulfillment. The New Testament Gospel is centered in the person of Jesus Christ and His plan of redemption. This new trendy gospel is centered in man and his need for happiness in life.”

To ward off this distorted message, Hawkins said churches must follow the example of the early church, which relied on the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaiming, preserving and propagating it whenever and however possible.

Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, said churches that are active and intentional about reaching the world for Christ will have an authentic, born-again membership.

“I suspect in the New Testament, there is no such thing as inactive members,” Rankin said. “There is no such thing as members that don’t participate in the body life and witness of their church.”

Rankin referenced figures on new church plants in Vietnam, Cambodia and China as well as overseas baptism numbers for 2007, but emphasized that statistics are not the driving force of the IMB.

“I have often said it is not about statistical growth and how many baptisms you report this year as compared to last year or how many churches or new missionaries you have,” he said. “It is about penetrating the lostness. How many people have yet to hear about Jesus Christ?”

Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board, in reviewing the SBC’s new National Evangelism Initiative, said Baptist associations fill a vital role in the SBC.

“Doing missions as Southern Baptists is not just about the Cooperative Program,” Hammond said. “I believe in the Cooperative Program. But part of the Cooperative Program philosophy is we believe that churches can cooperate. We [NAMB] can’t get it done without you, state conventions can’t get it done without you and churches need associations.”

Jim Futral, executive director-treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, preached at the directors of missions’ Sunday morning worship service. Focusing on Luke 6:38 (“Give and it will be given unto you….”), Futral said the passage often is used in sermons on tithing but it also a “full-orbed life context.”

“Lots of preachers, lots of churches, lots of believers haven’t learned that whatever you dish out is going to be dished back to you,” Futral said. “It’s true in your works and true in your words.”
Garrett E. Wishall is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. With reporting by Norm Miller.

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