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Baptist state editors talk unity, vision

TUCSON, Ariz. — Saying “Gospel Above All” is “more than a slogan,” Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear urged unity in remarks this week at the annual meeting of the Association of State Baptist Publications.

Citing Romans 14, Greear suggested Paul’s exhortation and admonishment to believers not to pass judgment on nonessentials applies to some current issues in the SBC. “Gospel Above All” is the theme chosen by Greear for the upcoming 2020 SBC Annual Meeting, just as it was for the 2019 Annual Meeting. He said for the theme to become reality, Southern Baptists must not divide over tertiary issues.

“Paul had a definite perspective on what was right, which is what to me makes his instruction all the more relevant,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C. “Because he’s not talking about issues that don’t matter. He’s saying, ‘In this issue, I know I’m right, but I just don’t want to let this issue create division in this body, and unity in the body is more important than uniformity on perspective on these things.'”

During his presentations to state Baptist executives and editors, Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, unveiled “Vision 2025,” and also cited Paul in emphasizing the need for strong relationships in order to achieve unity and to accomplish the collective goal of reaching “every town, every city, every state and every nation” with the Gospel.

“We’ve got to rediscover the power of relationships,” said Floyd, who added that Paul’s epistles show clearly, “the Gospel traveled on the tracks of relationships.”

Floyd, who assumed the SBC EC role in May 2019 after almost 33 years as senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., said he views his role “through the lens of a pastor,” and said the EC “exists to serve churches.”

“That’s what we do,” he said, adding: “We’re going to champion pastors.”

He told the editors that he was “completely content” to continue as Cross Church’s pastor, but felt a distinct calling to the new role with the EC. He told the editors he believes in the SBC.

“I didn’t come into this position with a bad attitude,” he said. “I came into this position because I believe in what we do. Can we do it better? We can always do it better.”

Floyd, who plans to present Vision 2025 at the SBC EC meeting next week (Feb. 17-18) in Nashville, also addressed editors’ questions about proposed changes to the EC’s mission and its ministry statement, including a proposed revision to “assist churches through elevating the ministry of prayer.” Following his presentation, editors gathered around Floyd for a time of prayer for the EC leader.

Others who spoke to the ASBP participants included: International Mission Board (IMB) president Paul Chitwood; North American Mission Board president Kevin Ezell; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) president Adam Greenway; Guidestone Financial Resources president and CEO O.S. Hawkins; Lifeway Christian Resources president and CEO Ben Mandrell; and Woman’s Missionary Union executive director-treasurer Sandy Wisdom-Martin.

Bob Smietana, editor-in-chief of Religion News Service, gave the keynote presentation to the editors, with the theme of “Good news, bad news — all news is God’s news.” Former Baptist Press editor Art Toalston provided devotionals and was presented with a resolution honoring his contribution to Southern Baptist and Christian journalism, which included stints with the Foreign Mission Board (now the IMB) and SWBTS. The resolution stated Toalston’s reporting “helped to shape Southern Baptist and Christian journalism,” and that his “personal character, spiritual life and writings have inspired his coworkers and others in the journalism field and in local churches.”

During Greear’s presentation to the editors, which included a brief question-and-answer session, he said division “needs to happen” when issues addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message are at stake, but Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 shows unity is of paramount importance otherwise.

“Unity of the body (of Christ) is a precious thing. There are times when you have to disunify over essentials,” Greear said. “But Paul seems to be equally concerned over those who would divide over nonessentials. And if we’re going to be a people who really believe ‘Gospel above all,’ we’re going to have to regain biblical categories for unity and liberty. We’ve got to unify on the right things and we’ve got to have liberty on the right things.”