NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–William L. (Bill) Wagner, a former Southern Baptist missionary and current chief academic officer of Olivet University International in San Francisco, announced Sept. 7, 2007, that he would allow his name to be placed in nomination for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The identity of his nominator has not been announced.
Wagner is one of six candidates Southern Baptist messengers will consider. Baptist Press asked each candidate to participate in a survey of mostly standardized questions, but the questionnaire included at least one query individualized for each candidate.
Wagner’s answers to the questions posed by Baptist Press follow:
1) What has God done in your life and ministry to prepare you to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention?
First, it should be said that I have been serving in the SBC for over 50 years. In the beginning, I was the New Mexico State Baptist Student Union president and a summer staffer at Ridgecrest. After that, I was both a pastor and a church planter, followed by 31 years on the mission field with my area of responsibility being Eastern and Western Europe, as well as the Middle East and North Africa. From 1995 to 2005, I was the professor of evangelism and missions at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. At the present time, I am the president of Olivet University International in San Francisco and the pastor of two small churches in California. This means that I have been prepared for the office by serving the SBC as student leader, church planter, pastor, foreign missionary, consultant for evangelism and church growth, seminary professor, university president and second vice president of the SBC.
2) If you are elected what would be your priority message for Southern Baptists?
We are all aware that for the first time in 150 years, we have declined in membership. There are three main reasons for this. They are: (1) a lack of spiritual fervor, (2) many leaving because they are dissatisfied with the SBC (more leaving out the back door), (3) a lack of new and creative methods of evangelism in the USA (fewer coming in the front door).
If elected, I would hold a solemn assembly in the fall and ask all Southern Baptists to come to their churches and pray, confess their sins and fast. This would be voluntary. There would be no conferences, no programs, no special speakers, no big budgets, but just our people coming together to seek God.
Second, I would reach out to those on the fringe of Southern Baptist life and encourage them to stay and work with us. This would include those in our minority churches as well as those in the mission areas in the USA.
Third, I would promote a new program where we would use university and college-age students to do two years of missionary service both in the USA and in foreign countries. Their only task would be evangelism and discipleship. This would be paid for by the student’s families, friends and churches.
Being a trained missionary strategist, I would use my abilities to find new and better ways to bring people to Christ. I would not just say we should be more active in doing what we are already doing, but I will be proactive in seeing that we find better methods.
3) What do you believe is needed to see churches more effectively bringing people to Christ and making disciples?
I think that Avery Willis is right on target in emphasizing the need to make disciples. I have been close to both Avery Willis and Billie Hanks in making disciples. While a missionary in my area overseas, I led over 25,000 persons to take the MasterLife course. I have the names of that many people that were trained. Others have also followed later, so this number is far larger. I have also helped Billie Hanks in getting Europeans to use his course. We as Southern Baptists are great in the creation of new programs but are poor in the development of delivery systems. I would go back to some of the basic courses that we have and help people to become disciples. If we do this, the evangelism part will take care of itself. We already have all the materials necessary to do the job, we just need leadership to help us get the job done. I might add that we have the officer corps in place (missionaries, DOMs, etc.) but we need the foot soldiers.
4) Decline/plateau in membership, baptisms: What do you think the future holds for the SBC?
Missionary strategy is my strong point. I have written four books on this subject, including one that made an extensive study of the rise and decline of the German Baptists. We in the SBC are at the crossroads. We can continue the decline and become like the German Baptists or we can see the present decline as just a little dip. This is why this election is so very important. If we continue in the way we have been going, we will continue the decline. We must be innovative and be ready to make some changes not in theology but in methodology. I am positive that with the right leadership we can make giant moves forward for our Lord as Southern Baptists.
5) Regenerate church membership: To what extent do you see regenerate church membership as a significant concern in the Southern Baptist Convention?
If by this question you mean that every member of a Southern Baptist church should be saved, then I do not see why this question even comes up. Of course, one of our basic concepts is that our churches are made up of regenerate believers. We are not pedo-Baptists that allow children to become members with their families. Our membership is for those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.
6) Calvinism: Do you see any reason for non-Calvinist Southern Baptists to be concerned about a renewed emphasis on Calvinism in some Southern Baptist churches and seminaries?
The time is ripe for us to select a “World Christian” as the president. I do not hold that I am the only candidate who is one, but we need to see who our enemy really is. It is not the other Christians who have accept Jesus, but rather secularism, Islam, cults, the New Age movement, etc. Let us quit fighting among ourselves and join in together to bring more people in the world to a saving knowledge to our Lord. In my book “How Islam Plans to Change the World,” I see Islam as very large threat to all Christians in the world. This is our enemy, not other Christians.
Once again, another answer to your question. I see no reason to be concerned about the rise of Calvinists in our midst. I am not a Calvinist, but I can have a wonderful fellowship with my fellow Southern Baptists who are.
7) The IMB trustee guidelines governing baptism and private prayer language in appointing missionaries: Do you think their action was needed and appropriate?
A simple answer: No, I do not think that their action was needed or appropriate. We have lost some wonderful missionaries because of this decision. We already have the Baptist Faith and Message document. It has served us well. We do not need to add to it. I know much about this action at the IMB, and I feel that there was too much political reasoning involved in the decision. We as Baptists need to put politics aside and get back to our main task of winning people and making them disciples.
8) The role of the Baptist Faith and Message: What do you see as the proper role of the Baptist Faith and Message when it comes to governing SBC entities and employees?
I personally feel that we are blessed by having the BF&M and we do not need to add more to it in working with employees of or agencies. I do, however, believe that each administration and board of trustees should have the right, in looking at their situation, to add other requirements as they see fit. I would be very careful in adding much to the document that all of us as Southern Baptists have approved.
9) We hear reports that God’s spirit is moving in astounding ways in many parts of the world, with people being saved and churches being started so fast no one can keep track of the numbers. Based on your missionary experience, what do you think keeps God from moving in such remarkable ways in America?
Once again I refer back to my missionary experience. I have always felt that our mission work in Western Europe was very important because I predicted that we in America were going to follow Europe’s experience and eventually become secular. What is done for Christ in Europe could be useful in other parts of the world in the future. People refer to Europe as being “post-Christian.” This term is coming very soon to America. In reading Matthew 24, I was always baffled by the statements that say that in the last days there would be a falling away from the faith and at the same time the Gospel would be preached to the whole world. That very thing is happening today. Many are giving up on Christianity but at the same time the Gospel is being received all over the world. Now I understand what Jesus was predicting. We are living in the end times.
But to answer the question, I feel that we as Southern Baptists have made a very big mistake by breaking our ties with conservative Baptists around the world. I visit many countries and almost all leaders ask why we do not have more fellowship with them. These are conservative Baptists who hold to the same doctrines that we hold to. If elected, I will do everything possible to rebuild these relationships so that we can help them and they can be a blessing to us. We must have a global approach to our faith. I might add that we need to give Dr. Jerry Rankin credit in leading out in world evangelism and church planting. We are the world’s leaders in this area. l am very proud of our IMB, as well as the NAMB and the WMU. These are the agencies leading us in missions.
But what keeps God from moving in America? It is the fact that spiritually we have removed ourselves from Him. Our first priority is to come back to God, thus I recommend a solemn assembly. If we as Southern Baptists return to Him, we will see His blessings and we shall experience a revival and a new outpouring of His Spirit. We might do well to restudy 2 Chronicles 7:14)
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.