TAYLORS, S.C. (BP)–As the second candidate willing to be nominated for Southern Baptist Convention president, South Carolina pastor Frank Page calls for adding passion, revival, soul-winning and missions to the convention’s 30-year concentration on doctrinal purity.
Page is pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., where more than 12 percent of undesignated receipts are given through the Cooperative Program to fund state, national and international missions and ministries.
“It is [a choice] about methodology,” Page said of the difference between himself and the other nominee, Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark. “I just believe that it’s time for people to not only say they support the work of Southern Baptists, but to show it. And I hope that my candidacy will bring that discussion to light,” he told Baptist Press on May 19.
Page has been pastor of the Taylors congregation the past five and a half years. “Our church gives over 12 percent to the Cooperative Program and we have a huge missions program on top of that, so we believe that one can do both. And I think that’s a model that I would like for people to be able to consider.”
Prior to accepting the pastorate at Taylors, Page had been pastor of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., from 1991-2001; of Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, from 1987-91; and Lafayette Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., 1981-87. He has served on the executive boards of the South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina state Baptist conventions.
An advocate of what he labels “evangelism with integrity,” Page taught personal evangelism adjunctively at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary while pastoring in Fort Worth. In an interview with the Southern Baptist TEXAN, he emphasized the importance of winning people to Christ, then quickly guiding converts through discipleship.
When he arrived at Taylors First Baptist, the church had been in decline, its membership had plateaued years earlier. Personal evangelism was not something that came naturally to the congregation, he said. During 2001 the church saw 49 people baptized and by 2005 the number reached 82 for the calendar year. The Annual Church Profile, which covers Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, lists 66 baptisms in 2005. “This year we’ve already baptized 37 so we will be over 100,” he projected. “That’s nowhere near where God wants us to be, but we’re working hard to train our people in soul-winning.”
Through a program tagged “L.E.A.D.” for locators, evangelizers, assisters and disciplers, Page said emphasis is placed on locating prospects then sending out evangelism teams to win them to Christ. Various methods used have included the FAITH evangelistic strategy developed by current SBC President Bobby Welch, One-Day Soul Winning and a Gospel tract Page wrote titled “You Matter.” Those who respond to the Gospel message are assigned for follow-up to a personal discipler.
“We’re old-fashioned,” Page said in describing the process by which new members are accepted. “We have an invitation and during that time people come forward and we have staff to counsel with those persons to see what their testimony is. If they’re coming by transfer or for baptism, we find out if they do indeed have a personal relationship with Christ.”
IMB AND BF&M 2000
Aware that trustees of the International Mission Board have been grappling with the variety of approaches SBC churches use in receiving members for baptism, Page said the church determines whether there is a testimony of New Testament baptism by immersion.
“If baptized by immersion in an evangelical church whose theology would be consistent with Scripture, then we go forward at that point. But we do require counseling with staff,” he noted, “to make sure they have a personal commitment to Christ” and to review any prior baptism.
Page said he is not familiar enough to “speak with clarity” on decisions made by IMB trustees to evaluate the baptism of a missionary candidate and the disqualification of those who use a private prayer language. “I just know that Scripture is clear that we need baptism by immersion with correct theology,” he said. On the matter of speaking in tongues, he did not elaborate beyond stating that 1 Corinthians 14 addresses the issue.
In regard to the work of IMB missionaries alongside other Great Commission Christians deployed through other evangelical mission entities, Page said he affirms their work where it is possible and wise. “I trust the trustees, the field personnel, regional directors and others to be able to work out a scenario that allows working with other Great Commission Christians with integrity. We can’t win this world to Jesus by ourselves, but there are areas in which we ought to be careful. There are probably areas in which we should not partner with them.”
Page said he is very comfortable with the Baptist Faith and Message overwhelmingly adopted by messengers to the 2000 SBC annual meeting. While serving in the state of Georgia, Page said he helped facilitate utilization of the doctrinal statement by Georgia Baptist churches. He served on the Georgia Baptist Convention executive committee in the fall of 2000 when messengers approved a resolution affirming the BF&M 2000 as having “great value as information, as a guide to interpretation, as a source of enlightenment and instruction concerning basic Baptist belief.”
LEADERSHIP AND PARTICIPATION
Being engaged in such deliberations is an important part of being a Southern Baptist, Page said. While believing it is important to attend SBC annual meetings, he added, “Even more than that, attend your state and associational meetings as well.”
Instead of opting out of the process, he encouraged Southern Baptists who have concerns for the convention’s future to continue to give, volunteer, to probe and ask questions. “Make sure what’s being done is indeed efficient and missional and appropriate. Instead of just saying I don’t like what they’re doing and I’m not going to give anymore, stay involved. Correct it from the inside rather than criticizing from the outside.”
As one who has expressed his share of concerns, Page said he is far more likely to listen to supportive Southern Baptists than those who haven’t been involved. “If by some miracle I’m elected to be Southern Baptist Convention president — and I do believe it would take that — I would listen far more readily to someone who knows what they’re talking about and who from the inside, as a supportive, giving Southern Baptist, has been contributing rather than someone who doesn’t even know the process.”
For many of his baby-boomer generation and for those younger, skepticism toward institutions seems to come naturally, he said. “Some look askance on any institution and assume it’s bureaucratic and bloated. That may well be the truth,” he said. As a fulltime pastor, Page said he hasn’t spent time examining the inner workings of each SBC entity but has taken note of budget constraints imposed at the North American Mission Board.
“Many of these departments had to cut their budgets over the years, particularly in evangelism, so that other projects which have failed could be funded. Whether that’s a bloated bureaucracy or not, I don’t know, but there’s obviously a need for attention to strong organization so the main thing — missions and evangelism — continues to be the main thing.” With the resignation of NAMB’s president, Bob Reccord, Page said morale is at a low level and “questions about NAMB’s effectiveness abound.”
Encouraging each SBC entity to “take an honest look and make sure that it is lean and mean,” Page said, “They can no longer just shout to pastors and churches, ‘Give more, give more,’ and just expect we’re going to listen if they say it more and louder. Show us the value. Show us that what you’re doing has worth.” While personally convinced that such value can be demonstrated, Page encouraged a willingness to be responsive. “Show that the questions they’re asked are answered and suggestions when raised are listened to.”
By expanding the base from which trustees are drawn, Page believes the future of the SBC will be brighter. “If you’re truly involved in something, you’re going to have far more ownership and want it to succeed. If we continue to have the same people, we’ll continue to alienate a large number of godly, conservative Southern Baptists.”
For Page, that doesn’t mean sacrificing the theological standards nominees must meet. “I would never be a part of any movement that would in any way compromise a high degree of integrity and belief in God’s Word,” he told the TEXAN. “If you want to say infallible, inerrant, I’ll use all those words,” he said in affirming the conservative resurgence. “We do need to check and make sure they’re theologically conservative and believe in the integrity of God’s Word. I’d have it no other way.”
Concerned that “the rope that holds us together is becoming frayed and weak,” Page said broadening the base of leadership would provide needed strength. “I’ve said I will allow the tent to be broadened for anybody on three criteria — a sweet spirit, an evangelistic heart and a deep belief in the integrity of the Word of God.”
He proposed looking beyond “the same names brought forth year after year,” calling for an SBC president who will actively seek to involve younger pastors, as well as those from small and medium-size churches.
Having pastored his first church in Possum Kingdom, Texas, Page said from that experience to his present pastorate in South Carolina he’s discovered “some really great leaders” yet to be nominated for SBC assignments. “There are some great leaders who will never get the attention of a large church pastor. I believe it is time to say, ‘Let’s use those guys,’ and pull together experience and maturity with youth.”
If elected, he intends to challenge the members he appoints to the Committee on Committees to access computer databases to learn who has served in the past and then draw from “wonderful laypeople and pastors who have conservative theological roots, but who have extreme leadership skills that have never been tapped.”
COOPERATIVE PROGRAM SUPPORT
On the other hand, Page believes “several things have narrowed things down,” pointing to some recent trustee actions. “I don’t know all of the exact things that went on at the IMB. I only heard third- and fourth-hand like most of us do, but I do think when denominationalists say you have to give 10 percent to be considered, that’s narrowing the parameters. We have got to be careful about narrowing these boundaries in a time when we need to be expanding cooperation and participation. That’s what I’m talking about.”
Personally, Page said he could not call himself a Southern Baptist if he failed to give sacrificially to support Southern Baptists’ 10,000-plus missionaries across North America and the world, calling such an approach “morally irresponsible.” At this year’s annual meeting, the choice between the two presidential candidates involves methodology, he said, reporting his own church’s percentage of gifts to the Cooperative Program as 12 percent of undesignated receipts.
“There are some denominational servants who seem to think if you don’t do everything through the Cooperative Program or some established denominational channel it doesn’t count,” he added, pointing to Georgia pastor Johnny Hunt’s success in planting many churches with or without SBC involvement.
“Ronnie Floyd does mission work that’s fantastic. I will say, ‘God bless you, praise the Lord.’ Our church has probably as big a mission program as the other two,” he added, encouraging churches to contribute generously to the Cooperative Program and be on mission.
“I will never cast aspersions upon any church or pastor who is on mission for God,” he stated in a news release. “Whether or not they do it through the Cooperative Program or through our convention or on their own, they have to answer before the Lord as to how they do mission work.”
Page told the TEXAN, “Balance is the key. Do I think some of the percentages ought to be changed? I personally do.” He added that he supports an Executive Committee study recommending leaders be drawn from churches that give at least 10 percent through the Cooperative Program. “I do favor the suggestion as long as it’s clear that it is an encouragement and does not become in the minds of people an expectation or requirement that would narrow participation.”
SBC PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Calling Hunt his friend and praising the reputation of Floyd, Page said, “This is not a personality contest. It’s not theological.” Instead, he said, the opportunity for a methodological discussion is the only reason God allowed him to permit his name for nomination to SBC president. “I do not want to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have never wanted it. Some guys want it. It’s the goal of their life. God wanted me in this to get these discussions out there.”
With his regard for Hunt as a friend, Page said he would not run against him. “Because of the late moment of his dropping out and announcing another candidate,” that changed in early May. “Let us have two or more conservative, solid candidates run each year,” he proposed in his news release. “Without calling into question anyone’s integrity or veiled threats regarding suicide of political futures, let us be able to have honest, open dialogue about points of agreement and disagreement.”
His candidacy attracted the interest of pastors who hold Reformed theology after Oklahoman Wade Burleson voiced his confidence that Page shares his concern that the parameters for participation in SBC leadership have narrowed. Though Page differs in his interpretation of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), he pledged to involve Calvinists and non-Calvinists who meet the criteria he has proposed for appointment.
In his book, “Trouble with the Tulip: A Closer Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism,” Page said he expressed his belief that “God has foreordained the ‘how,’ not the ‘who.’” Those foreordained in Christ become the chosen elect people of God, he added.
Noting that Reformed pastor John Piper’s books are among the most read books on seminary campuses, Page said the movement is huge and growing — “bigger than Texas,” he stated. “We must have honesty about this issue. There are churches splitting across the convention because pastors are coming in quietly trying to teach Calvinism or Reformed theology without telling the pastor search committees where they stand. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are not Calvinistic in their theology and it’s causing some serious controversy.”
As a theologically conservative Southern Baptist, Page offered two clarifications: “I believe the Bible totally. I’m not mad about it.” To the less informed secular audience he affirms the Bible as God’s Word, calling it relevant to life today. “It is authentic and that can be proven through manuscript evidence, historical affirmation and archaeological evidence. The Bible we have is authentic, real and relevant and it can speak to your life today.”