NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Few Southern Baptist ministers have had such long-term ministry experience and influence on SBC life as has Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.
And from that unique perspective on Baptist life, Chapman offered his thoughts on the Southern Baptist Convention’s present state and future challenges as a guest on New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Baptist Center blog.
A native of Kosciusko, Miss., Chapman professed faith in Christ when he was 7. He answered the call to vocational Christian ministry at the age of 12. He earned both the master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He served as pastor of four churches -– three in Texas and one in New Mexico. Under his leadership, each church demonstrated strong support for Cooperative Program giving, baptism and evangelism.
He served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1990-92 and in October 1992 he became president and chief executive officer of the Executive Committee. Since then, Chapman has continued to lead at the denominational level just as he did as a local church pastor.
As a guest blogger on the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry’s website, Chapman addressed many of the current issues facing the Southern Baptist Convention.
Responding to questions by the moderator, Chapman addressed the “greatest” issues facing Southern Baptists, the convention’s greatest strength, weakness, challenge and opportunity. Not surprisingly, his responses drew connections between each.
“The passion for, experience with and funding of world missions has been and is the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Chapman said. “In Southern Baptist churches, God continues to stir the hearts of increasing numbers of church members of all ages to go wherever He leads to witness to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ultimately, Southern Baptists’ passion for missions grows out of the conviction that the Bible is God’s Holy Word, Chapman said, conceding that those strong biblical convictions often lead people outside the convention to characterize Southern Baptists as “narrow-minded, unengaged in today’s culture and apathetic to the world’s needs.”
However, rebutting such post-denominationalism views, Chapman underscored that, “No denomination is better positioned to demonstrate the love of Christ and his power to save mankind than Southern Baptists.”
Yet, Chapman noted that Southern Baptists suffer when those biblical convictions are inappropriately expressed.
“Our greatest weakness is the tendency to ‘defend’ our faith with a degree of severe and unforgiving dogmatism that in part creates a negative view of the Convention and helps perpetuate the idea that we are little more than a denomination of prohibitions,” Chapman said.
Chapman repudiated internecine attacks and called for a renewed commitment to speaking truth in love among Southern Baptists as well as with those outside the convention.
“In the Convention there appears to be a growing fondness for casting stones at each other, judging one another and building our reputations at the expense of others,” he said. “A divisive culture has been sown among Southern Baptists that does not honor Christ when measured against the Word of God.”
Though Jesus expressed righteous indignation while on earth, those instances were quite rare, Chapman said, adding that among Christ’s followers today, expressions of indignation should be no less rare.
“We are doing ourselves, our denomination and our Lord an injustice if we let the world see only our dogmatism without seeing the love of Christ,” he said.
The greatest threat and the greatest weakness are inextricably bound, according to Chapman, who described the threat as “the gradual deterioration of the collective heart that at one time beat steadily and strongly with a sacrificial love for Jesus and the unsaved.”
Pointing out that divisions within the convention will splinter the collective heart for ministry, Chapman explained that the Baptist Faith and Message represents a consensus about core beliefs and is not meant to be an exhaustive statement on every doctrinal issue.
“The Convention is a network of churches that voluntarily bands together for the principal cause of world missions.
“If we insist that every doctrinal nuance debated among Southern Baptists is a core belief, sooner or later our missionary force will be depleted and the unsaved will be abandoned,” Chapman said.
If those divisions can be erased, he offered, then the greatest opportunity for the convention becomes a united effort to equip Southern Baptists to better impact the world in the 21st century.
Responding to other questions, Chapman shared his views about such issues as the resurgence of Calvinism within the convention, churches adopting ruling elders and the emerging church movement.
However, Chapman sees the greatest theological issue facing Southern Baptists as the “sole sufficiency of Christ for salvation.”
“In the future, when a tidal wave against Christ and Christ alone as the way of salvation threatens to sweep our witness off the face of the earth, I believe we will pinpoint this moment in history as the beginning of a rising tide,” Chapman said. “We have less time than we think to fortify our witness for the ridicule and disdain that will come first upon the organized church, make its way through the ranks of nominal Christians, and finally slam against the people who are guided daily by the Holy Spirit and whose only desire is to honor Christ and Glorify the Father.”
Chapman sees this coming barrage as particularly perilous for Christians striving to keep one foot planted in the Kingdom of God and the other in the world.
“[They] are going to be shocked that their faith will not stand up under the barrage of ridicule,” he said. “This reason alone is enough to cause us to fall on our faces before the Lord, confess our disobedience and unashamedly profess to the world that He is our Savior and Lord.”
“We were honored to have Dr. Chapman as a guest host on the Baptist Center blog,” said NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke, who serves as acting director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry. “His answers to our questions provide valuable insights on some of the opportunities and tension points in Southern Baptist life. Our students and all our readers will appreciate his candor and unique perspective on these crucial issues.”
Past bloggers who have addressed these same issues include SBC President Frank Page; Rick Lance, executive director of Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions; Emil Turner, executive director of Arkansas Baptist State Convention; and missiologist Ed Stetzer of the North American Mission Board. These responses are archived on the Baptist Center blog. For more information on the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry’s blog and upcoming events, go online to baptistcenter.com.
In addition to serving as guest host on the Baptist Center blog, Chapman posts comments periodically on his own website, www.morrischapman.com.