News Articles

Executive Committee opts for alternatives to call for expenditure study

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An affirmation of the participation of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board in the interdenominational Mission America evangelistic movement was approved by the SBC Executive Committee during the closing session of its Sept. 20-21 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
In a related action, Executive Committee members approved a recommendation to the entities of the convention that they “maintain the historic position of Southern Baptists as they cooperate with various other groups in appropriate evangelistic enterprises or moral advocacy initiatives … .”
The recommendation additionally asks SBC agencies to “avoid committing Southern Baptist resources, personnel, or ministries to relationships which would compromise the historic distinctives or the unique witness of Southern Baptists to the world.”
The recommendation was in response to a motion referred to the Executive Committee from last June’s SBC annual meeting in Atlanta. Such a referral requires the Executive Committee to report to the following year’s convention whether it has decided to take any action on the matter.
The motion called for a study of whether any SBC agency had used convention Cooperative Program funds for any SBC employee’s involvement in ecumenical-type organizations encompassing “individuals, groups, denominations, or conventions whose professed beliefs are in conflict with or could risk the possible compromise” with the SBC’s “historic distinctives” or its witness to the world.
Such expenditures, the proposed motion noted, would run counter to a resolution against ecumenism adopted during the SBC’s 1996 annual meeting. The six-paragraph resolution countered ecumenism’s “portrayal of denominations as barriers to be overcome on the road to unity,” noting: “True Biblical unit can only be realized ‘in the bond of truth,’ and never at the expense of Biblical truth.”
The motion calling for a CP-related study was submitted to the convention last June by Louisiana pastor Jerry Moser. A critic of two much-publicized documents drafted in recent years by a group using an “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” banner, Moser is pastor of Bayou DuLarge Baptist Mission Church in Theriot.
Mission America, according to materials on its Internet site, is “a coalition of over 300 national Christian leaders who represent some 185,000 churches, denominations, parachurch ministries and ministry networks.” Its Celebration Jesus 2000 initiative — modeled after a North American Mission Board thrust bearing the same name — “seeks to mobilize the church to pray for and share Christ with every person in America by year-end 2000.” Both NAMB and Mission America also are building toward a home-based “lighthouse” emphasis in prayer and witnessing for the December-January turn of the millennium.
Two of the honorary co-chairs of Mission America are evangelist Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright.
The Southern Baptist Convention is among five dozen denominations listed by Mission America as partners in the movement, ranging from the Assemblies of God to National Baptists to the Salvation Army. The Episcopal Church is listed, but neither United Presbyterians nor United Methodists are listed.
One of Mission America’s national coordinators, Larry Lewis, was president of the SBC’s former Home Mission Board before it became part of NAMB in the SBC restructuring of 1997. Lewis’ salary is NAMB’s only Mission America expenditure.
According to the website, Mission America participants must affirm the 15-point Lausanne Covenant, an evangelical document that emerged from the Billy Graham-initiated Lausanne congress of 1974 in Switzerland.
The Executive Committee, in its deliberations on the issue, first addressed the recommendation framed in lieu of Moser’s motion and then the proposed affirmation of Mission America.
Both the recommendation and the affirmation passed in show-of-hands votes with only scattered opposition. Despite the lopsided votes, the proposals prompted the lengthiest debate in several years during an Executive Committee session, stretching toward 45 minutes.
Executive Committee deliberations on the issue started with the recommendation that SBC agencies guard the convention’s Baptist distinctives and witness.
Executive Committee member Les Coggins, president of Florida Electric Works, Inc., in Deland, spoke first, advocating a study of CP expenditures instead of the recommendation that would be forwarded to SBC agencies. According to Coggins, the Executive Committee has “oversight responsibility for the expenditure of Cooperative Program funds in accordance with convention directives.”
Coggins urged that “questions about our focus on evangelism, on witnessing and what we’re all about” be taken “extremely seriously.”
“There’s no one else to study it,” he noted.
If the proposed recommendation is adopted, Coggins suggested to fellow Executive Committee members they were essentially “not doing anything.”
North Carolina pastor Bruce Martin, who chaired the Executive Committee workgroup on Cooperative Program development, said workgroup members “felt that to establish a study committee or commission, or however it would be titled, is a very serious issue.” He further described the establishment of such a committee as “an option” for the Executive Committee “and not a requirement.”
Moser was provided an opportunity to address his concerns during the workgroup’s Sept. 20 meeting, said Martin, pastor of Village Baptist Church, Fayetteville. Martin said Moser cited Mission America when asked for a specific example of an involvement by an SBC agency entailing a potential compromise of Baptist distinctives and witness.
After much discussion, workgroup members decided to ask NAMB President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord to meet with them the morning of Sept. 21 to discuss the concerns.
“We felt like, after hearing both sides of the issue, that it did not warrant a study committee,” Martin recounted. “We felt like the answers that we received [from Reccord] were significant and substantial … .” Thus, the workgroup opted to frame its recommendation to SBC agencies, he said.
Martin, however, committed that “we may want to revisit this issue if anything specific and substantial and credible” comes to the workgroup’s attention in the coming months.
Various other Executive Committee members spoke for and against the proposed recommendation. Among concerns raised by opponents were the need for specific information about the scope and beliefs of denominations and para-church groups involved in Mission America; the necessity of ongoing diligence after a 20-year battle to regain the SBC’s biblical integrity; and, as one member put it, a conviction that such a study would be a “good, legitimate opportunity” and “can do absolutely no harm” in looking into a significant concern to a segment of SBC constituents.
Proponents of the recommendation, meanwhile, underscored their trust that Reccord and other key NAMB leaders would never have permitted themselves to compromise Baptist doctrine by participating in the Mission America movement, which several speakers described as an evangelistic effort akin to a Billy Graham crusade.
After the recommendation passed, Ohio pastor Gary Frost presented the motion to affirm Mission America.
“I understand the spirit of the question regarding these issues, but I don’t want to leave this place with any doubt concerning the focus and the purposes of Mission America,” said Frost, pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church, an African American congregation in Youngstown, and a former SBC second vice president and Ohio convention president.
“The involvement in Mission America, I believe, is such that … God can greatly use Southern Baptists to help all of the evangelicals of our nation to be effective in communicating the gospel,” Frost said. “I believe that God is in it, and I’m seeing God doing amazing things crossing denominational lines.
“I am very much Baptist, very much Southern Baptist, and I’ve not compromised anything,” Frost stated, “but we’ve been working together in our community with Pentecostals and United Methodists and others in one purpose, and that is to glorify Jesus Christ.”
After another period of pro-and-con discussion, the Mission America affirmation was adopted.