NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It’s a good question and one worth asking again: Can anything good come from the SBC?
No doubt any reader with at least some Bible knowledge will recognize the title as a knock-off of Nathanael’s response to Phillip when told by Phillip that he’d “found the one Moses wrote about” (John 1:43-51). I ask the question here in response to a comment that was recently posted on my weblog. It read: “‘… Strengthen what remains….’ I am wondering what really does remain in the SBC?”
I recently posted two columns in my weblog respectively titled, “They are praying, watching and waiting; what’s our response?” and “Are You Chasing Donkeys?” in which I evaluated the effectiveness of today’s evangelical church. I’ve tried during the past 18 months to challenge the Southern Baptist Convention and its member churches to examine themselves and determine if we as a people are going to heed Jesus’ call to “strengthen what remains” or eventually face the condemnation experienced by the churches in Revelation.
It does us no good -– and actually does us harm -– to dwell on our size, numerical goals and our heritage. We can’t live in the past. Our heritage is only as meaningful as its most recent application, meaning that all we have been in reaching the nations for Christ does not guarantee us relevance in the future. Being “Great Commission people” and “people of the book,” means daily seeking opportunities to engage the world with the power of the Gospel but in humility and with a heart of service.
It is easy to point to all we feel is “wrong” about the SBC, and unfortunately, there are some who are making sport of it. Yes, there are some things that need to be changed, but mostly, we need to refocus. Every individual Southern Baptist has the ability to decide whether to be part of the problem or part of the solution. The solution is found in engaging the world with the power of the Gospel but in humility and service.
“What really does remain in the SBC?” It’s a good question, and here’s my answer:
— The SBC foundationally has a vision for mission and evangelism. Taking the Gospel to the nations is in our DNA. Never could our denominational forefathers have predicted the geopolitical complexities of the 21st century, but the SBC is structured to literally reach the “uttermost” parts of earth.
— There is strength in our cooperative efforts. We can do more together than we can by ourselves. Get beyond the cliché many people have made that statement to be and contemplate its weight. We currently have more than 5,200 international and 5,100 North American missionaries under appointment.
Last year more than 30,000 Southern Baptist volunteers worked overseas and another 125,000 in North America, and Southern Baptists contributed record amounts to both the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions, totaling nearly $200 million. No one church, especially the smaller churches that comprise the majority in the SBC, can so completely cover the globe with resources, but together they can.
The irony is that these totals are the tip of an iceberg. There is no reason why Southern Baptists couldn’t appoint 50,000 missionaries and give $1 billion to missions. We have the resources; we just have to give them.
— Southern Baptists have a heart for soul-winning. I strongly believe we take seriously God’s mandate to share the Good News of salvation. All ministries are important and have their place, but the greatest service we can provide to a lost world is personally introducing people to the Lamb who sits on the throne.
— We love church planting. We understand that simply leading others to salvation is only part of the process. Jesus created the church -– His bride -– to be an integral element in His relationship with us. It is through the church that we grow spiritually, from the church that we are sent out, and to the church where we bring the lost for refuge. Southern Baptists planted a record number of churches overseas last year (more than 21,000) and nearly 1,800 here at home.
— We have a clearly defined doctrinal base. The Baptist Faith & Message outlines the area in which we move theologically and is a statement of “our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture,” as the BF&M Study Committee reported to the 2000 convention meeting in Orlando, Fla.
— Southern Baptists celebrate the autonomy of the local church. There is no hierarchical structure to force conformity on issues. Autonomy creates enormous freedom, and also tension (our structure actually invites controversy!). No action by the SBC or its entities is binding on any church. We volunteer to cooperate and when we do, it creates a bond of steel.
— We have developed the most effective theological training anywhere in the world through our seminaries, with more than 15,000 students enrolled this year. Men and women are formally being developed to impact the world with the Gospel and that impact will be felt for generations to come.
— Southern Baptists have expressed leadership in addressing the relevant cultural issues of our day to the point where our perspective is now being sought both in our nation and around the world. We are providing a much-needed biblical worldview in an increasingly relative world.
— Resources such as Experiencing God, Beth Moore Bible studies and True Love Waits have had a significant global impact in cultures worldwide and beyond our denomination.
Am I boasting? Absolutely not! I trumpet God’s blessings on us as a people and recognize that He has worked through us in spite of ourselves at times. Can we do more? Absolutely! Think how God would use us if we totally and humbly submitted ourselves individually and corporately to His leadership.
Is the SBC a lost cause? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Remember, the story we are sharing with the world is one of grace, redemption, restoration and usefulness. Those elements apply as well to organizations such as the SBC. Let’s extend grace to each other and stay on point to be used of God. If we will, I believe that not only will good come from the SBC, but that the BEST is yet to come.
James T. Draper Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.