News Articles

FIRST PERSON: “This One Thing I Do” (Philippians 3:12-14)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–On Monday, April 27, I received an email and was surprised by the attachment entitled, the Great Commission Resurgence Declaration. As I began reading through the ten articles of the Declaration, I rejoiced in the strong affirmations of our Convention’s biblical convictions. These articles listed many of the tenets of the faith that are critical to believe and live if ever we expect to fulfill Christ’s commission to us in Matthew 28:19-20 and see revival come to our churches. The email asked Southern Baptists to sign a webpage created to show their commitment to the Declaration. Some of those who knew about it prior to its posting had signed already.

But, I discovered that Article IX and its commentary stood starkly apart from the other nine articles. It suddenly departed from biblical affirmations in order to address the reorganization of structure and methodology within our denomination. The article included several negative characterizations and unsupported judgments of the denomination. In that first draft, unseen by the larger family of the Southern Baptist Convention, Article IX included these words:

“… our denominational structures have become bloated and bureaucratic at every level, from local associations to state conventions to the SBC itself. We believe our ministry effectiveness is being strangled by overlap and duplication, poor stewardship, and a disproportionate amount of Cooperative Program dollars being kept by the state conventions.”

This language in Article IX was revised within 48 hours when several leaders in the Convention rightly expressed their concern and indicated they could not sign the document as written. More objections were raised, and now a third version has been posted that removes the reference to “restructuring” the Convention. Unfortunately, changing the language has not made the perceived intent any more acceptable.

Revival and spiritual growth are the greatest needs in our Convention and our nation. This is the challenge around which all Southern Baptists can rally. Reorganization is not. Neither is it a prerequisite to revival.

Don’t get me wrong. Effective and efficient organization is critical to any corporate endeavor and periodic changes are necessary. But revival in our churches and appointing a task force to study Convention structures are not two parts of one whole. They are two separate objectives that, if sought under the same banner, have the potential to cause both to fail. When the time is right, a successful study can happen, following established processes, as has occurred before. However, to put the two objectives together is like trying to mix oil and water.

I sense that most Southern Baptists are weary of wrangling with each other. They want to work, together, for the glory of God and the salvation of man. A review of the “denomination” is not an assignment the Convention has authority to undertake. Neither will it increase baptisms. Only the churches can increase baptisms. If our churches catch fire for Christ’s sake, and thousands upon thousands are saved, baptisms will follow.

What are our choices? On one hand, calling for a study of the Convention is very likely to create highly-charged polarization. On the other hand, if our people come together under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, Southern Baptists have the potential to mount such a powerful witness to the saving grace of our Lord that God will pour out His blessings upon our efforts.

Perhaps some have the mistaken notion that if we get our stuff organized first, then God will pour out His blessings. Does history bear this out? Are there biblical examples from which to draw that would lead us to expect this? Reorganization does not change hearts. Only God’s Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of men and women leads them to repentance, salvation, a closer walk with Christ and obedience to Christ’s Great Commission.

My overriding concern is that if Article IX remains in the Declaration, all attention will remain riveted on this one article. Article IX is causing distractions already. Since the release of the original Declaration, it seems as if all eyes and discussions have focused primarily on Article IX. The news media want to know more about Article IX. Southern Baptists who are reading about the Declaration are asking about Article IX. Pastors are talking about Article IX, particularly about a backwards observation in an earlier version (now corrected) that theological education “starts in the seminaries but finds its way to our local churches.” Others are asking, “Why is the issue of reorganization in Article IX inserted in a Great Commission Resurgence document?” Still others are saying that it seems apparent that Article IX is the primary reason for the entire Declaration since it is practically the only element that calls for action. This unique characteristic, in itself, identifies the heightened level of importance given to this one article by its framers. And to what end? I have continued to communicate to the president my objections to the inclusion of Article IX in any plea for a “Great Commission” resurgence.

The commentary on Article IX in its latest version still includes the following statement, though the reference to “our denomination must be restructured” has been changed to “our Convention must be examined”:

“We believe that North American church planting, pioneer missions around the globe, and theological education … are three priorities around which Southern Baptists will unite. Our denomination must be restructured at every level to facilitate a more effective pursuit of these priorities.”

The work of the Program and Structure Study Committee was completed in 1997 under the Covenant for a New Century. At that time, the Southern Baptist Convention was restructured so that 95% of all Cooperative Program funds received by the Convention were, and still are, directed to the very three priorities identified by the framers of this Declaration — our two mission boards and our six seminaries.

Let me repeat, the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of the SBC already directs 95% of all Cooperative Program funds received by the Convention to eight of only twelve entities in the SBC — the eight that are assigned the task of North American church planting, global missions, and theological education.

At the Southern Baptist Convention level, our structure already has been “streamlined for more faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted” to it. Why distract our Convention from the potential blessings a Great Commission Resurgence might bring when our current SBC structure already addresses the concerns expressed in Article IX over which the Convention has control?

While I continually have urged our state convention executives to increase their Cooperative Program allocations toward the 50% mark, I cannot concur that the states are bloated or seeking to retain more and more CP money in the states. In fact, just the opposite is true. The slippage in Cooperative Program giving is at the local church level. If our churches still gave the same percentage of CP funds from the churches through the states as they did a decade ago (8.24% then; 6.08% now), the International Mission Board would have an additional $35 million dollars this year alone, not counting the money it would have received pro rata over the past decade. NAMB and our seminary funding formula would each have received approximately $17 million dollars more this year. While our annual dollar amount of Cooperative Program has continued to grow, we have reached a historic low in the percentage of CP funds forwarded by the churches, in spite of a restructuring that took place just over a decade ago and was hailed as the dawn of a new day for evangelism and missions. Reallocating our funds will not solve any perceived problems. But, a genuine revival might!

Two weeks ago, in press interviews with several editors of Baptist state papers, the Florida Baptist Witness and the North Carolina Biblical Recorder, our SBC president noted that I had not signed the Declaration. He further mentioned he had learned that in 2004 I had called for reorganization of the Convention. He was curious to know how I could propose reorganization in 2004 and not have signed his Declaration. The answer lies in the very address from which he excerpted the quote — one I delivered at the Baptist Identity Conference held at Union University. The paper is entitled, Axioms of a Cooperating Conservative. It has been posted for five years at the following link: https://morrischapman.com/article.asp?id=29.

I am glad the president referred to my paper, and would be happy for any and all Southern Baptists to read it. In the paper, I:

A. quoted the “Response to the Welcome” I gave at the beginning of the 1980 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. I concluded by saying, “The genius of Southern Baptist tradition is that we have been able to speak our minds without losing our heads. Our forefathers intended we are to be a denomination of convictions, not convenience. They determined we are to be a Convention of cooperation, not coalitions.”

B. proposed that the Southern Baptist Convention should never leave its historic, cooperative nature and that at our best Southern Baptists are both conservative and cooperative.

C. emphasized that cooperation is foundational to our Baptist identity and how easily James L. Sullivan’s description of our cooperative polity, the “rope of sand with strength of steel” can be demolished. I stated, “The deterioration may be caused by deliberately brushing away a few grains of sand here or there; not enough for anyone to notice, but enough to begin the weakening process in the spirit of cooperation.”

D. stated that “The Southern Baptist Convention needs fine tuning. In fact, the Convention may require an overhaul, not in its polity, but in its programming and processes by which it functions daily. A major overhaul by the national Convention and the state conventions appears to be an absolute necessity, letting the facts speak for themselves lest the conventions discover too late they were blind and deaf to a delivery system that better serves the churches.”

Please do not miss the fact that my appeal was to the state convention executive directors, the presidents of our SBC entities, and their trustees — the very people who already are charged with oversight and review. I did not recommend that a task force be appointed. I also did not recommend that the national Convention appoint a committee to judge other Baptist bodies. I could never do so, for the SBC has pledged never to even attempt to do so (SBC Constitution, Article IV).

In that paper, I also made the following appeal:

“If the churches lose the vision and the understanding of the Cooperative Program, missions suffer. If missions suffer, the conventions suffer. If the conventions suffer, reorganization and reallocation of funding shall no longer be a choice. Now is the time for leaders of all conventions to concentrate upon priorities of their organization’s very existence and determine that more shall be done for less. To fail to do so will bring the disadvantages of smaller budgets and reduced ministries. Now is the time to maximize our resources by creating leaner organizations and eliminating wasteful expenditures for failing and static ministries and programs. To put our money behind ministries that genuinely assist the churches who gave us a portion of their undesignated and designated offerings is a formula for fulfilling our Lord’s command to go ye therefore. Anything less must become unacceptable. It is incumbent upon chief executives and trustees to assure the very best use of resources by giving laser-like focus to those pursuits that most honor our Lord Jesus Christ and expand His Kingdom on earth.”

I encouraged our trustees and administrators to be highly responsible and trustworthy with the responsibilities the state and national conventions have given them. If there is a problem, the chief executive should address it. If the problem persists, the trustees of the entity or the executive boards of the respective states should address it. The Southern Baptist Convention has not retained any authority in the operations of SBC entities and has no authority over the churches, the associations, or the state conventions. Southern Baptists historically have trusted the trustees and the administrators to care for their entities. At this next annual meeting, if the messengers wish to request their entities to streamline, the SBC Executive Committee and the entities will respond. This is the process which has been endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention and has served us well.

To sum up, here are my reasons for not signing the Declaration at this time:

(1) Though I embrace a call for a Great Commission Resurgence, I cannot sign the Declaration as long as Article IX remains. Merely reorganizing a national body will not ignite the fires of revival. We need to come together to put all of our energies into fulfilling our Lord’s Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. We need desperately to demonstrate the love of God to a world without a Savior. America is becoming a spiritual wasteland and we must put first things first! Why would we believe that reorganizing the Convention is the road to revival? Getting bigger is not better. Getting smaller is not better. Only getting better is better.

(2) I cannot sign the Declaration as long as Article IX is included because it is likely to be divisive. For 30 days the Declaration boldly called for a restructuring of the state and national conventions. Therefore, a study with such an obvious, predetermined bias toward restructuring, whether of the national convention or more broadly, will likely undermine rather than enhance state and national cooperation and unity. Whenever the churches call for change, it is best done cooperatively, and in accord with SBC governing principles.

(3) I cannot sign the Declaration if its Article IX is interpreted as a need to realign Convention priorities. The Article IX commentary identifies “North American church planting, pioneer missions around the globe, and theological education” as “three priorities around which Southern Baptists will unite.” But, as noted, Southern Baptists already unite around these.

(4) I cannot sign the declaration if it includes Article IX because we have not been told what is wrong with the Convention structures and procedures, and even if we had, the Convention does not have the authority to “restructure” the “denomination” at every level as initially urged by the SBC president. As I noted earlier, restructuring the Convention did not result in revival in 1997.

(5) I cannot sign the Declaration because an undercurrent accompanying the request for structural reorganization is the dissatisfaction that local church missions offerings are not counted as Cooperative Program gifts. I fear this particular dissatisfaction would find its way as a bias into the selection of any study committee or task force. Capitulating to this viewpoint would improve nothing, for if all missions offerings were added to the Cooperative Program totals, there would not be more money for missions, just higher totals reported under the Cooperative Program.

If the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention adopt the Great Commission Resurgence Declaration including Article IX and empower the president to appoint a task force or study committee, I will work diligently with that committee to supply them all the information they may need from the Executive Committee. But for now, I am extremely burdened that what may be at stake is our cooperative methodology, our representative trustee system, and our Cooperative Program. For the reasons I have given, I believe the Great Commission Resurgence Declaration would be much stronger and extremely more focused if its Article IX and the prospect of restructuring was eliminated.

The decision rests with the messengers our churches will send to the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, June 23-24. I pray God’s abundant blessings upon you, our Convention, our denomination, and their respective leaders. Paul described the urgency of our moment in history, “This one thing I do…. I press on toward the high mark of God’s calling in Christ Jesus.” Let us not allow anything to distract us from this one thing.

Sincerely in Christ,

Morris Chapman
Morris H. Chapman is president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.

    About the Author

  • Morris H. Chapman