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Frank Page addresses CP future at conference

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Though “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page said legitimate concerns must be addressed if the CP is to remain effective.

Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., addressed the opening session of Union University’s Feb. 15-17 Baptist Identity Conference exploring the theme “Convention, Cooperation and Controversy.”

Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources who also spoke on the conference’s first day, said a renewed emphasis on evangelism must begin with individuals and not with the denomination or church programs.

Among the other eight speakers scheduled for the conference were Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and David Dockery, president of Union University, located in Jackson, Tenn.

Page, commenting on the Cooperative Program, said, “If it is our desire that everything we’re doing this for is the furtherance of the Gospel, then I believe the future will be bright indeed.” But, he noted, “We’ve got some issues that need healthy, Christ-like dialogue and debate.”

Page added that if the SBC were to break into factions that fight with each other and if its entities degenerate toward turf wars, then the future is not bright.

Page said Southern Baptists must have a mindset similar to that of the Apostle Paul when he was in prison; Paul’s circumstances weren’t ideal, but he chose to focus on the positives -– his ability to preach Christ to those he otherwise might not be able to reach, Page said.

Christians often find themselves in difficult situations and have a tendency to ask God for a way out of the trouble, Page said.

“Our first response is, ‘God get me out of it. God rescue me from this difficulty.’ But in so doing we have often short-circuited God’s desire to teach us great and mighty things…. If we have the right mindset, then we can experience some great victories from God.”

Recounting the importance of a right mindset toward the Cooperative Program through which Southern Baptist churches pool their resources to fund mission endeavors, Page said it was started in 1925 “so that the Word of God might be preached to the needs of the earth.”

“It is my prayer that the future of the Cooperative Program will be bright so the brothers can preach the Word of God fearlessly and courageously,” Page said.

That will only happen, the SBC president said, if Southern Baptists adopt an attitude of Christ-like selflessness.

“Oftentimes in our convention we have broken into groups that want to know ‘Who’s side are you on?’ rather than ‘Are you preaching Christ?’” Page said. “There are people in the Southern Baptist Convention who think the convention belongs to them. There are many groups that think that way. I have felt that way at times myself.”

But Page said “this convention does not belong to me, nor to you. It is a Jesus convention.”

Southern Baptists must examine their methodologies and determine whether the Cooperative Program needs to be changed in some ways, Page said, acknowledging that it isn’t perfect and saying it’s time to ask crucial questions and adjust it to ensure its future viability.

Rainer, following Page’s address, spoke about the lack of evangelism taking place in Southern Baptist churches. He cited statistics showing that in 1950, Southern Baptists baptized 376,000 people when the denomination had 7 million members.

In 2005, when the SBC encompassed more than 16 million members, its churches baptized only 371,000 people.

“Alarms are sounding loudly,” Rainer said.

He pointed to several reasons for the SBC’s downward trend in evangelism. Eschatology is one reason, because Rainer said Southern Baptists are increasingly abandoning a belief in a literal, physical hell, which diminishes enthusiasm for evangelism.

Rainer also listed ecclesiology as another reason. On a given Sunday, according to statistics, only about 7 million of the SBC’s 16 million members attend church.

“It would appear that our church rolls are filled with non-members and, likely, unregenerate members,” Rainer said. “That which is dead cannot tell another person how to have life.”

Far too many church members, including pastors, admit to having no witnessing or evangelistic relationships, Rainer said, and individual Christians no longer feel like evangelism is their responsibility. Instead, churches relegate evangelism to a specific church program in which few people participate.

“When evangelism is not my responsibility, it does not happen,” Rainer said.

Changed hearts on an individual basis are necessary to change the current trajectory, he stated.

“Perhaps a great source of our evangelistic apathy resides not in denominational bureaucracy, resides not in churches that have all kinds of problems, but I think the problem resides in me,” Rainer said. “I am too often filled with my own pride and my own will rather than being filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Repentance of sins like arrogance and lovelessness and more humility in ministry are steps toward becoming more evangelistic, Rainer told conference participants.

“I know if a true evangelistic revival is to come, it must begin with God,” Rainer said. “And I must let Him begin with me.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth
    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.Read All by Tim Ellsworth ›