JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Over the past two years we have called for consensus, renewal and bridge building in our shared work across Southern Baptist life. We applaud the fact that the spirit of that call is reflected in so many aspects of the recently released statement, “Toward a Great Commission Resurgence,” by SBC President Johnny Hunt.
We are thankful for the call to place Jesus Christ and His Great Commission in the center of our service across the Southern Baptist Convention. Particularly are we thrilled to join with those who call upon Southern Baptists to make the Gospel of Christ central in our lives, our churches and our denominational ministries. We affirm the Bible as God’s totally truthful Word and rejoice that Southern Baptists are a people of the Book. The heartbeat of Southern Baptists is the Great Commission. We also recognize that Southern Baptists have been and will be able to carry out the Great Commission mandate by God’s providential enablement, blessing and provision through the cooperative and collaborative efforts of Great Commission partners. We applaud and support the spirit of the Great Commission Resurgence effort, but there is a need to emphasize the call for partnerships and adding this emphasis we believe will strengthen Commitment IX in the document.
The Cooperative Program was established in 1925 at the Memphis convention under the leadership of Union University graduate M.E. Dodd. The Cooperative Program created partnerships whereby churches across the Southern Baptist Convention could combine gifts, given to and through state conventions and passed on to the national convention, for the purpose of supporting missions, education, benevolence efforts and other ministries. These gifts are employed to send and support missionaries, equip pastors and church leaders, facilitate educational institutions, including colleges, universities and seminaries, and address benevolent, social, ethical and moral issues. Space prohibits us from attaching a long, specific list, but we are thankful to God for each and every one of these effective partners in Great Commission work at all levels: associational, state and national. Many of these partners employ wise stewardship of Cooperative Program dollars; we should offer them generous praise and bountiful support.
The Cooperative Program has been the glue that continues to hold together 44,000 Southern Baptist congregations for the purpose of advancing the Gospel around the world. With the global population exceeding 6.5 billion, Christ’s command to take the Gospel to every nation requires Southern Baptists to enhance our collaborative efforts. We must prepare and educate a new generation who will, in the spirit of William Carey, the father of modern missions, plan, pray, give and go in order to see a Great Commission resurgence.
Cooperating churches, associations, state conventions, national conventions, colleges, universities, children’s homes, seminaries, commissions and mission boards must work together in a renewed partnership that is grounded in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great prayer to the heavenly Father in John 17, Jesus prayed that His disciples be both grounded in the truth of His Word and dwell in unity with one another — “so that the world may believe” (John 17: 17,20-23). This unity-in-truth and truth-in-unity will be possible as we demonstrate humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance with one another in love.
Denominations are a God-honored means for carrying forth the work of Christ in the world. When any denomination becomes an end in itself, it will invariably end with itself, and history is replete with examples of such. As we move forward into the 21st century, we will need to ask hard questions about historical structures to see if they are continuing to be faithful and effective for the challenges of our day. We must together pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as we pursue answers to these questions. We believe that all Baptist entities can and must work together to advance the work of North American church planting, strategic global missions and faithful cultural engagement.
Yes, we need a Great Commission resurgence in Southern Baptist life. And we believe that such an initiative will require renewed efforts in building Great Commission partnerships. Let us join together in praying that God, by His Holy Spirit, will bring renewal to Southern Baptist churches, entities and institutions, and may He bring hope and guidance to our shared service together. May this call for a Great Commission resurgence in cooperation with Great Commission partners across the Southern Baptist Convention enhance our understanding of the Gospel, deepen our commitments to Scripture and to our Baptist confessional heritage, and bring renewal in our worship, our approach to Baptist education and in our shared service together in missions and evangelism as we seek to take the Good News of Jesus Christ to a lost and needy world.
David S. Dockery is the president of Union University. Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University. They are authors of “Building Bridges” (Convention Press, 2007) and co-editors of “Theologians of the Baptist Tradition” (Broadman & Holman, 2001).