In August 1998, Bill Merrell, then executive editor of SBC LIFE, wrote an editorial concerning the role SBC LIFE should play in our Convention. He called his article "SBC LIFE: Why and Whither?" Nine years later, as I begin my tenure as executive editor of this publication, let me summarize a few of my thoughts concerning this same question.
1 Southern Baptists Are Confusing to the World. We are held together with what John Sullivan called a "rope of sand with strength of steel." No entity in Baptist life exercises ecclesiastical authority over the local church. In Baptist polity, the local church is at the top of the pyramid; the national convention, state conventions, and associations exist to support the local churches, to elicit and combine our resources and energies to accomplish Kingdom-sized, or God-sized, tasks.
Most Baptists are aware of our "big ticket" ministries: about 5,100 fully-funded overseas missionaries; more than 5,100 fully-endorsed missionaries in North America; almost fourteen thousand students in theological training at our seminaries; the resources provided by LifeWay; the ministerial insurance and retirement options available through GuideStone; and a strong Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission presence both in Nashville and Washington D.C. Many may not be aware that the SBC Disaster Relief is the third largest emergency response team in the nation. For example, we were first on the ground following Katrina and will be the last to leave when our last volunteers leave the area later this year or next.
We also cooperate together at the state and regional level with a wide array of local ministries. These range from such things as Mississippi River Ministry to Rio Grande Ministry; from NAMB's strategic cities initiatives to resort ministries scattered across the states; from hundreds of new church starts to benevolent and educational ministries operated through our state conventions. The world — and even our Baptist family — has a hard time understanding how we can operate on such a massive scale if there is no formal connection that ties us together. But we do. Largely because…
2 Southern Baptists Are Convictional in Their Beliefs. When Roger Freeman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, was elected president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention in 2005, he wrote in the Baptist and Reflector, "Baptists are people of the Book. We believe every word of the inerrant and infallible Word of God." Truly, we are tied together by our beliefs. Our Baptist Faith and Message was written to give a concise overview of our bedrock convictions.
You know our beliefs. Central, of course, is the absolute conviction that God has chosen the Cross as His plan for reaching and redeeming lost men and women. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Once saved, we are changed and desire to live a life of good works. We believe proper baptism is immersion under water to symbolize death and resurrection. And we believe the vast majority of New Testament ministry takes place on the local level through the local church — friends reaching friends for Christ.
For more than one hundred and sixty years, since we were formed in 1845, Southern Baptists have been convictionally conservative and biblical. In addition to being convictional…
3 Southern Baptists Are Cooperative in Their Work. Since the Cooperative Program was established in 1925, we have also been cooperatively connected and missional. The Cooperative Program is our unified ministry budget that funds our joint efforts for those Kingdom-sized tasks we attempt for God. It helps fund our six seminaries, two mission boards, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and the Executive Committee.
As part of our convictional core, Article 14 of the BF&M indicates that we believe local churches should cooperate together for those tasks that are bigger than any one local church can accomplish alone. Jimmy Draper, former president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said it this way: "We do what we do, together. We do what we do together, voluntarily." As noted above, we are bound together by a "rope of sand with strength of steel."
So, if the Southern Baptist Convention is not a hierarchical "Church;" if the top of the Baptist pyramid is the local church; if the national and state conventions have no authority over the churches; then how do we combine and elicit our joint resources for the purpose of reaching our world for Christ? The Convention has chosen to use the services of an Executive Committee to coordinate the day-to-day operations of the Convention. The Executive Committee works alongside the other entities in Baptist life to pull us together, to keep us together, and to call us to maintain our vision for reaching the world for Christ. Due to the size and complexity of who we are as Southern Baptists…
4 Southern Baptists Must Communicate with One Another. Communication is vital. SBC LIFE serves as a conduit for communicating with every church in the Convention on a routine basis. Ten times each year, each pastor receives a copy of SBC LIFE in his mail. It is our continuing goal to provide timely articles on pressing doctrinal and exegetical issues, to share soul-winning stories of what God is doing in people's lives, to highlight churches of various sizes performing specific ministries that may jog our own creative juices in our neighborhoods, to present fresh and innovative ways of reaching our generation for Christ, and to tell our continuing Baptist story for a younger generation for whom denominational ties and titles may have little meaning. In short, we seek to be a means for binding our hearts together around the one task that binds all true Southern Baptists — reaching our world for Christ. In sharing these articles, we will strive to highlight one of my basic convictions, that…
5 Southern Baptists Are Compassionate in Their Service. Most Southern Baptists are reasonable, fun-loving, big-hearted, caring people. More than ever, in this generation we must communicate clearly to a skeptical culture that we as Baptists are genuine and transparent and caring. We, as messengers of the Good News, must not allow any secondary issue to obscure God's timeless message of hope and salvation through Jesus.
One way we show our love is by edifying each other, by building each other up. This word, oikodomeo, can be translated "build up, strengthen, encourage, rebuild, restore." It is our hope that something in each issue of SBC LIFE will cause you to smile, to nod in agreement, to reach for your scissors, to ponder, to find encouragement, to be strengthened for our common task.
We are a Convention of compassionate, kindhearted, and genial people, seeking to fulfill the Great Commission of Christ as we live out the Great Commandment of love. If we each reach our small part of the world, collectively and cooperatively we will fulfill the heartbeat of God — to reach men and women, boys and girls with the life-transforming message of redemption through Jesus Christ alone. May this always be what we are about … until He comes!