Despite seven straight years of growth in the Southern Baptist Convention's primary funding mechanism — the Cooperative Program — Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, said he predicts the end of the convention if the method is dismantled.
Speaking to messengers at the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans June 12, Chapman said the convention's unique system of cooperation has led to what is referred to as "the most effective Christian missionary enterprise in the world" and the envy of other denominations because of its "cooperative spirit, … missions, … giving, and … Bible teaching literature."
The Cooperative Program is the method by which Southern Baptists fund the Convention's missions agencies, seminaries, and other ventures as nearly 41,000 SBC churches contribute to and through their state conventions.
"But as I look across the horizon, I see the red flag of danger blowing in the wind," Chapman said. "In the days when the communist threat to the U.S. was more real than it is today, leaders prophesied that if this nation would fall, it would crumble from the inside out, rather than being defeated by the enemies' attack at our borders."
To prevent such a collapse in our own ranks, the SBC's independent, autonomous churches should adhere to the tradition of working together through associations, state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention, Chapman said.
"The SBC must cooperate with our state conventions. Our state conventions must cooperate with the SBC," Chapman said. "We must take the initiative in volunteering to cooperate willingly, genuinely, and enthusiastically."
Chapman's remarks come at a time when some state conventions have made moves to change the traditional funding processes to reflect their support of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a denomination-like organization made up of people disgruntled with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Proposing the denomination should clearly define its objectives, Chapman told messengers of the formation and work of an eight-member task force created last summer to dialogue about ways to improve relations between state conventions and the SBC. The group includes four state executive directors and four SBC entity presidents. Over a course of four meetings, Chapman, who chairs the group, said they concluded a "new vision" is necessary for effectiveness in the new millennium.
Chapman said missions initiatives should include strategies to reach "the neighbor next door and the affluent family down the street," as well as "the bankers, the lawyers, the doctors, the civic leaders, and the poverty-stricken and downtrodden."
Pointing to state Baptist colleges and seminaries "built upon strong biblical foundations," Chapman said these are crucial to young people who will some day build Christ-centered homes and respond to a call from God to missions and ministry.
All six SBC seminaries receive funding from the Cooperative Program, as do most state Baptist colleges from state convention CP receipts. This funding, especially at the seminary level, typically reduces considerably the cost of a theological education for Southern Baptist students.
"We must find a way to support them, empower them, encourage them," Chapman said. "It cannot and will not happen if we do not walk and work in the spirit of Christ.
"I believe God wants to do something extraordinary among us, and it will come only when we are able to determine what God wants of us for the sake — not simply of myself, not of my church, not of my association, not of my state convention, not of the SBC — but when we discover what it is that God wants us to do for the Kingdom's sake," Chapman said.
Looking optimistically to the future for Southern Baptists, Chapman told a personal story of when he and his wife found and nurtured an old, weak, and nearly blind dog. "He's an old dog, but he has a strong heart," the doctor told them when the dog refused to give up after a shot that should have eased him into sleep permanently.
"I want to tell you, we are Southern Baptists, we are Christian, and we have a strong heart," Chapman said while messengers applauded loudly. "And nothing shall stop it from beating.
"Many religious of our day think the conservative, evangelical Christian believers should be the outcasts of our society, never to be heard — only to be pitied for our supposed ignorance," Chapman observed. "Is there hope for America when Christians with deep-hearted and stout biblical convictions are portrayed by today's intelligentsia as narrow-minded, uneducated do-gooders who are trying to force their belief on others?" he asked.
"There is hope as long as 'there is a fountain filled with blood,'" Chapman said, repeating several lines of traditional Christian hymns. "There is hope as long as 'there is power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb.'
"… What do I see? 'On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross,'" Chapman said, repeating the words to the chorus of the popular hymn. "'I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.'"