At a recent conference of state evangelism directors, Morris H. Chapman spoke of the importance of evangelism, and how the Covenant for a New Century is fueled by the desire to reach the lost souls of the world.
Evangelization is the priority of the SBC restructuring, not one of its priorities. The emphasis on evangelism in the Covenant for a New Century did not happen accidentally. Evangelism is the heartbeat of Southern Baptists, and that must drive all we do.
We quote it over and over again but no verse of Scripture says it like Matthew 28:18-20, "… Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost …"
This past summer, after four months of study, Southern Baptists chose once again to define themselves in terms of visionary reality for the 21st century. They were inspired by a vision which requires looking into the faith dimension, bound by Scripture, but free of preconceived human restrictions. A vision, energized by the power of God's Spirit, to see in real terms what must be done for it to become a reality.
Foundational to that vision are five distinct principles:
1. The SBC Exists to Serve Churches
The Covenant reemphasizes that the Convention is most fundamentally a fellowship of churches, not a bureaucratic organization. Those of us who serve in a denominational position owe our allegiance to Jesus Christ and our loyalty to the church of Jesus Christ. To serve the churches effectively we must always put Christ and His church before self and denomination. In reality, we have no turf to protect, no territory to guard, no inherited right to be where we are and doing what we are doing.
We are servants. We exist to serve the churches. We may give them counsel, we may give them encouragement, we may design ministries and train them, but still we exist to give them what they determine they need, not what we think they need. We do not exist to force-feed Southern Baptists programs they do not want to satisfy a tendency to be overly programmatic in what should be a spiritual environment. As we move into the 21st century, we must be careful as denominational workers to listen and listen again before setting a course which uses enormous amounts of time and energy.
2. The SBC Exists for Missions
In the beginning, there was not a large bureaucracy. An emerging Southern Baptist Convention established only two agencies, both mission boards: a Foreign Mission Board and a Domestic Mission Board. Through the Covenant, the Convention affirmed its primary focus on missions and recognized that, although the gospel has not changed, the mission field has changed radically since the days of our founding fathers. Demographic shifts have been matched by racial, ethnic and cultural diversity that require a realignment of our resources and energies.
3. The SBC Exists in a Spirit of Cooperation
Cooperation among the new North American Mission Board, the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists, and Baptist state conventions will be essential to the development of a North American missions strategy. Cooperative Agreements between these bodies will continue to frame the working relationships which will facilitate mission advance. Such agreements should be maintained and enhanced in terms of cooperation and stewardship.
4. The SBC Exists to Evangelize
The priority of evangelism in the Covenant for a New Century is very readily seen in the name of one of the new divisions within the North American Mission Board. It is called North American Evangelization. Evangelizing the United States and Canada is the priority of the North American Mission Board. It is to evangelize.
It is to lead Southern Baptists to evangelize. It is to help Southern Baptist churches continue developing strategies for reaching people in all cultural, racial and economic communities throughout the US and Canada. Evangelism is to be at the very heart of everything Southern Baptists do. Theological education is to be driven by the need to evangelize. Stewardship is to be driven by the need to evangelize. Sunday school literature is to be driven by the need to evangelize. Moral and ethical convictions are to be born out of hearts to evangelize the unsaved who honor no authority in their lives, certainly not the Living Word and the written Word.
We must take light into the darkness which exists in all four corners of the earth, evangelizing the world. There are so many who have no hope and our time is short. There is so much work to be done that it will require the brightest minds and the most compassionate hearts among us, working together to make a difference for Jesus' sake.
The Great Commission Council is a concept which has the potential to enhance the cooperative work of our North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. Built into our structure will be an avenue for even better communication between our missions boards and an improved coordination of resources, with less duplication of operational functions.
5. The SBC Exists for the Kingdom
Who among us can forget the ten-day prayer meeting in the Upper Room? The Disciples tarried for the promise of the Father; preparing for the day of Pentecost. At the end of ten days the doors were flung open and they walked out to shake their city, even their world, for the Lord Jesus Christ.
You are familiar with the events of Acts, chapter 2 … numerical growth, spiritual victories. Things just didn't happen. There was a period of time which the people spent getting ready for the day of Pentecost to come. They prayed ten days, then Peter preached ten minutes: 3,000 souls saved!
People made fun of Jonathan Edward's sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." They said it was an illustration of Puritan extremism. But those who made fun of his sermon do not know what went on before he preached his sermon. For three days and three nights he did not eat one bite of food, he did not sleep for three days and nights. Before he stood to preach, he prayed this prayer, "God, give me New England, give me New England." When he rose to preach, those who saw him said it looked as if he had been staring straight into the face of God. No wonder he preached and conviction fell and so many were saved and revival shook New England! As Southern Baptists move into the 21st century, our heartbeat for missions should compel us to cry out, "God, give us the world, give us the world." For His glory and honor, forever.