February 17, 2003
And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them. ~ Genesis 26.18
We all know you can't live in the desert without water. You can't survive. It's a matter of life and death! Without water Isaac's people and his sheep and cattle would perish — there was nothing refreshing, nothing growing, and no life! But Isaac knew that his Father had passed this way long ago and he began to search for the wells his father would have dug. He found them, but the Philistines had filled them with debris and covered over them. But these wells had provided life for his father and his father's generation. So what did he do when he found them? Isaac redug his father's wells. And from those wells came the precious water so necessary for life.
In this generation our Convention has been redigging the wells of our forefathers. In doing so, we have discovered that some people live in the future, wanting to break away from their heritage, not understanding the cool and refreshing water that is supplied by the past. Some people live in the present, not wishing to be encumbered with the past or the future. They reason that the path of the past has been traveled already and nothing will change it. The question then is, "Why then would I want to dwell on the past?" The path of the future has yet to be traveled, but they reason that the responsibility should fall on the generations to come. The question then is, "Why should I care what happens after I'm dead and gone?" But what about today? Does the knowledge of the past help us better understand who we are? Absolutely. Does our assured hope for the future give us a better understanding of where we are going? Absolutely.
Southern Baptists are on a quest to find a refreshing, revolutionary experience with Jesus Christ. The vision, the quest, the pursuit has been named Empowering Kingdom Growth and the EKG task force has begun to call upon all Southern Baptists "to renew their passion for the Lord Jesus and the reign of His Kingdom in their hearts, families, and churches." Southern Baptists have a yearning in their hearts — a yearning for a closer walk with Jesus. We hear and feel that same yearning from the Psalmist who cried out to God, my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land (Ps. 63:1). The idea of spiritual renewal, of refreshing from above, is not an alien thought to Southern Baptists. It does not sound strange to our ears.
In theology, in ecclesiology, in history, and in experience, Southern Baptists are naturally suited to embracing and emphasizing the Kingdom of God. It is ingrained in our spiritual DNA. W.B. Johnson, the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, in his "Address To The Public" on the founding of the SBC, said, "Our objects … are the extension of the Messiah's Kingdom, and the Glory of our God."
So we don't need to reinvent the Southern Baptist Convention or its churches or its people to make them receptive to Empowering Kingdom Growth. We need merely to be reminded of our heritage and our roots, and then be challenged to allow God to maximize the purpose and potential He has created in us. We need to open the wells dug by our forefathers and call them by the same names. Given our heritage, our roots, why are we unusually suited for Empowering Kingdom Growth?
Our Forefathers Drank from the Deep, Pure Well Named "Sound Theology"
Southern Baptists believe the Bible to be the unchanging, perfect Word of God and by faith we accept its great truths as the absolutes by which we are saved and kept saved to live a life of obedience to God. It is no secret that our theology is a theology of the Bible. Said another way, our study of the Bible leads us to our theology. Our settled conviction about the truth of the Scriptures leads us to a settled conviction about the preeminence of the Kingdom of God. Our forefathers were driven to Kingdom principles and Kingdom pursuits because they are clearly mandated in the Bible. As one theologian is quoted as saying, "The Bible is one book. Had we to give that book a title, we might with justice call it 'The Book of the Coming Kingdom of God.' That is its central theme everywhere."1
Jesus is the focus of God's Word. When we come to know Him we begin to understand the Kingdom. It is in this Kingdom that the Father's purpose for sending His Son to earth shall be certainly and completely fulfilled.
• The rule and reign of God arises out of His own sovereign nature.
• The rule and reign of God was reflected in the "dominion" bestowed by God upon the first Adam.
• The rule and reign of God was forfeited quickly by reason of the sin of man.
• The rule and reign of God has been restored in the Last Adam.
• The rule and reign of God will be realized on earth in the final age of human history, and
• The rule and reign of God reaches out endlessly beyond history where we behold a throne which, as John explains, is the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:3).2
Those who waffle on the Word of God confuse and diffuse the concept of the Kingdom of God until they end up with some fuzzy universalism that may see Jesus as "a prince of a man" but does not acknowledge Him as "King of Kings." They reduce the work of the church to some vague effort to bring about the "betterment of humanity," and lose the urgent mandate to preach the gospel until the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ (Rev.11:15). This Kingdom mandate is called the Great Commission. Southern Baptists are a Great Commission people. We know the Bible gives us our marching orders and we are marching to the ends of the earth, for His Kingdom's sake.
Within Our Heritage There is the Deep, Life-sustaining Well Named "Cooperation"
Whether you are a pastor or layperson, employee or volunteer, we come as denominational leaders, not just independent, private persons! We have trumpeted from the housetops the importance of sound theology. But a description of our heritage would be incomplete without the mention of cooperative methodology.
Our founding fathers dug this well of cooperation. They had an opportunity to continue the old model of Baptist work that favored independence over interdependence. But they knew that independence sacrificed efficiency and effectiveness on the altar of suspicious anxiety over the centralization of power. They believed you could have it both ways and the denomination would be better for it.
William B. Johnson not only was instrumental in founding the SBC (and serving as its first president) but he had also been in the organizational meeting and served as president of the old Triennial Convention (which utilized the societal method). He believed the new Southern Baptist Convention could find a better way. He proposed, "… one Convention, embodying the whole denomination, together with separate and distinct boards, for each object of benevolent enterprise, located at different places, and all amenable to the Convention … In its successful operation, the whole denomination will be united in one body for the purpose of well-doing …."
This model of cooperation was adopted.
The result? Unparalleled advance around the globe. Southern Baptists had harnessed into one great sacred effort their service to the King.
Why is this important for Southern Baptists today? Because a Kingdom focused denomination must have a methodology as expansive as the Kingdom. Do I have concerns? Yes. I fear Southern Baptists may retreat into such a reactionary independence we will lose the ability to be Kingdom minded. If pastors, laymen, churches, associations, institutions, and other Baptist bodies become obsessed with their own immediate needs and plans and de-emphasize our joint mission, we can expect Kingdom advance to slow to a halt. The truth is we can do more together than we can separately.
I believe the methodology is cooperation.
Over twenty years ago, in a brief response at the SBC in St. Louis, I said to the messengers,
"We have always been held together not only by conservative theology, but also by cooperative methodology. Just as we are a people of the Book, we are also a people who are one in the bond of love. This tie that binds our hearts in Christian love has given birth to:
• the cooperative program
• cooperative missions
• cooperative education
• cooperative literature, and above all,
• a cooperative spirit.
It is a spirit to be treasured and we must never lose it."
On that same occasion I read these remarks from J. W. Storer who was SBC president in 1954. He read Ephesians 4:16, From Christ the whole body, joined and held together by every supportive ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (NIV). Then he said, "All joints (ligaments) are not alike, which illustrates our diversity, that voluntary principle which Baptists so correctly prize. To be sure, there are Baptists who seem dedicated to separatism, who refuse to play on the team, who prefer to return their own punts, call their own signals, do their own blocking, run their own interference, and set off for a goal line diagonal with the field. They refuse, however, to recover their own fumbles."
Then I said,
"These words from the lips of J. W. Storer are words of caution, but also words of encouragement, for they show that through the years, we have been a diverse people, but not divided in our loyalty to Christ. The genius of Southern Baptist tradition is that we have been able to speak our minds without losing our heads. Our forefathers intended that we ought to be a denomination of convictions, not convenience. They determined that we ought to be a denomination of cooperation, not coalitions."
Our Cooperative Program is the envy of others burdened to reach the world for Christ. And now, at the very pinnacle of our effectiveness, we stand at the threshold of all that is possible in the spiritual renewal that has come to be known as Empowering Kingdom Growth.
But the vast potential that lies before us will never be realized if we permit threats to cooperation to go unchallenged and unchecked!
We must remain united in our vision and purpose. I will not (as President John Adams said) be one of those who have merely a "colonial view, desiring the monarchy of the whole, intent on destroying the influence of others" thus keeping our denomination in mediocre equilibrium — stalled in our tracks!
To draw upon another of John Adams' early observations, "The revolution has already begun. It is in the minds and hearts of our people." The same is true now for Southern Baptists. A revolution is in our minds and hearts. Our heritage has shaped us to expect revolution. Our culture has made it imperative that we do so. So we thirst, now more than ever, to be a part of a revolutionary movement of God, with a holiness that comes only as a direct result of the power of God.
Within Our Heritage There is the Deep, Bubbling Well Named "Personal Commitment"
Southern Baptists are known for believing the individual must respond to God personally. These doctrines have a familiar ring to us:
• soul competency,
• the priesthood of believers,
• regenerate church membership,
• the autonomy of the local church.
All of these doctrines are tied inextricably to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Once we come to Him, we are to bring others to Him. Parents can't have a saving faith for their children, churches can't grant saving faith to their seekers, nations can't experience saving faith for their citizens. Christianity in name only, is not true Christianity at all.
Southern Baptists have a long heritage, a deep well, of declaring the necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus. Sunday after Sunday in the pulpits of our churches, our pastors are calling people not only to believe in God, but also to walk with Him. It is our heritage. It is our hope.
Do you remember the times when the Lord Jesus moved in your life in a powerful way? How long has it been since you have experienced God's power with such great force that you fell to your knees and prayed, "O God thank you for your presence and power. May my life be a testimony to every person I meet in every encounter I have."
God poured out His power upon our forefathers — but that fire has not fallen in a long while. Why? Jesus has eyes like flames of fire that pierce through the deep corridors of our souls. What does He see? Does He see that we are too satisfied with our positions, too satisfied with our piety? Are we thirsty enough to pray, "O God, work a work in my heart greater than I have ever experienced? Are we thirsty enough to pray, "Lord, breath on me the fresh blowing wind of your Spirit? Break me until I learn to listen and live to obey."
Paul said, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31). In the next breath he said to the Corinthians, I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power … Why? That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (I Cor. 2:3-5).
Where has the power of a great denomination gone? By church member count, we should have 16 million missionaries in the United States. Where has all the power gone? Where are the tears of repentance and the tears of joy? Where has all the power gone? Where are men under such conviction they are holding on to the pillars of the church lest they fall into the fires of hell? Where is the preaching on sin and forgiveness that cuts like a two-edged sword? For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
Lord, we're no good without Your power. If You need to do it, make us weak that we may be strong for Your sake and Your glory. Empower us to stand up, stand up for Jesus in a world that knows You not and needs You so.
I am persuaded we are living in our finest hour — a time of challenge, a time for courage, and vision, and deepened commitment. A time to redig the ancient wells of our fathers!
We need to ask the Lord for the grace and grit to redig the wells our fathers have dug before us and refresh us by Thy Spirit until Thy Kingdom comes.
1 John Bright, The Kingdom of God (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1953), pp. 7, 197. Cited in The Greatness of the Kingdom by Alva J. McClain (BMH Books) p. 5
2 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (BMH Books, 2001), p.5.