It is as though an outside consulting firm has been hired to do an efficiency study of the Southern Baptist Convention. In reading the Feb. 22 “progress report,” it is obvious the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has made a very serious attempt to say something significant, while at the same time ignoring some harsh realities. Chairman Ronnie Floyd stated at the first listening session last August, “Our commission is to reveal the honest and true status of this denomination.”
Can it be that we have some family secrets we do not want everyone to know? We may have wasted thousands of Cooperative Program dollars on the GCRTF and the most tangible suggestion so far is to raise the International Mission Board budget by 1 per cent.
The first two components refer to trust as a part of our cooperative relationships. Trust may be hard to come by in the midst of an identity crisis in the SBC. At a Baptist identity conference held at Union University last October, Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said, “If our confession is to have any integrity, we need to welcome young missional Calvinists who preach verse-by-verse.” I, for one, have a problem trusting someone who does not believe God loves everyone and does not believe Jesus died so that all people would have the opportunity to receive God’s gift of salvation. How can we build trust when an unsuspecting congregation listens to the recommendation of a denominational employee when calling a pastor, only to find out after the church is in turmoil and mission giving is down, that their pastor is a Calvinist? Thirty years ago we learned there does come a breaking point.
An outsider would think it makes sense for NAMB to redirect $50.6 million by eliminating Cooperative Agreements with state conventions. Of course, they would not understand the source of the $50.6 million and therefore would not equate the redirection of expenditures with the reduction of revenue. There is no simple solution, but I suspect the outcome would ultimately be catastrophic in our pioneer mission areas.
The idea of shifting the responsibility for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education from the Executive Committee to state conventions, seems to be a shallow attempt to make some kind of statement. Could this really be just fodder for a report? We are all in this together; the SBC, state conventions, associations and local churches. It is not a major part of any budget, but it is a vital part of every budget.
At the August listening session, Baptist Press reported SBC President Johnny Hunt argued that churches ought to be judged on the total amount of money given to the Cooperative Program, rather than based on the percentage of undesignated receipts. This argument strikes at the very heart of biblical stewardship and is contrary to where most Southern Baptists are. Large numbers impress some people, but Jesus told us He is impressed by the large percentage given by the widow. To come up with a new name for non-Cooperative Program giving simply renames a line item already on the Annual Church Profile. Every year our churches report Cooperative Program giving and also Total Missions giving. Will we celebrate it more by calling it Great Commission Giving? Will we give more?
I am excited about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, but we come again to a crossroads. Our best days are ahead of us as a denomination if we will reclaim our doctrinal integrity and commitment to the true Gospel. God will do a mighty work among us as we live out the Great Commission as evangelical Christians. Or, we will embrace the doctrines of the Primitive Baptists and others and become just another ecumenical denomination in decline. The path we choose will determine the extent to which our churches will support the Cooperative Program.
Jerry W. Nash is director of missions of the Harmony Baptist Association.
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