Toward A Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, HCSB).
Southern Baptists have always been a Great Commission people. Christ’s command to go, disciple, baptize, and teach is woven into the very DNA of our churches. By God’s grace, over the last thirty years the SBC has undergone a Conservative Resurgence that has brought substantive changes to many of our churches and all of our Convention’s seminaries and boards. We, the undersigned, are thankful for the Conservative Resurgence and believe that God has called Southern Baptists to a Great Commission Resurgence as the next step in the renewal of our denomination. It is our conviction that a Great Commission Resurgence must embrace the following ten commitments:
I. A Commitment to Christ’s Lordship. We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels. (Col. 1:18; 3:16-17, 23-24)
Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Therefore, Jesus Christ must be our passion and priority and we should aspire to both know Him and love Him more fully. We must long to see Him have preeminence in all things. We desire to see a Convention of Christ-centered, “Jesus-intoxicated” people who pursue all that we do by God’s grace and for His glory. We believe we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to lead us into a new and fresh intimacy and communion with the Lord Jesus that results in greater obedience to all that He commands. Christ’s Lordship must be first and foremost in a Great Commission Resurgence or we will miss our most important priority and fail in all of our other pursuits.
II. A Commitment to Gospel-Centeredness. We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our denominational ministries. (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:17-21)
The gospel is the good news of all that God has done on behalf of sinners through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. As individual Southern Baptists, we must be gospel-centered from first to last. Gospel-centered living will promote a grace-filled salvation from beginning to end by putting on display the beauty of the gospel in every aspect of our lives. It will remind us that we do not obey in order to be accepted, but rather we obey because we are accepted by God in Christ. Gospel-centered living will help ensure that the bloody cross of a crucified King is the offense to non-believers rather than our styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes.
The gospel must also guide and saturate our local churches and denominational ministries. Too many of our pulpits have jettisoned the pure proclamation of the gospel, which has resulted in many of our people losing the full meaning and wonder of the gospel. Too often our denominational programs and agendas have been crafted without a close tethering to the gospel. If we assume the gospel, we will lose the gospel. We must get the gospel right and proclaim it with clarity and boldness if we are to experience a Great Commission Resurgence.
III. A Commitment to the Great Commandments. We call upon all Southern Baptists to recommit to the priority of the Great Commandments in every aspect of our lives and every priority we embrace as a network of local Baptist churches. (Matt. 22:37-40)
Every Christian is called first and foremost to love God and secondly to love others. Greater love for God will always lead to greater love for people created in His image. The Great Commission flows from the Great Commandments.
We believe too many of us have lost some of our love for God and others somewhere along the way. This has devastated our witness. If we love Jesus as we should, we will love sinners as we ought and pursue them as He did. Though we believe that God calls believers to speak out against moral ills, this must not be done in a way that is hateful toward unbelievers or trades gospel priorities for political influence. We must not condemn those who are already under the just wrath of God, but must seek to serve them and proclaim Christ to them in the hope that God will save them.
Loving God and loving others means our churches must become more diverse. Southern Baptists were born, in part, out of a racist context and for over a century embraced systemic racism. For far too much of our history we failed to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that will forever be to our shame. By God’s grace and the Spirit’s conviction, we publically repented of this in 1995 on our 150th anniversary, but there is still much work to be done. We must labor at gospel-centered racial reconciliation until our churches better reflect the diversity we look forward to in heaven.
Furthermore, loving God and loving others means each of us must be watchful in our relationships with others in our churches and our Convention. We must accept our constant need to humble ourselves and repent of pride, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, contentions, lying, selfish ambitions, laziness, complacency, idolatries and every other sin of the flesh that leads to broken relationships and harms our witness before the watching world.
IV. A Commitment to Biblical Inerrancy and Sufficiency. We call upon all Southern Baptists to unite around a firm conviction in the full truthfulness and complete sufficiency of Christian Scripture in all matters of faith and practice. (Matt 5:17-18; John 10:35; 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)
Through the Conservative Resurgence Southern Baptists reaffirmed their historic belief that the Bible is God’s written revelation to humanity and is “truth without any mixture of error.” By God’s grace, what some have called the “Battle for the Bible” that began in the SBC 1979 has been won. But we believe the “War for the Bible” began in the Garden of Eden when the serpent first questioned the truthfulness of God’s words and will continue until all things are made new in Christ. Southern Baptists must not retreat one inch from the non-negotiable doctrine that the Bible is without error, lest we squander the gains of recent years. Furthermore, we must recommit ourselves to the full sufficiency of Scripture. It is not enough to believe that the Bible is inerrant; we must also be willing to submit to all of its teachings, even if that means we must relinquish our own preferences or human traditions.
V. A Commitment to a Healthy Confessional Center. We call upon all Southern Baptists to look to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord’s Commission. (1 Tim. 6:3-4)
In 2000 the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly adopted a revised edition of the Baptist Faith and Message as an instrument of doctrinal accountability to be used by our seminaries and boards. Many state conventions followed suit. While the BF&M 2000 is neither exhaustive nor infallible, we believe that it is a sound confession for building theological consensus for Great Commission cooperation. Like the best of confessions, the BF&M 2000 speaks most clearly to those doctrines wherein we enjoy greatest agreement and speaks more generally concerning areas where some differing opinions exist.
The promise of the Conservative Resurgence was that eventually we would find enough common biblical and theological ground that we could focus on the Great Commission. We believe the BF&M 2000 is a key tool in this endeavor because it articulates a theological consensus that is simultaneously orthodox, evangelical, and Baptist. We believe that by God’s grace the BF&M 2000 will guide us in our cooperation as we attempt to discern the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary issues, an endeavor that lies at the heart of many of our present tensions.
VI. A Commitment to Biblically Healthy Churches. We call upon all Southern Baptists to focus on building local churches that are thoroughly orthodox, distinctively Baptist, and passionately committed to the Great Commission. (Matt. 16:13-20, 18:15-20; Acts 2:41-47; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 5)
Baptists have always been a people committed to building local churches that reflect as closely as possible the faith and practice of New Testament churches. We sense numerous threats to contemporary Baptist churches including worldliness, laziness, faddishness, heterodoxy, arrogant sectarianism, and naïve ecumenism. Our churches must be committed to a biblical orthodoxy that informs every aspect of church life. Sound doctrine must guide every priority our churches embrace and every task they undertake.
We must be especially mindful to resist contemporary threats to our historic, biblical Baptist identity. Our churches must remain committed to the Baptist distinctives of a regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism by immersion, the priesthood of all believers, congregational church polity, local church autonomy, and liberty of conscience for all people. Each of these distinctives must be embraced under the lordship of Christ as revealed in Christian Scripture and interpreted by gospel-centered congregations. We must be willing to alter our practices to better accord with a robust Baptist identity, including in many churches a more responsible baptismal policy, a recovery of redemptive church discipline, a healthier balance between pastoral leadership and congregational authority, and a commitment to an every-member ministry.
Mission is not a ministry of the church, but is at the heart of the church’s identity and essence. We must encourage our churches to see themselves as the missionary bodies that they are. Pastors and other leaders must be willing to teach and model for their people how to be missionaries in their community, regardless of their vocation or location. Churches must have a global perspective and recognize those members who have been called to serve overseas long-term and engage in short-term global missions. Churches must labor to both plant new churches in unevangelized areas of North America, especially the great urban centers, and revitalize existing congregations. We long to see a Convention where every church is a church planting church in its unique Jerusalem, its Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.
VII. A Commitment to Sound Biblical Preaching. We call upon all Southern Baptists to affirm and expect a pastoral ministry that is characterized by faithful biblical preaching that teaches both the content of the Scriptures and the theology embedded in the Scriptures. (2 Tim. 4:1-5)
Biblical preaching is central to building healthy churches that pursue healthy agendas within the context of a healthy Convention. We need a new battalion of well trained pastors who preach the whole Bible with clarity and conviction. Authentic preaching must develop systematically the Bible’s theological content. It should understand both the Old Testament and New Testament to be Christian Scripture that together communicates one grand narrative about the world’s creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, with the person and work of Jesus Christ as the climax of the Bible’s storyline.
We also believe that genuine preaching is more than mere Bible teaching, no matter how orthodox and articulate. Healthy preaching should apply biblical truths in a way that makes unchanging truths relevant to contemporary believers. It must also be gospel preaching that pleads with men to be reconciled with God and expects the living and powerful Word of God to produce results and usher in conversions. It must be preaching that convicts sinners, encourages saints, changes lives, and glorifies God.
VIII. A Commitment to a Methodological Diversity that is Biblically Informed. We call upon all Southern Baptists to consider themselves and their churches to be missionaries in non-Christian cultures, each of which requires unique strategies and emphases if the gospel is to penetrate and saturate every community in North America. (Phil. 2:1-5; 4:2-9)
There are essential and non-negotiable components of biblical ministry like proclamation, evangelism, service to others, prayer, and corporate worship. At the same time, we are convinced there is no specific style or method ordained by our God through which we must engage in these biblical ministries. In the past, Southern Baptists were characterized by a remarkable uniformity in both style and substance, but those days have long passed. Though we must remain united in substance, we must embrace a healthy, biblically informed diversity in our methodology if we are to effectively evangelize North America.
Different contexts demand diverse strategies and methods. We must think like missionaries and ask, “What is the best way to reach the people I live amongst with the gospel?” Various ethnic believers and social/cultural tribes will worship the same God, adore the same Jesus, believe the same Bible, and preach the same gospel. However, they may meet in different kinds of structures, wear different kinds of clothes, sing different kinds of songs, and engage in different kinds of ministries. We must treat the United States missiologically and do so with the same seriousness that our international missionaries treat their foreign people groups. As long as our varied methods communicate gospel truth, with theological integrity, unto God’s glory, we should not allow our different approaches to divide us.
IX. A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure. We call upon all Southern Baptists to rethink our Convention structure and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfilling of the Great Commission. (1 Cor. 10:31)
At the midpoint of the 20th century the Southern Baptist Convention was a denomination characterized by impressive institutions, innovative programs, and strong loyalty from the churches. But the denomination has too often failed to adapt its structure and programs to the changing culture. We are frequently aiming at a culture that went out of existence years ago, failing to understand how mid-20th century methods and strategies are not working in the 21st century.
Some of our denominational structures at all levels need to be streamlined for more faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted to them. We must address with courage and action where there is overlap and duplication of ministries, and where poor stewardship is present. We are grateful for God’s gift of Cooperative Program dollars to both state and national entities. Both state and national entities must be wise stewards of these funds, and closely examine whether the allocation of Cooperative Program dollars genuinely contributes to Kingdom work or simply maintains the status quo. We are grateful for those churches and state conventions that are seeking to move more Cooperative Program dollars beyond their respective selves, and encourage this movement to continue and increase in the days ahead.
We must take steps toward simplifying our denominational structures in an effort to streamline our structure, clarify our institutional identity, and maximize our resources for Great Commission priorities. We should ask hard questions about every aspect of our Convention structure and priorities and pray for God’s wisdom and blessing as we pursue wise answers to those questions. We must be willing to make needed changes for the good of our churches and the spread of the gospel. We believe that North American church planting, pioneer missions around the globe, and theological education that starts in the seminaries but finds its way to our local churches are three priorities around which Southern Baptists will unite. Our denomination must be restructured at every level to facilitate a more effective pursuit of these priorities.
X. A Commitment to Distinctively Christian Families. We call upon all Southern Baptists to build gospel-saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and as our first and primary mission field. (Deut. 6:1-9; Psalm 127, 128; Eph. 6:4)
The family is the first institution ordained by God and the foundational institution in all human cultures. Unfortunately, in our own time we see the family attacked on a number of fronts. Too many Southern Baptists have embraced unbiblical notions about marriage and family. Too often we believe that children are a burden rather than a blessing and smaller families are more “responsible” than large families. Too many believe that motherhood is not valuable as a woman’s unique and primary calling and is not as “fulfilling” as other occupations. Too many believe that husbands and fathers are not uniquely called and gifted for leadership in the home and that biblical gender roles destroy authentic equality.
We believe that distinctively Christian families are characterized by a deep love of Jesus Christ above all things and a desire to honor God as a family. We believe that Biblical truth is loved, taught, and lived out in healthy Christian homes. We believe that godly families cast a vision for spiritual greatness and equip every member, including children, to live for God’s glory and pursue great things for His name’s sake. We believe that strong Christian families are characterized by an atmosphere of love, fun, service, humor, faith, and fellowship. Southern Baptists must continue to reject the cultural status quo and seek to be a counter-culture for the common good when it comes to building God-centered, gospel-driven, Great Commission-loving homes.