As I sit in Asia working with some of our IMB missionaries, I am blessed to see the work we do together. And, honestly, everyone here sees the importance of our denominational cooperation for the purpose of global missions. (You can follow along on our trip here.)
But, right now, things seem to be a bit “in flux” back home. So, perhaps I can add a little encouragement today as I sit with a group of missionaries talking about how to engage this context in evangelism and church planting. Seeing this ministry in action, it seems a good time to share why I am a Southern Baptist and maybe encourage you to be involved in that partnership as well.
In my role, one of the more common questions I am asked is, “Why are you in a denomination?” After all, many of the conferences where I speak are sponsored by non-denominational groups and are attended by non-denominational church leaders. It turns out that I am an anomaly at events like the National Outreach Convention and the Catalyst Conference, at least in terms of the scheduled speakers. Last I checked, I am the only speaker with a denominational business card.
So, they ask me, “Why go denominational?” and, with more volume and incredulity, “Why Southern Baptist?”
Besides the preference for some to remain non-denominational, there are those who believe denominations are passé, that we are moving into a post-denominational era. So, they ask, “Why remain in a denomination at all? Why not be a part of the wave of change?”
These are good questions, so let me answer them here with five reasons why I am Southern Baptist. I will share more of this at the upcoming Union University conference and in a forthcoming article in Christianity Today (on denominationalism in general).
Here are the reasons I am a Southern Baptist. I hope they encourage you to be a part of our family of churches committed to reaching the world through cooperative missions.
I am an inerrantist, complementarian, cooperating Baptist, and fit in my denomination. If I found things in the Bible I could not believe, thought I could throw water on a baby and call it baptism, or preferred total church independence without denominational cooperation, I would be in the wrong spot. I am here by informed choice.
Unlike many in my denomination, I did not grow up “in the system.” I came to Christ in another denomination-one moving from orthodoxy to liberalism. So, I looked around to find who most closely matched my convictions of inerrancy. At the time, the Southern Baptist Convention had undergone a return to biblical inerrancy and sufficiency. It was the people that I felt the greatest affinity with as a group. So I joined up. (Well, I didn’t exactly join up, but I joined a church that was joined up…ah, you know what I mean.)
No denomination is perfect. But choosing a denomination is the chance to choose your problems as well as your strengths. Coming into the SBC as a young man, I didn’t know everything but I knew enough to know I belonged.
If you read my writings, you know that at heart: I’m just a God-loving, Bible-thumping, Christ’s blood-preaching, Baptist. Sure, I wrap it all in missiological jargon but I’m really just a conservative theologian who loves God, His people, His Word, and the lost of the world. Being a conservative in doctrine and flexible in my method, I find a comfortable home with the SBC.
Now, we are Baptists which means we like to disagree. As the joke goes, we’re tempted to think Matthew 18:20 reads, “where two or more are gathered, there will be three or more opinions.” But I am glad to know that our disagreements are not on the core issues. In the doctrinal issues of the atonement and the Scripture’s authority along with the cultural issues of active missions and the need for justice, we are all on the same team.
I do not disparage those who choose to remain independent of a denomination. But, I believe that the old saying is a true saying: “We can do more together than we can do alone.” The theory behind the SBC is that we cooperate on multiple levels. Now, I know we don’t always do a good job but the opportunity comes with multiple levels of influence (local, state, national and international) for those who will embrace it.
As a church planter, I worked alongside local associations, state conventions, our North American Mission Board, and the national convention. It is a family of churches who have a tremendous reach and tremendous resources. Sure every family has a few crazy uncles who eat all the apple pie at family reunions, but all-in-all, we get along pretty well. In fact, we get along very well for a denomination of 50,000 churches and congregations, over 1000 local associations, 42 state conventions, six seminaries, the largest domestic mission agency on our continent (NAMB), the largest Protestant denominational mission agency in history (IMB), and one of the largest Christian publishing houses in the world.
I am proud to stand on a history of cooperating churches that constantly renew their commitment to Christ, the Great Commission, and finding new ways to care for the needy of our world. It is a system where you can find what you need and give as much as you want. Because, the key to cooperation is to both give and take. That is why I mentioned the importance of the Cooperative Program at the Baptist 21 panel. Where I am right now, I see the importance of the CP.
Which leads me to my fourth point.
4) The Cooperative Program
As I travel around the world (as I am right now in Asia), I meet church planters and various missionaries from many denominations. But few outside of the SBC workers are able to stay on the field year-round. They wish they had our Cooperative Program to fund their work rather than spending valuable time raising funds from partners back home.
Recently, we have had some intensive conversations about its inner workings. Is it at times inefficient? Yes. But a compelling and historically validated argument can be made that it would be less efficient if we did not have the CP and every church did its own individual strategy without cooperating with other churches. More than just the mere pooling of cash, the Cooperative Program allows for a further reach than all of our churches could hope to do one at a time.
By being in the SBC, I can give away resources to people whom I will never meet to reach places I will never go and give the Gospel to the lost who are beyond my reach. The Cooperative Program is a genius invention.
Did I mention the crazy uncle at your family reunion? Sometimes he’s the one that shows up and sometimes he is… you. But whoever is the difficult one in the room or the life of the party, our denomination finds a way to pursue God’s mission and pursue it together.
I tell a lot of self-deprecating humor on the part of our denomination. I think we need to laugh at ourselves at times. Things are not perfect, but we can grow through them and figure them out as a family.
And, I am not here because I need to be. I am here because I believe in what we can be.
Yes, meetings can be a challenge and organizations can get sidetracked. When we get together, it makes for classic “iron sharpening iron” moments. But when we go out together, I don’t believe any force can stop us.
The fellowship achieved through our denomination provides for both encouragement and accountability. When churches are hurting, fellow churches can come alongside of them. And when churches fall astray, we can call on them in love to return to faithful relationship with Christ. Our fellowship can be abused but more often than not, our pastors and leaders find ways to enjoy one another’s company as they minister to one another.
Being a part of our denomination-or any denomination-has its challenges. Operating a large organization for spiritual purposes is complicated. And, I know our denomination pretty well and have compared it with many others. At the end of the day, we may need to fix and re-prioritize some things, but the SBC is a tool that God is using in powerful ways in the states and around the world. And, that is part of why I believe God has called me to be a part of our SBC family of churches.