Answering the Call to a Great Commission Resurgence

In June 1985, Southern Baptists gathered in Dallas, Texas for their annual Convention. It would be the largest gathering of a Protestant denomination in history. It was a critical moment.

On Monday night prior to the Convention’s two day meeting, Dr. W.A. Criswell closed out the annual Pastors Conference. The title of his address: “Whether We Live Or Die.” He knew our denomination was at a crossroads and that the decisions we would make in the coming years would chart our course and impact the health of our Convention. He was convinced that we had before us two options: one road would lead to life and usefulness for the Kingdom of God. The other would lead to decline and eventually death.

I believe Southern Baptists are facing a similar scenario a little more than 20 years later. The context is different, but once again we are confronted with important issues that cannot be ignored or papered over. And, they must not be caricatured or misrepresented. We must face them squarely, honestly and most of all biblically and theologically. Only then will we discover if we can truly walk together as a unified denomination.

The death of Adrian Rogers is, in my judgment, the symbolic moment that signaled a new day in terms of leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention. Things are now different.

I am convinced in this new day and context we need men with a vision for what can be called “A Great Commission Resurgence.” Building on the “Conservative Resurgence,” we need a new passion and commitment to the final marching orders of the Lord Jesus.

There is no question in my mind that a true and genuine Great Commission Resurgence will of necessity be wed to a strong and healthy theology. The two must go together and remain partners for life!

I want to raise and attempt to answer two questions: 1) Why should we come together in a Great Commission Resurgence? 2) How can we come together in a Great Commission Resurgence?

I. Why Should We Come Together In A Great Commission Resurgence?

1) We are in agreement as to a common Confession of Faith to guide us, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

2) We are in agreement on the inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency of the Bible. Some would say the battle for the Bible has been won and it is time to move on. I would sound a word of warning. The battle over the Word of God did not begin in 1979, it started in the Garden of Eden. The battle for biblical authority will never be completely and finally won until Christ returns in power and glory.

3) We are in agreement on the necessity of a regenerate church.

4) We are in agreement on the exclusivity of the gospel.

5) We are in agreement on the sinfulness and lostness of humanity apart from Christ.

6) We are in agreement that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is a free gift in which human works plays no part.

7) We are in agreement that the Great Commission is a divinely mandated assignment given to the Church by the Lord Jesus and that it is a task we are to give ourselves until the end of the age.

I have never met a Southern Baptist who says I am a non-Great Commission Christian. They would never say this is who they are. They just live like this is who they are. This must change at every level of personal and denominational life.

II. How Can We Come Together In A Great Commission Resurgence?

1) We need a sound theology, not a soft theology or a straight-jacket theology. Our Confession is a solid foundation for a sound theology that avoids the pitfalls of a soft theology as well as the quicksand of a straight-jacket theology.

2) We need to let a biblical theology drive and determine our systematic theology. I believe the safeguard that will keep us from falling into a theological trap of a sloppy or narrow system is to let a biblical theology drive, determine and dictate our systematic theology. We must have a text-driven theological system. This will enable us to avoid those theological ghettos that may espouse a nice, neat theological system, but that do so at the expense of a wholesome, well-rounded and comprehensive theology.

3) We need a revival of authentic expository preaching that will lead us to be genuine people of the book. In the days ahead we must aggressively pursue a pulpit agenda of what I would call “engaging theological exposition.” We must wed substance and style, content and delivery. We must teach the whole counsel of Scripture book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse and word by word. Authentic exposition will also help us recapture the truth of Luke 24 that all of the Bible testifies to Christ. It will pursue its holy assignment in light of the Grand Redemptive Story of Scripture. Moralistic and self-help preaching will be set aside as weak and wholly inadequate in building healthy churches and healthy doctrine.

4) We need the balance of a Great Commission Theology. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the apostle Paul makes a remarkable statement: “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” I would submit to all of us that is exactly what we need to do as we join in an unbreakable and permanent union the twin disciplines of theology and missions. I am convinced that the greatest missionary and theologian who ever lived was Jesus. I believe the greatest Christian missionary and theologian who ever lived was Paul. He was a missionary who wrote wonderful theology along the way! Here are the models for our emulation.

5) We need to love and respect each other as brothers and sisters in Christ even though we are not in complete agreement on every point of theology. One of our problems in recent days has been semi-Arminians with an attitude and Calvinists with a chip on their shoulder. The shrill rhetoric, sloppy history and theology, and unchristian words and actions on both sides of this issue have resulted in a number of unnecessary misfortunes. Many of you have seen this up close and personal. Could it be that the real problem is a lack of love for Christ, an inadequate theology that is robust, and agendas for church life that push to the back row the reaching of the lost both at home and across the globe? Could it be that our lack of demonstrable and evidential love for one another on numerous levels has compromised and wounded our witness? Dear brothers and sisters let us not forget that it is not by a perfect theology that the world will know we are Christians. It is by the way we love one another. We need to move from face to face confrontation to shoulder to shoulder companionship for the cause of Christ and His gospel.

Conclusion:

Wedding a healthy, well-informed and robust theology to a consuming passion for the evangelization of the nations, we must come together, as never before, to carry out the final command given by King Jesus. We may not agree on everything, but we agree on more than enough to work together for our Lord Jesus in fulfilling the Great Commission. So, will we live or will we die? Will we come together for life or fracture apart in death? I make my choice for life. It is my hope and my prayer that you will join me.

Toward a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention: Part Two

This evening, I am signing on again from Central Asia, where I am drinking a coffee at a small café in the middle of the city. Inside the café are tourists, mostly from America and Europe. It is a scene to behold. Directly in front of me, at the table that is rammed right up next to mine, is what appears to be an alternative rock band of some sort, thirty-somethings, complete with pierced pre-frontal cortexes and little dust bunnies on their chins.

To my left is a long table surrounded by mid-50s women, wielding their cell phones and Louis Vuitton purses, and laughing loudly enough to be heard over a cement mixer. There is another group of Americans outside on the street. Surely they are on a church trip-they’re wearing matching, neon green backpacks, and walking around grinning like its their birthday. And then there is the author of this blogpost, sitting at the booth in blue jeans and a Gap® shirt, sipping my hot brew and trying to write this post.

Here in front of me are three different groups of Americans, with some things in common such as the English language and a shared national history; however, from another angle, they likely have many things at variance, such as their views of the world and of cosmic history, or their convictions about the end goal of human life, or their preferences in music and TV and literature. They share a civilizational and national context, but probably not a cultural or existential context. Communication across these three groups would very likely be cross-cultural communication.

And all of this reminds me that Danny Akin and Paige Patterson, and Ed Stetzer and Bob Roberts, are right. We must treat the United States as a mission field. We must proclaim and embody the gospel across boundaries, we must plant churches, we must live missionally, as if our lives depended upon it.

While it is true, as I wrote in an earlier post, that there are places in the world where people have little or no access to the gospel, and that we should unite as a convention to focus our attention on those places, it is also true that we should unite as a convention to focus our attention also on North America, including especially the USA.

Living missionally in North America?

We most often use the term “missions” to denote the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic outworking of the church’s mission. It is for this reason that missions has most often been used to refer to international evangelism, discipleship and church planting. International missionaries cross vast cultural divides and overcome daunting linguistic barriers in order to share the gospel.

The point of this post, however, is that those who minister in the United States now must often cross subcultures and overcome linguistic barriers in their efforts to advance the kingdom.

A missional Christian in an American context is the same as one in the international context. He is first and foremost a theologian, but also is a student of other disciplines such as world religions, contemporary cultures and sub-cultures, and current affairs. In studying world religions, he learns to understand the core beliefs and religious practices of those to whom he will minister. In becoming a student of other cultures and sub-cultures, he learns to pay careful attention to the people group he is working amongst. He seeks to understand their beliefs, feelings, and values, as well as their patterns of behavior and material trappings. From current affairs, he gains an understanding of the broader regional, national, and international context within which he ministers.

What, then, is the task of the SBC, in relation to North America?

Given the present situation, the focus of North American missions should be to create and implement a missiology for North American cultures. One of the challenges facing Southern Baptists is how to reach our own country. The United States is not monolingual or monocultural. Multiple cultures and languages have been introduced within our borders by immigrants.

In addition, there is a dizzying array of sub-cultures, each with their own distinctive beliefs and ways of life. Many of these sub-cultures are post-Christian, in that they do not have even a basic understanding of a Christian worldview or Christian vocabulary.

We have got to learn how to take our own cultural contexts as seriously as IMB workers take their contexts. This means that we would take care to learn the cultures and sub-cultures around us so that we can communicate the gospel faithfully and meaningfully, and plant churches faithfully and meaningfully, within the framework of our neighbors’ cultural and existential contexts.

Toward a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention: Part One

Today I am writing from the fifth floor of a hotel in Central Asia, having just gotten finished conversing with a local Muslim merchant, whose political and religious views are farther to the right than Sam Donaldson’s part. Having escaped from the conversation as quickly as possible, I am now seated on the terrace roof of a very small hotel.

It is noon and the local mosques are having their calls to prayer. Within my line of vision, there are nine mosques, their prayer-callers warbling and wailing over the loudspeakers attached to the minaret. It is at once humorous, as the prayer-callers compete with each other by increasing their volume, and quite serious, as it calls attention to the fact that there are close to two billion people worldwide who have little or no access to the gospel.

By “little or no access to the gospel,” I mean that, for the majority of them, unless something changes, they will never encounter a Bible, a Christian, or a church. Whereas in the United States, an “unreached” person is one who does not attend one of the many churches in his city, in other countries the word “unreached” signifies those who could not possibly find a church even if they wanted to. They could leave their houses and walk, for days and months and years, and never find a believer or a church.

To compound the problem, the only thing they know of “Christianity” is that Christian countries like the United States manufacture such commodities as Britney Spears, Sex & the City, and homosexual marriage. They know this b/c their religious and political leaders, and their satellite dishes, tell them so. While it may be difficult for American Christians to believe that large swathes of humanity would caricature Christianity in such a manner, it is the very real perception of much of the world.

The Unique Situation of the SBC

What gives me hope, however, is the network of churches with which I am associated, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I am here in Central Asia with 20 of our SBC students, many of whom will be coming back here to live and work for the rest of their lives. Our churches have entrusted their best and ablest to us, and we are sending them to join the dozens of other SBC families who live and work in this region, and the several thousand who work across the globe.

Never before in history, and at no other place on the globe, will one find a network of churches that is more capable of planting the gospel among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We have the theological, financial, and personnel resources to finish the task given to us by our Lord-we have enough people, enough money, and a statement of faith that reveals our belief in the uniqueness of Christ. Any Southern Baptist who does not have doctrinal, moral, or medical obstacles can be fully salaried and sent to proclaim the gospel and gather churches in nearly any country in the world.

We are committed to this because we are “taken” by John’s vision in Revelation 5 in which all of heaven bursts forth into worship. Among those worshiping are men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. This is the vision that drives us-that our Lord will be worshiped from all corners of the globe. He is no tribal deity, limited to receiving the admiration of a few. Rather, there is something about Him so profoundly true, and comprehensively good, and strikingly beautiful, that He will find worshipers among every type of person who has ever lived. He alone is worthy of such worship. We believe that our lives should be lived in such a way as to contribute to this triumphant march of God, as He draws unto himself worshipers from among every people group on the face of the globe.

The Task of the SBC

What, then, is our task? Our task is to make the gospel readily accessible to every tribe, tongue, people and nation; it is to do so even in the face of formidable financial challenges and potential personal cost, to do so joyfully even when we might suffer for the sake of the gospel.

The magnitude of our task, moreover, is matched and exceeded by the magnitude of our biblical convictions: That God is a missionary God; that all people without Christ are lost; that a central theme in the Scriptures is God’s desire to win the nations unto Himself; that since the coming of His Son, God has chosen that all saving faith be consciously focused on Christ; that the church’s task in each generation is to proclaim the gospel to her generation; and that this progress of the gospel to the ends of the earth may be hindered temporarily, but there can be no doubt about its final triumph.

A Great Commission Resurgence

This, then, is why the call for a Great Commission Resurgence resonates so deeply within the convention. Based upon our gospel convictions, we as a convention know that we must build Great Commission churches and seminaries. We must be committed to making disciples “to the ends of the earth.” As mentioned above, upwards of 2 billion people have little or no access to a church, a Bible, or a Christian witness of any type. In the words of Paul, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15).