Some Thoughts on a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention

For well over a year now, some of us have been talking about the need for a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Sermons have been preached, addresses have been given, articles have been authored, and blog posts have been devoted to this topic. In Indianapolis, I heard several different recognized SBC leaders use this terminology from the Convention platform. And I find that encouraging.

The Conservative Resurgence came to an end over the course of the 1990s. It actually happened in several stages. First, with the formation of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991, moderate Southern Baptists began to disengage from the Convention in increasing numbers, a trend that actually began as early as 1988 when the Southern Baptist Alliance was formed (now Alliance of Baptists). Second, the Covenant for a New Century was approved in 1995 and implemented in 1997, leading to a bureaucratic restructuring of the denomination. Third, the Baptist Faith and Message was amended in 1998 so as to reflect conservative gender and family views. Finally, a substantial revision of the Baptist Faith and Message adopted in 2000, marking the symbolic end to the Conservative Resurgence.

A Great Commission Resurgence needs to build upon the theological foundation of the Conservative Resurgence. Our agencies, boards, and seminaries are now led by conservative administrators who are accountable to conservative trustees. We have embraced a thoroughly conservative confession of faith. LifeWay is producing conservative curricula and developing conservative programs for use in our churches. Our future pastors and missionaries are being taught conservative theology in our seminaries and a growing number of state Baptist colleges. Our professors are pursuing conservative scholarship that is often relevant to what happens in local churches. Our missionaries are planting conservative churches in our Jerusalem, our Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. The time is ripe for all of these things to come together in a Great Commission Resurgence.

A Great Commission Resurgence needs to include at least three components. First, we must reemphasize–and in some cases recover–the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must never tire of telling the world of all that God has done on our behalf through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hopeless sinners have been adopted as cherished sons of the Father. Hateful rebels have been transformed into loving subjects of the True King. The dead have been made alive in Christ. And those of us who have been captivated by this gospel are called to live cross-centered lives that bear the fruit of the gospel as the Holy Spirit conforms us more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. Our Great Commission Resurgence must coincide with a Gospel Resurgence among the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Second, we must recognize that God is a missional God and that the church is His missional people. God has been at work from before the foundation of the world to redeem a people unto Himself (Eph. 1:3-14). He has revealed Himself to sinners progressively throughout redemptive history, culminating the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-4). He has made provision on our behalf through the person and work of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). He stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20), today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2), and all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13). God is on mission to claim ruined sinners as His own and to make us into what we were really created to be.

God accomplished his missional purposes through his missional people, the church. The church is the community of the redeemed (Acts 2:37-47). We are the means that God is using to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all people (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). We partipate in God’s mission by preaching the gospel to the nations (Rom. 10:14-17). By God’s grace, that preaching will be effective and one day the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15). There will be men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation who have turned from their sin, cast themselves upon Christ’s mercies, and become citizens of that kingdom (Rev. 5:9-10, 7:9). And we long for that day.

Third, because we long for that day, we commit now to labor on behalf of that day. In other words, we put the above theological concepts into action and apply them to our own lives and churches as we live what we believe and actively join God in His missional work. We pray for the lost, our hearts broken on behalf of those who do not yet know Christ. We share the gospel with our lost friends and neighbors, baptizing those who believe in the name of the Triune God. We strengthen existing churches and plant new churches, knowing that our churches exist as kingdom outposts and mission-sending agencies in the context God has placed them. We contextualize the good news in ways that commend Christ to every type of culture. We give sacrificially from our resources, knowing that their are gospel riches that far exceed the things of this world. And we not only do these things in North America, but we do carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, heralding Christ everywhere men do not know His name. When Southern Baptists do these things with greater passion than we can now imagine, we will be in the midst of a Great Commission Resurgence.

The Southern Baptist Convention now stands at a crossroads. We can rest on past victories and become self-satisfied, arrogant, or insular. We can shoot at each other over secondary matters, try to out-Baptist each other, or pursue our own intradenominational fiefdoms. Or we can allow our love of the gospel, our commitment to Scripture, and our historic identity as missionary Baptists to ignite in us a love for the lost and a heart for the nations. And God will get the glory.

The time is now. The choice is ours. I pray we choose wisely.

Southern Baptist Convention 2008: A Time To Be Encouraged And A Time To Get To Work For Our Lord

The 2008 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention took a number of interesting and unexpected turns. However, I leave “Indy” hopeful and encouraged, still recognizing we do have some significant challenges before us. What follows are some general reflections on our annual meeting.

1) Johnny Hunt was elected president of our Convention on the first ballot from a field where there were a number of gifted and godly men. Being elected on the first ballot surprised many if not most. His election is an occasion for hope for our future. I believe Dr. Hunt will build on the two years of statesman-like leadership of Frank Page. I am praying that his passion for the gospel, the church, and the lost both in America and among the nations will infect our denomination. I know he has a burning desire to reach out to a younger generation and get them engaged and involved in Southern Baptist life. I know his heart is to extend a welcoming hand to any and all Southern Baptist who long to see a Great Commission Resurgence in our Convention. I believe Johnny Hunt is the right man at the right time for Southern Baptist. I encourage all to join me in praying for him and supporting him as he leads us.

2) We finally passed a resolution on Regenerate Church Membership that, with several amendments, has biblical conviction and theological integrity. A regenerate church has always been a Baptist distinctive, but somehow that was lost along the way. I am grateful for the fine work of men like Tom Ascol, Bart Barber and Malcolm Yarnell in getting this issue before our people. Now we need to begin the recovery process. Let’s pray that we will do this with pastoral wisdom and sensitivity. It will not happen over night. It will take time. Let’s preach and teach on the biblical basis and theological necessity of a believer’s church, the nature and fruit of genuine regeneration, and the importance of gracious and loving church discipline.

3) Al Gilbert’s charge in the Convention sermon to our denominational entities and our churches was a clarion call we all need to heed. A bloated denominational bureaucracy on the national, state and associational levels is choking us, and it must receive attention. The stewardship of our financial resources and how we account for and count those resources needs to be rethought. Praying that God would send us to the great missions fields of America and the nations and, if not us, then our children (and grandchildren), should become the heartbeat of every Southern Baptist. It certainly will be mine and one I hope captures all who are a part of the Southeastern Seminary family.

4) The recognition that we are “graying” at our annual meeting and must reach out to our younger brothers and sisters, I believe, became more evident at this Convention. Both Johnny Hunt and Ed Litton (President of the 2009 Pastors Conference) recognize this. My close friends Al Mohler, James Merritt, Mark Dever and I had conversations about this. All of us who have leadership assignments in our Convention have a responsibility to get busy in addressing and solving this growing crisis. Some excellent ideas are already being bantered about. As someone who, by God’s providence and grace, has been placed in a position of responsibility, I am happy to hear from anyone on what we can do to move ahead in bringing grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren together for the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

5) I sense that the vision for a “Great Commission Resurgence,” is beginning to capture some real excitement. David Dockery’s new book Southern Baptist: Consensus and Renewal and his address at the Convention points in that direction. The reports of NAMB and the IMB certainly had that focus. Standing on the shoulders of men like W.A. Criswell, Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines and the ground they reclaimed for Southern Baptist in the “Conservative Resurgence,” we have the opportunity to move forward together trumpeting in work and deed, “Southern Baptist are a Great Commission people.” As I shared in my report, there will be no retreat from or compromise of the great theological truths and Baptist distinctives that unite us. We have a wonderful body of biblical truth affirmed in our confessions of faith to unite us as we work together in fulfilling the final marching orders of King Jesus (Matt. 28:16-20).

I have left the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention hopeful and even optimistic. Of course how could I not be? I’ve read the final chapter of God’s grand redemptive story. King Jesus reigns, His church will prevail, His gospel will be preached to all the nations and a number too great to count will gather around His throne for all of eternity worshipping Him and praising Him. So let’s get to work for our Lord. The glory is His and the joy is ours!

What’s Right With the Southern Baptist Convention

Several years ago I gave my parents a gift that I think they enjoyed as much or more than anything I ever gave them. I wrote each of them a letter thanking them for what they did right as my Mom and Dad. In a world where it is commonplace for people to talk about everything their parents did wrong, I wanted my parents to know how much they got right. I recall how very much they appreciated those letters. In fact, shortly after my father passed away last year, I found that letter among my Dad’s possessions in the briefcase where he had placed all his significant documents we were to need upon his death. Of all the things he possessed, most of the things he treasured were in that briefcase, and among them was a simply letter of thanksgiving from a grateful son.

There continues to be considerable talk about what is wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention. I think that is the case for the simple reason that there are many things wrong with the SBC. I know that some would like to attribute blame for this state of affairs to one group or another, suggesting that there really are no serious problems with the Convention, except that there are critical people who keep stirring the proverbial pot with their critical attitudes. But there are many of us who talk seriously these days about the difficulties facing our beloved Convention, precisely because we love the SBC and we care deeply about her future.

I am not alone in thinking this. In fact, one of my most vivid memories is the last occasion that I spoke to Adrian Rogers, a man whose love for the SBC is unquestioned, and a man for whom I have the deepest respect. On that occasion he and Mrs. Rogers asked me and my wife Kathleen to join them at their breakfast table. We were not far into conversation when he looked at me across the table and said, “David, you spend all your time with our seminarians. Is the Southern Baptist Convention really going to be okay in the future? Are there going to be good leaders in the generation to come?”

His question was born not out of criticism, but out of love for the convention. I think that most who ask such questions today do so with the same motivation. And I think we are foolish not to ask and seek honest answers to such questions. In two future blogs I plan to do just that – to reflect on what I think are two serious matters facing the SBC. But before I do that, I want to reflect on the answer I gave to Dr. and Mrs. Rogers that morning. I offer the same answer today that I gave then, and I am even more convinced today than I was on that Spring morning that there is much about which to be hopeful in the SBC. In a way, this blog is like the letter I sent to my Dad. It isn’t that there aren’t concerns to be raised about the SBC. There are, and I will consider those at a later date. But for now, I want to remember what is right with the SBC.

It is my great joy to serve at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention. In my role at Southeastern I have the unique opportunity to meet the men and women sent by our SBC churches for training to serve our Lord in ministry around the globe. These men and women come to Southeastern from varied backgrounds, they are from diverse age groups, and they are preparing for many different kinds of ministry. What gives me such hope for our convention is the consistent quality of these people. They are committed to Christ, they are humble and teachable, and they understand the realities of God’s mission in His world, His Kingdom, and His desire to see the nations worship Him.

These disciples of Jesus who study at Southeastern are willing to go anywhere, to go at any time, and to do anything for the sake of the gospel. When I speak in these terms I am not saying that we have a few or even some students of this caliber. I am saying that this is typical of the students who come to us. Over the past decade I have watched these students study, learn, and mature, and I have been at this long enough to see many of them enter fields of service in many different places.

I think of men like Dan Main and Jerry Lewis who faithfully pastor Great Commission churches that take seriously the call to make disciples in their fields of service. I think of a young lady like Bethany Hadaway who invests her life in making disciples through her gifts in counseling. These young leaders are helping to grow healthy Southern Baptist churches, and for this we should give thanks.

There are church planters leading Great Commission churches in places like New England, Montana, and the great cities of our nation. These men, and many others throughout North America, are committed to leading churches to reach not only more people, but to reach more people by forming churches that produce reproducing churches. We see more and more students who are interested in pursuing this kind of work, and for this we should give thanks as well.

Then there are those who serve in international fields. Their names cannot be mentioned, but their faithfulness must not go unnoticed. They serve in hard fields, some in places where until now there has been no gospel witness. These families labor in difficult circumstances, not only due to the underdeveloped places in which they live, but often due to the open hostility to the gospel itself. And yet they carry on day after day, faithfully serving Christ. We should also be grateful for these faithful servants.

I am under no illusion that this phenomena is occurring only at Southeastern. It is because I know of similar movements at other institutions, including our Baptist colleges, that I am so optimistic about the SBC. Likewise, I see movements among Southern Baptist students on public university campuses, where our young people are answering the call to bring the gospel to their campuses and display a passion for the mission of God around the world that is inspiring. I am encouraged also by Southern Baptists who in their later years of life take seriously the call to spend whatever days God gives them in ministry literally around the globe.

In reply to Dr. Rogers’ question at breakfast that morning, I said I didn’t think the SBC would be just okay in the future; I stated that I was completely optimistic about the future of the SBC for the simple fact that God is raising up so many men and women who are faithfully committed to Christ and His Kingdom. I believe I was right to give that answer at that time, and I remain convinced that the future of the SBC is bright. This is not to say that there are not clear and present dangers facing our convention. But it is to say that I believe we can avoid those dangers, and watch God work powerfully through the laborers He is sending to fields of harvest.

That we have faithful leaders serving in established churches to mature them and see them carry on faithful gospel ministry is part of what’s right with the SBC. That there are faithful leaders pursuing the work of church planting throughout North America to produce reproducing churches is part of what’s right with the SBC. That there are faithful leaders going to the ends of the earth with the gospel so that the nations can worship the Lamb of God is part of what’s right with the SBC. In this we see the beginning of what some have called a “Great Commission Resurgence” in our midst, and that is part of what is right with the SBC.

Our Convention has its share of problems, and we must not fail to address those matters wisely. At the same time, we will do well to remember what is right, and to thank God for what He has done in our past and what He is doing today. That He is calling out so many faithful laborers is an occasion for praise, and it is fitting for us to have a genuine, reasoned optimism about our future. Whatever concerns we have about our Convention must be set within the context of the reality of what is right with the SBC.