By: Danny Akin & Bruce Riley Ashford
[Editor’s Note: Southern Baptists will vote on the GCRTF report on June 15, 2010 at the annual Convention in Orlando, Florida. This promises to be a critically important and historically significant moment in our Convention. This series of posts attempts to (1) expound the merits of the Task Force report; (2) address the legitimate concerns raised by our brothers and sisters; and (3) correct misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the report. We are convinced this report charts a hopeful future for our convention of churches. We believe it provides a vision for a better day of Great Commission advance in our nation and among all the nations for the glory of King Jesus.]
Southern Baptists are more than merely an indiscriminate collection of congregations who practice believer’s baptism by immersion and perpetuate the institutions we started. We are churches who by conviction stand in the Baptist tradition of historic Christianity, who cooperate because we believe that our mission will be more effective if we combine our efforts rather than if we “go it alone.” However, cooperation does not, in and of itself, ensure success. The prophet Amos raised the question, “How can two walk together unless they are agreed” (3:31). Our success or failure as a Convention will depend, in part, on having a biblically-driven and clearly defined mission around which we can rally for the furtherance of the gospel. Recently the GCR Task Force has recommended the following statement as a clear encapsulation of the SBC’s mission: As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations. This statement is a clear articulation not only of our Lord’s Great Commission, but also is a faithful reflection of the SBC’s historical mission and her rightful mission for the 21st century. We believe the GCR Task Force gets it right, and this is reflected in the effect it will have on SBC efforts in international missions as well as ministry in the United States.
A Mission Focused on the Nations (Spiritual & Structural Renewal)
Three scarlet truths combine to make international missions a matter of urgent necessity for the SBC. First, Christian Scripture teaches that there is no other name under heaven by which men are saved (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5). In other words, God has ordained that all saving faith be consciously focused on his Son Jesus Christ. Second, there are approximately 2 billion people worldwide who have no access whatsoever to the gospel. These are people who could leave their homes and walk for days and months and years, and never find a Christian, a Bible, or a church. This is a markedly different situation than an unbeliever in the United States faces. Even unbelievers who are in the most unchurched areas of the United States can easily find Bibles, Christians, and churches in order to hear and understand the gospel. This does not mean that ministry in the United States is not a priority; it is a priority. But it is markedly different in nature. Third, the SBC could easily send twice or three times as many workers to the 2 billion people overseas who have zero access to the gospel. But at the moment we are not doing so.
There has been some disagreement over (1) whether the solution to this situation is spiritual or structural, and (2) whether we should simply give more money to the CP or change the way the CP pie is divided. The answer to the first question is that the solution lies in both spiritual and structural factors. The mission is spiritual-surely all of us need the Spirit of God to awaken and reawaken us to the mission which God has for us. But the solution is also structural-the convention’s pocketbook needs to clearly reflect its desire to take the gospel to those who have zero access to the gospel. The answer to the second question is that we do need to change the way the pie is sliced, and at the same time make the pie bigger. In other words, we need to streamline and prioritize our ministries, while at the same time enlarging the pie by giving more generously.
The bottom line is that our personal and church pocketbooks and our CP structure need to sing in unison what our congregations already sing: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” If we believe that salvation comes through Christ alone, and if we know that two billion people have little or no access to the gospel, then we are faced with a dilemma. Either we build Great Commission churches and accomplish the task that God has given us, or we force the Lord to plow around us to accomplish his will. This latter scenario, by God’s grace, must not happen!
A Mission Focused on the United States:
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commands us to make disciples of all nations. This includes our own nation-the United States of America-and yet the truth is that we are failing to meet the challenge. While the population of our nation increases, the population of our churches decreases. While the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the Southern Baptist Convention remains a mostly middle-class, mostly white, mostly southern network of mostly declining churches. This is a painful truth. If we ignore it, we do so to our shame and eventual death.
And yet this is not an indictment. Many SBC churches have worked hard to reach their cities and many of them have more or less succeeded. But the truth of the matter is that we are losing the battle. Our nation is becoming increasingly post-Christian and we are not stemming the tide. Perhaps one of the reasons that we are losing the battle is that we are “aiming at” a culture that no longer exists. The SBC built its programs and its personality, if you will, in the 1950s. But we find ourselves in a socio-cultural context that varies significantly from that of 50 years ago. Many of our churches no longer have the luxury of communicating the gospel within a city that has basically one culture. Instead, they find themselves communicating across numerous cultural and sub-cultural divides.
The bottom line is this: Southern Baptists missionaries and pastors in North America must adopt a missional posture in the United States just like international missionaries do in other countries. As the United States becomes multicultural, multiethnic, and multilinguistic, our preaching and church planting strategies must reflect our desire to reach those cultures, languages, and ethnicities. As the United States becomes more urban, we must learn to share the gospel and plant churches in urban settings. As we begin to realize that the towering centers of cultural influence are cities like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, we have the opportunity to concentrate our human and financial resources to reach those great cities. As it dawns upon us that the arts, the sciences, and the academic centers are cultural dimensions that wield great influence in our country, we have the opportunity to remind our congregations of their ability and responsibility to work out the implications of the gospel in those dimensions.
In order to make this work, we need renewed commitment from our people, churches, local associations, state conventions, seminaries, mission boards, and other entities. The GCRTF’s recommended mission statement is one which we can rally around, which points us in the right direction and which is a natural extension of the Conservative Resurgence. Indeed, the great crisis of the SBC in the late 20th century was that biblical revelation itself was being attacked. We met that challenge and will continue to do so. The challenge of the 21st century is not only to hold the ground won in the Conservative Resurgence, but to foster a Great Commission Resurgence, capturing new territory for King Jesus, territory that rightly belongs to Him! Evangelical Baptist theology goes hand-in-hand with mission. There is an inherent connection between them. Without this connection, we lose God’s blessing and its attendant spiritual power. Without a passion for the nations, we become useless to the missional God we claim to love and hope to serve.