Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (3b): Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving
By Danny Akin and Nathan Finn
In his white paper opposing Great Commission Giving, Dr. Chapman’s fourth concern is that GCG will result in a diminished motivation for Southern Baptists to cooperate. He states that he cannot understand why a pastor would not lead a church to support all that Southern Baptists do through the Cooperative Program. Dr. Chapman seems to imply that differing levels of support among autonomous churches is inappropriate and that some unmentioned benchmark must be met before a church is considered supportive. He also ignores the concerns that numerous churches have raised about stewardship of CP funds by some of our state conventions and denominational ministries. He then repeats, yet again, a version of his incorrect argument that SBC churches have only funded their ministries through the CP.
The claim that Southern Baptists were “societal” prior to the adoption of the CP in 1925 is historically inaccurate. Southern Baptists have embraced the convention method since 1845 because the SBC provides oversight and raises funds from a common pool of likeminded churches. The Cooperative Program is not the equivalent of the convention method; it is rather a specific strategy within the convention paradigm. Concerns that Southern Baptists will become “societal” are unfounded, unless one is concerned that all of our denominational ministries will become independent of SBC oversight. Ironically, it is Dr. Chapman who led the charge for the Executive Committee to retain sole membership of all SBC ministries in recent years, a change which effectively prevents the SBC from becoming truly societal.
Dr. Chapman also criticizes an unnamed GCRTF member for desiring “greater recognition for designated gifts to SBC entities,” quoting several biblical texts to demonstrate how unspiritual he believes this individual is. This is a rather weak argument, particularly in light of his own contention that the SBC currently recognizes a church’s degree of cooperation based upon its percentage of CP support. In other words, what he alleges Great Commission Giving will do could just as easily be applied to the CP and the recognition it now receives. It seems as though Dr. Chapman has latched onto the word “recognition” and interpreted it in the worst possible light to make a point he cannot otherwise sustain. The goal of the GCRTF is to recognize both CP giving and Great Commission Giving. It is not an either/or. It is a blessed both/and!
Dr. Chapman’s fifth concern is that the mere reallocation of funds creates no new money. He notes that no proposals for greater missions funding will be successful without increased giving by the members of local churches. We agree completely, as does the GCRTF, which directly addressed this very issue by challenging all Southern Baptist to give at least 10% of their income to their local church and to consider estate planning and planned giving as further ways of supporting Great Commission ministries.
We believe Dr. Chapman inappropriately assumes that churches that do not meet his preferred level of CP support evidence some sort of selfishness or lack of faithful stewardship. Candidly, it is this very type of rhetoric, which assumes the CP is the only way to fund missions, that leads many churches to choose other means of supporting denominational ministries. Dr. Chapman has elevated Cooperative Program support to a level bordering biblical mandate, even if inadvertently. This attitude is far too pervasive among some denominational servants, and we believe it is a hindrance to our Great Commission faithfulness because it makes our strategies sacred rather than focusing attention on the lostness against which our strategies are supposed to be pushing back through gospel proclamation. We would do well to remember the words of Adrian Rogers, as repeated in Baptist Press on May 14, 1982: “Southern Baptists have made a golden calf of the [Cooperative] Program. . . . It’s almost easier to be against the Virgin Birth than the Program.” The context of these remarks was different, to be sure. The warning, however, is still valid today!
Dr. Chapman also expresses concern that the GCRTF calls for individuals, state conventions, and the SBC to commit to specific giving percentages, but fails to call upon churches to do the same. We believe there is a valid reason for this. In our understanding, the call for individuals to give at least 10% of their income to their local churches is biblical. As for the call for the state conventions and the SBC to adjust their budgets, this represents the desire of the GCRTF and countless other Southern Baptists that our entire denomination commit greater resources to reaching the underserved and unreached peoples of the world. But it is not the place of a denominational task force, or any other denominational representative, to recommend the level of giving expected of autonomous local churches. It is, however, the place of local churches to instruct denominational ministries how they should use the money those churches give.
The primacy of the local church cannot and must not be undermined in an effort to preserve the Cooperative Program status quo. The GCRTF unequivocally called for a greater commitment to CP giving among local churches. Though Dr. Chapman apparently desires a certain level of CP support from local churches if they are to meet his personal standards of cooperation, we believe this is not his prerogative (or ours) as a denominational servant. Local churches must be in the driver’s seat for missions giving. Dr. Chapman’s statistics about what higher CP percentages could accomplish are informative; we would indeed get more money to the mission boards if churches gave more to the CP. But we are curious why this is the only statistic Dr. Chapman chose to highlight. Why not show how much money would go to the mission boards if state conventions in non-pioneer regions adjusted their CP budget to a 50-50 split between the state and the SBC? Why not show how much money would go to the mission boards if one or more national entities were defunded? Why the selective use of statistics? Calls for increased CP giving without addressing concerns about CP stewardship seem myopic and short-sighted.
Dr. Chapman’s sixth concern is what he calls “a devaluation of cooperative efforts.” He argues that he is in favor of “direct giving and going” as a way to encourage churches in “doing missions.” By “direct giving,” we assume he means direct giving to local church ministry initiatives and not direct giving to state convention or SBC ministries. He also contends that the SBC “exists to promote cooperative ministries.” We disagree. The SBC exists as a network of connected cooperative ministries embraced and funded by autonomous Baptist churches. We think he is misguided when he implies that a church is only supporting the work of the SBC by what it gives through the Cooperative Program, since only the CP funds the ‘whole’ program.” A church is supporting the work of the SBC anytime it gives to any SBC ministry. This is the very reality that Great Commission Giving seeks to recognize. The Cooperative Program is not of the esse (“being”) of the SBC, but rather is of the bene esse (“well being”). We are thankful that the CP is in place to fund our ministries, but it is not intrinsic to the SBC since it did not exist for the first half of our history thus far. Dr. Chapman seems to consistently miss this point.