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. games mobi

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!

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.