Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence (Part 7): The United States in Great Commission Perspective

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence (Part 7):
The United States in Great Commission Perspective

Note: This post is one in a series entitled, “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence,” wherein we hope to give some definition of what constitutes a GCR, why the SBC needs a GCR, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life.

In the first five installments of the “Contours” series, Danny Akin, David Nelson, and Ken Keathley have written about a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). Parts Six and Seven clarify the “GC” of the “GCR.” In the last post, we discussed “the nations” in Great Commission perspective, while in this post, we will discuss “this nation,” the United States of America, in Great Commission perspective.

A Painful Truth

It is our conviction that missions matters because God is a missionary God. Therefore, His people must be a missionary people. Indeed, He commands us in Matthew 28: 18-20 to make disciples of all nations. Baptists often have heeded this call, and yet the painful truth is that, in North America, and indeed in our own country, God’s glory often is not clearly or consistently displayed. His gospel often is preached in a way that is neither faithful nor meaningful. There are millions of lost who have little chance of hearing the gospel preached in their community in a clear, compelling, and biblical fashion. We have not made disciples of our own nation.

The task of the evangelical church in general, and of the Southern Baptist Convention, therefore, is to create and implement a missiology that will enable them to win the lost, make disciples, and plant churches in an increasingly larger array of American socio-cultural contexts. We must plant churches that are grounded in inspired Christian Scripture, sound in their doctrinal foundations, contextual in their cultural forms, aggressive in their evangelistic orientation, and intentional in crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries.

Our Mission Must Be Cross-Cultural and Cross-Linguistic

The United States is increasingly multicultural, multiethnic, and multilinguistic, as immigrants from around the world now live in our own cities, suburbs, and even rural areas. Many of the nations, peoples, and languages of Revelation 5 are right here on our doorstep. Further, there is a dizzying variety of sub-cultures within the broader American culture, each with their own distinctive beliefs and ways of life. Many of them are non- or post-Christian, in that they do not have even a basic understanding of Christian worldview or vocabulary. Southern Baptists missionaries and pastors in North America must take their own cultural contexts as seriously as Southern Baptist missionaries take their international contexts. Ed Stetzer, among others, has made this point many times and in many ways.

We must seek to understand the cultures and sub-cultures around us so that we can preach the gospel faithfully and meaningfully within the framework of our neighbors’ cultural and social contexts, and plant churches in those same cultural contexts. The gospel must be preached faithfully, being defined and delimited by the Scriptures. It must also, however, be preached meaningfully, in such a manner that the hearer understands the gospel in the same way that the the biblical author, and the preacher, intends it. The concept of the gospel might be foreign to them, but it can be communicated in language and constructs that are not. By doing so, we seek to preach the gospel clearly within the framework of the audience’s cultural and existential context. In other words, we must talk in a way that allows them to see and hear and grasp the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel we proclaim.

There are many in our convention who embody the ability to “speak the language” of a particular socio-cultural context. I think of Danny Akin’s marriage conferences and college campus invitations, Paige Patterson’s Great Game banquets, and Al Mohler’s engagement in Western social and political circles. This is not just an issue of “style;” these men and others have worked hard to be able to proclaim the gospel in multiple contexts, adjusting the delivery where needed so as to proclaim the gospel faithfully and meaningfully in each unique context. In particular, I think of Junior Hill, who has the uncanny ability to disarm listeners across the spectrum of ages, races, and cultures. Through the hard work and experience of years of preaching, he can “get to the heart of a matter” with a broad spectrum of people, and do so while being faithful to the gospel and meaningful in his presentation.

Our Mission Must Be Multi-Faceted

In addition to proclaiming the gospel from inside of the four walls of a church building, and in addition to community outreach programs and door-to-door visitations, it would behoove our churches to teach her members that everything they do matters to God. Perhaps drawing upon Martin Luther’s conception of vocatio, we may teach that every believer has the privilege and responsibility of bringing glory to God in each of his callings, whether it is family life, workplace, or community life. The workplace is an almost unparalleled opportunity to bring God glory and to love one’s neighbor. This is one area where we need to give special attention in the years ahead. The possibilities and potential are enormous.

Further, we ought to take every opportunity to glorify our Lord in the various spheres of culture, including especially the arts (e.g. literature, music, movies, visual art), the sciences (e.g. biology, physics, chemistry, sociology, anthropology, psychology) and the public square (e.g. law, politics, economics, journalism, moral philosophy). In so doing, we recognize that we may not abdicate our responsibility to glorify God across every square inch of His good creation. After all, Abraham Kuyper reminds us, He stamps all of it with the exclamation, “Mine!”

Our Mission Must Be All-Encompassing

The sometimes cross-cultural and always multi-faceted nature of our task also demands that we take care not to neglect any geographic or demographic dimension of our great country. Of the many things we could mention, here are three: First, we must not neglect the great cities of the United States. While evangelicals and Baptists have been fairly successful in the Bible belt, we have been less successful in the great cities. We recognize the strategic nature of urban involvement and seek to heighten Southern Baptist involvement in the largest, least churched, and most influential American cities. Urban centers such as New York, Boston, and Los Angeles are the nerve center of North American socio-cultural activity, having massive influence on our continent and across the globe, and yet they are among the least churched cities in America.

Second, we may not neglect either the cultural elite, on the one hand, or the down and out, on the other hand. Southern Baptists have reached the upper and lower middle classes, but often we have not reached the cultural elite or the poor and disenfranchised. In reaching those who are “down and out,” we must be work hard to build churches who intentionally minister in the inner cities, who are willing to embrace those with HIV, who may never be able to contribute in a significant way to the church financially, but who are nonetheless God’s image-bearers and deserve our love and attention every bit as much as anyone else. Treasuring Christ Church (Raleigh, NC) under the leadership of pastors Sean Cordell and Travis Williams, is a church that is doing just this. In reaching those who are the cultural elite, we must build churches that intentionally reach out to artists, scientists, philosophers, moral and political movers, and others.

Third, we must build churches that do serious-minded student ministry, both for youth and college students. It will be a good day indeed when youth ministries become places that are known more for sound doctrine and genuine cultural savvy than they are for cutesy Bible studies and superficial cultural gimmickry. Moreover, we pray that the day comes that our churches seek, consciously and consistently, to minister on college campuses. On the campuses of our American universities walk the students who are the future of our nation and in many cases the future of our churches, as well as international students who are the future of their nations and of their nation’s churches. We must make college ministry a priority in our churches, even during those times when it seems not to bear spiritual fruit, and even during those times (most of the time) when it does not make financial sense. The Summit Church (Raleigh-Durham, NC), under the leadership of J. D. Greear, and Providence Baptist Church (Raleigh, NC) under the direction of David Horner and Dave Owen, are two of the churches leading the way in making major inroads on college campuses such as Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and N. C. State University.

Our Mission Must Center on Church Renewal, Church Planting, and Cooperation

Our mission will not succeed without healthy churches. This requires, first and foremost, an emphasis on church renewal. We must work hard to build churches that are biblically faithful, sound in their doctrine, aggressive in their evangelism, intentional in crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries, and contextual in their cultural forms. It is only from such healthy churches that we will see a church planting movement that is capable of reaching our own country. Only healthy churches will faithfully and meaningfully proclaim the gospel of our Lord and build churches across cultures and sub-cultures, languages and races, vocations and dimensions of culture, cities and suburbs, rich and poor, young and old. Capitol Hill Baptist Church and IX Marks Ministries (Washington, DC), under the leadership of Mark Dever, is important in just this respect, as it seeks to foster church renewal through sound doctrine, biblical practice, and intentional evangelism and church planting.

Finally, our mission will not fare well if it is not cooperative. This includes local church cooperation with other churches, through local associations, state conventions, seminaries, and agencies. The daunting nature of our task demands that if any of the above associations is unwilling to fulfill their missional calling, then healthy churches will seek other ways to cooperate in order to fulfill the calling God has given them. It must be the hope and prayer of the churches of our convention that the associations, conventions, seminaries, and agencies that we now have will prove to be sufficiently willing and able to take on this God-given calling. If not, God will likely pass us by and we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 3: A Compelling Vision Grounded in Confessional Identity

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

In 1991, in the heat of the Conservative Resurgence, Paige Patterson authored an important and visionary article, in what was at the time Southern Seminary’s journal, the Review and Expositor (Vol. 88, 1991; 37-55). The title was “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC.” Filled with wisdom and insight, Patterson called for theological renewal based upon complete confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, seminaries that are “breeding ponds for ardent evangelist” (39), theological parameters “which will guide convention life doctrinally” (41), missiological renewal, “innovative strategies” (42), ecclesiological renewal, socio-political renewal (e.g. a biblical response to racism, abortion, church and state, feminism and the sanctity of the home) and spiritual renewal rooted in prayer, holiness, word and witness. Patterson also challenged Southern Baptist to look and learn from other brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we might not see eye to eye on every point of doctrine. Learn from the “spontaneity and participation” of neo-charismatic friends (45), just stay away from “their experienced-oriented epistemologically defective theology and their topical and overly emotional preaching. . . .” (A good word indeed!). The vision Patterson articulated was comprehensive in scope and compelling in its attractiveness for those who love Christ, the Church, the Word and the lost. In a real sense his vision provided more than a decade and a half ago the contours and impetus for a Great Commission Resurgence that, of logical and spiritual necessity, should grow out of a Conservative Resurgence committed to the truth of Holy Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One aspect of this vision came to fruition with the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This was a revision of the 1963 statement. Baptists have always been marked by confessional identity. Such confessions, based upon our understanding of the Word of God, provide a witness to the world of “these things we believe.” They also provide a consensus for our coming together for cooperation in obedience to the Great Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, like prior confessions, addressed particular theological issues with a long doctrinal history, as well as more relevant questions being debated in the current contemporary context. Thus one finds, for example, clear and unequivocal statements on the truthfulness of the Bible; the exclusivity of the gospel; penal substitution; God’s complete and total omniscience (no “open theism”); baptism by the Spirit at conversion; the sins of racism, homosexuality and pornography; the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death; and a complementarian view of the home and church. It is a point of historical interest that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 committee was appointed by Paige Patterson and chaired by Adrian Rogers.

All of us recognize that as a human confession this statement is not perfect. Furthermore, it is not exhaustive. Still, it can serve as a sufficient guide providing good, solid parameters for ecclesial and missional cooperation among Southern Baptist. It is instructive to note that all six seminaries have pledged to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. In addition, Southeastern Seminary and Southern Seminary also teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Abstract of Principles penned by Basil Manly Jr. in 1858. Finally, and uniquely, Southeastern Seminary also requires each and every faculty member to affirm “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” and “The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” These latter statements are in perfect harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 in my judgment, and taken together, provide a healthy and robust standard of confessional identity and conviction. Thus there should be no question about what we believe or where we stand. There should be no doubt as to our vision or our mission. When other denominations are in retreat, apparently seeing how little they can confess, Southern Baptists are headed in a different direction all together. We desire to be clear and transparent in what we believe, preach and teach. There is no biblical gospel without theological content. There is no Great Commission to pursue without doctrinal conviction. This is who we are. This is where we stand. This is what we believe. This is why we go!mobile rpg games

Some Reflections on Missions and Evangelism

Southern Baptists are a Great Commission people. We have been infected with the gospel of Jesus Christ and missions and evangelism are in our blood. It is the heartbeat of who we are. Without a “hot heart” for soul we will die and our death will be deserved.

Our passion is to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We receive our marching orders from Him. Two passages in particular lay the foundation for who we are and what we are about in the context of missions and evangelism:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NAS).

He [Jesus] said to them … but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall by My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:7-8, NAS).

Jesus said go and so we must go. Jesus said witness and so we must witness. Anything less is blatant sin and disobedience. Deep within our soul is the conviction that heaven is real and hell is real and Jesus is the only difference. This “soul conviction” does not mean that we do not love and respect those of other faiths or those who have no faith at all.

Because of our unrivaled commitment to religious liberty we would willingly die for their right to believe as they choose. However, it is because we do love them that we go, witness, share and tell, that we build relationships and live missionally wherever it is that God has placed us. We cannot escape the words of our Lord who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). We are haunted again by our Savior’s warning, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

It was exactly this kind of conviction that launched the Modern Missionary Movement through a British Baptist named William Carey (1761-1834) as he spent his life in India.

Reflecting upon our awesome task he wrote,

As our blessed Lord has required us to pray that his kingdom may come, and his will be done on earth as in heaven, it becomes us not only to express our desires of that event by words, but to use every lawful method to spread the knowledge of his name (emphasis mine).

This same hot passion burned in the heart of the American Baptist Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) and his wife, Ann. It sent them both to serve and die on the mission field in Burma. This burden for souls stirred the heart of Luther Rice (1783-1836) and set him criss-crossing America to raise support for those who were evangelizing around the world.

Southern Baptists, in particular, recognize that we may be out of step with many current trends in theology. So be it. We reject outright as unbiblical heresy any theology that weakens the missionary/evangelistic mandate. We stand against the modern and post-modern mindset which says,

The task of the missionary today … is to see the best in other religions, to help the adherents of those religions to discover, or to rediscover, all that is best in their own traditions … The aim should not be conversion … an attempt to establish a Christian monopoly … The ultimate aim … is the emergence of the various religions out of their isolation into a world fellowship in which each finds its appropriate place (“Rethinking Mission: A Layman’s Inquiry after 100 Years,” in Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions, p. 456; emphasis mine).

No, we look for encouragement and motivation from another Baptist, the great British preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1842). Challenging the pastors of his day he said,

The minister who is sent of God has spiritual children, they are as much his children as if they had literally been born in his house, for to their immortal nature he stands under God in the relationship of sire …. No minister ought to be at rest unless he sees that his ministry does bring forth fruit, and men and women are born unto God by the preaching of the Word.

Spurgeon also had a needed and pointed word for parents in this context, and one certainly needed among Southern Baptists today.

It is very grievous to see how some professedly Christian parents are satisfied so long as their children display cleverness in learning, or sharpness in business, although they show no signs of a renewed nature …. When a man’s heart is really right with God, and he himself has been saved from the wrath to come, and is living in the light of his heavenly Father’s countenance, it is certain that he is anxious about his children’s souls, prizes their immortal nature … If you are professing Christians, but cannot say that you have no greater joy than the conversion of your children, you have reason to question whether you ought to have made such a profession at all.

Spurgeon knew evangelism in the church starts at the top, with those God has called as pastors. Spurgeon also knew that there was no better place for evangelism to begin than in the home. The people called Southern Baptists must well understand that our very reason for existing is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We must also be very much aware that there are many things we can do to glorify God in this life and in the life to come. However, there is one thing we can do now to bring our Lord glory that we cannot do in eternity. That one thing is to share the gospel and tell a lost soul about a Savior whose name is Jesus. And so we go, share, witness and tell. Why? Because we know and understand that lost people matter to God, and therefore, lost people should matter to us. Paige Patterson puts it well,

More than 6 billion souls populate our globe. If the biblical message is true, then hell is a tragic conclusion for those who have not come to God through Christ. The potential of forgiveness and eternal life with God demands that all avenues of evangelization be pursued. The urgency of the task is the most compelling of any assignment the believer has been given.

This assignment is ours and this assignment we will endeavor to fulfill. We must, for the eternal destiny of men and women demands it. Our Lord demands it too!java download games