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Unifying Efforts Obvious at SBCcomment (0)

June 19, 2014

By Bob Terry

Unifying Efforts Obvious at SBC

If there is a word to describe the June 10–11 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Baltimore, that word may be relationships. At every point, it seemed convention officials as well as most of the 5,294 registered messengers strove to emphasize the importance of relationships in working together to share the good news of Jesus Christ. 

In official actions the importance of relationships was reflected in an extensive amendment to the SBC constitution overwhelmingly approved by the messengers (see story, page 3). The new amendment encourages Cooperative Program (CP) giving and urges churches to file the Annual Church Profile so reliable information can be gathered about the work of the denomination.

Relationships were emphasized when SBC Executive Committee (EC) President Frank Page pointed out that the decline in the percentage of CP giving going to national causes has stopped. During the last year CP giving climbed to 5.50 percent of undesignated giving in local churches, up from 5.41 percent the previous year. Another statistic shared by Page about state conventions may have influenced that change. Page reported the number of state convention employees across the nation has declined by almost 25 percent in recent years, from 1,750 to 1,350. 

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, also commended state conventions that have redirected $8 million from state missions efforts to church planting efforts in underserved areas of the nation. 

The comments by Page and Ezell both emphasize the importance of relationships between state and national conventions.   

Call for unity at all levels

Newly elected SBC President Ronnie Floyd echoed this emphasis during his press conference when he called for visible unity among associations, state conventions and SBC officials. 

Even though the election for president had the expected outcome with Floyd winning the office, the nearly 50 percent of votes that went to other candidates points out that messengers want to be in relationship with ethnic churches as well as small-membership churches. 

A dramatic moment emphasizing relationships came in the report of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, (see story, page 10) when Paige Patterson apologized to messengers for violating school policy by admitting a Muslim to the school’s doctoral program. Messengers gave Patterson a standing ovation for his apology but the point was clear. Even seminary presidents are subject to the guidelines by which Southern Baptists agree to work together. 

Appropriate relationships between churches and the SBC also was a part of the constitutional amendment referenced above. As one SBC official explained, there were some Southern Baptists who wanted to use the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) as a governing document by which churches had to abide. Other Southern Baptists preferred to use the BF&M as a document of relationship between churches and the national convention. 

Not a governing document

In the end, Baptists agreed the BF&M was not intended to be a governing document but a description of relationships. The EC amended its recommendation by dropping wording that would have ultimately required churches to comply with every point of the document and replaced it with a call for cooperating churches to have a faith and practice “which closely identifies” with the BF&M. 

EC chairman Ernest Easley said the original wording was never intended to make the BF&M a governing document. The new wording allows churches to disagree with sections of the BF&M while maintaining the right of the convention to determine if a church’s faith and practice strays beyond what can be tolerated. 

Still some argued in an EC subcommittee meeting that not requiring church compliance “leaves no teeth” in the recommendation and warned the convention would drift toward liberalism if it did not control what cooperating churches were allowed to endorse.

However, the approved amendment does change the way churches relate to the convention. Prior to this amendment, relationship was based on financial support of the work Baptists do together. Now there will be a theological expectation — a faith and practice closely related to the BF&M. In large brush fashion, cooperating churches will share a common faith and a common practice as well as a common commitment of sharing the gospel to the ends of the earth. 

This is a positive development.

Another positive development is raising the amount of financial support expected from churches. While every cooperating church will be entitled to representation at SBC meetings, additional representation will be based on $6,000 or additional 1 percent of undesignated receipts. The $6,000 number is today’s equivalent of the original $250 figure used in 1845 when the denomination was formed, which is still in the governing documents.   

Unifying messages also showed up in the resolutions passed by messengers (see story, page 6) — even on social issues ranging from civil rights to payday loans.  

Without a viewable dissenting vote messengers “lamented ... the complicity of Southern Baptists ... (in) the evil of racial hierarchy in our churches or society.” The resolution went on to urge support for civil rights for all on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Former Alabama pastor David Dykes, chair of the Resolutions Committee, pointed out the resolution was written by the committee to take advantage of the 50th anniversary of the famous  Civil Rights legislation. 

The resolution on predatory lending labeled the practice a “conflict with God’s plan for human relationships” and a “direct violation of the Love Commandment.” It went on to denounce the practice and called for governing officials to “institute just regulations and policies that terminate the practice of predatory payday lending.”  

The resolution went farther than the Alabama Legislature was able to go during its last session when payday loan outlets were a topic of heated debate.   

Messengers were clear

Whether it was praying for persecuted Christians or working to alleviate hunger or ministering to transgendered personalities, the messengers were clear. They wanted relationships with one another and with the world that demonstrated the love of God for all people. 

Likely most of the messengers — including the 248 from Alabama — will remember the encouraging reports, the inspirational preaching, the passionate missionary reports, the enjoyable fellowship and the great facilities. Most of us will join the new president in praying for the next Great Awakening and asking God to bring it in our day.  

But behind all of what transpired at the 157th annual meeting of the SBC was a concern for strong positive relationships among all Southern Baptists. May it be so. 

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