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Differences among us must not divide us

 

In an April 30, 2009 telephone interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Southeastern Seminary president Danny Akin stated that he and SBC president Johnny Hunt had “spent a great deal of time together since Hunt’s election talking about what could be done “to reverse stagnation within the SBC.”

Akin developed twelve Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence that was widely distributed with multiple endorsers, albeit some with caveats.

At the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville last year messengers authorized their president, Johnny Hunt, to appoint a task force to study how Southern Baptists can work “more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”

The motion, presented earlier in the day by R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, survived an effort to amend it before being adopted by an overwhelming margin.

Hunt selected 22 fellow Baptists to serve with him on what became the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd was chosen by Hunt to be the Task Force chairman and a GCR website was launched with the fervent request that Southern Baptists make a commitment to pray for the work of this blue ribbon committee. To date more than 6,500 have signed up to pray daily for the work of the GCRTF.

Interestingly, Akin’s original axioms were eventually morphed into the Pray4GCR website. I did not become one of the signatories of the twelve axioms, but happily agreed to pray for the Task Force and signed up to do so on the Pray4GCR website.

The Task Force includes five Georgia Baptists: J. Robert White, Johnny Hunt, Frank Page, Harry Lewis, and Larry Grays. This group has worked diligently. They have had two meetings in Atlanta and additional meetings in Springdale, Ark.; Dallas, Texas; San Antonio, Texas; and Nashville, Tenn.

Under Floyd’s tireless leadership this group has traveled tens of thousands of miles, consumed thousands of man-hours of time, held numerous conference calls, studied, deliberated, and researched in order to come to a spirit of unanimity and craft their recommendations.

The final report has received much publicity and has equally been blessed and criticized. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources; O. S. Hawkins, president of Guidestone Financial Resources; Jerry Rankin, retiring president of the International Mission Board; and Bill Crews, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, have all cast their lot with the Task Force.

Georgia pastor and SBC presidential hopeful Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta has expressed his support for the Task Force report by saying, “I support the Task Force’s recommendations in that I firmly believe we’ve got to get more people out on the mission field in order to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. The recommendations of the Task Force are a hugely important first step, but it is only a beginning. The selection of the men to lead the IMB and NAMB are also hugely important.”

Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., Task Force member, and SBC presidential candidate, voted with other Task Force members to register his support of the recommendations. He commented, “To the degree that the question is ‘do I support the Task Force,’ I cannot fathom why any Southern Baptist would oppose studying how we can all work more faithfully and effectively in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”

In contradistinction to those who have voiced their approval of the recommendations, Morris Chapman, retiring president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, has outlined his “grave concerns” about the report’s potential harm to the Cooperative Program.

Alabama Baptist Convention executive director Rick Lance has also expressed his concerns about the report. He stated his apprehensions about “the potential change in relationship with the North American Mission Board, state conventions, and associations, a SBC-recommended encouragement of designated giving to any entity; CP/stewardship responsibilities assigned to states and reworking mission fields to include a “borderless” International Mission Board.”

Jimmy Jackson, one of the announced nominees for SBC president and pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., has stated, “Although I support heartily the need to come together for spiritual revival resulting in a major turnaround in reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ, I do not support the recommendations of the GCRTF. I am in favor of change where it is needed, but change in the SBC should come up from our churches, not down from a select few.”

On the other hand, Baptist Press has indicated that David Tolliver, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, will attempt to make a motion at the annual meeting in Orlando to “delay any action on the report for one year until all entities involved can conduct a spiritual/financial impact study.”

Tolliver’s plan to make the motion to delay any action on the Task Force report was sanctioned by the 54-member Missouri Baptist Convention executive board.

The point I wish to make is that there are many good and godly people in favor of as well as opposed to the Task Force report and many who oppose it. A great deal of personal and corporate capital is being invested on both sides of the issue.

I hope we will remember that Baptists historically have a congregational form of church government. In fact, years ago our old Convention Press published a book entitled “A Church Organized and Functioning” by W.L. Howse and W. O. Thomason containing this sentence: “Congregational government, based on the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, has been a distinctive practice of Baptist churches.”

In a congregational form of government the majority rules. In Orlando the majority of messengers will have the final say about what happens to the GCRTF recommendations. Regardless of the outcome, there will be many people who will not be pleased with the decisions that are made.

Hopefully, our differences will not create a division. The twelve months’ work of the Task Force, as promising as it may be to some and as disturbing as it may be to others, must not overshadow the strong witness of a convention that has successfully represented God on this earth for 165 years.

While the Task Force has rightly made a plaintive appeal for messengers to vote for their recommendations, it should be stated that voting against their report is not a vote against the Great Commission. The Great Commission should never be politicized.

We must go to Orlando prayerfully, worship reverently, vote intelligently, accept the results gracefully, and return home more determined than ever to be cooperating Great Commission Christians.