WOODWARD—If we blew up the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists would find some other way to work together, said Anthony L. Jordan.
Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, told a Church Leadership Conference in Northwestern Association that Southern Baptists are the most significant Great Commission denomination that ever existed “because we learned cooperative funding and service.”
Speaking to about 30 church leaders at Woodward, Lincoln Avenue, Jordan said the core of who we are and what we do is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the mandate of Scripture is that the local church is responsible for taking the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.
“The local church is the central organism for Kingdom ministry,” Jordan said. “There is no greater or central focus than the local church. It’s what Pentecost was all about. God has never changed His methodology.”
Jordan explained that associations and state conventions exist to extend the local church.
He observed there is a Scriptural basis for cooperation among churches.
“I don’t think the church in Jerusalem met in one place at one time, but several house churches related to each other,” he said. “When we follow the work of the Gospel in the New Testament, we see the work of the church found its way out, reaching out to believers.”
There was also financial cooperation, he pointed out, with Antioch sending an offering to help believers in Jerusalem, and Paul taking offerings for the churches.
Cooperation, he added, has historical roots.
“Local churches are the ones that decided they would cooperate together, with the idea to get the Gospel out, have fellowship and encourage one another.
He said our denomination evolved along the lines of Acts 1:8.
“Associations were first on the front line of us getting together,” he commented. “In 1707, the first association was formed in Philadelphia with the desire to work together.”
Never were associations or state conventions designed to take over the ministry of the local church, he acknowledged, but at heart was a bigger vision.
He revealed that shortly after the first Baptist church was founded in what is now Oklahoma at Ebenezer Station just outside Muskogee, with Indian leader John Davis, three black slaves and two missionaries, the Cherokee and Short Mountain (now LeFlore) Associations were founded. Then Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory expanded to form the territorial convention which became the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
“In that first meeting, they talked about founding a liberal arts university; thus the establishment of OBU,” he said. “Over the years, churches, through messengers, have impacted the state with things such as children’s homes, 32 campus ministries and Falls Creek.
Jordan emphasized that the state convention has no doctrinal statement, no connectionalism and no authority over churches, but exists solely to extend the ministries of the local church.
The challenge, he said, is how to do the work with the greatest impact.
“The Cooperative Program has given us the basis for doing work in unbelievable ways,” he declared. “But there are significant issues for cooperation in the future.”
One of the challenges, he noted, will always be doctrine.
“Cooperation demands unity of doctrine,” he stressed. “It is hard to focus on anything without agreeing on doctrine, fundamental truths. There is room for all of us in the Baptist Faith & Message. Primary doctrines drive our missionology.”
He noted Southern Baptists have always struggled with autonomy and independence.
“Churches have self rule, but have chosen to cooperate in a community,” he said. “We are willing, as Southern Baptists, to work together to accomplish bigger things than we can do ourselves. Autonomy has led us to be the biggest denomination working together to reach the world.”
Independence, he expressed, does not strengthen, and more and more, there is an independent mindset that does not want to work together.
Jordan added there must be flexibility within the denomination.
“One of the difficulties in Southern Baptist life is we are large,” he said. “If we aren’t flexible, we are going to die. Everything we do must advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or it should be dropped.”
There also needs to be accountability, he commented, in finances, the way we think of missions and in visions.
And the level of participation needs to increase, he acknowledged.
“The only way to have a big attendance at meetings is to have a fuss,” he noted. “We need people to be willing to serve in leadership positions. When you engage in the process, you can have greater influence.”
Jordan concluded that Southern Baptists and Oklahoma Baptists work best when we have unified budgets and are unified working together.
“When we unify and work in that unity, we will go farther down the road in getting the Gospel out,” he said.
Jordan said, while he never failed when he was pastor to accept a check from a member for a special project, he always applauded the people in the pew who brought their tithe every week, giving to the work of putting missionaries on the field, BCMs on campuses, children in children’s homes and getting the Gospel to America and the world.
“Cooperation is the best way we do our work, and anchored in Scripture, we have a great model for it,” he said. “When the last page is written, we’ll be pleased we’ve walked together in the SBC.”