Editor’s Journal: GCR: A look back for the future
“These are my opinions—if you don’t like them, I can always offer you some others.”
The Aug. 11, 1977 edition of The Baptist Messenger provided a comprehensive overview of Bold Mission Thrust (BMT). Based on an intentional Acts 1:8 strategy to be implemented at every level of Southern Baptist life, Leonard Ervin, director of the planning section at the Home Mission Board (forerunner to the North American Mission Board), wrote “the 1977-79 emphasis is not to a plan or even to a denomination—but to the mission assigned to the church by Christ.” The extensive laundry list of possible action steps toward fulfillment of BMT certainly looked like a program toward which all SBC entities could embrace.
The theme, “Let the Church Reach Out—Bold Mission” was a plan suggesting that each congregation participate in at least “one churchwide study of the Foreign Mission Graded Series and the Home Mission Graded Series.” The plan also called for church leaders to involve as many as possible in a “serious study of missions as outlined in the Christian Development Diploma.” Mission centers were suggested with libraries complete with operational assistance offered by the SBC’s HMB.
Bold Mission Thrust offered “two channels through which a new commitment in giving can be expressed,” Ervin wrote. Each congregation was urged to increase its giving through the Cooperative Program and to the Lottie Moon (LMCO) and Annie Armstrong offerings (AAEO). Ervin stated: “It will be impossible to realize the goals of bold mission unless these lifelines of mission support are greatly strengthened.” These three channels of support were restrictive in their scope for the sole purpose of maximizing the impact for channeled funding streams toward missionary outreach. All were regarded as important, and each was individually championed as parts of the whole in a comprehensive SBC funding matrix.
Little was left to ingenuity. “Bold Witnessing” gave way to “Bold Commitment” which ushered in “Bold Teaching.” William G. Tanner, then president of the HMB, who would soon return to Oklahoma as the state’s executive director-treasurer, stated that “Bold Mission Thrust calls for cooperation on all levels of SBC life.” Ultimately, Tanner conceded, “Bold Mission Thrust is you.”
Foreign Mission Board (forerunner of the International Mission Board) President Baker James Cauthen, known for his detailed plans and careful assessment of mission personnel and resources, outlined the plan for the FMB in 10 measureable objectives. With a precision that had become the hallmark of the Cauthen administration, he called for an increased attention to human need through “health care, benevolent and social ministries; a vigorous response to world hunger and disaster, and the most important element in Total Missions Thurst (sic) is the power of God’s Holy Spirit.”
Fast forward 11 years and a new FMB president wrote a guest editorial in The Baptist Messenger. At this time, the SBC was embroiled in a controversy that would shake it to its core. The entire denominational landscape would change. Yet, in comparison to the writing of denominational officials only a decade earlier, a noticeable shift had taken place.
“We could reject this way of working together,” wrote Keith Parks in reference to the Cooperative Program (CP), “and disobey the Great Commission.” He did not stop there: “Do we need the Cooperative Program? Global evangelization depends on it.”
When Parks went so far as to equate the CP with the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ and world evangelization, his words evidenced a certain amount of denominational loyalty that can be expected and even appreciated. Yet, to position the CP as an indispensible (and even divinely apportioned) apparatus from which Southern Baptist Christians who chose not to participate were in active disobedience to the Great Commission crossed a theological line that Tanner and Cauthen would not approve.
In the year 2010 when the Great Commission Resurgence eerily resembles Bold Mission Thrust, the same mistake can easily be made. On both sides of the current debate in the SBC (lamentably “sides” best describe the current emotional state of the denomination), private accusations now are public around the circumference of the SBC’s Cooperative Program. Financial contributions to the CP have become the expectation of a loyal Southern Baptist (and rightly so), but it should never return to the days prior to the Conservative Resurgence, when the CP was viewed as the Great Commission. If and when that happens, man-made financial strategies rise to the level of biblical mandates that always result in extra-biblical practices being raised to theological non-negotiables. At the very start of Bold Mission Thrust in 1979, three funding channels (the CP, LMCO, and the AAEO) were seen as critical, but not ultimate.
Passionate written exchanges have appeared in the SBC blogosphere regarding the CP and Great Commission Giving (GCG). Speculation swirls as to the real motives of GCG. Some have been so bold as to state that GCG is an intentional desire to gut the CP. Others say that is not the case at all. Rather, it is a desire to celebrate a reality that is already occurring—congregations are choosing to support (read designate) offerings (LMCO, AAEO and state missions offerings, as well associational support) in addition to their CP allocations.
Advocates of GCG admit perplexity regarding the push-back by some who accuse them of desiring mere recognition for their particular pattern of giving to Southern Baptist mission causes. Ecclesiologically, they have a point as the pressures of congregational preference are cracking the current denominational program.
The great danger is that deep appreciation for the genius of the CP might actually become the root of great anger that could manifest itself in destructive and disastrous ways. Even as legitimate grievances as to the priority and future place of the CP in SBC life remains fair game for debate, it must not lead to a disordered expression that easily places in jeopardy long-standing friendships and Christian charity.
In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus is angry—very angry. As Jesus entered the synagogue, a man was there with a withered hand. The Pharisees were present and watched Jesus to see if his past urges to heal could be curtailed because it was the Sabbath. To heal this man on this day would be a violation of their code, and they were waiting for just the right moment to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath—a serious infraction of the fourth commandment (or at least their interpretation of it). Their actions revealed systemic spiritual problems embedded in a religious structure that had lost sight of the individual. The set-up was vicious and cruel.
Jesus would have none of it. He was angry because he was grieved at the hardness of the hearts of the religious leaders. Immediately after the man was healed, the Pharisees conspired with the Herodians (previously bitter enemies) as to how they might best destroy Jesus.Strange coalitions are always formed when religious (read extra-biblical) practices are threatened.
The road to Orlando may be paved with good intentions. Yet, if the dialogue by some denominational officials and pastors is any indication of things to come, the Great Commission Resurgence might find itself shelved, only to be regarded as a relic of a revised organizational plan void of spiritual concern for the withered lives just outside the Convention hall. Jesus would be very angry about that.
Douglas E. Baker is executive editor of the Baptist Messenger and Communications Team leader for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.