Next week, Southern Baptists will gather in Orlando, Fla., for our annual convention. The buildup to this convention rivals the days of the conservative resurgence. At that time, our theological health was at stake. Would we unabashedly lash ourselves to an inerrant and infallible Bible, or would we continue the drift into the theological quagmire of liberalism? The ultimate answer was clear. Southern Baptists were truly a people of the Book. Our theological anchor was lowered, and we would not be moved from our doctrinal moorings. The drift was stopped.
The path was difficult at best, and staying true to the course was not without cost. Radicals on both sides inflicted damage to our fellowship. Good people were lost to the work for the Kingdom. Humility was in short supply and tempers often flared. Long-term friendships were severed. Tough as those days were, the battle for our theological life was necessary. If the truth had been compromised, the foundation would have ultimately been destroyed.
Messengers arriving in Orlando, where the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force will formally present its report to the SBC, have carried on a year of debate and rhetoric that rises to the level of the 1980s and 90s. The GCRTF report has been the center of discussion wherever two or more Southern Baptists have gathered. Blogs, Twitter and state papers have been teeming with debate and opinion. Unfortunately, the rhetoric has not always been good. Longtime friends have moved beyond disagreement to personal attack. Misinformation has often been the order of the day. Innuendo and half-truth have divided us. Hard lines have been drawn, with some suggesting a vote against the report is a vote against the Great Commission. Others contend that a vote for the report is a vote against the Cooperative Program and our traditional methods of cooperative work. I hope both of these interpretations are wrong.
The stakes in the 2010 convention are in some ways just as high as they were in the days of the conservative resurgence. The world advances in its lostness while we as Southern Baptists have not, on the whole, demonstrated passionate commitment to impact lostness next door or to the ends of the Earth. We consume more of our own resources than we devote to a lost world. We have reduced our mission giving through the Cooperative Program, and we give less to missions, period. In fact, a closer investigation suggests our problem lies much deeper. We as a people give far less than a tithe to the church.
As a young boy, I heard many times the question, “Are you going to fish or cut bait?” Well, it is time we make a choice. Will Southern Baptists fish for men, or will we stay in the safety of the boat and just cut bait? Will we step beyond the rhetoric, vote on the GCRTF report, and focus our individual energies and those of the church on the task of local to the ends-of-the-Earth evangelism? This is the real test of a Great Commission resurgence. Will we pray, witness, give and go so that the Gospel brings light into the darkness?
This is not to say that our corporate response is inconsequential. What we do together beyond the local church has huge impact. Our structure and methodology will determine our collective impact. I do not think we must draw the dichotomy as some have done. I do not believe that the vote in Orlando is a choice between a Great Commission Resurgence and a Cooperative Program resurgence. That sets in place an unneeded false dichotomy. I believe a Cooperative Program resurgence within the Great Commission Resurgence is not only possible—it is essential.
Whether or not we embrace the full report of the task force does not mitigate our resolve to meet the challenge to reach the unreached. The report’s emphasis is “on the right syllable.” One may or may not agree with the details, but Southern Baptists must resonate with the unmistakable call to rise from our lethargy to stoke the fire of missions and evangelism in our churches and at each level of SBC life.
My prayer is that the rhetoric will end, and a resolve to find unity around the Gospel will reign over us. We must forgive and unite whether our perspective regarding methodology wins or loses. We should and will debate the best way to move forward. However, our incontrovertible obligation to advance the Gospel is not open to debate.
So, I hope we gather in Orlando with humility and love. When the gavel is sounded to conclude our meeting, may we leave arm in arm, young and old, Anglo and ethnic, with an unwavering commitment to our Lord, one another and the people starving for the Gospel of our Savior.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.