I Agree With Danny Akin

Danny Akin began his report by saying something to the effect that Paige Patterson does not owe me an apology for sharing the gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission. Ditto for me, Danny.

Now, I’m pretty much a rules guy. I believe in asking permission, not forgiveness. Clearly, Patterson made an executive decision he was not authorized to make. Just as clearly, he offered one of the most profoundly moving and sincere apologies you will ever, ever hear. I was literally moved to tears.

Think about it… The bold and courageous, wild game hunting, lion hearted general of the Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence humbling himself tearfully and apologizing for the sorrow he brought to the very convention he saved from the devastation of liberalism.

If I ever get in trouble for something and find myself in the middle of a scandal, I hope it will be for the offense of doing everything I possibly can to win a lost soul to personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Both Patterson and his Board Chairman handled that situation with grace.

Baptist Methods and Money

A man walks up to a bank teller and asks, “Can you give me change for this one hundred dollar bill?” The teller says, “Sure. What denomination?” And the man replies, “Baptist—Southern Baptist if you’ve got it.”

No, there is not really such a thing as Southern Baptist money—except for the fact that there is. Southern Baptist money is the money given by Southern Baptists to promote Southern Baptist causes and build up the Kingdom of God in and through the ministry channels of the Southern Baptist Convention.

And herein lies a major problem. The walls clearly delineating our religious denomination from that of others are rapidly deteriorating. In fact, some Southern Baptists even celebrate this deterioration as a kind of ecumenical victory. “Let us tear down the walls that divide us from other Christians,” they say. “It is not about Southern Baptists. It is about the Kingdom of God.”

To which I must reply with a hearty, “Yes…but!”

Yes, I’m all about the Kingdom. But why in the world would I ever set the Kingdom, on the one hand, over against the Southern Baptist Convention, on the other, as if these were two competing concepts rather than concentric circles, with our denomination happily existing within the larger boundary of the Kingdom of God? It is precisely as I grow and give and serve and witness through the ministries and channels of Southern Baptist life that I build up the Kingdom.

To be a Kingdom Christian, I do not have to go outside Southern Baptist life with my money, my time or my partnerships, for Southern Baptists are indeed a subset of the Kingdom of God. Of course, we are certainly not the totality of the Kingdom. Methodists, Presbyterians and others are part of the Kingdom of God as well—which we gladly celebrate, even though (for obvious reasons) we do not partner with them on matters of publishing, church planting or ministry training. It is neither necessary nor helpful nor wise for us to commingle with outsiders either our religious or our financial denominations—our methods or our money.

Commingling Baptist Methods

  • Some Southern Baptist churches today practice a form of polity distinctly apart from any form of congregationalism. They commingle an episcopal form of decision making in which a hierarchical leadership structure exists outside the local church. Such is the case, for example, at Fellowship Church in Irving, Texas, where outside leaders who are not members of the church make decisions about matters such as setting the pastor’s salary.
  • Some Southern Baptist churches today have dropped immersion baptism as a requirement for church membership. While still baptizing converts by immersion themselves, they are willing to admit by statement new members whose believer’s baptism in another denomination was by affusion or aspersion. One example would be The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
  • Some Southern Baptist churches today refuse to file their annual ministry report, fail to give any significant amount through our Cooperative Program, and essentially hide from the watching world any possible clue that they are even a Southern Baptist church at all. Examples are sadly too numerous to cite.

The price we pay in flirting with the methods used by other denominations is greater than most Southern Baptists realize. Like the insecure middle schooler with an identity crisis, we are so busy trying to be everybody else that we have forgotten the value of simply being ourselves.

Commingling Baptist Money

  • Some Southern Baptist churches today are donating their Baptist money in building up churches that not only identify themselves as Southern Baptists, but also identify themselves as part of another group. One example might be Acts 29. Because of the joint affiliation with this non-Southern Baptist network, financial resources are commingled in such a manner that they could not be easily separated should the merger ever split. In other words, if ten years down the road a church decides, “You know what, we don’t want to have anything to do with Southern Baptists anymore—instead, we just want to be a non-denominational church that affiliates with the Acts 29 church planting network,” then there is no recourse for the sponsoring Baptist church, association or mission board. Not only have they *lost* the church in Southern Baptist life, but they have actually *subsidized* the church’s participation in the Acts 29 Network—a network doctrinally discriminating against Southern Baptist church planters whose theology, like my own, fits within the parameters of the BFM but not within the parameters of the Acts 29 Network’s more rigid doctrinal stance.
  • Some Southern Baptist churches today are donating their Baptist money to the promotion of non-Southern Baptist youth conference ministries. One example might be the registration dues at a Southern Baptist Fuge in California. Numerous reports indicate that several camps were not led by Southern Baptists at all. One conference featured a camp pastor affiliated with American Baptists who attended an Evangelical Free Church, and a musician and band affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Our Southern Baptist money is being used to provide honoraria and salaries for non-Southern Baptist preachers and conference leaders. Are we making the assumption that non-Southern Baptist youth speakers and musicians do a better job of reaching our youth?
  • Some Southern Baptist churches today are donating their Baptist money in support of non-Southern Baptist inspired forms of cultural engagement and policy promotion. When Russell Moore took over the ERLC, his first personnel move was to announce the hiring of five people in a single day. On the day of their hiring, three of the five were not even Southern Baptists. Presumably, they have rectified this situation and are presently Southern Baptists, but I have not followed up on the matter by researching their current denominational affiliation. It is possible that one or more are still not Southern Baptists.

Frankly, it pains me to think that Southern Baptists today feel the need to commingle Baptist money by partnering with (a) a non-Southern Baptist church planting organization, (b) a non-Southern Baptist Fuge speaker and musician team, and (c) a non-Southern Baptist slate of new employees at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Although it is not clearly marked, and contains no likeness of W.B. Johnson or Lottie Moon, there is certainly such a thing as Baptist money. In similar fashion, there are Baptist methods as well. As we play fast and loose with these boundaries, justifying them by means of a misguided ecumenism, we not only cross important boundaries, but we obliterate them—in the process destroying the very Southern Baptist distinctives that have served us well in the past, and will continue to serve us well in the future, provided that our deposits and withdrawals are made at an institution whose vault is sufficiently secure.

One Simple Question

Specifically and in the greatest level of detail humanly possible, can somebody please explain the precise nature of the partnership between Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—with which I am necessarily affiliated as a Southern Baptist—and Sovereign Grace Ministries—with which (quite by intention) I am not personally affiliated in any manner whatsoever?

Pick A Number and Fix the Cooperative Program, Part Three

In Part One, I explained that despite its worthy intentions, the One Percent Challenge does not satisfy the test of a specific and measurable goal, advocating that Southern Baptists pick a number high enough to meet our ministry obligations and promote it so our churches might measure themselves against it and determine if they are paying their fair share. I also dismissed the notion that setting such a true target (rather than a minor directional change) would in any way violate the autonomy of any local church.

In Part Two, I separated Cooperative Program goals from leadership requirements and exposed the fallacy of pitting missions dollars against missions percentages.

In Part Three, I take issue with recently failed experiments in which the direct appeals by our agencies, combined with the bypassed support channels of our churches, have stripped our missions funding of its trademark cooperation. Any approach utilizing Church Budget Funding to support missions must remain available to churches of all sizes if we are truly to cooperate. Churches valuing creativity and individuality may not realize it, but by marching to the beat of a different drummer, they are undermining our otherwise unified approach to the financial support of missions.

Unofficial Definition of SBC Loyalty

In Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie, Wayne Flynt summarizes with great clarity the golden age of Southern Baptist cooperation:

By the 1950s the Cooperative Program, executive committee, and Sunday School Board unofficially defined what it meant to be a loyal Southern Baptist: set aside at least 10 percent of church contributions to the CP (and nothing to non-SBC causes); obtain pastors who had graduated from SBC seminaries; purchase all support materials and literature from the Sunday School Board.  (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998, p. 400.)

No messenger passed a resolution. No editor wrote an article. No blogger posted a blog. It was simply understood—an unwritten rule. But today we live in a world where the unwritten rules of yesteryear have all been reduced to writing and clearly spelled out:

  • Hair Dryer—Do not use while taking a shower.
  • Electric Rotary Tool—Not intended for use as a dental drill.
  • Hair Coloring—Do not use as an ice cream topping.
  • Christmas Lights—For indoor or outdoor use only.
  • Superman Costume—Wearing garment does not enable you to fly.
  • Rowenta Iron—Do not iron clothes on body.

Today, it is sadly necessary for us to write, “Cooperative Programin 2010 by convention action we affirmed this as our most effective missions funding channel. We further note that church donations under ten percent produce funding levels insufficient to fulfill our mutual Great Commission goals.” Our Platinum Rule for Cooperation has been forgotten, ignored or taken for granted.

Somewhere along the way, discontented with their share of Cooperative Program support, a Southern Baptist agency made their first direct appeal to a church for some type of special funding. As long as such gifts were given through designated funds over and above the unified church budget, no real threat to the Cooperative Program existed. However, at some point, churches began to use undesignated budget funds to bankroll private mission projects—volunteer trips, parachurch organization support and other approaches diverting mission dollars away from the Cooperative Program.

This reasoning makes perfect sense when viewed from the perspective of the local church: “This is still missions. In fact, we are personally involved to a much greater degree. Rather than just writing a check and throwing money at the Great Commission, we are active participants in its fulfillment.” However, from the viewpoint of the entire  denomination, Southern Baptists are forced by this philosophy to abort a significant measure of our missionary sending plans.

Many of our smaller churches, financially incapable of such private initiatives, continue to give their ten percent, only to realize that our larger churches, having diverted much of their missions budgets away from the Cooperative Program, are now giving only five percent or less. Will the larger churches hear our cry for help? “Yes, you are doing missions, and we are certainly grateful. But in many cases your program is simply not the Cooperative Program but the Independent Program. Since we cannot afford to join you in the Independent Program, will you rejoin us in supporting the very Cooperative Program responsible for fueling the greatest missionary sending strategy in history?”

Changing the Channel

If on one side of the coin we find an appeal by agencies for special societal funding, then on the other side of the coin we find churches circumventing our traditional Cooperative Program channels. This is unseemly business—the picking and choosing between associations, statewide missions work, seminaries, national and international missions boards and other denominational causes and agencies. All of these ministries are doing great work and are worthy of our support. When we fight like brothers and sisters over the last brownie in the pan, it makes us look petty, greedy and childish. The answer is simply to bake more brownies.

Frankly, I’m not buying the narrative many put forth—that our churches are giving less because they have carefully studied the funding formulas and are voting with their dollars to starve our state conventions in order to better support our national one. (Even if this did describe the situation accurately—it’s not working at all. Richmond has missionaries ready to go and the money diverted from our state conventions is not coming close to getting the job done.) However, I don’t believe this theory, which might admittedly explain a fraction of the decrease, is sufficient to explain our entire 4.4% shortfall. I think most churches have simply dropped their percentages over a period of time as they have gradually lost their sense of “Ten Percent CP Loyalty and Responsibility.” I believe that, more than anything else, we have simply and gradually lost our Ten Percent CP Culture. I believe this can be returned—with a healthy and balanced sense of appreciation for our ministries at every single level—church, association, state and national. Most Southern Baptists are law abiding citizens who support our government at city, county, state and federal levels—not dreaming of cutting out any realm of oversight. Ours is not really a denomination of anarchists and non-conformists. We just sometimes grow lethargic and need to be awakened from our slumber.

Recently, I was reminded by a wise and experienced Southern Baptist that there was a time, not that long ago, when any gifts received directly by national or international missions organizations were automatically returned to the states so as to preserve our denominationally approved Cooperative Program funding formula. Cooperation was so highly valued in those days that churches whose independent actions threatened it were properly chastened. How far we have fallen from such clearly defined expectations.

In conclusion, the mistakes of the past few years can be reversed as support for the Cooperative Program returns. God can lead us to fund the Great Commission with a CPR—a Cooperative Program Revival. I have great faith not only in the power of God but also in the willingness of Southern Baptists to do the right thing and pay their fair share. The same convention that decreased CP by 4.4 points can increase CP by 4.4 points. But if we are going to get with the program, we must have the courage and moral fortitude to define that which fairness entails. There is a number out there, a percentage of total SBC undesignated church offerings, that will pay all the bills for every entity at every level. It may not be magic, but it will be a trick—a very simple one. It all starts with a clearly defined goal for each church. The magic begins when we simply “pick a number” and show it to every single Southern Baptist congregation, telling them, “Hit this number and we thrive—fail to hit it and we suffer.” Then we leave the matter between them and God. They still may not respond, but at least they will clearly understand what the CP needs to operate effectively.