As Southern Baptists gather in Columbus, Ohio, for this year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, I’ll be in attendance. With plenty else to do, why use the time and money for a trip to Columbus?
First, I go to the SBC because I believe in the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists and the annual meeting provides the best opportunity to learn about that work and show my support for it. Hearing reports from our convention’s leaders and the heads of our agencies and institutions allows us be more connected to and supportive of our cooperative mission efforts.
Second, I go to the SBC because I still believe in the Cooperative Program and the annual gathering of Southern Baptists to celebrate CP funded ministries is essential to its future. Some tend to undervalue the CP because they believe they can have a greater impact by supporting missionaries directly or they believe that every penny of our missions offerings should be used exclusively overseas. In my estimation, that is a shortsighted and immature understanding of the missionary enterprise. Overseas missionaries not only need a salary and housing allowance, they also need the logistical support of a home office, the advantage of a theological education, the benefit of dedicated servants working on their behalf back at home to promote their ministry and raise the funds necessary to keep them on the field, accountants to process the funds, ministries that strengthen their sending churches, etc.
Moreover, the Great Commission isn’t exclusively an assignment for a plane trip to another continent. For example, as close as the college and university campuses in Kentucky can be found 8,500 students from other countries. And, in the city of Louisville alone, there are 109 different language groups represented among students in the public schools. Across the state, there are 116 language groups from among the nations and over 200,000 Kentucky residents who speak a language other than English in their homes. Are the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s CP supported Baptist Campus Ministries, international church planting efforts, and evangelistic initiatives targeting the various ethnic groups in Kentucky authentic Great Commission ministries? Absolutely! And the hundreds upon hundreds of churches that sacrificially invest in cooperative mission work through the Kentucky Baptist Convention know that to be the case.
Third, I go to the SBC because I still believe in Southern Baptist doctrine and value being part of a denomination with doctrinal standards in place. The annual meeting is where those doctrinal standards are affirmed and championed.
Paul warned Timothy, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine” (2Tim 4:3). That time has surely come. Threats to sound doctrine are more numerous than can be counted but some threats are obviously more pressing than others. Today, the Bible’s teaching on gender, homosexuality, and marriage are under intense attack in the world and, sadly, in some of the more liberal segments of the church. The prosperity gospel and the charismatic movement, often one and the same, pose another potentially lethal attack on Bible doctrine as they confuse the good news either with worldly success or emotional exuberance and ecstatic utterances. These doctrinal distortions typically mitigate God’s grace as they gravitate toward a works-based salvation that is always in jeopardy of being lost.
For the most part, Southern Baptists fit within the broad framework of the evangelical movement. But while I thank God for other evangelicals who share a commitment to the Great Commission, I am first and foremost a Baptist rather than an evangelical. If I had only one gathering to attend besides the annual family reunion of Kentucky Baptists, it would always the assembly of our Southern Baptist family.