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GCRTF aims for unity & provokes division

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) said it wanted to unite Southern Baptists. Instead, high-profile quarrels have broken out over last month’s progress report and skepticism appears to be taking hold.

Issues within the SBC

What The Nashville Tennessean called a “rare public feud” erupted between “conservative leaders” of the SBC “over how to spend money and set priorities in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.” International Mission Board president Jerry Rankin took aim at SBC Executive Committee president Morris Chapman.

Chapman told state convention executives on Feb. 10, “Cooperation is foundational in everything we do jointly as believers.” Rankin responded by accusing him of putting cooperation above the Great Commission. Rankin wrote:

Apparently it doesn’t matter whether we impact a lost world or accomplish anything else as long as we cooperate together. In fact, it was said that the formula for Cooperative Program allocations must not change. I now understand why for 17 years I and my staff have been meeting with the budget workgroup of the Executive Committee, presenting our required report on funding needs, but nothing is ever done. It is just a meaningless exercise of denominational bureaucracy.

Chapman reacted, telling Baptist Press:

I am saddened that Jerry so blatantly misrepresented my comments. The men who heard me speak know what I said, what I think of Christ and His commands, and where I think cooperation falls in any list of priorities. I would never say that cooperation is the purpose of our Convention. It is only a means to an end — to assist Southern Baptists in working together for the common purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God.

Rankin went on to say that he has become exasperated because of “difficulty in nailing down the purpose of what is being done” while working with other groups within the SBC:

“On Mission Celebrations, which used to be World Mission Conferences, is a mission event hosted by local associations. IMB, NAMB, WMU and State Conventions all send personnel to speak in the churches, report on what we are all doing in missions, supposedly to enhance mission awareness. Pressing to know if there is an outcome that is supposed to result from this event, I am usually told that the event is an end in itself. Nothing is done that actually enlists and equips the church for missions involvement once the week is over.

Rakin later apologized (via his blog) to Chapman.

Cooperative Program issues

Chapman’s statements to the state executives highlight another strain of disagreement concerning the GCR Task Force report. This one is over Cooperative Program (CP): Southern Baptists’ traditional method of funding. Churches send money to state conventions, which keep a portion, and send the rest to the SBC. Thus “cooperating.”

Norman Jameson, editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder took issue with the report’s suggestion to add the term “Great Commission Giving” to Southern Baptist funding. “Great Commission Giving” would include CP and designated giving to other Southern Baptist causes.

“When the average CP giving of task force member churches is less than five percent, the report’s recommendation to ‘reaffirm the Cooperative Program as our central means of supporting Great Commission ministries’ rings hollow,” he said.

Chapman suggested that CP funding be split evenly between state conventions and the SBC. Where as now, according to the GCR task force report, states keep an average of 63.45 percent of CP funds.

“Any proportion other than 50-50 comes with an inescapable perception of greater importance for one side of the equation and less importance for the other,” Chapman said.

The task force interim report doesn’t call for that specific change. It does say, “When churches give more through the Cooperative Program and state conventions keep less of it within their respective states, and a compelling unified Gospel vision is cast for Southern Baptists, we will see giving through the Cooperative Program increase in a major way.”

State convention issues

The report also calls for the SBC’s North American Mission Board to end cooperative agreements that send more than $50 million to state conventions.

In summary then, task force called for states to send a larger percentage of money to the SBC and to get by without money NAMB sends back to them through the cooperative agreements. That’s two losses of revenue in revenue-short times.

Some believe the proposals would kill some state conventions and that the recommendations represent a top-down strategy that is a recipe for managerial disaster.

In Alabama, state convention leaders say adopting the recommendations would “devastate” the state and “change the face of evangelism” there.

Gary Swafford, director of the state convention’s associational missions and church planting office, said the proposals would “eliminate major ministries across the state.” Eight positions would have to be cut, convention officials said.

The executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa said ending the cooperative agreements amounted to the SBC “writing us off.”

The state executive, Jimmy Barrentine, said some people seem to have the impression that state conventions, especially ones like his, are putting their own future above the Great Commission.

“The fact is that we are diligently seeking a continued opportunity to collaborate with the North American Mission Board in seeking the fulfillment the Great Commission,” he said. “We want to work with the entire Southern Baptist Convention family, but it is our partnership with the North American Mission Board that seems to be most in peril.

“Before writing us off, releasing NAMB from its cooperative agreement with us, please prayerfully consider the following offers,” Barrentine said before listing several ways his convention would like to continue that partnership (from continuing to work with “Buckets of Hope” to continuing to “partner with NAMB in ministry to appointed missionaries”).

Local church issues

Jim Drake, a pastor in West Virginia, says the task force report “leaves the impression that a handful of ‘significant’ churches must rescue our convention from the malaise left to us by small churches.” He disagrees. Drake started a series of posts on the value of small churches by pointing out eight examples of “kingdom work” that happened in three and a half years he spent at a “country church” in Asheville, N.C.

In the last of eight posts Drake wrote about the GCR report, he said his questions were not “blind defenses of the status quo.” In fact, he added, the mission of the Great Commission is the mission of the local church.

“Insofar as Southern Baptist denominational institutions and entities facilitate and assist that mission, they are extremely beneficial,” he said. “On the other hand, whenever they circumvent or attempt to replace local churches in accomplishing that mission, they are counterproductive, wasteful and potentially destructive.”

F. Russell Bennett, Executive Director Emeritus of the Long Run Baptist Association in Louisville, Ky., asked if some of the report’s proposals are not contrary to its declaration that the local church is “Baptist headquarters.” Bennett also wondered if the some issues in SBC agencies might have resulted from appointments made during times of theological controversy.

“For the past 20 years there have been examples after examples of persons being placed on significant boards without qualification for service except allegiance to a theoretical position,” he said. “If the Task Force wants to improve the agencies of the SBC perhaps they should investigate the fountain head, namely the appointment process.”

The GCRTF isn’t likely to revisit that divisive era. The final report will do well to mine some sense of unity out of the divisions which have erupted over the interim report.

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March 16, 2010 - Posted by | SBC | ,

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