|Every year is important, you know. Each one is someone’s birth year, someone else’s last year. The time that God gives us is meaningful because it is given by him, for his purposes. We tend to sift through the days and events so that we can attach meaning to them or so that we might remember them. Here is my attempt to outline 12 months by recalling some of the most significant things that happened.
In the SBTC, this was the year when we achieved milestones in growth. The end of our fourth year in November found us ten times larger than at our inaugural meeting in 1998. We passed the 1,000 mark in February and were at 1,200 for our annual meeting in 2002. Even in Texas, big isn’t everything. On the other hand, growth in numbers and giving can indicate that God is blessing our convention as we seek and follow his guidance.
Last year also saw us complete the purchase of property for a permanent location. Our business and financial plan forbids indebtedness and so we bought the land without borrowing and, as the Lord wills, we should break ground on a building early in 2003. This change should allow us to exercise good stewardship over our operations funds (it’s cheaper to own than rent) as well provide facilities more fit to our ministry.
SBTC also saw signs of maturity in the development of ministries. Staff support in youth evangelism, urban church planting, ethnic church planting, men’s ministries, and music ministries were launched or enhanced during 2002. Last year was also the first full year with The Criswell College as our affiliated school. This fine institution has been a blessing to Southern Baptists, especially in Texas. The school’s founder, W.A. Criswell, lived to sign the affiliation agreement between our two organizations and then died a little while later in early January. The great preacher is now in the presence of the Lord he loved so well and proclaimed so eloquently.
In the SBC, the Baptist Faith and Message was the flashpoint in the disagreement between the SBC and her critics in other Baptist groups. The International Mission Board followed the lead of the SBC seminaries in asking its personnel to affirm our statement of faith as an act of accountability to the Baptists and churches who send and support them. A few could not and resigned-affirming the need for IMB’s decision. We could not ask for a more perfect miniature of the difference between moderates and conservatives. Southern Baptists have been confessional for many years. Each time we’ve acted that way in the past couple of years, moderates have had one sort of fit or another. One state convention reacted this year by forming a new “missions network” which will probably become a mission-sending body in the near future.
The Missouri Baptist Convention continued to seek a way to bring several of its state agencies back into an accountability relationship. Efforts to start a new state convention there have failed for lack of interest. The MBC won a court decision allowing legal action to reclaim the institutions to move forward.
Another record year of Cooperative Program giving indicates the level of support the SBC’s missionary funding vehicle enjoys among our churches and people. Many churches have supported CP giving in spite of complications raised by their own state convention.
In the U.S., two huge religion stories dominated the year. The first was the moral catastrophe in the Roman church. Aftershocks of the crisis will continue and all religions and denominations in the U.S. will feel the affects. I cannot escape the belief that the doctrine and polity of the Romanists made their priests vulnerable. While some blamed celibacy, I think it is more likely the authoritarian nature of Catholic churches coupled with their unreformed view of the clergy made it inevitable. Post reformation churches are more likely to hold pastors accountable on a local, lay level. Non Catholics should take a warning here. None of us are righteous enough to stand alone. We need a body of believers that will know and evaluate our ministries by the standard of God’s Word.
A second big story had many faces but only one theme: the nature of Islam. A few Southern Baptist preachers were placed under the sentence of death by some Moslem leaders for statements made to the U.S. media, most notable among these preachers was Jerry Falwell. Many politicians and most media voices were quick to point out that Islam is a religion of peace. I lean toward those who search in vain for some proof of this assertion. Secularists were quick to maintain that fundamentalism of any kind is morally equivalent, whether it manifests itself in evangelistic campaigns or in mass murder I suppose. Jerry Vines’ comments about Mohammed at the SBC pastors’ conference became national news for most of the summer because of media hunger for anything on the subject of Islam.
No doubt you’ll look at my choices and decry an omission or a priority in my selections. I probably will too. Undeniably, these were important in their respective spheres, though.
For 2003, I think that the culture war between biblical Christianity and all other beliefs will continue to heat up. Everywhere we look tolerance toward depraved things and contempt for truth is more aggressive. This is an opportunity to let our light shine before men during a time when the light infuriates most and draws others to the Lord of that light. I pray that we will be different than the world, whether it is in our denomination or churches, or outside. I pray that we will love God’s truth, wherever we see it, more than the praise of the world. May God help us strive daily to show the love of Christ as well as his fearless commitment to the will of the Father.