DALLAS—A good question and one worth asking: Does our SBC have anything significant to say to this 21st century? I ask the question here in response to the contemporary idea that the age of denominationalism is past.
It does us no good—and actually does us harm—to dwell on our size, numerical goals and our heritage. We can’t live in the past. Our heritage is only as meaningful as its most recent application, meaning that all we have done in reaching the nations for Christ does not guarantee us relevance in the future. Being “Great Commission People” and “People of the Book” means daily seeking opportunities to engage the world with the power of the Gospel but in humility and with a heart of service.
“What relevancy does the SBC have today?” It’s a good question and here’s my answer.
1. The SBC foundationally has a vision for missions and evangelism. Taking the gospel to the nations is in our DNA. Never could our denominational forefathers have predicted the geopolitical complexities of the 21st century, but the SBC is structured to literally reach the “uttermost” parts of earth.
2. There is strength in our cooperative efforts. We can do more together than we can by ourselves. Get beyond the cliché that many people have made this statement to be and contemplate its weight.
We currently have more missionaries under appointment and more volunteers serving around the world than any other evangelical denomination. No one church, especially the smaller churches that comprise the majority in the SBC, can so completely cover the globe with resources, but together they can.
The irony is that these totals are the tip of an iceberg. There is no reason why Southern Baptists couldn’t involve thousands more missionaries and give billions of dollars to support them through the Cooperative Program and our missions offerings. We have the resources; we just have to give them.
3. Southern Baptists have a heart for soul-winning. We take seriously God’s mandate to share the good news of salvation. All ministries are important and have their place, but the greatest service we can provide to a lost world is personally introducing people to the Lamb who sits on the throne. We have a long way to go to implement this vital soul-winning strategy, but it is in our hearts to do so. We just need to do it.
4. We love the local church. We understand that simply leading others to salvation is only part of the process. Jesus created the church—his bride—to be an integral element in his relationship with us. It is through the church that we grow spiritually. From the church we are sent out, and to the church we bring the lost for refuge.
5. We have a clearly defined doctrinal base. The Baptist Faith and Message outlines the area in which we move theologically and is a statement of “our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture.”
6. Southern Baptists celebrate the autonomy of the local church. There is no hierarchical structure to force conformity on issues. Autonomy creates enormous freedom, and also tension (our structure actually invites controversy!). No action by the SBC or its entities is binding on any church. We volunteer to cooperate and when we do it creates a bond of steel.
7. We have developed the most effective theological training anywhere in the world through our seminaries with more than 16,000 students enrolled. In fact, all six of our seminaries rank in the top 15 largest seminaries in America. Men and women are formally being developed to impact the world with the gospel and that impact will be felt for generations to come.
8. Resources provided by Southern Baptist entities have had a significant global impact in cultures worldwide and beyond our denomination.
Am I boasting? Absolutely not! I trumpet God’s blessings on us as a people and recognize that He has worked through us in spite of ourselves. Can we do more? Absolutely! Think how God would use us if we totally and humbly submitted ourselves individually and corporately to His leadership.
Is the SBC a lost cause? Absolutely not! Remember, the story we are sharing with the world is one of grace, redemption, restoration and usefulness. Let’s extend grace to each other and stay on point to be used of God. If we will, I believe that not only will good come from the SBC, but that the best is yet to come.
James T. Draper Jr. is interim president of Criswell College in Dallas, president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.