FRISCO Calling his service to Southern Baptists as head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) “the honor and privilege of a lifetime,” Richard Land said the denomination’s Cooperative Program (CP) allows every SBC church to participate in the Great Commission call of Matthew 28.
Addressing the SBTC’s annual Cooperative Program Luncheon on March 1, Land quoted M.E. Dodd, one of the architects of the CP, who said money given through it “will go farther, rise higher, spread wider, work deeper and last longer than when given to any other place or cause.”
In 1925, the CP missions funding channel was devised amid denominational debt and mission agencies competing with each other in fund-raising, Land explained to a packed auditorium between sessions of the Empower Evangelism Conference.
Today Southern Baptists have 10,000 domestic and overseas missionaries, started 1,578 churches last year in the United States and Canada, subsidize about 50 percent of tuition for seminary students, and fund the small agency Land leads. The ERLC represents Southern Baptists on cultural and political issues, with the lowest portion of the SBC’s allocation budget?1.65 percent.
By contrast, the International Mission Board receives 50 percent of the CP budget (half of $199.8 million) in support of more than 5,000 full-time, salaried missionaries and their families worldwide. The IMB also counts on the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions to supplement its funding, as does the North American Mission Board with the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions.
But with the ERLC, “It’s just us and the Cooperative Program,” Land explained. “It enables us to do what we do with our staff in Nashville and our staff in Washington.”
“Southern Baptists tend to take the Cooperative Program for granted because it’s always been a part of the furniture in the room. As part of my responsibility in Southern Baptist life, I spend a good deal of time with people from other denominations and I can assure you they regularly violate the 10th commandment about ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ Land said.
“They understand what the Cooperative Program has meant for Southern Baptists and they understand what not having it has meant to them. The Cooperative Program has enabled us to be used as few others have been used to fulfill the worldwide commission the Lord gave us in the Great Commission.”
Last year, through Southern Baptist student mission endeavors, 1,491 teenagers shared the gospel more than 12,000 times and recorded 1,121 professions of faith in those encounters. Also, Land told how Southern Baptist young people have restored more than 12,000 inner city homes in the last decade through NAMB ministries.
Additionally, through the work of the North American Mission Board and state conventions, the SBC’s Disaster Relief network is the nation’s third-largest disaster relief provider, Land said to applause.
“Every time I go to Louisiana people tell me about the guys in the yellow shirts who showed up even before the police did after the hurricane,” Land said, “and are still there helping to rebuild those stricken communities.
“When I’m in New York and people find out that I’m a Southern Baptist, they tell me about the Southern Baptist volunteers that came in and cleaned out the apartments in Manhattan. They said, ‘We want as many Southern Baptists as we can get because they don’t steal stuff.’ That’s a pretty good witness: ‘They don’t steal stuff.'”
Recalling the year the ERLC was defunded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas for its conservative direction, Land said a reporter from the Dallas Morning News quizzed him about losing 15 percent of his budget. Land replied that he hadn’t lost 15 percent of his budget, he’d only been given an opinion by some “denominational functionaries.”
“Now we’re going to find out what the headquarters of Southern Baptists, the local church, thinks,” he said.
That year, Texas churches and the SBTC sent a record number of dollars that more than made up for the ERLC’s loss, Land recounted.
“So we know where the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention is?it’s in the local church. And that’s where it must always be.”
Being interviewed by a Presbyterian recently about the SBC’s conservative theological resurgence in the 1970s and ’80s, Land said the interviewer lamented the liberalism in some Presbyterian seminaries.
“We were saved by our polity,” Land recounted telling him. “In Methodism and Presbyterianism, once the institutions and the leadership went left, there was no way to get it back. They owned the churches; they controlled who got ordained. They controlled who got put into the presbyteries and who got put into the faculty.
“But our forefathers, understanding the New Testament, always made every institution and agency accountable to the local church and the messengers elected by the local church and left the ordination of ministers in the hands of the local church and left it to each local church to decide how much of the Lord’s money to share with the national and international ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“We’re a Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, generous people. And I thank God for the Cooperative Program,” Land said. Because of the Cooperative Program and the mission endeavors of Texas Baptists, Parker Memorial Baptist Church in Houston, then pastored by Jimmy Draper Sr., planted a mission church a half-block from his home in 1949.
As a boy, “I came to know the Lord in that church,” said Land, adding that he was nurtured in the faith and called to preach there under the ministry of faithful Southern Baptists.
He said he remembers his mother carrying his younger brother the half block home from church as he, about 4 years old, held his mother’s hand. His dad would wait for them on the front porch, drinking a Lone Star beer after mowing the lawn.
Later, his father was converted at the 1952 Billy Graham Crusade at Rice Stadium, invited there by members of the church. His dad became a deacon and Sunday School superintendent, Land a Sunbeam and a Royal Ambassador.
“All because of Southern Baptists fulfilling the Great Commission,” he said.