“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste — and what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you didn’t think you could do before.” Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama
There are almost 7 billion human inhabitants of planet Earth. At the most generous estimate, somewhere around 1 billion are believing Christians. That means that over 6 billion people are lost, without Christ, and thus without hope. Of these 6 billion, over 3.5 billion have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over 6,000 people groups are without any Christian witness. There is no way that Southern Baptists can make real progress toward reaching these unreached people groups unless we experience a genuine Great Commission Resurgence. We must see a tidal wave of evangelistic and missionary passion, or the numbers of unreached people groups will only grow, and lostness will spread. (Urgency: A World of Lostness from GCR Final Report)
Just a few short years ago, after the back-to-back elections of two strong, cooperating Southern Baptists — Bobby Welch and Frank Page — as Presidents of the SBC, who would have thought that the Convention’s ruling class would put into motion such radical changes that will not only lead to the slow death of the Cooperative Program, but will inevitably lead to the end of the Southern Baptist Convention as we now know it. In recent days, I have become increasingly concerned about the direction and future of the Southern Baptist Convention. While some may think that I and others are alarmists for daring to point out where the GCR — if fully implemented as written and followed to its logical conclusion — will lead us, I seem to recall that there were folks back in the heyday of the CR that were not afraid to sound the alarms when they saw our great Convention headed toward dangerous waters.
In the mad, rushing current of change — which is the essence of the GCR — I find it curious that people who are otherwise conservative — Biblically, Theologically, Culturally, Politically, Socially, Fiscally, Religiously, etc. — are suddenly acting like radicals when it comes to the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. And, so that I am not misunderstood, I think that we always have to be radicals for Christ as we “present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations (Component One: Getting the Mission Right from GCR Final Report).” I don’t think that you would get that much argument from Southern Baptists, including this one, that there is a crisis in our nation and world — the vast lostness of people — that necessitates all of us to recommit and refocus upon the Great Commission, both individually, as churches, and as a Convention of cooperating, autonomous churches.
When I address the radicalization of the SBC, I’m talking about the political agenda that is at play across the SBC landscape, from our missions agencies and seminaries to the Executive Committee and our Baptist State Conventions. What was billed as an effort to help all Southern Baptists more effectively carry out the Great Commission in actuality is being used to radically transform the Southern Baptist Convention into a “fellowship” or “movement” of more independent, less cooperative churches. Are there problems with the Cooperative Program that need to be fixed so that we can do missions and ministry better? Absolutely. Do State Conventions need to look for ways to be better stewards of God’s money that has been entrusted to them through CP? Without a doubt. Can Southern Baptists at every level make changes — both spiritual and structural — that will help us to be more faithful in our Gospel witness? Yes!
But, here’s the rub. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that the SBC establishment, not known for their admiration of President Obama, has taken a play out of his playbook. After all, never let a crisis go to waste. In the aftermath of the economic meltdown that began in 2008, one of the major pieces of legislation that President Obama and his allies in Congress wanted to enact was comprehensive health care reform. After much arm-twisting and shady backroom deals and broken promises of transparency, enough votes for passage of the Health Care Reform Act were secured in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Obama.
Because the bill itself was over 2,000 pages long, almost no one knew (or knows) what is in it. Every day, we are learning more and more about the consequences of this major health care overhaul. And, most of what we are hearing is not good, at least if you are a small-government fiscal and social conservative. The conservatives in Congress — mostly Republicans — were not against health care reform. Almost everyone, both inside and outside of Washington, understands the need for change in our nation’s health care system, including insurance and tort reform. But, conservatives saw as unwise the Federal Government’s takeover of a sector that accounts for 1/6 of the U.S. economy. To most conservatives, the comprehensive Health Care Reform Bill was not only an unwise expansion of the Federal Government, but also a radical departure from the constitutional philosophy that has made this country great.
Now, ask yourself these questions: Why is the SBC establishment, who I would venture to guess is almost universally opposed to the radical changes that will be brought about by the Health Care Reform bill, advocating and implementing such radical changes within the Southern Baptist Convention? Why are the ruling elites within the Convention so determined to have the SBC undergo an extreme makeover in such a short period of time? If this “Great Commission Giving” doesn’t pan out, what is Plan B? (Oh, that’s right. There is no Plan B.) I could go on and on with questions, but you get the point.
At its heart, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s Final Report was not so much about “how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together” (its official authorization from the Convention), as it is about the methodological philosophy that seeks to radically reprioritize and redefine what it means to be a cooperating Southern Baptist. From the weakening of CP through “Great Commission Giving” to the election of Kevin Ezell as NAMB President to certain Baptist State Conventions recommending their own version of the GCR (including a “50-50 split of CP funds) to the “considerable changes” coming to NAMB to the as-yet-unnamed IMB President, the momentum for radical change continues to grow with each passing day.
The SBC establishment, including the GCR Task Force, gained what they believe was a major victory when messengers to the SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando voted to approve the Final Report and Recommendations. Perhaps it was. Or, maybe the victory was merely pyrrhic. Either way, there is a crisis in our Convention. And for grassroots Southern Baptists, we simply cannot waste time sitting back or being silent as the momentum for radical change accelerates!