In 1979, Conservatives within the Southern Baptist Convention united to return the SBC and her entities to Biblical inerrancy and doctrinal fidelity. For 27 years, the Conservative Resurgence (as it came to be called) brought together disparate groups — Conservatives of all stripes and varieties — to successfully re-establish the Southern Baptist Convention upon a solid, Biblical foundation.
But, that foundation is beginning to crack. And, with each new radical reinvention that the current establishment leaders implement (NAMB comes to mind), those cracks are becoming more noticeable. The solid foundation — so carefully laid with the blood, sweat, tears, and prayers of so many CR “foot soldiers” — is in real danger of not only cracking, but ultimately collapsing. The collapse will not happen because of disagreements over Biblical inerrancy or doctrine, but rather over disagreements about vision, methodology, and money. Not to mention a dose of good old-fashioned politics.
The first cracks in the foundation began to appear shortly after the death of long-time SBC leader and elder statesman, Dr. Adrian Rogers. Dr. Rogers was one of the most respected leaders of the Conservative Resurgence. When Dr. Rogers talked, people listened. Looking back, I believe that the death of Dr. Adrian Rogers may prove to be a seminal moment in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention.
With his death on November 15, 2005 (which happened to have been my 39th birthday), it appears that some of the younger leaders in their 40’s and 50’s — 2nd Generation Conservative Resurgence types — began to fill the void left by Dr. Rogers. (Maybe Dr. Rogers, before his death, was able to exert a calming and restraining influence on some of the more outspoken leaders within the Convention.)
The cracks began to expand at the annual meeting of the SBC, held in June 2006 in Greensboro, NC. Thanks in no small measure to the nominating speech of Forrest Pollock — which emphasized the importance of the Cooperative Program and Dr. Frank Page’s support of CP (in contradistinction to Ronnie Floyd’s anemic support of CP) — Dr. Page, in what can only be described as a stunning defeat for the establishment candidates, was elected on the first ballot (in a three-way race). Some in the establishment were in a state of shock and disbelief at the unexpected turn of events. At least one leader was overheard saying that this (i.e., the defeat of Ronnie Floyd, the establishment candidate) would never happen again.
By the end of the Greensboro Convention, the cracks in the foundation were growing larger, but many did not realize just how deep and wide the cracks had become. While I have no first-hand knowledge of conversations that took place among establishment leaders following their setback in 2006, it did not take long for a new strategy to be devised for overcoming what appeared to be folks clinging to such past-their-prime relics as CP, State Conventions, and local Associations. That strategy: The Great Commission Resurgence. After all, who could be against the Great Commission?
What had heretofore been a conservative resurgence supported by rank-and-file Southern Baptists and led by men like Adrian Rogers, Jim Henry, Bobby Welch, Morris Chapman, and others would morph into a “Great Commission” Resurgence envisioned by those in power and dictated to the rank-and-file by the establishment. The first was a recipe for unity and growth. The second is a recipe for disunity and decline.
With the establishment re-exerting its influence through the election of Johnny Hunt (who delivered the nominating speech for Ronnie Floyd just two years prior) as SBC President in 2008, the stage was set for what would become the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). Enter stage right Dr. Daniel Akin, President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, who delivered a chapel sermon on April 16, 2009 titled, “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence.” As the official website for the GCR clearly states, there were other “actors” who were still off-stage, but who would make their presence known:
“It is important to note the address was not produced in a vacuum. The content of the sermon received input and affirmation from SBC leaders like Johnny Hunt, James Merritt, Al Mohler and Thom Rainer. It was something of a response to a ground swell of hopes and concerns being echoed throughout the churches of our Convention.” (see here for full article)
Looking back, one has to ask, “what ground swell?” and “what churches?” It is becoming more and more evident that the size of the ground swell and the number of echoing churches has been vastly overstated by the establishment while the number of those (including entire State Conventions) who continue to voice concerns about the GCR’s implementation has been badly underestimated. While initial support for the creation of the GCR Task Force was near 95% in 2009, the Task Force’s Final Report and Recommendations could only muster 75%. Given what has transpired in the months since the Orlando Convention, this year’s annual meeting in Phoenix could be quite divided. So much for the GCR keeping Southern Baptists unified.
Why do establishment leaders continue to push for a radical re-prioritization of the entire Convention, particularly at NAMB? And, why the rush on new partnership agreements with the State Conventions? According to the Baptist Press report of the recent NAMB Trustee meeting where the changes were approved, Dr. Ezell
“indicated NAMB hopes to have new integrated strategic partnership agreements signed with each state convention by the end of March.” (full article here)
March of what year? Didn’t the GCR Final Report call for a phase-out of the existing partnership agreements within seven years (changed from four years in the interim report)?
“We encourage NAMB to set a goal of phasing out all Cooperative Agreements within seven years . . .” (GCR Final Report, page 11 of 27)
Well, nine months is within seven years. I stand corrected. I guess seven years, like 90 days, sure goes by fast at the new NAMB! I suppose that if the Task Force can ignore its own recommendations for transparency and openness (here and here), then the new NAMB can certainly ignore the timeline for phase-outs!
Words have meaning, even if a former President of the United States does not know the meaning of the word “is.” The GCR is currently being implemented according to the clear words of the Recommendations and Final Report, as interpreted by the ruling elites who control the entities of the Convention. The Recommendations are the law. The Final Report — as interpreted — has become the guidelines (rules and regulations) that leaders will use to ensure that the GCR is fully implemented. For those who have doubts as to how this implementation will occur and what it means for State Conventions and local Associations, please refer to the “legislative” history (particularly Section VIII), known as the “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence.”
What NAMB and the other establishment leaders (Dr. Page excepted) are doing is exactly what the GCR calls for them to do. That’s why some pastors, like Dwayne Milioni, writing for Baptist21, can say:
“Being directed by our recent convention to promote the GCR (the Great Commission Resurgence), president Ezell has begun his work as a ‘man under authority.'”
While pastors, entity heads, and Christian leaders are under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, the GCR has become the authority by which Dr. Ezell and other establishment leaders operate under in their effort to radically re-prioritize the Southern Baptist Convention. It bears repeating that the GCR — if fully implemented as written and envisioned — will radically alter what it means to be a cooperating Southern Baptist. One need only read Pastor Milioni’s words about the positive and exciting changes that Dr. Ezell is making at NAMB (I’m quite certain that he is not alone in his enthusiasm for the reinvention of the entire Convention) to understand the direction that the SBC is headed. One area of excitement concerns the new direction that NAMB is taking regarding church planting:
“After asking Dr. Ezell what he wants the “New NAMB” to look like, I was excited to hear his desire to see millions of dollars diverted to church planting. He also wants to partner with key churches to plant churches in critical areas of North America. I asked how a local church that has been planting churches apart from the traditional path might get involved and he said that what we are doing at Open Door through our North American Church Planting Foundation will serve a model for church planting within the cooperative program. This comment really encouraged me, not just because it came from our NAMB president, but for first time I felt that our approach to planting churches via a network rather than directly through a local association and state convention was acceptable. I left feeling hopeful and more a committed Southern Baptist.” (emphasis added — full article here)
If Dr. Ezell’s encouragement to Pastor Milioni continues apace, then we will witness the collapse of the Southern Baptist Convention as we now know it. To be a “cooperating” Southern Baptist will no longer include the local Association or State Convention. Indeed, one can be a more committed Southern Baptist without ever having to cooperate at the State or local level.
And NAMB will partner with local churches outside of Associations and State Conventions entirely, planting churches without the need for any help or input from those in the local fields. Oh, the regional VPs might talk about “partnering” with the States, but I guess it all comes down to what your definition of “partner” really means.
If a church in North Carolina wants to plant a church in New Mexico, why even bother to partner with the Baptist Convention of New Mexico or the local Associations? After all, didn’t Dr. Ezell, addressing the NAMB Trustees, recently state:
“We relate with 42 state association executives. It’s vital we work together — not because we have to but because we want to.” (emphasis added)
If the new NAMB’s mindset is that it does not have to work together with the State Conventions, then perhaps NAMB doesn’t really need the money that the churches of these State Conventions give through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Offering. If the new NAMB’s philosophy is to encourage “diverting” money to individual churches and/or church planting organizations that have no desire to partner with local Associations or State Conventions, then perhaps the local church — which the GCR and its supporters say is “primary” — should consider diverting their CP gifts and/or Annie Armstrong Offerings to State Conventions and local Associations who still believe in and appreciate cooperation.
The course being charted by the new NAMB may very well lead to the deepest and widest crack in the SBC foundation, a crack so massive that collapse is inevitable. And, when it collapses, it will be much like Humpty Dumpty — it will never be put back together again.
My words may be strong for some to read. Some will vehemently disagree with my analysis. I can live with that. Was radical, untested surgery really necessary when less invasive and risky surgery would have healed the patient? Did we need to totally change existing structures (including CP, nka “Great Commission Giving” and partnerships with the State Conventions) without knowing the consequences of such radical changes?
The patient is on the operating table, but it is still not too late to re-evaluate what kind of surgery is needed. This June in Phoenix may be the final opportunity for that re-evaluation. Let’s just hope we don’t look back a few years from now — when the GCR has been fully implemented — and proudly say to whoever is left, “The operation was a success, but unfortunately the patient died!”