At the Tuesday Morning session of last year's Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Greensboro, NC, I stood at Microphone #10 and uttered the only vocal address that I have ever given to the Southern Baptist Convention. The topic was not Private Prayer Language. Nor was it Evangelical Ecumenism. As far as I know, it had not a thing to do with Wade Burleson. I went to Greensboro and spoke passionate (controversial?) words about the Cooperative Program. I had longed and prayed for a Cooperative Program Report that would resuscitate Southern Baptist hearts to sacrificial CP giving while fairly highlighting both the role of churches and the role of state conventions in accomplishing this feat—it was important enough to me that I mustered the courage to speak haltingly in that cavernous hall about the Cooperative Program. A few months later, I embarked upon my first assignment for denominational service, a position on the SBTC Resolutions Committee. Normally, committee members don't speak of their individual writing assignments—the resolutions belong to the committee after they come out of the committee, and to the convention after they are passed—but I'm glad to confirm that my writing assignment for the committee was to prepare our resolution #8 On the Cooperative Program (see the text here). The Cooperative Program is important to me. Of course, many people say that the Cooperative Program is important to them. Many people claim to support the Cooperative Program. But what does that mean? Especially in a day when state conventions like the BGCT torture the meaning of the phrase to make it fit giving plans clearly outside the historical scope of the term (see an item from Wes Kenney, Mr. CP Blogger, here). As for me, when I say that I support the Cooperative Program, I want you to understand exactly what I mean:
- I mean sacrificial giving at the local church level. We're always going after the candidates with this question—maybe all of the bloggers ought to be required to tell us about their percentage of CP support. We give 10%. Wes…you CP stat guru, you…can you search out the percentages of the other bloggers? As far as I am concerned, it is no easier for our church to give 10% than it would be for the largest mega-church in the convention. In fact, I suspect it is harder. Fixed costs, you know. My personal opinion is expressed in the resolution I authored: "[I] believe sacrificial support of the Cooperative Program to constitute a significant and integral part of being Southern Baptist." Churches that give a 1% pittance to the CP are dangerously flirting, IMHO, with losing their Southern Baptistness. Many of my friends will disagree, but that's just the way I feel about it.
- I mean sacrifical giving at the state convention level. This is the #1 reason why I'm so proud to be affiliated with Jim Richards and the SBTC. Next year the SBTC will adopt a budget that keeps 10% less money for the SBTC than it forwards to the SBC for missions causes around the globe. Folks, that is unparalleled! Think of the effect that budget has when applied to the gifts of so many churches. In a previous post on the 1VP election, I highlighted the difference that Jim Richards's SBTC plan would make on a single church, Green Acres Baptist Church, in the BGCT. The BGCT's budget sends just 21% for the entire remainder of the world and keeps 79% in Texas. If Green Acres were to switch from BGCT to SBTC, they could send hundreds of thousands of dollars more to worldwide missions without spending another dollar—and that's just one church. I'm fine with GABC making the autonomous decision to stay in the BGCT. I'm just showing how drastically state-convention selfishness can offset local-church generosity, preventing missions money from making it to the places of greatest need around the world. I'm thankful to report that many states like my home state of Arkansas are taking steps to keep less, not more, and give more generously to worldwide causes. I applaud. I think that kind of progress is necessary to the ongoing health of the Cooperative Program.
- I mean doctrinal accountability from the recipients to the givers. Right out of college I pastored a small Oklahoma Baptist church. When I went there, they were giving a flat $100 each year to the IMB. They had become convinced that the BGCO was financially crooked and the SBC was theologically liberal. I begged and pleaded for two years, but only worked them up to a small percentage directed to the IMB alone. When churches are not certain that the agencies are doctrinally accountable to them, they stop giving. We have a great system of accountability in the Southern Baptist Convention. I will describe it in detail in a future post. Suffice it to say at this point that doctrinal accountability and CP generosity go hand-in-hand. Earlier this Spring (on the same outing that produced the infamous J. R. Graves cemetery photo), my brother-in-law and I located the spot where the 1925 SBC annual meeting convened. The Cook Convention Center covers the spot today (and I think we ought to have our 2025 meeting in the Cook Convention Center in Memphis to commemorate the anniversary). It is hallowed ground for Southern Baptists. That one meeting defined the modern SBC by creating the Cooperative Program and The Baptist Faith & Message. The BF&M is not a creed; it is a gentlemen's agreement. It represents a reassurance to the churches that the people who spend our CP money live up to a minimum doctrinal standard. Whenever that agreement is violated, lower CP giving will follow as night follows day. If our agencies adopt further guidelines and refuse to allow the convention any say in the matter, that state of affairs will also damage CP giving. Fortunately, that is not the case. All of our agencies remain accountable to the convention. The process of accountability with regard to the IMB policies is playing out even this year. We'll see what is the eventual conclusion of it all. I'll make this prediction—it will be precisely whatever the convention messengers want it to be. That's because our system works (and remember, I'll be posting more about that later).