Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What's Cooperative about the Cooperative Program?

In our propagandizing about the Cooperative Program (and I use the word "propagandizing" in its noblest sense), we've always landed heavy on the word "Cooperative" and left the "Program" part as the unaccented syllable. Our very good reason for that emphasis is the fact that programs inspire nobody while cooperation is a noble and uplifting concept. I also note that, in our expositions on cooperation, we tend to emphasize the concept of people cooperating with other people and churches cooperating with other churches. These are worthy emphases, and certainly the Cooperative Program does represent the cooperation of people with people and churches with churches. Normally, those doing the propagandizing are denominational employees trying to recruit people and churches to engage (or engage more fully) in the Cooperative Program.

Nevertheless, we must admit that EVERY funding system by which more than one person or more than one church fund joint ventures is, by its definition, just as "cooperative" with regard to people and churches as is our Cooperative Program system. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, although it is not a part of the Cooperative Program, is a fine example of people cooperating with other people and churches cooperating with other churches to reach people for Christ.

The true genius of the Cooperative Program—the novel aspect of cooperation that it introduced like a soothing balm—was that, in addition to the cooperation of people and churches that had always been present among Southern Baptists, it introduced an unprecedented level of Southern Baptist entities cooperating with other Southern Baptist entities. What had theretofore been a competition to see which entities could tap most effectively the pool of Southern Baptist charitable funding became a cooperative effort to solicit Southern Baptist funding in harmony. The loss of the Cooperative Program would not constitute the end of Baptist Christians and Baptist churches cooperating with one another, but would certainly endanger the cooperative relationships of our Southern Baptist entities.

I submit as my thesis for this post the following idea: The greatest danger to the Cooperative Program today lies not in the idea that churches will cease to cooperate with one another, but in the threat of the various constituents of Southern Baptist life not dealing with one another cooperatively. In specific, several factors pose dangers to our forward movement together.

  1. A weakening of the cooperative relationship between the various state conventions and the national Southern Baptist Convention.

    Technically, our Southern Baptist family is non-connectional. In other words, the conceptual relationship between my state convention (the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention) and my national convention (the Southern Baptist Convention) is one of disconnected partners. The Southern Baptist Convention is not a subsidiary of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The SBTC is not a subsidiary of the SBC. Each could conceivably exist apart from the other, although neither could exist apart from the churches.

    Practically, however, the state and national levels of our convention are intricately interwoven. The boards and committees of our national convention and entities, for example, often are structured to require proportional representation from the various state convention areas. The Cooperative Program is one factor that increases this enmeshed relationship between state conventions and national convention. Because of the Cooperative Program, the national convention is dependent for its funding upon the decisions of state conventions regarding how much CP money to keep for their own operations and how much to forward. Sometimes it is apparent that these decisions have been made in ways very favorable to the state convention and very unfavorable to the national SBC, while in some cases the state conventions have labored very sacrificially to give greater funding to national and international missions. The national convention needs the state conventions to do well and to be in a position to practice good stewardship of CP funding.

    Conversely, Cooperative Program funding is generally solicited by an appeal to the Southern Baptist love for missions in general and international missions in specific. The states, therefore, have a vested interest in the health and success of the Southern Baptist Convention not only for their spiritual reasons (as people who love the Lord and want to spread the gospel), but also because the number of CP dollars coming into state convention coffers will be determined more by local church buy-in to the SBC's program of missions than by any other one factor.

    State conventions and the national convention, then, are like partners in a three-legged race. Each needs the other for the success of the Cooperative Program.

    Starting in 1979, the national Southern Baptist Convention took a dramatic turn to the right in its theology and practice. If any state convention partners were out-of-step with the pre-1979 SBC, the change in the SBC may have made the intricate dance between state convention and national convention a more graceful one. However, if any state convention partners were well matched with the pre-1979 SBC, then the dramatic changes in the SBC posed a threat to their cooperative relationship. One of two things had to happen: (a) either something like the Conservative Resurgence needed to happen in those state conventions to facilitate greater cooperative agreement between the two tiers of SBC cooperation, or (b) the cooperative relationship between the two bodies was inevitably going to weaken, eroding the foundation of the Cooperative Program (or, theoretically, (c) state conventions could hunker down and try to wait to see whether the SBC meanders back left again after leaping to the right).

    Evidence of both outcomes among the various state conventions could likely be presented, although decorum prevents me from giving examples or naming names. My point is simply this: We employ the name "Cooperative Program" alike whether state and national convention are working at cross-purposes or laboring in harmony. No matter how much a state convention keeps for its own uses and no matter how little a state convention forwards to national or international causes, we indiscriminately refer to the system as the "Cooperative Program" and treat these various systems as though they are all equally "cooperative."

    This is a farce.

    What is needed is not a season of recriminations or attacks between state and national tiers of our Southern Baptist family, as I am in danger of provoking with these words. My goal is simply for Southern Baptists to acknowledge that state-national relationships within the SBC vary in their levels of cooperativeness, and that these variances have implications for the health of the Cooperative Program as well as upon the actions of local churches and other partners in the CP family. I pursue this goal not in the quest for some sort of blame-game, but because the Cooperative Program cannot, in my estimation, be strengthened by cultivating denial of this reality. The Cooperative Program can never be stronger than the cooperative nature of the relationship between the state conventions and the national convention.

    Not that the state conventions alone contribute to problems in the cooperative relationship. I confess that I have, in the past, allowed my exasperation over specific examples of financial hostility toward the national SBC by specific state conventions to provoke me into intemperate and categorical language speaking of the stinginess of state conventions. Such language on my part, as well as GCR-related statements critical of our state conventions, are no solution prone to bolster the health of the SBC or the Cooperative Program. Rather, they are more likely to make the problems worse by heightening tensions that need to be relaxed. And obviously, any past statements I have made about state conventions have not been meant to apply to ALL state conventions—I do not apply any of those characterizations to my own state convention, which is a model of cooperativeness, IMHO. I need to speak and write more carefully in the future, for the cooperative and collegial spirit between state conventions and the national SBC is too important a feature, and often too fragile a feature, for reckless talk to be allowed to endanger it.

    Lackluster participation in the Cooperative Program by the local churches is a problem in our generation. Does the root of the problem lie in some dissatisfied angst not properly addressed by the SBC? In some cases, probably so. Does the real problem concern an isolationism and self-centeredness among churches that increasingly seek to become an empire unto themselves? Again, this is likely at least partly to blame in some cases. But let us not forget that in some cases churches are circumventing the Cooperative Program not because they are upset with the missions program of the SBC, but because they are delighted with it. They perceive an uncooperative relationship between their state convention and the SBC. From their vantage point, the Cooperative Program is already broken, and not by their own hands. They are acting, as they perceive it, not in violence to the Cooperative Program so much as in self-defense on its behalf.

    I know whereof I speak—once upon a time it was me. I'm thankful that it is me no longer, but I am sympathetic toward those who claim that these factors shape their Cooperative Program giving (or lack thereof, as some would count it).

    For this reason each and every state convention in the Southern Baptist Convention should, if it has not already done so, adopt the Baptist Faith & Message in its latest revision. The national Southern Baptist Convention and the various state conventions should labor hard to reconcile any differences in methodology or any age-old tensions that might be present. A sincere and united front among the state conventions and the national convention would bolster local-church participation in the Cooperative Program, for it is this kind of cooperation among the tiers of Southern Baptist life that either is or gives rise to the most winsome features that commend the Cooperative Program over all other approaches. This is also one of the reasons why the Georgia Baptist Convention's proposed strong constitutional stance on the authority of the Bible is such a splendid idea. The GBC's action demonstrates that Georgia Baptists are in theological harmony with Southern Baptists across the nation. Such demonstrations, whenever they occur, strengthen our cooperative work with one another.

  2. A weakening in the cooperative relationship among the individual state conventions. Today we witness the divisive phenomenon of congregations seeking affiliation with state conventions other than those headquartered in their home states. A few years ago the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was solicited along these lines and very wisely demurred. The creation of a climate of state conventions competing with one another for the same churches is injurious to the fabric of cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention. For any state convention to accept into its membership churches from another state is nothing less than a declaration of war against a neighboring state convention. An ecclesiological Anschluss makes a poor foundation for cooperation at the national level.

    Such actions necessarily further heighten tensions between any offending state conventions and the national convention. The state convention admitting churches beyond its state is, by definition, no longer a state convention. It is, at least, a regional convention. It may be a group coveting the status of national convention—an incipient schismatic competitor to the national convention. Cooperative trust, particularly as the division of funds is concerned, is difficult to maintain in such circumstances.

  3. Any increase in designated giving. People have the freedom to designate their gifts. Churches have the autonomy to designate their gifts. I affirm this liberty as an important one. Nevertheless, designated giving is not Cooperative Program giving, and is indeed injurious to Cooperative Program giving.

    Any pastor of any church ought to recognize the truth of this matter. When we consider making the jump to designated giving and societal missions, we ought first to ask ourselves, "What if the members of my church were to follow this example in their giving to local church ministries?" Who is going to designate money to pay the electric bill? Who is going to designate money to purchase insurance? In budgets, like in churches, sometimes the "dishonorable members" turn out to be quite important after all! All of our churches receive designated gifts, but none of us would be comfortable will allowing this "dessert" of designated gifts to become a substitute for the main course of undesignated gifts.

    Our ultimate motivation for preferring undesignated giving over designated giving is not greed or megalomania or a desire to suppress freedom. We encourage undesignated giving because we realize the hidden inefficiencies of designated gifts. The causes for which we designate money could not function apart from the health of those causes to which nobody ever designates anything. The beautiful building built by designated gifts is rendered useless when the Electric Company shuts down the power for lack of payment.

    For this very reason, perceptions that mechanisms other than the Cooperative Program are more efficient are often illusory. My church can engage an unreached people group directly and cut out all that is in the middle, but as we do so we take advantage (mostly for free) of strategies and the identification of UPGs developed by IMB personnel, partnerships fostered by state convention relationships, staff members educated by SBC seminaries, and laypeople educated and inspired by decades of SBC mission emphases. If our churches could not parasitically feed off of these CP services, could we really participate directly in a worldwide strategy for evangelization at a lower cost?

    At all costs, the Southern Baptist Convention must avoid the confusion of designated giving with Cooperative Program giving. To make this mistake will be to lose the capability of developing any overall convention strategy and will be to goad our entities at every level of the SBC family to take individual fundraising initiative. The end result of any growth or encouragement of designated giving will be a return to 1900. SBC family entities will be incentivized to forsake the Cooperative Program methodology and make direct appeals to churches for designated gifts. Work to develop an overall strategy for convention ministries will be undermined, and the advantages of the convention method will be lost.

Yes, the Southern Baptist people will cooperate for missions. Yes, Southern Baptist churches will reach out to one another to cooperate upon a wide variety of important ministries. These things are so natural as not to be fragile. Like the grass underneath your nearest sidewalk, the sprouts of intercongregational cooperation among Baptists are indefatigable even in the face of the most cumbersome of barriers.

However, let us not take for granted, and let us not place into further jeopardy, the great Pax Baptistica by which our entities have come to lock arms with one another and work in harmony with one another rather than in competition. This formal cooperation among entities is the great jewel of our denominational life. And if the Cooperative Program is weakening at all among Southern Baptists, then I suggest that we look in this area of how our various institutions get along with one another first for the causes as well as for the solutions. Not that no causes exist elsewhere, but because these factors are most within our grasp and control and because they have great power to motivate and influence the participation of Southern Baptists at other levels.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Long Road to the Cooperative Program

Farmersville, Texas, sits adjacent to U.S. Hwy 380 in Collin County. Ours is the final remaining section in our region of this major highway to remain in a two-lane condition. The asphalt through this area is pockmarked with potholes and patches and is one of the worse highway surfaces in our area. The highway has not been resurfaced because it is supposed to be entirely redesigned and replaced with something better. That process has taken place first to our east and west because the redesign inside Farmersville is so much more difficult and expensive than the roadway projects in the more rural surrounding areas. In Farmersville the highway proceeds through a small "canyon" of underpasses past an active railway line and Farmersville's Main Street. The embankments are rather narrow and the widening and improvement of the highway will require substantial work. Also, the highway in Farmersville is crowded with residences and businesses sitting right on the highway. The location of those businesses and homes right on the highway spelled convenience for people when they were erected, but now the proximity that was once convenient has become a problem.

Follow the same highway approximately 650 miles to the West, and U.S. Hwy 380 couldn't possibly look more different. There are no gas stations, no local eateries, no houses, and very few intersections. There is one very significant attraction in the area—a very important site where a defining moment of our history took place—but visiting is difficult because there is no lodging available and the driveway to the attraction is 20 miles long. Inconvenient? It sure is. But since the attraction in question is the Trinity Test Site in the White Sands Proving Grounds—the site where mankind first detonated an atomic bomb—a long, inconvenient road to this radioactive hotspot has probably been a blessing instead of a curse.

Two points on the same highway illustrating in very different ways that efficiency and convenience and brevity are not always the best outcomes or the most important variables in the equation. Long roads can be beneficial and short roads can be disastrous, for sometimes things happen on the journey that are as important as whatever happens at the destination.

The road to the Cooperative Program was a long, good road.

In the nineteenth century, Southern Baptist churches large and small generally did not have budgets for their support of missions. Fundraising for cooperative projects took place through the collection of special offerings. Speaking of highways, along Bus U.S. 641 in Murray, KY, you'll find a historical marker at the First Baptist Church in that town. There in 1900, "under leadership of H. Boyce Taylor, First Baptist Church, Murray, began in 1900 a new approach to church finance. Taylor, pastor 1897-1931, avidly promoted this unified budget plan." Here began the road to the Cooperative Program.

As late as 1917 the SBC was taking official action to encourage Southern Baptist churches to adopt and follow budgets. Truly, the adoption of the Cooperative Program amounted to the adoption of a radical new way of operating financially from up at the local church level through every stratum of Southern Baptist life down to the entities of the national convention.

Radical changes are difficult to make in a voluntaristic union. The careful patience and deliberate inclusiveness of the process is worthy of note. Before proposing a permanent structural change to the operations of the Southern Baptist Convention, the leadership of the SBC embarked upon a one-time trial run called the Seventy-Five Million Campaign. The campaign name was no mystery—Southern Baptist were attempting to raise exactly $75 million dollars to be distributed among various Southern Baptist causes. The time period from the launch of the Seventy-Five Million Campaign to the adoption of the Cooperative Program was a full six years, from 1919 to 1925.

These six years were filled with a truly inclusive and thoroughgoing effort to involve and inform every Southern Baptist of the benefits to be gained by moving to such a plan. The Seventy-Five Million campaign recruited people to assist the effort at every tier of the Southern Baptist family from the local churches to the national campaign. Southern Baptist laypeople across the South enlisted to give "four-minute speeches," mimicking a successful grassroots fundraising campaign by the United States Government during World War I.

Both in its successes and its failures, the Seventy-Five Million campaign was time well spent in determining the future path for the Southern Baptist Convention. It succeeded in demonstrating that Southern Baptist entities were better off financially to join in cooperative fundraising than to continue in the internecine solicitation rivalries that are unavoidable in systems that rely upon designated gifts in special offerings. Yet the campaign also failed in ways. Its high pledge total ($92 million) seduced SBC agencies to go deeply into debts that its far lower actual collections ($58 million) could not possibly retire. The progress of the campaign also revealed how delicate and intricate a process it would be to craft an agreement that distributed costs and proceeds of the campaign in a manner agreeable to everyone involved. By exposing these difficulties in the trial run, Southern Baptists better prepared themselves to minimize or avert them in the final form of the Cooperative Program.

All things considered, the journey from budgetless churches and special offerings to the Cooperative Program took a full twenty-five years. Many would not consider it a very efficient process that takes so many years to accomplish its goal. Southern Baptists, however, have historically been a people reluctant to sacrifice the sole Lordship of Christ over His church in the name of efficiency. Dictatorships are incredibly efficient. The most efficient system for Southern Baptists would be to appoint one man as pope and let him make our decisions for us. We have resisted such a system because we believe that Christ is already Head of the church, and that we have no authority to go about making vicars for Him, lest we depose Him from His rightful throne.

So, this twenty-five year process was not very efficient, as some people measure efficiency. And yet, viewed another way, it was an incredibly efficient and productive process. It not merely secured the compliance of Southern Baptists but actually accomplished the wholehearted buy-in of a national organization of volunteers. Indeed, it accomplished it so well that a full fifty years later people were referring to the Cooperative Program as a "sacred cow" in Southern Baptist life.

How long has it been since the Southern Baptist Convention has proposed or adopted anything that has been as popular and beloved among grassroots Southern Baptists in the pew as the Cooperative Program has been? It seems to me that there is something about the long road to the Cooperative Program that is helpful to all of us.

It commends to us pastors the value of patience in leadership. Brash and forceful bullying may win short-term victories, but it is no good foundation for lifetime ministry. I agree with Stan Norman that our decision making can be as much discipleship as administration—that the winsome and longsuffering work of securing consensus within the church reaps as many spiritual benefits as it reaps practical and secular benefits. Such changes last.

It also provides, I believe, a clear pattern for our present Southern Baptist leaders to examine and emulate. The SBC in 1900 stood at a moment in which dramatic changes were appropriate to help the convention realize a better cooperative ministry future. The need for those changes became persistent and clear enough that they spanned multiple SBC presidencies and numerous SBC annual meetings. Rather than ramrod their changes through and browbeat Southern Baptists into submission, these visionary leaders took the time and made the sacrifices to win Southern Baptist support from local churches, associations, state conventions, the national convention, and the various entities at every level. Although this made their work slower, it also made it more long-lasting and more effective.

Such leadership is more rare today in our nation. We live in a day in which Congress authorizes the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars without even bothering to read the legislation that does so, all because we have leaders who don't want to waste a good crisis and who drown out opposition by declaring that the sky will fall unless changes are made immediately.

I am hopeful that our reorganization task force will not follow the example of President Obama. The task force needs to take at least a year after they have adopted and published specific recommendations for our convention. They need to send emissaries to each and every state convention annual meeting and hold Q&A sessions open to all Southern Baptists. In some larger states, the task force might even be well advised to augment the Q&A at the state annual meeting with a series of regional meetings along the same lines. Only after Southern Baptists from the local church level to the national meeting level have had ample and lengthy opportunity to examine the proposals on their merits should our leaders expect us to be ready to vote.

Highway engineers have recently been examining the Dallas North Tollway in the aftermath of a spate of terrible accidents to determine why drivers are getting on the Tollway and traveling in the wrong direction (e.g., Southbound on the Northbound lanes). Several fatalities have resulted from these accidents. Last night one of our local news anchors reported on the engineers' progress. They have looked at some possible enhancements to make the Tollway safer, but they have noted that every wrong-way driver considered in the recent sample was driving while intoxicated. Alcohol begins to impair judgment from the very first drink. As concentrations of alcohol grow in the bloodstream, people start to turn onto the roadway without giving much thought to their choices. The results can be disastrous. Whether in driving or in decision making, it is impossible to devise a system that will work well even for thoughtless, rushed, or distracted people.

Southern Baptists certainly sit at an intersection. We must choose a route. Let us not be afraid of the long road. Let us be a people of careful deliberation rather than high-pressure rushed decisions. Some voices are pressuring the task force to "blow [the SBC] up" in a hurry. Let us take a good look around before we push down the plunger and detonate the TNT. The members of our task force will spend hours in meetings and will work hard to bring before us what they believe to be their very best recommendations. We honor their work when we take the time to read and consider their thoughts carefully. Let us not be a people who reflexively adopt sweeping legislation that we haven't even read carefully or submitted before the Lord in fervent and lengthy prayer.

And certainly, if we would consider any major changes to the Cooperative Program, let us remember that a great many godly and intelligent people spent a quarter of a century arriving at the plan that we call the Cooperative Program. We honor their work if we pause longer than 1/50th of the time that they put into creating the Cooperative Program before we make any radical changes to it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Year 25 B.C.P.

What was life like in the Southern Baptist Convention before the birth of the Cooperative Program? Few people are alive today who hearken back to that time, and none of them were really old enough before 1925 to provide much in the way of first-hand testimony about the SBC before the CP. The decades having swiftly passed, all we can do today is read about it.

Fortunately, there's plenty to read. The state of Southern Baptist life in the year 1900 (to choose an arbitrary moment in time) was interesting and produced plenty of ink.

  • At Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, W. H. Whitsett had just lost his job for having claimed that Baptists did not immerse until 1641. As the culmination of a process marked by political intrique and behind-the-scenes personality clashes, Southern welcomed to her helm a relatively obscure Texas expatriate who had been serving in Newton Centre, Massachusetts—Edgar Young Mullins. One contemporary critic remarked that Mullins was not properly educated for the prestigious liberal arts position, since Mullins had pursued training as a common telegraph operator as a member of the inaugural class of a mere "agricultural and mechanical school in Bryan, Texas." Although Landmark sentiments had succeeded in ousting Whitsett, Landmarkers had not managed to place into Louisville a president sympathetic to their agenda.
  • The aforementioned critic, Benjamin M. Bogard, was fomenting an agrarian, populist uprising that started in the Arkansas Ozarks by splitting the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in 1902 and then eventually united with other similar movements to lead several churches out of the Southern Baptist Convention nationwide. Bogard and his followers were reacting primarily against efforts in the Southern Baptist Convention to pursue "efficiency" and "professionalism" by consolidating Southern Baptist money and executive power in towns and cities (towns and cities being relatively recent developments west of the Mississippi).
  • The two parties in Arkansas, the New South "efficiency" party and the agrarian "common man" party, were fighting over who could rightfully claim the mantle of the recently-departed J. R. Graves, father of "Landmarkism." Truly, both parties were thoroughly Landmark (as was the preponderance of Southern Baptists in Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, much of Tennessee, and a handful of other regions). Graves's own son-in-law and heir-apparent, O. L. Hailey, amidst much fence-jumping, considered both sides to be in line with Graves's teachings.
  • Regionalism, probable slight theological dissatisfaction with Southern Seminary, and vision for a slightly different kind of seminary education in the Southwest led B. H. Carroll just one year later (in 1901) to launch a Theology Department at Baylor University. This department grew rapidly over the following decade to become Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Lottie Moon, having served in China for nearly three decades, was surviving the dark days of the Boxer Rebellion, a militaristic anti-Christian uprising marked by such shameful excesses as the Taiyuan Massacre of Christian missionaries, believers, and children in the Summer of that year.
  • Robert Cooke Buckner, having established himself as a pioneer of orphan care twenty-one years earlier, rushed to Galveston in 1900 in the aftermath of what is still today the deadliest hurricane in American history. Buckner gathered up and took to his Children's Home in Dallas roughly a hundred children from the swath of destruction, some of whom were orphans but some of whom merely hadn't yet located their parents in the chaotic aftermath of the storm. His passion for children earned him the nickname "Father Buckner."
  • George W. Truett was the pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, where he assisted in the development and funding of such expansive ministries as Baylor University Medical Center (founded 1903). Truett became a world-renowned preacher and a tireless champion of religious liberty.
  • Isaac Taylor Tichenor had just resigned from the presidency of the Home Mission Board. His is widely regarded as the most successful administration that the HMB/NAMB has ever known.
  • After a fire, the First Baptist Church of Farmerville, Texas (where I now pastor), was constructing the sanctuary in which we now worship.

A lot was going on in Southern Baptist life, as you can see. Southern Baptists, seeing a wide variety of needs, had begun to respond in a wide variety of ways. We were involved in health-care, orphan-care, theological education, and missions both domestically and internationally. The Southern Baptist Convention, the various state conventions, and the various local associations were all robustly active. The area west of the Mississippi River was not at all considered "reached" by Southern Baptists. Evangelism and church planting were naturally considered by Southern Baptists to be an enterprise that began right at home.

The churches were young. Their facilities, if they had facilities, were young. The associations were planting new churches. The educational institutions were mostly young. The hospitals were young. The orphanages were young. Indeed, the simple realization that the South actually would stand on its own two feet again after the disasters of Civil War and Reconstruction was pretty young itself; therefore, the thought of Southern Baptists doing anything beyond first surviving belonged to the generation alive in 1900. At every strata and in every way, we were a young convention.

The upside of all of this: The Southern Baptist Convention in 1900 was an innovative group of people looking for creative ways to proclaim and live out the gospel. The manifold ministries that so many Southern Baptists take for granted were birthed, many of them, during this era.

The downside of all of this: These young institutions, starving for money, developed inefficient and counter-productive methods of soliciting donations from Southern Baptist churches. Some specific weaknesses of the pre-Cooperative-Program approach to Southern Baptist financial support:

  1. A class of Southern Baptist employees emerged whose sole business was to solicit money from churches. These "agents" existed at virtually every tier of Southern Baptist life and at virtually every entity. They were not bad people, but they had a bad job that tended to provoke resentment among the churches. Consider this passage from the Missouri Baptist Word and Way of early 1901:

    Every observing person must recognize the advance of a dread commercialism which is eating like a [cancer] at the vitals of our generation. . . . This sordid money-loving spirit on the part of God’s professed people has led them to form their co-operative bodies on a “money basis,” and this often on a fixed basis which necessarily excludes the poor man or church from their councils. . . . We are coming to believe that there should be no agents going up and down the land whose sole business it is to get money. They learn to make money through God and educate our people in a bad way. They should be preachers of a whole Gospel, like Paul. A faithful Gospel preached in its fullness will set the churches upon methods, Scriptural methods, which will not only collect the money needed, but which will insure its faithful expenditure. Let our agents change front, and instead of seeking only the money of the Lord’s people, let that whole matter take the secondary and incidental place where it belongs, and make piety, consecration of life and property the great burden of their message.

  2. Some of the fundraising arrangements left Southern Baptists with the suspicion that their gifts were not reaching the causes for which they were solicited. William A. Clark, while serving as the General Missionary for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, also served as a fundraising agent for the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He served under what was a common arrangement for the day—he got to keep for himself 100% of the gifts that he received from churches until he had received the amount of his salary. The board then received gifts beyond that amount. In the first church to make a gift to the Home Mission Board for a given year, then, none of the money actually made it to the Home Mission Board. The Board, however, was doing what was necessary to recruit motivated individuals to solicit funds in the local churches.

  3. As a result of these developments, some Southern Baptists believed that gifts to Southern Baptist causes did more to provide the livelihoods of certain prominent families in the SBC than to spread the gospel. Widespread involvement of siblings and offspring of prominent Southern Baptists in denominational enterprises fueled these suspicions. In Texas, B. H. Carroll and J. M. Carroll were both serving, and some disgruntled Southern Baptists in Texas alleged financial improprieties on J. M. Carroll's part. Carroll was vindicated upon subsequent investigation, but the point is not that the charges were justified at all, but that Southern Baptists were lobbing accusations against one of the Carroll brothers.

    John H. Eager was a fundraising agent of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who worked full time to appeal directly to SBC churches and wealthy people to give funds to the seminary. His brother George was a professor at the seminary. His other brother Patrick was president of Baylor Female College in Belton, Texas, before settling as a faculty member at Mississippi College. These brothers were the children of an influential pastor in Mississippi, E. C. Eager.

    So, if you were a Mississippi Southern Baptist, you might attend a church that E. C. Eager pastored and hear one Sunday from an agent seeking to raise money for Mississippi College where Patrick H. Eager was employed, and then the next Sunday from John Eager raising money for Southern Seminary where George Eager was employed. Nepotism eroded some Southern Baptist confidence that it was only the family of God being enlarged by Southern Baptist generosity.

    The Carrolls were gifted brothers who each contributed greatly to Southern Baptists in Texas. The Eagers were fine people and committed Baptists as well. Southern Baptists are probably better off for the contributions of each. They were likely as dedicated and skilled as some of the families in Southern Baptist life today in which siblings and lineal descendants are able to parlay relationships into denominational posts. The SBC would be far the worse were it not for some of these (technically speaking) "nepotistic" arrangements. Yet the situation, when combined with the higher-pressure environment of direct monetary appeals to the churches, made for an easy avenue of criticism for those who chafed under the constant requests for gifts.

  4. The multiplication of institutions and agents meant that some churches were inundated with people seeking a Sunday to speak at the church and take up an offering. And all of this came at the time when, at least in the Southwest, many of these churches were just undertaking either the construction of their own facilities or the retirement of associated debt.

  5. The resultant distribution of funds was haphazard rather than strategic, reflecting more the skill, lineage, and network of the employed agents than the spiritual importance of the institution. E. Y. Mullins used to complain that the seminary belonged to everybody (in the Southern Baptist Convention) and therefore belonged to nobody. In other words, he believed that "local" interests such as state colleges and hospitals and the like had a great fundraising advantage over the seminary.

Southern Baptists who wanted more money to reach "lostness" in the years B.C.P. (Before the Cooperative Program) and who were wearied of the negative aspects of accelerating competition in fundraising appeals to the churches began to look for a better solution. Why do Southern Baptists not face this problem today? Because of the Cooperative Program.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Series: The Cooperative Program

Southern Baptists are thinking and talking more and more intensely about the Cooperative Program these days. Also, we presently have a reorganization task force examining the mechanisms of our convention and prayerfully seeking God's wisdom for our future as an association of churches. It seems to me a prime opportunity to launch a series of posts dealing with the Cooperative Program—the story of its origin, its simple genius, the manner in which it has shaped not only the effectiveness but also the theology of the SBC and our institutions, the reasons why it still remains the best future for funding Southern Baptist ministries. I will also examine present challenges for the Cooperative Program as well as how I believe that we Southern Baptists can overcome them and strengthen our present cooperative work.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bibles for Sale

I think I've hit upon an important project that I could pursue for the coming year: I'm going to publish an annotated volume of Herman Wouk's epic novel War and Remembrance. The book was published in the year 1978, and I figure that there must be a tremendous need for someone to decode all of the archaic language from way back in those ancient days in order to make Wouk's work accessible to modern readers.

Balderdash? Nonsense? You bet it is. So is the announcement that the New International Version translation of the Bible needs to be updated.

There is no good linguistic reason for an update. Yes, language changes over time. But language doesn't change THAT much over the span of a mere thirty years. Especially not with regard to the Bible. Yes, "google" is a verb now, and the NOUN (as fits this context) didn't exist in 1978. Yes, we have words that have entirely passed into and out of English usage since 1978 (some friends picked on me recently for employing the word "Balkanized," which meant nothing in 1978 and apparently means nothing in 2009). But none of those words appear in the Bible, nor should they.

The vocabulary and grammar employed in preparing a translation of the Bible has not changed enough in thirty years for normal Bible readers to notice or care. To state that Bible translations have to be updated from time to time is not the same thing as having a compelling case for updating a translation after a mere thirty years. If you can't put together a translation of the Bible that can last for at least a century, then, in most cases, you've done a rotten job.

There is no good textual reason for an update. The field of textual criticism simply hasn't generated so much new information in the past 31 years that we need to have yet another revision of Bible translations.

Apart from a linguistic reason or a textual reason, among the reasons left standing is the economic reason. New translations boost Bible sales. That's a reason for Zondervan to produce a new translation.

Of course, you'll need to ask yourself whether it constitutes a good reason for you to buy one.