Yesterday, at the meeting of the Executive Committee, a significant event took place. Every SBC agency head and seminary president along with state executive directors and ethnic fellowship leaders signed a document called the “Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation.” Here is the text in full.
Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation
We the undersigned affirm our commitment to cooperative ministry as a testimony of our unity in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The passion which drives our unity is twofold: to clarify our evangelistic fervor for the souls of men and women across the nation and around the world, and to magnify the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
In the past, we have identified our doctrinal heritage through adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message. In this confessional statement of faith, we affirmed our unswerving allegiance to the following:
— Belief in the Bible as God’s inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient Word;
— Belief in and commitment to the Person and work of the one true God who has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
— Belief in the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, accessible to everyone who believes, regardless of their heritage, race, ethnicity, language, or socio-economic station in life;
— Belief in the ecclesiological affirmations of believer’s baptism and the gathered church, each church being governed congregationally under the Lordship of Jesus Christ;
— Belief in our duty and privilege, consciously and cooperatively, to carry the message of Jesus Christ across the street and around the world;
— Belief in our core commitment that as members of New Testament churches we should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.
As we look to the future, reflecting a conscious desire to walk in unity as brothers and sisters in Christ, we pledge the following:
1. We pledge to maintain a relationship of mutual trust, behaving ourselves trustworthily before one another and trusting one another as brothers and sisters indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. (Philippians 4:8; Ephesians 4:20- 32; 2 Peter 1:3-8)
2. We pledge to attribute the highest motives to those engaged in local church ministries and those engaged in denominational service in any level of Convention life—motives that originate within hearts truly desiring to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we also serve. (1 Samuel 2:3; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 7:1-5)
3. We pledge to affirm the value of cooperative ministry as the most effective and efficient means of reaching a lost world with the message of the Gospel. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; Psalm 68:11; Acts 9:31; 1 Corinthians 16:1-23)
4. We pledge to embrace our brothers and sisters of every ethnicity, race, and language as equal partners in our collective ministries to engage all people groups with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 16:25-27; Revelation 7:9)
5. We pledge to continue to honor and affirm proportional giving through the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach as Southern Baptists, enabling us to work together to evangelize the lost people of our world locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. (2 Corinthians 8:1-13; 9:1-15; Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, 20:20-21; Romans 10:14-17)
We affirm these principles of cooperation this thirteenth day of June, 2011, in Phoenix, Arizona.
I find it encouraging that the leaders of our denomination are seeing the need to define the ground of our unity and stating their willingness to work together even in spite of our differences. Last year, Frank Page barely squeaked through to become the EC president. I was glad he was elected last year, but I am beginning to think that he may be a uniquely gifted man to lead the SBC in this difficult time.
1) I thought the first affirmation is important. They are essentially making a covenant of blessing to speak well of one another and to work together, committing to treat each other in a trustworthy manner.
2) I hope the spirit of pledge 2 will spread among Baptists, especially among bloggers. One of my complaints about bloggers is that we seem so quick to assign motives and negative intent to those we disagree with. The leaders of the SBC have covenanted to believe the best about each other.
In my blogging years, I have come to believe that there are a few bloggers who do not have good will, who actually embarrass the cause of Christ by the way they handle themselves on blogs – doing evil more than good. No, I will not name them and will delete, as I can, any comment in this post that attempts to identify someone.
The point is that sometimes a blogger with demonstrate himself to be ungodly in the way he communicates, or untrustworthy in his word, or unfaithful in his friendship or unguarded in his words. It happens. But my job is to believe the best about other bloggers until they absolutely prove to me beyond any shadow of a doubt that they are walking in the flesh.
We are altogether too quick to assume that others have ulterior motives or false intent in that which we do. This is a wonderful pledge for entity heads and leaders. It would be a wonderful pledge for bloggers as well!
3) They affirmed the value of cooperative ministries. This is significant because during the GCR debate there was a lot of rancor between GCRTF folks and some of the state convention heads. Then, when Kevin Ezell was nominated and went into office there was quite a bit of unease and harshness there. Of course, though both these men have retired, who can forget the exchange of intemperate words between Jerry Rankin and Morris Chapman leading up to the GCR vote last year.
But I have been told by someone in the know that the relationships between the states and the national entities (especially NAMB) is improving. As one man put it today, “The conversation between NAMB and the states is now a two-way conversation and that is very important.” Ezell is gaining respect for listening and for working with the states. Where last year at this time there was a lot of hand-wringing and even hostility toward the GCR in the Upper Midwest, now there is a growing sense of optimism about the working relationship that will be forged between NAMB and the states.
No, not all is rosy. That is not the point. The point I am making is that from my perspective, things are WAY better than they were last year. The “bloated bureaucracy” talk has been replaced by partnership and cooperation.
4) I knew something about this document a week or two ago, but pledge 4 was an unexpected blessing. That the leaders of the SBC chose to include the leaders of the various ethnic fellowship in this discussion, and the fact that this pledge was made to “embrace our brothers and sisters of every ethnicity, race, and language as equal partners in our collective ministries” is a needed and encouraging affirmation. There seems to be a growing sensitivity to the need to include ethnic Baptists as full and equal partners in SBC life.
5) The affirmation of CP giving as the most effective means of giving to missions was good as well. Again, much has been made of the fact that Ezell’s church was not very supportive of the CP and SBC Missions during his tenure.
But if you have listened to recent interviews, this could be a blessing in disguise. He is now understanding and appreciating what the CP and cooperative missions is doing. One could look at that cynically of course, but those who know Ezell seem to indicate that whatever faults he has, artifice and deceit do not seem to be among them. He seems to have turned around in his opinion of missions.
Maybe his experience can serve to educate some of those pastors who have been criticized for failing to involve themselves in the CP missions endeavor. Maybe. Hopefully.
Because the numbers we are hearing about CP, Lottie and such are not good news. The best way to reverse the financial trend for the SBC is for pastors and churches to gain a greater appreciation for the SBC and the genius and effectiveness of the Cooperative Program – and start giving more!
Anyway, I thought this document was significant and I thought that SBC Voices readers might want to peruse the document.