On February 10, Dr. Morris Chapman addressed the state executive directors in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho and made some comments that were critical of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force interim report. On March 8, Dr. Jerry Rankin wrote a blog which was very critical of Dr. Chapman’s report.
Let me say a couple of things before I address this disagreement. First, both of these men have been favorites of mine for a long time. I am in agreement with Dr. Rankin’s passion for world missions and his desire to see the SBC participate in the bigger world of world evangelization. I got into blogging because I believe that there was a movement behind the scenes to try to push Dr. Rankin out of the IMB and I wanted to add my voice to those in opposition to that movement. And when the dissent movement began to grow in blogdom, Dr. Chapman was one of the few executives who did not treat bloggers like a disease. I did not think that his comments about Calvinism last year at the convention were wise, but I still think he has been a good man and an excellent Executive Board president.
And, perhaps perversely, I like it when our leaders feel the freedom to disagree and dissent with one another. I disagree with those Baptists who demand conformity on all issues related to the SBC, who refuse to allow dissent from leadership. I don’t want some sort of Baptist thought-police out there. So, I am glad these two men feel the freedom say what they think.
As I understand it, Dr. Chapman is not in favor of the restructuring proposals outlined in the GCRTF proposal. He focuses on the importance of our cooperation as a Baptist denomination. He emphasizes that every level of the denomination is important, from association to state convention to national convention to North American and International missions. He is against reallocation of CP receipts because it would create a competition between the entities and insinuate that we believe that some are more important than others. He advocates the conventions voluntarily moving toward a 50-50 allocation of funds, but is against any effort to enforce that. He is also against using Total Missions Giving as a measure for convention purposes, but continuing to focus on giving to the Cooperative Program.
His most powerful point, in my point, is his assertion that whatever problems exist in the SBC root in the heart. If Southern Baptists have heart problems, misplaced priorities or wrong attitudes, that will be reflected in churches and in state conventions and in the work of the national SBC.
I think there is great wisdom in his insight and analysis. I appreciate it, even if there are areas I do not agree with completely.
Clearly, Dr. Rankin’s passion for the Great Commission governs all of his comments. He seems to believe that Dr. Chapman is placing too much emphasis on cooperation and not enough on our ultimate mission. Cooperation, he says, is not an end in itself, but a means to an end; obedience to the Great Commission. He asserts that there is a great big world out there that is lost without Christ, and he feels that we are more concerned with protecting our denominational structures and traditions than in reaching those people. The title of his post, “Convoluted Priorities” puts his view in perspective. He thinks we put too much time and effort into keeping the structure moving that we are not effective in fulfilling our ultimate purpose.
And I agree with him! He makes the point that about 2% of “Cooperative Program” money goes into World Missions, after the states and everyone else takes their cuts. If 2% of our missions dollars go to ministries outside our homeland, what does that tell us about our priorities? I understand and appreciate Dr. Rankin’s frustration.
So, here we have two good men, two of the best the SBC has, and they have strongly expressed different opinions on the GCRTF report. I would like to offer the following perspectives for your consideration.
Thoughts on the Disagreement
1) We do not need to demonize either man. Both operate from a deep desire to see people come to Christ. The fact that they see these issues differently does not call into question either man’s Baptist bona fides or integrity. I hope (without much genuine confidence) that the discussion can maintain respect for both. Again, I think it is healthy when our leaders feel free to disagree.
2) I think the problem these two men have is the same problem that we see so often in blogs. Instead of clearly understanding what the other side is saying, there is a tendency to read what you want to see, caricature the other side and demonize their opinions. Frankly, I believe Dr. Rankin has done some of that.
- He said that Dr. Chapman’s comments were “passionately pointing out that the purpose of our denomination is not the Great Commission but cooperation.” I understand Dr. Rankin’s passion and I agree that we have become too focused on maintaining the structure instead of following our Savior’s orders. But does anyone really believe that Dr. Chapman believes that cooperation is more important than the Great Commission. I think those words came from Dr. Rankin’s heart and when he sees them, he might regret accusing Dr. Chapman of that.
- He says that our convoluted priorities are making the following statement, “It is better to let the lost multitudes never hear the gospel and go to hell than change the way our denomination functions.” I think he has a point here – one we need to hear. I have engaged in conversations with Baptist pastors who seem more concerned about maintaining the status quo than in getting the job done. We must always let our priorities be judged and refined by the Spirit. But honestly, does anyone believe that Dr. Chapman would rather see people go to hell than to change the structure. Dr. Chapman’s point is that the structural changes will not help us in our task. I think the accusation does not fairly represent what Dr. Chapman is saying.
Neither Dr. Rankin nor Dr. Chapman is the enemy of the gospel or the SBC. They should not be treated as such.
3) I will echo what I just said in the previous comment. My heart beats in sync with Dr. Rankin’s, even if I do not agree with the way he worded things. I think we have an entrenched and powerful bureaucracy that probably needs to be streamlined. Any denomination has to have a bureaucracy. But the tendency of any human institution (look at the government) is to grow, become bloated and protect its power while it loses sight of its purpose. The SBC will have these same tendencies.
The SBC will be wise if it honestly takes a look at how this should be done. There is almost undoubtedly a conservatism that fights against restructuring. I think this has frustrated Dr. Rankin and is the primary focus of his ire. I think it was misplaced against Dr. Chapman. But I agree with his basic point.
4) Dr. Rankin’s seventh paragraph, which begins, “One of my exasperations…” should be read and heeded by all of us. He talks about how often we do denominational things as ends in themselves and not as means to gospel ends. Amen and Amen!
5) His warning in the ninth paragraph is also important to me. He says, “Cooperation is about us” while the Great Commission is about others. Of course, we have to cooperate to get the job done. But it is easy for us to focus on our cooperation and forget our reason to cooperate. Dr. Rankin believes that the SBC has become inwardly focused, an institution trying to perpetuate itself. Let us remember that this is a man on the inside, an agency head, who is saying this. We need to take it seriously.
6) Reading both Dr. Chapman’s comments and Dr. Rankin’s post, you get a sense of how easy it is to marshal facts to make a point. Dr. Rankin talks about total CP dollars while Dr Chapman talks about those funds sent from the states to the national SBC. With Dr. Rankin’s 2% number, it is easy to make the point that our priorities are askew. On the other hand, when you look at Dr. Chapman’s stats, you tend to see a different picture.
That tells me two things. First, both of these men have a point and need to be heard. Second, the problem exists primarily in how the states relate to the national SBC. The primary issue then becomes, do we need to restructure, or jut to continue to encourage the state conventions to send more to the national SBC?
7) Dr. Chapman has probably hit the nail on the head with his statement about “underlying heart disease.” He reminds us of Jesus’ words about our hearts being where our treasures are. Southern Baptists, like most American Christians, have bought into the material values of this world and their giving reflects those priorities. Selfish people form selfish churches and tend to produce selfish denominational structures. The ultimate change will come in the hearts of Southern Baptists, not in our structures. We need to build Kingdom hearts and priorities.
However, to argue what I believe might be Dr. Rankin’s side of this, the fact that the ultimate problem is in the hearts of Southern Baptists does not mean that there are not structural problems that need to be addressed. Churches need to focus on their members hearts. The denomination has to focus on our denominational structure – making it as effective as it can be.
I recommend the following
1) Let’s stop the process that some bloggers have mastered of choosing sides, assigning white hats and black hats and demonizing those who disagree. It is both ungodly and unproductive (those two may be linked). The Calvinist issue has become an “us against them” issue on both pro and con blogs, and I think it is shameful. Many of the Baptist Identity issues have been approached in the same way – on both sides.
2) Let’s listen to what Dr. Chapman says. Lets listen to what Dr. Rankin says. They have earned the right, with faithful denominational service, to have their opinions heard. Let’s listen to Ronnie Floyd and the GCRTF.
3) Let’s keep talking about it until God leads us into unity. I would hope that our leaders will continue to tell us exactly what they think. However, I hope they can do it without straying into unfair caricatures of each other.
4) Let’s have fun in Orlando!! There won’t be many boring moments in the Sunshine state, will there?