I’m looking forward to the final Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) report coming in a few days. If the widespread and differing reactions to their initial progress report were any indication, we Southern Baptists will have a lot to discuss in the next month or two! But I would like to consider a potential red herring in our discussions that I have seen pop up a time or two in the different reactions I have read to the initial report, and that undoubtedly will reappear once the final report comes out.
This “red herring” that appears is the response of some that “Well, the problems of the SBC are primarily spiritual, not structural. Therefore, why is the Task Force recommending all these structural changes?” If allowed to, this line of thinking effectively kills the discussion for several reasons. First, who is going to deny that any problems currently in our convention aren’t primarily spiritual? I doubt there are any people (even the most dedicated to the SBC) who think that everything in our convention is at the right place spiritually and that we have no room for correcting spiritual issues as individuals and churches and in our convention as a whole.
The second reason this line of arguing kills discussion about our convention’s future is that it denies the GCRTF (and those messengers and entities considering their recommendation) the opportunity to do the one thing it actually is able to do. After all, didn’t the messengers in 2009 overwhelmingly authorize a GCRTF to look at the way we operate as a convention and make recommendations regarding how to better work towards obeying the Great Commission together? I believe the actual words were:
“Moved: That the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 23-24, 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky, authorize the President of the Southern Baptist Convention to appoint A Great Commission Task Force charged to bring a report and any recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, 2010, concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”
And since their work involves items “concerning how Southern Baptists can work…”, haven’t they been asked to concern themselves with structural issues? In effect, this distraction says, “We authorized the GCRTF to look at structural issues in the SBC and make recommendations. But we believe the problems are spiritual, not structural. So basically we wasted the convention’s resources authorizing a task force to do something we don’t think needs to be nor can be done.”
The third reason this line distracts from the importance of the discussions is that we all know that a Task Force cannot solve spiritual problems. Last time, I checked, there was a Holy Spirit responsible for moving in the hearts of God’s people and fixing “spiritual problems.” And as much respect as I have for many of the godly people on the Task Force and in SBC life in general, none of them are the Holy Spirit. The Task Force cannot make Southern Baptists daily pursue the Lord Jesus, care for the lost world around them, or live a sacrificial life that eliminates unnecessary expenses and frees up resources to take the Gospel to the nations. But a Task Force could observe the way we are currently partnering to do these things and see if they could be done better. If we as a convention don’t believe structural elements of our cooperation are important, then why did we ever come together as a convention in 1814, why did we re-structure our work to make the original Cooperative Program in 1925, and why do we constantly praise God for the successes of our “structure” that have freed our missionaries to reach the nations for decades without having to come home and exhaust themselves begging for money?
The fourth reason the “spiritual vs. structural” debate is unhelpful here is that in their initial report, the GCRTF spent a great amount of time addressing “spiritual” problems. In fact, that is one component that found a lot of agreement, even if people differed greatly on the more structural components of the report. To simply end discussion by saying the problem is spiritual not structural is to act as if you noticed something the Task Force overlooked, thus allowing you to dismiss their ideas without thinking through them. And they didn’t overlook it.
The fifth (and final) reason this argument harms our work as a convention in this day and age is that it ignores the fact that however you theologically reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, we all believe God uses means to accomplish his purposes. We all shower and brush our teeth, and don’t expect God to just make us smell “purdy.” We believe in verbally sharing the Gospel so God can save people. We believe that reaching the nations involves actual people getting on actual planes aided by some form of actual funding to cross actual oceans and actual rivers and actual mountain passes to learn an actual language to share an actual message about an actual Savior with actual lost people. And since it involves doing these actual, real-world kind of things to see actual spiritual problems addressed, then we can actually consider how the structure we use to send these people with the Gospel might be improved to do these things in greater measure.
So what’s the solution? Don’t allow this red herring (and any others) to distract you from thinking about our convention. View the final GCRTF report coming in a few days for what it is. It is a report on “how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.” It will involve “structural” recommendations by default. Does that mean you have to agree with them? No! The more penetrating questions that are asked about these recommendations the better we will be in the long run. But don’t opt out of the discussion with the excuse that the problems are primarily spiritual, not structural. To do so is to imitate King Saul sitting under a tree staring at an ephod while his son Jonathan went and used his actual sword to defeat actual Philistines. We have a far greater battle involving the Gospel of Christ winning hearts of sinful men back from the enemies of sin, death, and the devil. Let us consider how we as cooperating churches might engage the battle more effectively.