Ledbetter – A Great Commission Resurgence-Texas Style

Below is an article by Gary Ledbetter, Editor of the Southern Baptist Texan. It was originally printed in the Southern Baptist Texan and is reprinted here with permission.

In November 2008, messengers to the 10th anniversary of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention annual meeting passed a resolution that defines “Great Commission Resurgence” pretty well. Perhaps the document can be a complement to the statement proposed for the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Louisville.

Many will know already that SBC President Johnny Hunt, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin, and others have called for a missionary resurgence as a follow up to the already established Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s. The thought being that evangelism and missions have not flourished in the SBC over the past 50 years and this fact indicates a deep problem we should address in some way.

Dr. Akin’s formulation of 10 axioms has become the centerpiece of Johnny Hunt’s presidential agenda. They’ve set up a website and many are speculating on an extensive plan for restructuring the denomination that could grow out of what Hunt hopes will be a groundswell. You’ll find the stories at the bottom of this article.

I believe the SBTC’s resolution is complementary to this emphasis because it has a finer focus. It is more local in its source, was more local in its editorial process, and was adopted by a smaller (compared to the SBC) denominational fellowship. The resolution rose up from the grassroots as an effort to clarify a term that was becoming a buzzword in denominational circles.

There is a “we will” or “we do” aspect to resolutions that makes them personal. Rather than calling for someone else to do something, the resolution begins with the messengers, although there is certainly an implied “ought to” for other believers and churches. One example of this grassroots spirit is the expanding conviction among local pastors that expository preaching has multiplied advantages for teaching the whole counsel of God. Another might be increasing efforts by churches to ensure that church members are regenerate and well-grounded. The SBTC resolution did not cause these positive trends but did encourage them and served as a personal affirmation of these local church virtues for convention messengers.

The resolution also attempted to take the actual wording of the Great Commission and apply it to local church ministry. This is beneficial in keeping the implications of the exhortation grounded in scriptural priorities. Where Jesus says “All power has been given to me,” the resolution recognizes his lordship and authority. In answer to the call to make disciples, the resolution commits the messengers to disciple-making. Jesus also commanded us to teach as a part of disciple-making; the resolution commits those who affirmed it to teach the members of “our churches.” The command to teach was further clarified to indicate “all things” that Jesus’ disciples had been taught. The next “resolved” is to “promote and practice text-driven preaching and teaching of the whole Bible.”

Where our Lord commands us to go to all nations with the gospel, the resolution commits its adherents to be “Christ’s witnesses both at home and abroad.”

There is also an appropriate Baptist flavor to the resolution. The last “resolved” specifies basic Baptist interpretations of doctrine as a crucial part of teaching “all things.” This application is fitting because we are Baptist Christians-believing that the doctrines that define “Baptist” are based on the best understanding of our Lord’s teaching. Why would someone want to be a Baptist if he doesn’t believe in the Lordship of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, salvation as exclusively by grace through faith in Christ, believers’ baptism by immersion, regenerate church membership, congregational church polity, the priesthood of believers, church discipline, and religious liberty?

For our state convention, the Great Commission Resurgence is a call to the essentials of local church ministry. That is the complex, though simply stated, answer to all the problems of Southern Baptist churches and denominational bodies made up of Southern Baptist churches. Our convention ministry addresses these priorities by resourcing the teaching, evangelism, doctrinal, missionary, and spiritual work our churches undertake. We can’t fix a church problem, but we earnestly listen, observe, analyze, pray, plan, and implement with a goal of matching appropriate resources to help churches succeed in their God-given ministries. That’s the denominational component we bring to the commitment our convention messengers made in resolution four last November.

Nothing in our resolution is contrary to Danny Akin’s Great Commission Resurgence document. Ours is a local and practical response to the call of our Lord to love him (by obeying) and love others (by sharing).

On the SBC side of the question, many speculate what will come of President Hunt’s plan to form a task force to develop denominational responses to the Great Commission. There are a few things I’d like to see result from Dr. Hunt’s leadership. These are things the national denomination is able to provide for the local/global ministries of Southern Baptist churches:

-A thorough, unapologetic commitment on the part of leaders, spokesmen, and employees to being Baptist. No more, “I’m a Southern Baptist, but…” please. We all understand that our convention is not perfect in detail or in whole. Skip the disclaimer. People generally dismiss the phrase before the “but” as less important than the one after. If Baptist doctrine is simply an earnest effort to discern biblical doctrine, no apology is needed.

-Continued provision of biblically solid resources and training for churches, associations, and state conventions. The span of services provided in states and communities by our seminaries, mission boards, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, GuideStone Financial Resources, LifeWay Christian Resources, and the Executive Committee is pretty broad. Discover the priority services Southern Baptist churches require and ensure that those are sufficiently addressed by some means even as we rethink our convention’s structure.

-Specifics regarding programs and agendas that undermine gospel-centeredness. No one denies that we go off on harmful tangents, although we might not agree on which efforts are tangential. To repeatedly-in sermons, publications, seminars, on blogs, or in tweets-make veiled “prophetic” statements about people and agendas without being willing to speak plainly sows division as much as anything else we do. Tell us what you mean every time you say it.

-Consistent modeling of the virtues upon which we all agree. Let our meetings, our guest preachers, our programs, our new initiatives all be disciplined to avoid unbiblical preaching, pompousness, shallowness, and waste. If Southern Baptists believe the Cooperative Program is a God-blessed tool for addressing the Great Commission, let all those we exalt be exemplars of this specific kind of missionary support.

-A sacrificial example of denominational streamlining. I agree that organizational reform, like doctrinal reform, never stands still. We are either advancing or retreating. The SBC has only moral influence over other levels of denominationalism. Show us how important reform is by what our convention leaders do in their own ministries.

I agree with the idea of a convention-wide spiritual emphasis to more perfectly follow Jesus’ commands. What could be more basic? I’d love to see a focused and effective commitment to basic Baptist doctrine and action begin with denominational leaders and catch fire in state conventions, associations, and most importantly, in churches. More likely, that wave will start in churches and move outward, though. And that seems like the way it ought to be.

A Great Commission Resurgence is a different sort than the earlier reformation of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was relatively easy to inform grassroots Baptists about theological infidelity within some of our convention institutions. It was real, demonstrable, surprising, and outrageous to their eyes. They changed denominational leadership thoroughly so that the teachings of the churches were reflected in the institutions the churches built. It wasn’t easy but the challenge of plotting and implementing a comparable rework of the way our convention does missions and evangelism looks vastly more complex and harder to explain. It’s a spiritual problem already on the mind of nearly every church leader in our convention. No surprise, no ignorance, no “show up and vote” solution to the problem(s).

Convention leaders, elected and employed, have influence and regularly use it to address one part or another of our cooperative mission. Johnny Hunt and Danny Akin have set out to do that in a more expansive way than we often see. I pray that this effort will bear good fruit within our convention and among our churches. I also pray that more pastors and local leaders will catch a vision for the basic mission of all Baptist Christians and let it begin with their own ministries. When the two visions, from our SBC leaders and from the churches, meet in the middle, then we’ll have the thorough reformation and revival we desire.