Chapter One – The Baptist Vision
Our Baptist denomination is a reformed one. It is reformed in the sense that we do not agree with the teachings of the Roman Catholic church. Baptists hold that Scripture is the ultimate source of authority. Baptists believe that all Scripture is God-breathed, inerrant and infallible. Baptists believe we are saved by grace alone and justified by faith alone. There is nothing added to what the Bible says. People are not justified by both faith and works. Works are the fruit of what has taken root in a Christian’s life. While Baptists do thank Luther for the start of the reformation, they do not side with him on all his beliefs. Baptists also differ from Presbyterians because Baptists do not believe the Bible teaches a hierarchy within the church. The pastor, while appointed by God to deliver God’s Word, is also equal with the church when it comes to doing ministry. Baptists believe in the Great Commission. The gospel was intended to be spread throughout the world. Baptists do believe that every Christian should live their life daily to the glory of God (27). This sounds a very similar to Philippians 1:27 where Paul writes that we should live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Not all Baptists agree doctrinally but they should all be passionate about the lost coming to know Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Chapter Two – The New Testament Church
Baptists have historically held that the local church should operate as the New Testament teaches. There are examples laid out in Scripture for how a church should and should not operate. All Christians are baptized into and guided by the Holy Spirit unlike how some denominations teach. Baptists believe that every member of the congregation has a spiritual gift in which they are to use for the work of doing ministry. Baptists hold to a congregational form of government in which the congregation actually has a say in some of the decisions and business of the church. The main “office” of the church is pastor. There are verses in Timothy and Titus that lay out guidelines for what church leadership should look like, particularly deacons and pastors. The pastor is to study the Scriptures and lead by example and equip the congregation for the work of the ministry. The pastor is not exempt from doing ministry but he is also not the only one in the church that is supposed to be doing ministry.
Chapter Three – Toward a Theology of Cooperation
The Body of Christ is made up of the church universal and the church local. The fact that this is true would lead one to believe that churches are not in competition with each other. Based on Biblical truth, it is perfectly fine for churches to help other churches in times of need. Paul asked churches for money to support a church that had fallen on hard times. Churches sent out apostles to other churches. It is perfectly fine that churches join forces to help each other accomplish the work of the ministry. Now being that this is so, there are a few guidelines that should be followed. The churches that are in cooperation with each other should be on the same page as far as believing the Bible is inerrant and infallible, and do not stray from the Bible as the ultimate source of authority.
Chapter Four – Churches On Mission
Ministry is expensive. Churches have realized this for a long time. The Roman Catholic church needed money to support their cause so they came up with some very odd and unbiblical methods to collect money. The Catholic church started to collect fees, sell offices, charge people to get their friends and relatives out of purgatory. Luther thought it would be a good idea for a local institution to take in all monies from the churches and then redistribute the money to the churches based on their need. Baptists knew that there had to be a better way to help missionaries and do ministry work. Baptists came together in 1845 and the Southern Baptist Convention was born. Through designated giving through churches in the SBC, the idea was that the SBC would be “one Convention” embodying the whole of the denomination (88). The SBC would then be in charge of the benevolences within the convention.
Chapter Five – The Southern Baptist Convention
The SBC was first funded by sending agents to churches within the convention to collect money for the SBC. This was a flawed method because some churches got visited by agents only once or twice a year and other churches got visited on a regular basis. A general dissatisfaction with the agency method was brought up at a convention meeting. However, no one seemed to have a better idea. In 1919, J.B. Grambell, then convention president, came up with the idea to raise $75,000,000 in five years. A financial campaign committee was formed and promotion was started. Churches pledged to give and the total amount of pledges received was over ninety-two and one-half million dollars. The problem was that a lot of churches in the SBC were rural churches and were hit hard by a depression in 1920. The $75,000,000 was not achieved. This was chalked up as a failure. However, it was a lesson learned. The Cooperative Program was formed. Churches would give monies to the state conventions and then the state convention and the SBC would split the monies evenly. While there were some kinks to work out, the Cooperative Program was here to stay.
Chapter Six – Getting Down to Business
The Southern Baptist Convention is a legal corporation but it is not a normal one. “It has no assets. It has no employees. It owns no property. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention only exists two days per year” (100). Like a corporation, the SBC has entities and committees that takes care of its business throughout the year. Also, the SBC has rules that govern the way meetings are to be conducted. The meetings originally were held for five to six days at a time and through the years the annual meetings have become shorter. The meetings are currently held for two days. Churches are allowed to send members of the congregation to the annual SBC meeting. The people chosen to attend are called messengers. The SBC also has rules for how a church elects messengers and how messengers are received at the convention meeting. It is made clear that messengers while designated by the church, the messengers do not speak on behalf of their church. At the annual meeting, the SBC reviews reports and documents, elects officers, discusses budgets for the Cooperative Program and for convention operations. All business takes place in the two days and then after the gavel comes down and the last prayer is said, the meeting is over and the Convention ceases to exist until the next annual meeting the following year.
Chapter Seven – The Distribution System
The system that is currently in place for how the Cooperative Program receives money is a well thought out system. The individual Baptist takes money from their tithes and general givings and that goes to their church’s general budget. The church votes yearly for a set amount to be budgeted for giving to the Cooperative Program. The church’s current association is not included in Cooperative Program funds. The church gives to its association a separate offering. The church’s check for the Cooperative Program is sent to its state convention. The state convention then keeps its designated percentage for Cooperative Program ministries within the state. The rest of the money is then sent to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. This money is then distributed through the ministries of the SBC based on the amount that was designated from the annual SBC meeting. This is a very good system. However, this writer believes that there are people in every church that would do well to give more. One would be hard pressed to disagree with the quote from Martin Luther on page 110. “It is those persons whose pocketbooks are converted who are truly saved.” Giving and stewardship are part of the discipleship process. A Baptist that is a true disciple should not have a problem with giving to the Cooperative Program. Giving trumps greed.
Chapter Eight – Network to the World
The networks in the SBC are very well put together. The local Baptist churches within a given region are part of their local association. The local association conducts ministries in their communities and sometimes receives funding from the North American Mission Board and the state conventions. The local association does partner with the state conventions and NAMB to plant new churches within the association. The state conventions are made up of all the associations within the state. The state conventions have various ministries though not all state conventions have the same ministries. The state conventions assist in church planting, provide church training, run foundations, and disaster relief. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many more ways in which the state conventions provide ministries. The state conventions work with NAMB to provide missionaries and talk evangelism strategies. The SBC is made up of all the state conventions. A few entities were restructured within the SBC to form the North American Mission Board. The Sunday School board was restructured to become LifeWay Christian resources and the SBC become interested in theological education. The SBC currently supports six SBC theological seminaries. All SBC ministries adhere to the Baptist way of life and every ministry serves a purpose to help lost people come to know Christ.
Chapter Nine – The Entities That Serve Southern Baptists
This chapter does well in providing a history of the entities of the SBC. It is one of the more interesting chapters that this writer found intriguing. To save time, the entities that will be discussed here are the ones that are still in operation today. The IMB also known as the International Mission Board provides missionaries to countries all over the world. The latest statistic is from 2004 in which a total of 1,194 people groups were being engaged (141). The IMB is supported financially by the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon offerings. NAMB is primarily responsible for evangelism and church planting in the United States and Canada. NAMB supports around 5,000 missionaries. NAMB is funded primarily through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The SBC currently operates six seminaries. The seminaries are: Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is an entity that provides southern Baptists with media outlets such as radio, print, and other electronic media. GuideStone Financial Resources used to be known as the Annuity Board before its name changed in 2005. GuideStone provides resources so that church employees can set up an account that will be designated for retirement purposes. GuideStone also provides insurance (medical, life, dental etc.) for church employees. LifeWay Christian Resources is one of the largest producers of Christian materials in the world. LifeWay Christian Resources is the parent company of Broadman and Holman Publishers and LifeWay Christian Stores. The good thing about LifeWay is that it is a fully self-sustaining company. It receives no funding from the Cooperative Program and is still able to provide ministry material for every life stage a person goes through. The Women’s Missionary Union provides education and training for all age groups within a church about Christian missions. The WMU also incorporates GA’s and Mission Friends.
Chapter Ten – Inspiring Confidence in Cooperation
“The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention was created because of a concern among Baptists for organizational efficiency and accountability” (146). The Executive Committee is made up of members because it is a committee and not a board. The Executive Committee is the ad interim of the SBC, however, it can only operate in areas not already assigned. The Executive Committee does act as an overseer over the entities of the SBC but it has no authority outside of its given parameters. The Executive Committee has guidelines that regulate what it is and is not allowed to do. The Executive Committee has three sub committees that it oversees also. Each of the sub committees has its own purpose. The Executive Committee meets three times a year and all motions are presented at the SBC annual meeting. The Executive Committee is responsible for collecting funds and gifts and then distributing them electronically to the various entities of the SBC. The Executive Committee also chooses the host cities for the annual meetings of the SBC. The cities are selected four to six years in advance. The Executive Committee is also responsible for all legal matters that happen on behalf of the SBC. The Executive Committee is also responsible for the Cooperative Program Development Division. The Committee helps to spread the vision of the Cooperative Program through training and producing multimedia resources that are readily available for the state conventions and churches. The Executive Committee also has a subsidiary known as the Southern Baptist Foundation. The Southern Baptist Foundation provides assistance in estate planning and investments. The Executive Committee exists to serve the overall mission of the SBC and to advance the kingdom of God.
Chapter Eleven – Tensions, Trends, and Troubles
This writer found this chapter to be troubling. It seems that people have lost faith and trust in the Cooperative Program. The amount of money received by the Cooperative Program has been in a steady decline. The reasons given by the author, while true, are ridiculous. It is dumb to think that a church would tell its congregation that the Cooperative Program is a bad idea. That is a good way to get people not to give. State conventions and seminaries having disagreements on theology, states creating multiple conventions, lead to negative thoughts of the Cooperative Program. How selfish of a church or another convention to try and tell the Cooperative Program how to spend its money. Why can’t people just give and trust that God has people in the right place in the Cooperative Program and they will distribute funds to advance the kingdom of God? This writer believes that if the Cooperative Program is not important to the pastor, it will not be important to the congregation. The church will only be passionate about what the pastor is passionate about. The good things about the Cooperative Program should be shared in churches. People do not like to give to things they really do not know about. The church has the ability to change the minds of the people and God has the power to change the hearts of people.
Chapter Twelve – Future Challenges
The author opens this chapter posing the question of whether or not the Cooperative Program can survive in the twenty-first century. This writer does agree with the author in this chapter. The future of the Cooperative Program begins with the local church. Southern Baptists want to make sure that the Cooperative Program and the entities that it support assume common beliefs; that they hold true to basic biblical convictions. All local churches need to see the connection between the churches in the New Testament when Paul called for churches to financially support another church and the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is essentially churches coming together for the purpose of advancing the kingdom of God and doing the Great Commission. Churches must see the Cooperative Program as missional. The Cooperative Program has in its sights the work of seeing the lost come to Christ. Churches must grasp this. If the local churches within the SBC do not see missions as something to participate in and a ministry worth funding, then they will probably fail to give to the Cooperative Program. This writer does agree that there needs to be an emphasis on helping every Baptist become a tither. This would have huge promise for the Cooperative Program because churches could give more. Pastors must be on board with educating the congregation about the Cooperative Program. If the pastor does not believe in it, neither will the congregation.
Through the reading of this book, this writer has been made more aware of the SBC and the Cooperative Program and why they are both important. It is important for the advancing of the kingdom of God. This writer is passionate about seeing the lost come to Christ and seeing churches planted. Discipleship, missions, and evangelism start in the local church. This writer desires to educate his future congregation on the importance of the Cooperative Program and why his church will support the CP financially. This writer also believes in the SBC and that each one of their entities has the sole purpose of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry and seeing the lost come to Christ. Before reading this book, this writer was not positive that his church would stay in the SBC but after reading the book, his mind has been opened to the work that God is doing through the SBC and the Cooperative Program and he wants to be where God is working. This writer’s church will be educating the congregation on the Cooperative Program, why giving to Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon is important and why we will be a church that proudly supports the SBC.