Encouraging scholarship, strengthening faith identity, and interpreting contemporary issues in Baptist life.
by Dr. Bruce Prescott
From the beginning, Baptists have recognized that our living Lord relates to every believer personally. We hold that all believers are individually accountable for attuning their hearts to the Holy Spirit whose presence in mind and soul and conscience serves "to guide you into all the truth." (John 16:13)
Mainstream Southern Baptists are now confronting a crisis of conscience.
Since 1979 a coalition led by Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson has changed the SBC. Changes include: 1) reducing the role of the Holy Spirit as guide for every believer's heart and soul and conscience
2) increasing the pastor's authority over the congregation 3) elevating the Bible above Christ 4) requiring rigid doctrinal conformity by individuals and churches 5) imposing male authority in the church and the home 6) breaching the wall of separation between church and state, and 7) limiting the educational process at seminaries to indoctrination. The SBC's recent adoption of the 2000 BF&M assures that these changes will be permanent.
Mainstream Baptists are opposed to these changes. Many are convicted that they besmirch the integrity of the Baptist witness and undermine the spread of the gospel. How, in good conscience, can Baptists perpetuate and extend these changes by continuing to support the SBC?
More and more, Baptist consciences are being convicted that responsible stewardship of God's resources requires that they review the mission programs they support through their church. Many Baptists are insisting that their churches give them options that will allow them to give only to those mission programs and causes that they can support in good conscience. Below are some of the options they are considering.
The Cooperative Program
Since 1925 Baptists have given to the Cooperative Program to support the work of the SBC and the state conventions. A portion of your tithe, usually ten percent, is sent by your church to your state convention. The state convention keeps a portion and sends the rest to the SBC. State conventions usually keep around 60% and the SBC gets around 40%. If you are a member of a church that gives exclusively to the SBC's Cooperative Program, then about 40% of the money you give to missions through your church is being used to perpetuate and extend the changes introduced by the Pressler-Patterson coalition. In those state conventions that have adopted the 2000 BF&M (Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma) then ALL of your mission money is being used to perpetuate and extend the Pressler-Patterson agenda.
Preserving Conscientious Stewardship
Conscientious stewardship exists when every Baptist is free to give to missions in good conscience. Some applaud the recent changes in the SBC. Others oppose them. All should be free to contribute to the mission causes that support their values.
Since the Pressler-Patterson coalition changed the SBC, several organizations have come into existence which share the core values of Mainstream Baptists. Among them are the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; state organizations of Baptists Committed, Baptist Heritage Councils, Mainstream Baptists; and the national Network of Mainstream Baptists.
1) Ask your church to allow each member to designate which mission program and causes will receive the portion of their tithe that supports missions.
Some churches let members file a card with their choices in the church office. Others churches let members designate on their offering envelopes.
Begin by encouraging your church to study the changes introduced by the Pressler-Patterson coalition. It would be helpful to form a denominational relations committee to provide resources and sponsor congregational forums to discuss the changes. Mainstream Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship can provide materials and speakers to assist your church in its study.
2) Work with the Mainstream Baptist organization in your state to secure the right for every church to designate which mission program or agency receives the portion of their contributions that supports national and worldwide causes.
Some state conventions already allow this -- North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Most do not.
Some state conventions and some churches refuse to let their members designate to mission programs and causes other than the SBC. In doing so, such conventions and churches have relinquished any moral claim to be the exclusive recipients and distributors of the tithes and offerings of Mainstream Baptists.
Every Christian is individually and personally accountable to God for the way they steward their time, talents, and treasures. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body." (2 Cor. 5:10) God will not hold anyone guiltless for blindly supporting people and organizations who profess Christ with their tongues and deny him in their deeds. It is unconscionable for churches and conventions to force people to support causes that their conscience tells them are distorting the gospel and undermining the spread of God's kingdom.
Every local church, association, state convention, and national convention is sustained by voluntary contributions. When any of them insists on distributing your money to organizations that violate your conscience, you are obligated to assume direct responsibility for distributing your money to worthy organizations and causes.
Many Baptists are doing just that. Increasingly, Baptists in uncooperative churches are reducing the amount of money they contribute to missions through their church and sending money directly to causes that they can conscientiously support. A lot of Baptists in uncooperative churches and conventions send monthly contributions directly to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, to their state chapter of CBF, to their state Mainstream Baptist organization, to the national Network of Mainstream Baptists, to the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, to Associated Baptist Press, to Habitat for Humanity, to a variety of Baptist Colleges, Universities, and Children's Homes, and/or to local soup kitchens and mission projects.
What about the Missionaries?
What will happen to SBC missionaries? This question had more legitimacy ten years ago than it does today. As mainstream SBC missionaries retired or resigned, they were replaced with a new breed of missionary committed to exporting the Pressler-Patterson agenda abroad. These new missionaries are drawing official complaints from Baptist bodies in Europe and Asia. How, in good conscience, can you support sending missionaries abroad who are exporting values that you oppose and who run rough shod over the Baptists in Asia and Europe?
Those few mainstream SBC missionaries that remain on the field will continue to have adequate support. In 1998 the International Mission Board (IMB) of the SBC had $357 million in assets that it used to make investment income. The 1998 IMB's budget had $18.8 million in investment income to add to the millions that it gets from the cooperative program and the Lottie Moon mission offering. The IMB's investment income of $18.8 million is larger than the entire operating budget of CBF. There are no waiting lines for the new Pressler-Patterson missionaries. They are well funded.
It is the new generation of God-called Mainstream Baptist missionaries -- those who refuse to bow to the Pressler-Patterson agenda -- that cannot get appointed. CBF has a long line of qualified missionaries awaiting appointment due to lack of funds. These missionaries are volunteering to serve unreached people groups in the most dangerous and least accessible places for the gospel. Conscientious stewards will want to contribute where the need is greatest.
Those interested in supporting the work of the CBF can request information and send contributions to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship P.O. Box 450329 Atlanta, GA 31145-0329 (770) 220-1600.
Other Mainstream organizations worthy of support are the
Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs 200 Maryland Ave. NE
Washington, D.C. 20002-5797 (202) 544-4226 and Associated Baptist Press
P.O. Box 23769 Jacksonville, FL 32241 (800) 340-6626 and Habitat for
Humanity International 121 Habitat St. Americus, GA 31709 (229)
Go to Baptist Pamphlets Index
The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University, 1400 Coleman Avenue, Macon, GA 31207 Phone (478) 301-5457