Thursday, March 15, 2007

Q&A with Morris H. Chapman

1. What do you see as the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The passion for, experience with, and funding of world missions has been and is the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention. In Southern Baptist churches, God continues to stir the hearts of increasing numbers of church members of all ages to go wherever He leads to witness to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has stirred the hearts of still others who remain at home to give joyfully and generously to world missions and our missionaries through the Cooperative Program.

Because of our strong biblical convictions, the world tends to characterize Southern Baptists as narrow-minded, unengaged in today’s culture, and apathetic to the world’s needs. Nevetheless, no denomination is better positioned to demonstrate the love of Christ and His power to save mankind than Southern Baptists.

2. What do you see as the greatest weakness or problem in the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

Our greatest weakness is the tendency to “defend” our faith with a degree of severe and unforgiving dogmatism that in part creates a negative view of the Convention and helps perpetuate the idea that we are little more than a denomination of prohibitions. The truth is, we do stand unapologetically against those things of the world that grieve the heart of God. We are stouthearted in our doctrinal convictions. Nevertheless, we should and we must seize the initiative to trumpet the wonder working power of Jesus Christ our Lord to the world.
Jesus was courageous and unafraid to challenge the most powerful of men who served other gods, but He also spent hours on end speaking the truth in love to the lost while assuring them their sins would be forgiven if they would trust in Him for their salvation. We are doing ourselves, our denomination, and our Lord an injustice if we let the world see only our dogmatism without seeing the love of Christ.

In the Convention there appears to be a growing fondness for casting stones at each other, judging one another, and building our reputations at the expense of others. A divisive culture has been sown among Southern Baptists that does not honor Christ when measured against the Word of God. His love for us conquered sin through the sacrifice of His own life. We are to be like Him. His expressions of righteous indignation while He was on earth were real, but rare.
He came to die for us and in so doing let mankind know that God loves the world, period. God’s wrath is the consequence of man’s insistence upon sin, disobedience, hatred, and bitterness. Jesus preached the reality of hell from a heart of love, not hatred. Among the brethren, He sowed seeds of love, not dissension.

3. What do you think is the greatest threat or challenge to the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The greatest threat to the Southern Baptist Convention is bound inextricably to the greatest weakness of the Convention. I believe the greatest threat is the gradual deterioration of the collective heart that at one time beat steadily and strongly with a sacrificial love for Jesus and the unsaved. But that heartbeat seems to be weakening. When the heart stops beating, the Convention’s physical infrastructure, its wide-flung missions enterprise, its educational excellence, and its religious liberty defense will collapse with the flutter of falling dominoes.
A lessening of interest in cooperative missions and theological education among Southern Baptist pastors is a direct threat to the Convention’s long-term existence. The Convention is not hierarchical in its polity (government). The Convention is a network of churches that voluntarily bands together for the principal cause of world missions. This common commitment to missions is the primary reason the Baptist Faith and Message focuses only upon core beliefs of Southern Baptists. If we insist that every doctrinal nuance debated among Southern Baptists is a core belief, sooner or later, our missionary force will be depleted and the unsaved will be abandoned.
Our greatest challenge is, once again, to become a powerful spiritual force, empowered by the Holy Spirit, cooperating together and showing the world that Jesus lives! Although cooperation is not one of the doctrinal or missiological underpinnings of the Convention, it is an operational component based upon biblical principles that describes the methodological attitude and spirit with which we are to work together for God’s glory and the advancement of His Kingdom on earth. Cooperation in the Convention cannot be forced and at the same time be effective. The desire to cooperate is born of the heart. It is more than a willingness to cooperate. It is a matter of wanting to cooperate.

4. What do you believe is the great opportunity for the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

Our greatest opportunity is to prepare heart, soul, mind, and organizational infrastructure to revolutionize the world spiritually in the 21st Century. In the first three questions, I spoke about preparing the heart, soul, and mind. Now I will address the issue of organizational restructuring. While restructuring as a subject may seem somewhat trite and boring, don’t overlook the fact that savings in one area makes possible funding for another area of greater priority.
In 1997, upon the recommendation of the SBC Program and Structure Committee, Mark Brister, Chairman, the Southern Baptist Convention completely dissolved seven (7) agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention, reducing the total number of entities from 19 to 12. The Home Mission Board was the linchpin of the study. The legal entity known as the Home Mission Board was dissolved and an entirely new corporation named the North American Mission Board (NAMB) was formed bringing together the ministry assignments from the Home Mission Board, the Radio and Television Commission, and the Brotherhood Commission.
The magnitude of the committee’s assignment made it impossible to expect Southern Baptists to assimilate possible changes in all SBC entities at once. The decision to recommend no other changes was the result of deciding that the overwhelming nature of the assignment was too big to accomplish all at once.

The question now is, “What are the pressing needs in the Convention that would set us free to be more effective in the coming years?” Possibilities include (1) improving the flow of information from SBC entities to rank and file Southern Baptists, (2) developing a SBC national strategy for providing theological education to future pastors, missionaries, evangelists, associate ministers, and directors of missions, (3) planning and executing the most aggressive and successful church planting strategy ever seen in the United States, (4) extending a study of the SBC infrastructure to entities not previously studied in depth, and (5) encouraging state conventions to study their infrastructures with the intent of prioritizing ministries, dissolving any that are ineffective and inefficient, thus freeing a greater percentage of Cooperative Program funds to be forwarded to the SBC. Aggressive efforts to reach the 50-50% division of CP funds, a recommendation by our forebears upon granting the state conventions the assignment of being the collectors of CP receipts from the churches, I believe, would be applauded by the churches in every state convention.

5. Some have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention is likely to decline in the near future? What is your assessment of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention?

The Southern Baptist Convention is a loose network of churches voluntarily bound together by basic Southern Baptist doctrine (Baptist Faith and Message) and a common commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission. The Convention shall not decline as long as the members of our churches continue to engage in soul-winning mission projects around the world. Neither shall the Convention decline due to any failure on the part of our churches or Convention if we continue to stand courageously upon the Word of God and obediently and courageously go to the ends of the earth proclaiming the Gospel. The decline will come only if we are distracted and encumbered by infighting about second and third-level issues; only if we continue to cover our eyes and ears while self-appointed political leaders wrestle for control of the Convention and attempt to unduly influence every major decision; and only if pastors of any given generation cease to lead their churches to see the worth of giving through the Cooperative Program to cooperative missions and theological education. It’s the choice of the churches. The choice of the pastors and the people who worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords Sunday after Sunday. The churches are not in the hands of the Convention. The Convention is in the hands of the churches.

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Anonymous Mike Licona said...

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