President George W. Bush once stood in front of a group of people trying to make sense of the world that seemed to be coming undone around them. “One thing is for certain,” he said. “We did not ask for these challenges, but we will meet them. I say that with certainty because this nation has strong foundations and won’t be shaken. In this hour of our country’s history we stand in the need of prayer.”
That comment was made at the first post-9/11 National Prayer Breakfast and prior to the beginning of the longest war, the war on terrorism, in our nation’s history. I was at that prayer breakfast. I saw the resolute courage in our president’s eyes; I heard it in the tone of his voice.
I feel the same way about our future as Southern Baptists. Coming out of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting held in Birmingham, I believe we have reason to be resolute as well as optimistic about our future. Yes, we’ve got some challenges, but I still believe that what binds us together is stronger than the peripheral things that pull at our core. Here are several reasons we should move forward with a resolute spirit.
Our common confession of faith. We are people of the Bible. We haven’t compromised that in the past and we cling to it in the present. We must be diligent to embrace its truth in the future. The Baptist Faith and Message is the expression of our core beliefs as a network of churches. Nothing binds us together more than the few clearly defined, solidly biblical, statements of doctrinal anchors.
Our mission force of more than 3,600 international missionaries along with the thousands of national and state missionaries are tangible expressions of who we are as Great Commission people. We have some choice servants reaching spiritually lost people at all points of the Acts 1:8 directive our Lord gave. Southern Baptists have rallied behind our missionaries for generations and I believe we will continue to do so. Missions defines us and I am confident missions will remain a strong distinctive of Southern Baptists.
Our cooperative giving is closely linked to our missions going. The Cooperative Program turns 95 next year and has proven its value to missional success generation-after-generation. The Cooperative Program fuels the SBC ecosystem and enables us as a body of like-minded Baptists to accomplish everything from the equipping of ministers and missionaries to having mission boards that send those missionaries into the fields white for harvest.Did you know that if every church even slightly increased its Cooperative Program giving, it would mean millions more for missions across the board and especially for the International Mission Board?
Our commitment to being unashamed and unified pro-God churches in a post-Christian culture is another SBC distinctive that defines what the SBC is all about. We will not compromise on this distinctive, and we will need to be even more bold in the coming years as culture becomes increasingly more hostile toward the gospel. I believe we will take to heart Matthew 5:13-16 and we will be salt and light. May we be known as a people who seek justice for those who can’t defend themselves. May we regard life, all life, as valuable and worthy of the dignity God bestows on a humanity created in His image. I believe we will.
Our pulpits are filled with strong Bible preaching pastors and our churches are filled with faithful and gifted laypeople. Too often people gravitate toward the negative statistics about church growth and baptisms, but our reality is that we have gospel-centered men standing in pulpits across the denomination. We have thousands of bivocational heroes among that number.
Most will never preach at the SBC or even be known beyond their congregations, but they weekly shepherd people who God has gifted and who love their churches and spiritually lost neighbors. Together these pastors and laypeople advance God’s Kingdom with great joy and that is reason to be hopeful.
I believe Southern Baptists stand at an important moment in history. May we “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) so that by all means we can reach people for Christ. May we seize these moments together so that our best days lie ahead.
It is certainly my joy to be on this journey with you.