Over the past twenty-five years I have served on the Board of Directors of the BGCO for a total of eight years. I have also served two terms as First Vice-President of the BGCO (1994-1996) and two terms as President of of the BGCO (2002-2004). It was my privilege to call Dr. Joe Ingram and Dr. William Tanner close friends, both former Executive Directors of the BGCO who have now gone home to be with the Lord. Dr. Herschel Hobbs and I served together on a couple of different tasks force at the BGCO, and though I sometimes disagreed with my friend from First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, I can truly say he and I had a great relationship. I served on the search committee that called Dr. Anthony Jordan to be the new Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in 1995 and have seen first hand the progress of the BGCO from the old days in the dilapidated building on 10th Street across from First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, to the new, gleaming six story steel building at 3800 N. May.
This Oklahoma Southern Baptist is impressed with the progress of the BGCO. I spent the early part of this week in Oklahoma City at the BGCO Board of Directors meeting. Three things caused me tremendous gratitude this week about my involvment with the BGCO.
(1). First, there is an understanding among the brethren that our convention cannot be expected to conform to a unique ideology or narrow theology.
It seems that a handful of Oklahoma Southern Baptists desire for the BGCO Board of Directors to take a stand 'against Calvinism.' They requested that our Board . .
"take a stand against the presentation of reformed theology - often called “Calvinism” - as a legitimate topic that we need to debate; and instead of recommending that we should debate reformed theology, take a public stand against reformed theology”
The Board of Directors officially responded this week by reminding the brethren that Southern Baptists have historically cooperated with each other even though people take different positions on the doctrines of soteriology. Differences of opinion on 'reformed' theology should not hinder our cooperative work in evangelism and missions. In fact, the very nature of a cooperative work is that people with differences cooperate. Ironically, one particular church in Oklahoma is requesting that other Oklahoma Southern Baptist churches stop giving to the Cooperative Program if there is no official 'stand against' Calvinism by the BGCO Board. I would recommend that the church and pastor change the name of the Cooperative Program giving at their church to 'The Conformity Program.' (smile).
Thankfully, Oklahoma Baptists have resisted the demand of some to seek conformity on tertiary issues.
(2). Second, there is an increasing trend in Cooperative Program giving among Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma.
In 2004 the average percentage CP giving among Oklahoma churches was 8.4%. In 2005 it rose to 8.94%. in 2006 it skyrocketed to 9.7% and it very well could be possible that when the 2007 ACP statistics are tabulated for Oklahoma churches the average Cooperative Program percentage giving of our nearly 18,000 Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma will be over 10%.
I chair the Stewardship Committee for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and have seen up close the work of Bob Shelton, staff member responsible for stewardship at the BGCO, and the entire communications team. The Oklahoma BGCO staff is responsible for the 'Ten Again' campaign that will be taking off nationwide very shortly. Oklahoma BGCO staff is also playing a key role in national agencies, including the IMB, NAMB and our seminaries in helping them all to see the importance of the Cooperative Program. There is a tremendous weakness in the CP system when national agencies put more time and energy in their respective 'offerings' (or proposed offerings as in the case of the seminaries) than in promoting the Cooperative Program. And, speaking as an insider with nothing to gain, I am far more comfortable with the accountability involved in CP funds than in designated offerings. Oklahoma has caught the vision of CP. It's not well known that the national average for CP church contributions has declined from 10.4% per church to 6.4% per church over the last several years. With Oklahoma's help, this trend will begin to reverse nationwide.
However, one cannot expect Cooperative Program giving trends to reverse without the agencies funded by those CP dollars transforming ministries to reflect cutting edge ideas and technologies for reaching people with the gospel. The dollars invested by our state in video technology, internet websites, and the updating of our state paper are impressive. The thought and time invested in redesigning campus ministries, renovating youth camps, asking the tough questions that keep our state from being satisfied with status quo has offered all our churches the knowledge that Oklahoma does not live in the past - but is investing for the future. The effort to involve businessmen, women, people of color, and Southern Baptist leaders other than white, male pastors is one of the reasons Oklahoma Baptists is seeing a richness of diversity. Our national agencies would do well to follow such an example and think outside the box when it comes to the way SBC conventions and agency meetings are held electronically, the manner by which SBC churches are kept informed about agency business, and the ever increasing need to work toward more cooperation in missions ministries, not less.
(3). Finally, the BGCO understands that we are to keep the main thing, the main thing.
The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma has never officially adopted a doctrinal statement. The BGCO believes that doctrine should be left to the local church and association. The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma believes that all Baptist churches in Oklahoma should cooperate to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ, and keep the main thing, the main thing.
I thank the Lord that I have been able to serve in Oklahoma for the past quarter of a century. Have we done everything right? No, not at all. Some of my friends would agree wholeheartedly with that confession. Could we have done things differently or even more wisely in some areas? Absolutely. But on the whole, the kingdom of Christ is being advanced through the cooperative nature of the Oklahoma Southern Baptist churches, pastors and people that compose the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. For that, I am very grateful.
In His Grace,