Webster's Dictionary defines "cooperation" as "the action of association for a common effort or benefit." Southern Baptist churches have associated together for the common effort of missions since 1845. In fact, the "Southern" before Baptist identifies the cooperative nature we Baptists bring toward our mission efforts; otherwise, we would simply be a part of the tens of thousands of other independent Baptist churches in America. Jim Richards, the Executive Director of the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas, was recently quoted as saying, “I believe one of the greatest threats to the mission of today’s church among Southern Baptists is a departure from cooperation.
He's right; but he's also part of the reason cooperation in the SBC is unraveling.
Southern Baptist conservatives who demand absolute conformity on all doctrinal matters, or worse, tamper with broad doctrinal confessional statements by adding tertiary doctrines to them and then demand that all other Southern Baptists pledge allegience to them, are destroying the fabric of cooperation. Ironically, my conservative friends are intelligent enough to see that when thousands of Baptists ceased identifying with the SBC after passage of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, it became prudent not to tamper anymore with the BFM.
So conservative leadership decided to change, behind the scenes, the doctrinal statements that served as the standard for cooperation and service within individual SBC agencies. These changes in the doctrinal statements of SBC entities were approved and implemented without SBC convention wide approval. Designated trustees began changing the doctrinal statements to reflect the core of organized Fundamentalism (anti-spiritual gifts, Landmark, pre-millenial, etc.). There is nothing necessarily morally wrong with Fundamentalism if the adherents to that particular ideology love those who disagree with them. The problem with Fundamentalism, especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, is when people of cooperation become more interested in doctrinal conformity than missional cooperation. When that happens, Baptist people, pastors and churches who used to identify with the cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists will CEASE cooperating.
That seems to already be happening.
The Southern Baptist Convention is in trouble. Finances will continue to decline. Leadership may wish to point to the economy, but the truth is, until we stop giving lip service to cooperation, and actually treasure it, we have nowhere to go but down.
I am on my way to the meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Our cooperative efforts are important, but growing demands that all SBC churches identify with Fundamentalist ideology in order to cooperate in mission effforts must stop.
In His Grace,