Sunday, May 31, 2009

Morris Chapman and the Great Commission Resurgence

Morris H. Chapman is president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. Last week he published an article through Baptist Press entitled, "This One Thing I Do (Philippians 3:12-14)." In it he provides a critique of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) document and offers reasons for his unwillingness to sign it. I have previously explained why I did sign it and also addressed why I find the call for a GCR particularly urgent at this time. After reading Dr. Chapman's article I find that not only am I unconvinced by his arguments, my resolve to support Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin and others in calling for a GCR is strengthened. Indeed, Chapman's article actually highlights the need all the more.

I hope to explain my meaning by interacting with Dr. Chapman's arguments. Before doing so, however, I want to commend him for his willingness to speak openly and forthrightly about his concerns with the GCR document. This kind of open and honest dialogue about ideas is exactly what the Southern Baptist Convention needs. As Chapman has demonstrated, it can be done without stooping to personal attacks or assuming the worst about those with whom we disagree. I hope to follow his example by being pointed without being personal. I am concerned with his ideas and arguments, not with his motivation, intentions or integrity. I have no reason to doubt that his desire is to see Christ honored among the people known as Southern Baptists.

Dr. Chapman's main complaint about the GCR document is Article IX, which is entitled, "A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure" and states,
We call upon all Southern Baptists, through our valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This commitment recognizes the great strength of our partnership, which has been enabled by the Cooperative Program and enhanced by a belief that we can do more together than we can separately.
Chapman rightly points out that the explanatory language following this article has been softened as a result of concerns raised. What he finds particularly bothersome is the original language that said,
... our denominational structures have become bloated and bureaucratic at every level, from local associations to state conventions to the SBC itself. We believe our ministry effectiveness is being strangled by overlap and duplication, poor stewardship, and a disproportionate amount of Cooperative Program dollars being kept by the state conventions.
Though this statement no longer appears in the published explanation, Chapman fears that it reflects "an obvious, predetermined bias toward restructuring" of SBC entities. Furthermore, he believes that the Program and Structure Study Committee which completed its work in 1997 and issued the "Covenant for a New Century" (which the convention adopted and whose ministry statements are now part of the Organization Manual of the Southern Baptist Convention) has adequately met the concerns raised by Article IX.

On this point, I simply disagree with Dr. Chapman. Far from seeing the work of that earlier committee as being adequate for our present challenges, I believe that the structures of the SBC need to be carefully reexamined--and soon--to see how Southern Baptists can get more Great Commission bang for our buck. In my estimation, everything ought to be open to scrutiny. No entity or agency should be exempt.

His arguments against even considering possible restructuring almost sound protectionistic, but I am confident that they are not because, as Johnny Hunt mentioned a few weeks ago, Dr. Chapman himself called for a "major overhaul" of the convention in 2004. In an address at the Baptist Identity Conference at Union University, Dr. Chapman said this:
The Southern Baptist Convention needs fine tuning. In fact, the Convention may require an overhaul, not in its polity, but in its programming and processes by which it functions daily. A major overhaul by the national Convention and the state conventions appears to be an absolute necessity, letting the facts speak for themselves lest the conventions discover too late they were blind and deaf to a delivery system that better serves the churches (emphasis added).
This language is much stronger than anything in Article IX of the GCR. Furthermore, this recognition of the need for further structural change beyond the "Covenant for a New Century" was acknowledged again by Dr. Chapman on his blog post from September 25, 2006, when he wrote,
One primary question remains to date, "Should other changes be made within the SBC infrastructure for the purpose of enhancing our Southern Baptist witness in North America and beyond." A similar question is, "Can the operations of SBC entities become leaner, more focused, and more effective? To both questions, the answer is, "Yes." (emphasis added)
Article IX is doing nothing other than what Dr. Chapman himself has said ought to be done and in fact called on Southern Baptists to do. His objections to it, therefore, ring hollow.

The reason that he gives for objecting also are unconvincing. He raises the issue of revival (which is not raised in the GCR document) and then criticizes Article IX as an impediment to revival.
Revival and spiritual growth are the greatest needs in our Convention and our nation. This is the challenge around which all Southern Baptists can rally. Reorganization is not. Neither is it a prerequisite to revival.
Don't get me wrong. Effective and efficient organization is critical to any corporate endeavor and periodic changes are necessary. But revival in our churches and appointing a task force to study Convention structures are not two parts of one whole. They are two separate objectives that, if sought under the same banner, have the potential to cause both to fail.
This is a straw man argument. No one has ever claimed that studying the structures of the SBC will promote revival. To suggest otherwise only confuses the issue. As does this:
Perhaps some have the mistaken notion that if we get our stuff organized first, then God will pour out His blessings. Does history bear this out? Are there biblical examples from which to draw that would lead us to expect this? Reorganization does not change hearts.
Again, against whom is Dr. Chapman arguing? Certainly not the framers of the document that he is criticizing.

A paragraph that begins with this statement, "My overriding concern is that if Article IX remains in the Declaration, all attention will remain riveted on this one article," goes on to mention Article IX eight more times, thus supplying an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I fear that some who read Dr. Chapman's article may be misled by the following paragraph:
The work of the Program and Structure Study Committee was completed in 1997 under the Covenant for a New Century. At that time, the Southern Baptist Convention was restructured so that 95% of all Cooperative Program funds received by the Convention were, and still are, directed to the very three priorities identified by the framers of this Declaration -- our two mission boards and our six seminaries.
One of the biggest concerns that I hear from pastors today is not so much what happens to CP dollars after the funds are "received by the Convention" but rather, what happens to them once they leave the churches. According to this BP report, in 2007-2008 only 1.13% of undesignated offerings given by Southern Baptists made it to the International Missions Board. This is the kind of statistic that is causing alarm bells to go off inside the missionary hearts of Southern Baptists. Doesn't this at least raise a question about our structures and how funds are allocated and shouldn't this question at least be honestly asked and studied? That is all that Article IX is asking for.

Dr. Chapman's attempt to distinguish between his call for an "overhaul" of the convention in 2004 from the call in Article IX is unconvincing. He writes,
I did not recommend that a task force be appointed. I also did not recommend that the national Convention appoint a committee to judge other Baptist bodies. I could never do so, for the SBC has pledged never to even attempt to do so (SBC Constitution, Article IV).
This strikes me as odd given his expressed appreciation for the work of the committee that recommended the "Covenant for a New Century" to the SBC. Did that committee "judge other Baptist bodies?" Did it violate the SBC Constitution Article IV, which states, "Authority: While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention." No on both counts. Neither would blue ribbon committee violate the SBC constitution, despite to Dr. Chapman's contention to the contrary.

One further point and I will close. Chapman cites a concern for unity in the SBC as a reason that he cannot sign the GCR document.
I cannot sign the Declaration as long as Article IX is included because it is likely to be divisive.
I love unity among God's people and I hate division, so my heart goes out to this concern. But as one who worked for a Conservative Resurgence (CR) in the SBC from 1979 onward, this sounds eerily familiar. Those who opposed the CR at that time sounded this warning repeatedly for over a decade. If we allow fear of division to trump all other concerns, then we will soon be headed right back down the slope toward liberalism that we once trod.

How can taking an honest look at who we are and what we are doing be offensive to truth-loving, kingdom-advancing people? If there are better ways for us to do what we are trying to do in our cooperative efforts, why wouldn't we want to know? If needed changes are discovered that will benefit the kingdom of God and spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, why wouldn't we seek to make them?

I have great respect for Dr. Chapman, but on this issue, I believe that he is wrong. I much prefer his earlier call for a "major overhaul" of the SBC to this latter warning of division and quenching of revival. Weighing his arguments has caused me to appreciate the need for honest evaluation and appraisal even more than previously. If we don't then I fear we might miss an opportunity to strengthen our cooperative efforts in ways that will benefit kingdom work for years to come.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chapman's call to prayer and the elephant in the corner

Dr. Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, called on Southern Baptists to pray during his report to the excom earlier this week. Specifically, he said that we need to be praying for God to bless us with "His wisdom, His glory, His holiness and His witness of Jesus Christ."

Amen.

Those 4 concerns are vitally important and should be focal points of our praying. But sometimes, I wonder if prayer is tantamount to hypocrisy, or at least a cover for our clear disobedience to God's revealed will.

When the Israelites, still basking in the displays of God's power in their victory over Jericho, were humiliated in their efforts to conquer Ai, Joshua and elders of Israel fell on their faces for hours and cried out to God in heart-felt prayer (Joshua 7:6-9).

God's response is very instructive as well as timely for Southern Baptists. He said, "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned ...." (7:10-11a). There was sin in the camp due to Achan's violation of God's clearly revealed will. Because of this, it wasn't time to pray. It was time to act. The sin must be addressed before it would even be appropriate for Joshua to pray for God's blessing.

God had clearly spoken, making known His will that the Israelites were not to take any of the "accursed things" from Jericho and that all of the silver, gold, bronze and iron was to be placed in the treasury of the Lord (6:18-19). Achan did not do this, but stole some of the forbidden things (7:1).

Then, when Israel marched on Ai, expecting God to go with their army as He had at Jericho, the Lord let them flounder in defeat. In the wake of that humilation, Joshua and the elders pray. And the Lord, in effect, tells them to stop praying and to get up and correct the sin that is in the camp.

I have often wondered what that scene must have looked like from heaven's perspective? His people are praying for His blessing while violating His revealed will. It must have appeared to be highly presumptuous in the sight of God.

Granted, Joshua did not yet know about Achan's sin. When it was made known to him, he did not pretend like it was no big deal, or ignore it, or justify it or make excuses about why it couldn't be addressed. We don't read about him saying, "But Lord, we don't want to violate the autonomy of the local clan."

Which brings me to the elephant in the corner of our SBC zion. I am grateful for Dr. Chapman's call to prayer. We desperately need what only God can provide. But isn't it time for our leaders to do something about the elephant that is stinking up the room? Of course, I am talking about the horrible, God-dishonoring fact that most of our SBC church members give no signs of spiritual life. If you can assume that merely showing up at church is a minimum indicator of spiritual life then it is not too much to conclude that over half of our denomination's 16.3 million members are spiritually dead.

We are Baptists. We say and have repeatedly confessed in our writings that we believe we understand the Bible to teach God's clearly revealed will that a local church should be comprised only of regenerate members. We have, historically, been champions of our Lord's teachings on church discipline. We believe that by doing so we are merely submitting to the revealed will of our Master. Or at least, we used to believe and do those things.

What must it look like to heaven when we pray for the Lord's guidance and blessings as we intentionally ignore and refuse to do what He has called us to do? I think it must look like presumption and hypocrisy.

The issue of our inflated statistics and regenerate church membership has gained increasing attention over the last 2 years. Even some leaders are now admitting that we have a problem (see here and here) . But admitting to a problem and calling for action on it are two different things. It is time for Southern Baptist pastors, churches and denominational leaders to stand up and say unequivocally,
"We have sinned. Our churches are filled with unconverted members. Our evangelism has too often encouraged this very malady, and we must repent!"
We must have reformation in our church life. It will not be easy. It will not be painless. But it is absolutely necessary if we are serious about desiring God's blessing."

Do we want His wisdom? It is displayed in the church that is ordered according to His Word (Ephesians 3:10).

Do we want His glory? It is displayed to those who humbly seek Him in obedience to His revealed will (Exodus 33:18-34:7).

Do we want His holiness? Then we must obey His will, delight in what He delights in and do what He commands (1 Peter 1:14-16)/

Do we want His witness to shine through us? It will, when we live differently from the world and bear His image in lives of obedience and good works (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:9-12).

These are all things for which we must pray. But let our prayers be without presumption. We must be willing to deal honestly and humbly with our sin--particularly with the sin of churches filled with unregenerate members.

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