Different Name, Same PurposeTom Ascol
"What's in a name?" Shakespeare's forlorn lover would have us believe that names are ultimately of little value. Afterall, "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In one sense, Juliet is absolutely right. Reality is not always reflected by the appellations we attach to it. "Civil war" is one such example.
But names do serve a useful purpose, especially when they are designed to communicate accurately the reality to which they are attached. It is out of a desire to communicate more accurately that the name of the Southern Baptist Founders Conference, Inc. has recently been changed to Founders Ministries, Inc. Our fundamental purpose remains the same, but our vision and activities have greatly expanded.
In the late 1970s there was a small but noticeably growing renewal of interest in the doctrines of grace among some pastors and ministerial students across the Southern Baptist Convention. Out of a desire to encourage this renewal and to provide fellowship and instruction for those who were interested, the first Founders Conference was organized and met in Memphis, TN, in 1983. The published motivation for that meeting was "to glorify God, honor His gospel, and strengthen His churches by providing encouragement to Southern Baptists in historical, Biblical, theological, practical, and ecumenical studies."
Although that was a politically volatile season in the history of the SBC, the Founders Conference originated with no political agenda. From the beginning its goals have been spiritual and theological. The stated purpose of the conference has not changed through the years, namely, "to be a balanced conference in respect to doctrine and devotion as expressed in the Doctrines of Grace and their experimental application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness."
The focus has always been on churches, to see them strengthened, encouraged and moving toward biblical renewal in both understanding and practice. The particular concern has been to see God's Word applied to the issues which confront local congregations. Conferences have been planned with a desire to see churches strengthened and church leaders encouraged in the work of the Gospel. Consequently, through the years a variety of important and relevant themes have been addressed, such as, "Missions and Evangelism," "Sanctification," "The Church," "Preachers and Preaching," "Sufficiency of Scripture," and "Reformation and Revival."
While the national conference, which now meets in Birmingham, AL, continues to meet and grow, the effort to encourage renewal in churches has expanded far beyond a once-a-year gathering. Founded in 1986, the Southern Baptist Founders YOUTH Conference now attracts several hundred young people each summer to a week of intensive Bible study and fellowship. The Founders Journal began in 1990 and currently goes out to every state in the union and dozens of countries around the world.
Regional conferences now meet each year in Texas and Missouri, with the prospect of others beginning in the next two years. In 1996 Founders Press began. To date four titles have been published (including Fred Malone's recently released booklet on baptism) with more in the pipeline. It was also in 1996 that Founders Online began with the launching of our own web site (www.founders.org). In the last five months of 1997 it received over 320,000 hits.
None of these expanded ministries was envisioned when the first conference met fifteen years ago in Memphis. But each one is fully consistent with our basic purpose to see churches renewed according to the Word of God. If our purpose were simply to host an annual conference, we would not have expanded our efforts into other ministries.
We have never looked upon conferences or even publishing as our "business." Rather, our "business" has been and will remain encouraging pastors and local churches to pursue biblical reformation and renewal. This is not only our work it is the deep burden of Founders Ministries.
The name, "Founders Ministries," suggests both the breadth of our activities and the antiquity of our convictions. It points back to those who originally founded the Southern Baptist Convention and whose doctrinal convictions we share. When the original 293 delegates met in Augusta, Georgia in 1845 to organize a new convention, they all came from churches or associations which embraced the doctrines of grace. That is, they unapologetically held to a Reformed theology of salvation. They believed that God is absolutely sovereign and man is absolutely responsible in salvation. They were, in the best historic and evangelical sense of the term, Calvinistic.
This does not mean that they were doctrinaire or that they were exclusively or even primarily concerned with winning theological arguments. Rather, it means that they took biblical truth seriously and were unwilling to compromise either its authority or its message. In the same way, the agenda of Founders Ministries is not to engage in historical or theological debates. Our mission is the renewal of churches through the recovery of biblical truth. This inevitably requires historical and theological discourse, but these are simply means to the clearly envisioned goal of reformation and revival. Those who have gone before us have much to teach us in this pursuit.
Because of their commitment to the doctrines of grace, the early Southern Baptist churches and leaders believed strongly in missions and evangelism. Their efforts laid the foundation for what has become the greatest missionary sending denomination of the twentieth century.
Because of theological convictions, they believed that God and His glory are the proper focus of both congregational and private life. Therefore they took church order seriously and believed that God is not glorified in an undisciplined church. John Dagg, the first Southern Baptist theologian to publish a systematic theology text, well noted that when discipline leaves the church, Christ goes with it.
Because they took the Bible seriously, they believed that theology is important. To our Southern Baptist forefathers, sound doctrine was foundational to healthy churches and healthy Christians. So they insisted on sound doctrine being taught from their pulpits. Books and catechisms were written to give careful doctrinal instruction to church members. When the first Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was established in 1859 its founders insisted that it be a confessional institution where professors would train men for the pastorate in accordance with and not contrary to the biblical doctrines of grace as they are summarized in the Abstract of Principles.
It is to this "old fashioned" faith that we look--to the faith of our founders. We believe it not because it is old, and not simply because those who established the SBC believed it. Founders Ministries is not now nor has it ever been some sort of antiquarian society. No, we believe the "old faith" because it is true! It is that faith which has once for all been delivered to the saints. Our forbears rightly understood it and so they taught, preached and oriented their lives around those great doctrines of God's sovereign grace as they are revealed in the Holy Scriptures. It was this theology which gave strength and foundation to their lives, their churches, and their denomination. And it is this same system of biblical truth which needs to be rediscovered in our day.
It is for this purpose that Founders Ministries exists. And it is this for which we are praying and working in all of our endeavors: the renewal of churches through the recovery of the Gospel of God's grace in our day. Everyone who shares these concerns must praise God for what we are seeing throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond. The Lord is at work in marvelous ways as a growing chorus of voices is beginning to call for reformation and renewal. And we have many reasons to hope that such work will continue to spread.
Benjamin Keach, the prominent 17th century English Baptist leader, said, "Reformation is a glorious work, and it is what we all long and breathe after." It is a glorious work. And it is a much-needed work. Because of sin it is also an ongoing work which will never be finished. Not until we enter into our eternal rest can we forsake this cause. May the Lord grant us the privilege to see many churches biblically re-formed and always re-forming until the dawning of that great day. This is the burden and prayer of the Founders Ministries.