Our good friend Dr. Tom Elliff, President of the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board, recently sent out a letter that articulates as clear as any I’ve read about the great need for the Southern Baptist Convention as well as our own Tennessee Baptist Convention. With permission, I am using his letter for this “Clarity” article. Please read carefully and prayerfully, and you will not only see the burden which I, as well as many of you carry, but you will also sense a prophetic word of admonition.
Another Critical Battle: Are We Up to It?
Returning from two very fruitful weeks with our personnel in East and Southeast Asia, Jeannie and I feel blessed beyond measure. Now, as we prepare to meet with personnel in our European Peoples Affinity Group, I am reflecting on a burden the Lord has been placing on my heart during these past several months. Permit this explanation.
IMB is a remarkable organization, truly blessed of the Lord and clearly focused on the vision of a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ. The SBC recognizes this vision and in a remarkable fashion eagerly supports what we do. It is of no little significance that while the convention has been in a measurable decline over the past five years, our LMCO this past year was the fourth highest in history.
Additionally, 1,300 churches have already responded to our call to EMBRACE the world’s unengaged and unreached people groups that now number 3,257. This number is down 543 from the 3,800 announced slightly over a year ago, due in part to SBC church and IMB engagement, coupled with the work of other Great Commission partners, national church engagement and reassignment. Further, at the SBC we were able to report over 333,000 baptisms and almost 29,000 new church plants this past year as we worked together with our national partners.
But the news is not all positive, and thus the reason for my burden. While LMCO was up almost $1.2 million, CP was down almost $2 million. This figure, along with other statistics that speak to the declining health of the SBC, speaks volumes about the serious state of our convention.
Here is the issue we must address: Over the past 30 years the SBC experienced a “first” for evangelical conventions and denominations. For the first time in history a major entity that was drifting to the left and losing its appreciation of the Word of God as inerrant, inspired and infallible, made a significant turn to the right! Southern Baptists, in what has been called the “conservative resurgence,” waged a battle for the Bible, and now enjoy the fruit of victory with record enrollment in our institutions, led by entity heads, pastors, churches and mission personnel who embrace a high view of the Word and a pure understanding of the gospel.
But it appears that we were then much more energized over saving the Word from liberalism than we are now about sharing the Word with the lost. To be perfectly honest, there are bright and remarkable churches, entities and state conventions that stand out as exceptions to this statement. These churches and entities are embracing the Great Commission in an aggressive, creative and sacrificial manner. But they are still the exception in the SBC … not the rule, as the statistics sadly reveal.
Ironically, during the conservative resurgence, the enemy of liberalism was clearly and boldly depicted, and we joined ranks to rise up and defeat him. Yet now the enemy is the same! We are in danger of becoming theoretical conservatives but practicing liberals, arising each day with little sense of urgency to fulfill the Great Commission. At the same time, we have put aside the necessity of working together, a hallmark of the “conservative resurgence,” and drifted into a dangerous and prideful state of independence and isolationism. May God help us!
So I am calling on you, our IMB mission personnel, and on any churches, entities and state conventions of the SBC who are committed to aggressively living out the Great Commission, to rise up with us in restoring the lost sense of cooperation, urgency and zeal for missions that must attend these days. Surely we have not fought to recover the purity of the Word, only to place it in a showcase of sterile, empty denominationalism. It is the lost of this world who need saving from the darkness of sin and hell. Our SBC is worthy of saving ONLY if it is willing to give its all to that end, declaring a pure Gospel, discipling in a scriptural manner and planting churches that are willing to give themselves away for the cause of Christ and the message of His cross.
Now I, for one, am willing to give the balance of my life to the end that the gospel may be carried to the ends of the earth. And I believe that you, our IMB personnel around the world, have given evidence that you are willing to join hearts in this noble, God-honoring, Christ-exalting and Spirit-led endeavor? Now let’s appeal to the throne, and to our SBC brothers and sisters to become as eager to share the Word as we once were to save it.
Yours for the vision!
I look forward to having a follow-up word for you next week. It is a joy to be on this journey with you.
Randy C. Davis