In an annual meeting marked by repeated calls for cooperation in evangelism and missions, Southern Baptists June 13-14 in Greensboro, North Carolina, elected a new president, stressed increased giving through the Cooperative Program, and remembered the late Adrian Rogers, whose widow urged the denomination to "graciously work for unity in the body of Christ."
The meeting marked the final one for SBC President Bobby Welch, whose "Everyone Can" emphasis set a goal of baptizing 1 million in one year. The twelve-month push began last October and runs through the final week of September, which marks the end of the SBC's church year.
For the second straight year, more than eleven thousand messengers attended the meeting. The official total of 11,639 was barely under last year's total of 11,641.
"We will baptize a million in a year. I don't know if it will be this year. [But] we could baptize a million this year if you'd get up and get out of here and go to work," an optimistic Welch said to loud applause on the final night, which featured a musical finale featuring the Bellevue Baptist Church choir and the "Everyone Can" People's Mass Choir, as well as some seventy-five large Scripture-themed banners displayed throughout the Greensboro Coliseum.
In what some considered a surprise, South Carolina pastor Frank Page was elected SBC president on the first ballot over two nominees. His election came amidst a movement in the denomination for a greater emphasis on Cooperative Program giving and broadening involvement among conservatives in the appointment process. Page's church, First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, gave 12.4 percent to the Cooperative Program during the most recent church year.
"The people have spoken a powerful message, and one of the things I think they're saying is that we can do together a lot more and a lot better than we can do separately," Page said. "I think there is a clear call from the people of the Southern Baptist Convention that we want to strengthen our work together through the Cooperative Program [and] we want to strengthen our work together as we expand involvement to reach out to godly, conservative men and women who perhaps have not been utilized in the past."
But he added, "I do not believe the Convention elected me to somehow undo the conservative resurgence. That is not who I am, not what they've asked for, not what they want."
Messengers remembered Rogers twice during the week, with his widow, Joyce, appearing at the podium each time. On one occasion, following an emotional tribute that featured a video testimony about Rogers from every other conservative resurgence president, she was moved to tears. But her words on the final night of the Pastors' Conference — the day before Page's election — likely will be remembered in years to come.
"Adrian Rogers would not have been a part of what is going on in some parts of our Convention today, getting narrower and narrower about very highly interpretive issues," she said to messengers, who responded by applauding for about fifteen seconds.
"He would try to convince you of his view, but not to exclude you from service and fellowship, or to prevent you from going around the world with Southern Baptists to share the Gospel if you disagreed on these controversial issues. And I challenge you on his behalf to graciously work for unity in the body of Christ."
Welch told Southern Baptists to "come together on the main thing." SBC Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman said the denomination must learn to "major on the majors."
"It is time to cease narrowing the parameters of our collective convictions and widen the parameters of our vision for world missions," Chapman said. "... A continuation of the constant politicization of this Convention and its churches will come at the price of turning conservative brother against conservative brother; of losing church members who love Jesus, love the Bible, love the church, love the Convention, love the Kingdom of God, and love world missions; and at the price of losing the favor of God upon us."
And seminary presidents Paige Patterson and R. Albert Mohler Jr. engaged in a friendly discussion on the issue of Calvinism to standing room only crowds during breakout sessions of the Pastors' Conference, with both men saying Southern Baptists can disagree on the issue while remaining unified in spreading the Gospel.
"I do hope...we will provide at least an example on that point, if on no other," Patterson said. "... If we allow Satan to have his way, we'll divide up over it, as we certainly should not."
The denomination also unveiled a larger-than-life statue of evangelist Billy Graham that will reside in downtown Nashville on the property of LifeWay Christian Resources. The statue, by sculptor Terrell O'Brien, features a seven-foot-tall depiction of Graham — arms outstretched, holding a large Bible — standing beside a seventeen-foot cross. Cliff Barrows, longtime Graham crusade song director, and William Franklin Graham IV, Graham's grandson, accepted the statute on behalf of Graham.
"[The sculpture] represents a passion for the Word of God," Barrows said. "He believes [the Bible] is the Word of God. You have heard him say in countries around the world as I have, 'the Bible says.' That was the foundation for his message."
Messengers adopted a report from an Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee encouraging churches "to give an increasing percentage of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program." The report also encouraged the election of leaders whose churches "systematically and enthusiastically lead by example in giving sacrificially and proportionally through the Cooperative Program." Messengers defeated an amendment to the report that would have set a ten-percent goal for churches in CP giving. But the overall report emphasizing CP giving passed easily.
"The Baptists' best bounce for their Baptist buck is through CP [the Cooperative Program]," Welch said during his president's address. "With the Cooperative Program, everyone can. Your dollar works seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, all around the world, non-stop — even when you're snoring, asleep, it's still working."
Page was elected with 4,546 votes, or 50.48 percent of the vote. Ronnie Floyd of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas, received 2,247 votes (24.95 percent) while Jerry Sutton of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, got 2,168 votes (24.08 percent).
In making future appointments to SBC committees, Page said he would have four criteria: The person must have a "sweet spirit," a heart for evangelism, a commitment to biblical inerrancy, and must be a "great" supporter of the Cooperative Program. At a press conference after his election, Page said he was "a little taken aback" by winning and believed this year's annual meeting could be a "defining moment" in the Convention.
"I do think it is a turning point," said Page, who grew up in Greensboro, was saved in the city, and whose parents still live there. "And I do think a different tone will come forth from this Convention. And that tone will indeed echo some deep appreciation of the past in the sacrifices men and women have made. But I think it also will show, in the future, [that] the landscape has changed — that there is a deep need to involve a much larger constituency."
In other noteworthy matters:
• Messengers approved moving the responsibility for stewardship education within the Southern Baptist Convention to the Executive Committee from LifeWay Christian Resources. The move consolidates stewardship with SBC Cooperative Program promotion. The Executive Committee, which houses the Cooperative Program offices in the Southern Baptist Convention Building in Nashville, Tennessee, now will add a stewardship arm to "produce, develop, publish, and distribute products that help Southern Baptists to grow in commitment to Jesus Christ by applying biblical principles of stewardship." Bob Rodgers, vice president for Cooperative Program, announced a collaborative relationship with Crown Financial Ministries that will serve as the core of a national stewardship initiative dubbed "It's a New Day." The initiative's goal is to bring financial freedom to individuals, families, and churches by teaching how to make Christ Lord of every area of life, including finances.
• Messengers passed a resolution opposing the manufacture and consumption of alcohol and urging the exclusion of Southern Baptists who drink from election to the Convention's boards, committees, and entities. It passed approximately by a fourth-fifths majority. Like other resolutions, it is not binding on SBC churches and entities. All total, messengers passed fifteen resolutions, including one that sought to balance faithful enforcement of the United States' immigration laws with compassionate outreach to all immigrants. It passed nearly unanimously with no debate. They also adopted resolutions that: expressed displeasure with U.S. senators who recently failed to support a constitutional marriage amendment; affirmed Christian teachers in the public schools, and encouraged Southern Baptists to provide a godly influence on school systems through such means as election to school boards; and condemned all human species-altering technologies, including the creation of human-animal hybrids.
• President Bush spoke via video message, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke in person to messengers. Bush expressed his appreciation that Southern Baptists were dedicating a statue to Billy Graham. He also said America is "making progress" in building a culture of life. Rice underscored the importance of America's moral leadership: "If America does not serve great purposes, if we do not rally other nations to fight intolerance and support peace and defend freedom, and to help give all hope who suffer oppression, then our world will drift toward tragedy," she said.
• Roy Fish, interim president of the North American Mission Board, was introduced to messengers. Bill Curtis, chairman of the board of trustees at NAMB, said the presidential search committee will receive resumes for the new president at www.namb.net through September 1. "But the committee will then take as much time as necessary to find the man God has for us," he said, before later adding, "I don't want to lose sight of the fact that this past year has been one where our missionaries and mission partners have made a tremendous Kingdom impact on the lives of countless millions of people."
• International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin encouraged Southern Baptists to "stay focused" on the task of missions. He also thanked them for responding in their giving. "Most significantly in our report tonight, Southern Baptists, you gave the largest Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in history with a total of $137,939,677. This reflects your heart for reaching a lost world, your passion for our mission task and your obedience to our Lord."
• Messengers referred a motion to the International Mission Board calling for an investigation of alleged impropriety among IMB trustees. The motion was made by Wade Burleson, an IMB trustee from Oklahoma and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma. He supported the referral.
• Messengers defeated, by a show of ballots, an Executive Committee recommendation asking the Woman's Missionary Union to reaffirm its loyalty to the Southern Baptist Convention. The recommendation asked the 118-year-old auxiliary of the SBC to "reaffirm explicitly in [its] governing documents and promotional materials the WMU's historic, unique, and exclusive promotion of Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries" and/or "become an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention in a manner following the form of the other SBC entities and acceptable to the Convention." The recommendation came in response to a motion at the 2005 SBC annual meeting questioning the WMU's allegiance to the SBC. That motion was referred to the Executive Committee.
• LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer addressed messengers in his new post for the first time, saying that LifeWay plans on putting a greater emphasis on evangelism it its products and wants to help strengthen church Sunday Schools. "Whether you're looking at FAITH material, Sunday School literature, VBS material, or something else, you'll see more evangelistic opportunities than you can count," he said. "You can't disciple people who aren't Christians, so we intend to do everything we can to help people and churches do evangelism."
• Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land expressed hope in America's future, saying that underneath a "camouflage net of pagan behavior and irresponsible behavior," a "genuine, heaven-sent, Spirit-led revival" is taking place. Pointing to a recent report from Christian researcher George Barna, Land said 51 percent of respondents indicated they have been "greatly transformed by their faith." Among these individuals are "revolutionaries," Land said, some 20 million believers "sold out to lives of radical obedience to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." He said most of the Christians identified by Barna are in their 20s and 30s. "They are going to revolutionize America. It is up to us to grab that spiritual energy and harness it within our churches," he said.
• GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins said the health of Southern Baptist pastors is "improving." GuideStone had a free wellness center set up in the SBC exhibit hall. "Total cholesterol count is down, blood pressure is dropping, and blood sugar numbers are dropping," he said. "Unfortunately, the preliminary report for the Greensboro Convention reveals that 70 percent of pastors have a medium-to-high risk for cardiovascular disease so there is still work to be done." Hawkins urged churches to include life and health benefits in their church budget for their pastor and staff.
• Don Wilton, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, delivered the Convention sermon, saying Southern Baptists "have some serious confessing and forgiving to do." "Southern Baptists, it is time for us to wake up. It is time for us to stop the nonsense," he said. "It is time for us to roll up our sleeves and go to work and become the soul-winners we claim to be." He added, "If we do not obey what God teaches us to do ... God will no longer bless this denomination."
• According to early, unofficial numbers, at least 750-800 decisions for Christ were reported as part of Crossover, a yearly evangelistic event that focuses on the annual meeting's city and the surrounding community.
Next year's meeting will be held in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007.
With reporting by Art Toalston, Joni B. Hannigan, Mickey Noah, Gregory Tomlin, Tom Strode, Chris Turner, Dwayne Hastings, Todd Deaton, David Roach, Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Norm Miller, Erin Roach, Tim Ellsworth, Jeff Robinson, and Don Graham.