The Executive Committee makes a conscientious effort to lead Southern Baptists by example. Although it is done without fanfare, the Committee has taken every precaution to be ever conscious of the Convention's welfare.
Our Committee members, who function as trustees, have routinely demonstrated their love for Christ, a steadfast loyalty to our Convention, and a realization that we do not have all the answers but with God's guidance we will work to give our Convention our best counsel based upon a thorough study of the issues.
The Executive Committee's responsibilities are stated in the Bylaws of the Southern Baptist Convention. Why is this so? It is because the Committee is a direct extension of the Convention. Therefore, the overriding objective of the Committee is to make decisions and offer recommendations with what it believes to be in the best interest of the entire Convention.
The welfare of the Convention is first and foremost in every consideration. The Committee does not function to win political tugs of war. The Committee functions to provide the Convention with its very best counsel and relies upon the Convention to ratify or reject a proposal. Whether the Convention agrees or disagrees, once the Convention has voted, the Committee has fulfilled its task of weighing the pros and cons and giving its best counsel to the Convention.
For fifteen years I have watched as you elected men and women to the Executive Committee who have reasoned their way through tough issues seeking always the guidance of God's Holy Spirit.
Consistently they have taken deliberate steps to provide spiritual leadership by example.
I In 2001, we invited Ken Hemphill to accept a new position as Strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG). Since that time 81,000 individuals in four thousand churches have engaged in EKG: The Heartbeat of God. Over 4,200 individuals in six hundred churches already have studied a more recent publication, the Making Change material. The Louisiana state convention is implementing a convention-wide, three-phase study of all the EKG materials to date beginning in 2008.
Other state conventions are following their example. Dr. Hemphill has traveled thousands of miles preaching and teaching in our churches, associations, and state conventions while at the same time writing the EKG materials based upon suggestions by pastors and leaders in our churches.
EKG was never intended to be a program, but a movement, an appeal for spiritual renewal in us all, and an outbreak of Kingdom consciousness in our churches. Many Southern Baptists are now praying that God will forge a spiritual movement marked by holy living, sacrificial service, and global witness.
Empowering Kingdom Growth was a deliberate step of the Executive Committee to provide spiritual leadership by example.
II 2006, the Executive Committee accepted the ministry assignment of biblical stewardship. God's Word teaches us to be faithful in unselfishly giving our time, talents, and tithes to the Lord. The Cooperative Program and Stewardship division of the Executive Committee has developed a partnership with Crown Financial Ministries and launched a new study entitled It's a New Day about how to conquer debt and enjoy life.
God's Word teaches us that we own absolutely nothing on this earth. All we are and all we have are possessions entrusted to us by God. We cannot expect God to bless us abundantly if we ignore this powerful truth.
Stewardship, as we see it, is not an effort to get something from you. It is an effort to give you God's roadmap to freedom from financial burden and the abundance of God's blessings that are poured out upon those who obey His Word. If God's people become faithful stewards, it will revolutionize your church and this Convention.
Accepting the ministry assignment of stewardship was a deliberate step of the Executive Committee to provide spiritual leadership by example.
III 1997, the SBC assigned Cooperative Program development to the Executive Committee. Last year, our Convention adopted the recommendations of the Cooperative Program Ad Hoc Study Committee. Among those recommendations the Convention adopted were these compelling challenges:
• That every Southern Baptist believer be encouraged to tithe to his local church;
• That Southern Baptist churches be commended for giving sacrificially and proportionally a large percentage of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program;
• That all churches of the Convention be urged to follow the example of giving proportionally in accord with the abundance of God's blessings for the sake of missions, theological education, and religious liberty; and
• That each state convention have a plan for forwarding an increasing percentage of receipts to SBC mission causes through the Cooperative Program.
Today, in accord with a recommendation you adopted last year, the Executive Committee is recommending a definition of the Cooperative Program, something that eluded Southern Baptists all these years since its inception in 1925.
Accepting the ministry assignment of the Cooperative Program was a deliberate step of the Executive Committee to provide spiritual leadership by example.
IV Since the Southern Baptist Convention withdrew its membership from the Baptist World Alliance, the Great Commission Council, composed of chief executives of SBC entities and the Woman's Missionary Union, has continued to build relationships with conservative evangelicals throughout the world. In spite of the withdrawal of our membership from the BWA, Southern Baptists are not isolationists.
Two months ago, we invited Bobby Welch to accept the newly-created position, Strategist for Global Evangelical Relations. His assignment is to build strong relationships with our conservative evangelical brothers and sisters around the world. Already he is traveling extensively, taking the vision to our churches.
As he goes, "Missions" is his message. Between now and the end of the year, he has plans to travel to two continents to begin building strong relationship with like-minded Christians.
Eventually he will have traveled to all seven continents, getting to know those who, like us, have the lost world on their hearts. Dr. Welch is working with all our entities in this effort, especially our mission boards. He is challenging us all to actively engage in Giving and Going for the sake of the unsaved.
Building relationships with like-minded Christians throughout the world is a deliberate step of the Executive Committee to provide spiritual leadership by example.
V The Executive Committee is producing a new film series entitled, Forged by Faith. Three films have been produced, and a fourth will soon be complete. These films are being produced for our churches. They dramatically tell our history as a Convention, a history that must not be forgotten by the coming generations.
As you watch these films, you will be overwhelmed by how God moved among our forebears. Our great heritage should humble us and renew our desire to witness faithfully to the ends of the earth. Those of us alive today cannot witness to past generations. We cannot witness to future generations. If we are going to tell the story of Jesus to a lost world, we must tell it to those who live today.
The Executive Committee also is beginning to publish books about our history and heritage. LifeWay leased us an imprint it has used in past days. The imprint is Convention Press. Under this venerable imprint, we printed the booklet entitled Building Bridges.
Producing films and books about our history and heritage is a deliberate step of the Executive Committee to provide spiritual leadership by example.
VI February the Executive Committee adopted a doctrinal framework by which it undertakes its assignments.
The Executive Committee acknowledged that the Baptist Faith and Message is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such, is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices for Convention entities.
The Baptist Faith and Message has long been the doctrinal umbrella under which we have sent missionaries into foreign fields and preachers have been called to local pulpits. The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, but it is a confession of the core beliefs of Southern Baptists.
James P. Boyce, founding president of Southern Seminary, has a word for our generation. He wrote a letter in which he referred to the three principles which were the underpinnings of preparing and approving the Abstract of Principles.
This confession assured the perpetuity of sound doctrine among the professors of Southern Seminary. The third principle stated that "Upon no point, upon which the denomination is divided, should...the Seminary take any position."
Dr. Boyce said, "It is to be hoped that the time will come when all Baptists shall see eye to eye upon all points. But this is to be accomplished by mutual forbearance and instruction. Let us all pray for the guidance of God's Spirit by which alone that end can be attained."
He continued, "But [in the] meantime, what? Let us keep on with the work of the Seminary. Let us speak forth plainly and kindly our own views. Let us discuss them with love for each other and a desire to bring others to the truth. Let that truth never be compromised through fear or favor, but distinctly declared."
Revising the Baptist Faith and Message should not be lightly regarded, nor should our confessional statement be revised year after year. However, if we believe a doctrine is a part of the core belief system of Southern Baptists, it should be in the Baptist Faith and Message. Only a very few years ago it seemed sufficient for all missionaries and Convention leaders to sign the Baptist Faith and Message as a statement of loyalty to Christ and the Convention. Now other doctrines are beginning to be required aside from our adopted confession. It causes one to ask, "Where does it end?" Let me propose two suggestions for future consideration:
First, any practice instituted by an entity in the Southern Baptist Convention that has the force of doctrine should be in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message and not exceed its boundaries unless and until it has been approved by the Southern Baptist Convention.
Second, if an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention adopts a confession of faith separate and distinct from the Baptist Faith and Message and it includes a doctrine unsupported by our confessional statement, the entity should request approval from the Convention prior to including the doctrine in its confession.
These two proposals have to do only with the confession of faith by which employees of an entity of the Convention are to abide whether they are missionaries, professors, or administrators.
What these proposals do not do is restrict the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission from proclaiming biblical positions about the moral and ethical issues with which we are confronted as Christians.
These proposals in no way require the allegiance of students in order to be enrolled in one of our seminaries.
These proposals do not infringe upon the responsibility of trustees to govern an entity of our Convention.
We must come together as one in the Spirit over the core beliefs that we hold in common and learn to engage in healthy debate about varied interpretations of Scripture. Otherwise, we shall spend our time arguing among ourselves while thousands, even millions die without a Savior.
Acknowledging that the Baptist Faith and Message is the only consensus doctrinal statement of belief approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention is a deliberate step of the Executive Committee to provide spiritual leadership by example.
During the conservative resurgence, those of us in leadership repeated again and again that the issue at hand was the authority of God's Word. We specifically stated that "the resurgence is not about the interpretation of God's Word."
Now that we have clarified and solidified what we think about the authority of God's Word, we are struggling with the temptation to lay down certain interpretations for defining a true Southern Baptist compared to a maverick Southern Baptist. For Jesus' sake, and the sake of His Kingdom on earth, we must not make every doctrinal issue a crusade or a political football.
We are wasting time when we are given to harshly debating disputable doctrines that lead to destructive distractions. We have no right to judge others with whom we disagree about secondary and tertiary doctrines. Only God is our Judge. But we do have the right to engage in spirited debate where we differ.
What then should be our spirit in debate? We must bind ourselves together to walk in the Spirit of Christ, to have the mind of Christ, and to honor Christ in every thought, word, and deed. Holiness, humility, and righteousness are the traits that will rescue Southern Baptists for another day. Except Christ become the Lord of our lives and we have a special visitation of God's Spirit from above, we shall fail miserably in leading the lost to know Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord.
We desperately need to pray for God to send His Pentecostal power upon us as He did upon the early Christians. They were baptized by the Holy Spirit because, for the first time ever, He was coming to reside in the hearts of born again believers.
But make no mistake about it, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a one time experience that occurs when a person trusts Christ as his personal Savior. How do we know? Because the Bible teaches that when we are saved the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ. We are never commanded in Scripture to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. We are commanded to be filled with His Spirit.
We were baptized by the Holy Spirit when we were saved. We are to be filled daily by abandoning our will to the will of the Father.
Let our prayer be for God to send the fire of Pentecost upon us so that we can witness three thousand souls coming to Christ in a single worship experience!
We cannot do it without His power. We always are in danger of attempting too many things for God in our own power. We need His power. And He will not pour out His power if we are disobedient to His Word, both in our doctrinal convictions and our attitudes toward each other.
Let us go before the Lord to pray, "God, forgive me! Humble me! Flood my soul with Your power! Empower me to live for Your glory!"