Southern Baptists meeting in San Antonio on June 12-13 re-elected Frank Page as president, focused on a call for repentance, and passed a motion identifying the Baptist Faith and Message as the denomination's "only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs" while saying it's not a creed but a guide.
The pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, Page was elected unopposed, one year after he surprised many observers by being elected on the first ballot in a three-man race. Page this year used his first presidential address to say the denomination must repent of its "hubris" and "arrogance" in order to hope for revival.
With more than 8,600 messengers in attendance, it was the first annual meeting held in San Antonio since 1988.
"For thirty years we've been trying to raise baptism levels among non-revived churches among non-revived people who've lost their passion for the lost," said Page, adding he was paraphrasing longtime evangelism professor Roy Fish. "But interestingly enough, we've become strangely passionate about our own agendas.... [We should ask ourselves,] 'Why am I not as deeply passionate about the lost?'
"...I have seen a factionalism that deeply disturbs me, and I have asked Baptists across this land, 'Although we have ... significant differences, would you take my hand and work with me in the winning of the lost to Jesus and the winning of this world to Christ?'"
The following day, messengers unanimously passed a resolution calling on Southern Baptists to "humble ourselves in individual and corporate repentance" and urging the denomination "to embrace a spirit of repentance, pursue face-to-face reconciliation where necessary, and enter into a time of fasting and prayer for the lost."
California pastor Rob Zinn preached the convention sermon and delivered a similar message, saying, "We are a denomination that talks a lot and does little when it comes to evangelism." Addressing the topic of dismal baptism numbers within the SBC despite lofty goals, Zinn said, "Our attitudes stink." The denomination, he added, must be willing to change its methodology while staying true to the Gospel message. One of the changes, he added, includes music. His church uses a blended style. He asked grandparents in the audience, "How many of you love those grandkids enough you'd be willing to change your music for them?"
"If we're going to win young people to Jesus in this culture, we're going to have to be willing to change our mindsets," said Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, California. "...Folks, what you did in the '40s and what you did in the '50s isn't going to win this culture to Jesus."
Reflecting the call for repentance and revival, every few hours throughout the meeting messengers were asked to gather in small groups in prayer, turning the lively, noisy convention hall into a reverent silence.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned BF&M-related motion dominated conversation about business matters both on and off the floor. With a vote of 57.7 percent to 42.2 percent, messengers adopted the following statement: "The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible; nevertheless we further acknowledge that it 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 of entities of the Convention."
For at least some, the statement was open to interpretation. Page gave his viewpoint at his press conference.
"I do think that what is happening is an attempt by many people — and I do not know if it's a majority — to say that the pendulum has swung far enough," he said, adding there was a "a day and time when the BF&M was an extreme document to some and now it's almost like it's being seen as more moderating — a moderating influence.
"I do believe we've gone far enough and that the Baptist Faith and Message is enough, and I encourage entities not to go beyond that in their doctrinal parameters," he said. "I think that's what many people are saying. The current issues that have evoked this discussion are different than the conservative-moderate issues of the past. There are issues within...the family of conservative theology, and there are many people that are arguing various secondary and tertiary issues that are still within the framework of inerrantism or an extreme conservative viewpoint. So I don't think it's the same issue that we've had in the past."
One reporter asked Page if he was saying that "when the BF&M is silent on a subject" that an entity "should not take action in any way that goes beyond the BF&M."
"No, that's not what I said," Page said. "I said in doctrinal parameters I think they need to be very careful in moving past them. We do respect the trustee system and if they do, they do have that right. I simply said I urge them not to go beyond doctrinal parameters. There are multitudes of issues that trustees have to deal with as regarding personnel, regarding issues of all kinds that may not be directly doctrinal at all."
In other matters:
• New NAMB President Geoff Hammond appeared before messengers for the first time in his new position, asking them to pray for a movement of "churches planting churches planting churches planting churches." He said that phrase repeatedly, in fact, until messengers joined him. Several NAMB missionaries joined him on stage, including one family that planted a church in a small Montana town and that, with attendance around sixty, already has a goal of planting its own church. Messengers gave him at least two standing ovations.
• International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said more than 475,000 new believers were baptized and more than twenty-three thousand new churches planted last year through the work of IMB missionaries. Rankin encouraged SBC churches to partner with overseas missionaries through short-term mission trips and prayer and financial support. Jeremy McSwain, minister of music and education at Crestview Baptist Church in Shelby, North Carolina, appeared on stage and told how his church has partnered with missionaries in Moscow. When he takes church members to Russia and they see the city's lostness, he said, "It motivates them to tell the story of Jesus — both overseas and at home."
• Executive Committee President Morris Chapman delivered an address saying, "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.
"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," he said.
• Messengers adopted an official definition of the Cooperative Program, saying CP "is Southern Baptists' unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries." The definition came from a recommendation from the Executive Committee and passed overwhelmingly.
• Messengers passed a resolution condemning child sexual abuse, saying Southern Baptists "express our deep level of moral outrage and concern at any instance of child victimization" and that "we implore Southern Baptist churches to utilize materials from LifeWay Christian Resources and state conventions and other relevant research that help churches prevent child abuse." Messengers also passed a global warming resolution centered on concern for the poor, urging "Southern Baptists to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research." It also says "Christians are called by God to exercise caring stewardship and dominion over the earth and environment."
• President Bush addressed messengers via satellite, thanking them for their prayers. "God has blessed our nation with prosperity and great abundance, and I firmly believe, like you, that we should use our resources to help those at need here at home and help those in need abroad. And this is a central part of the work of the Southern Baptist Convention. ...You're living out the call to spread the Gospel and proclaim the Kingdom of God."
• Nearly one thousand people — 959 to be exact — made first-time decisions for Christ during the Crossover evangelistic outreach. Crossover is an annual event preceding the SBC meeting whereby volunteers witness through the use of, for example, block parties, cultural celebrations, medical clinics, and door-to-door evangelistic visits.
• Chuck Colson addressed the SBC Pastors' Conference, urging pastors to engage the culture. He pointed to twin threats in the world — a battle over absolute truth and a battle against radical Islam. "I can't imagine any time in history when you would look around as a Christian and see a world that is filled with more danger than the world in which we live today," he said. Additionally during the Pastors' Conference, four current or former entity heads — Jimmy Draper, O.S. Hawkins, R. Albert Mohler Jr., and Paige Patterson — gave personal testimonies as to how Christ brought them through low points in their life.
• Jim Richards, founding director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, was elected as first vice president, and Eric Redmond, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Maryland, as second vice president. John L. Yeats was re-elected recording secretary and Jim Wells re-elected registration secretary.
• The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions celebrated the 300th anniversary of Baptist associations in America. The Philadelphia Baptist Association was founded in 1707.
• Messengers approved a reallocation of Cooperative Program dollars previously allotted to GuideStone Financial Resources. The new allocation, recommended by the Executive Committee, will increase the allocation for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission from 1.49 percent to 1.65 percent for the 2007-08 budget year, resulting in a net increase of $320,962. The approved recommendation also will increase Executive Committee funds from 3.32 percent to 3.40 for the expressed purpose of providing funds for the stewardship ministry recently assigned to the Executive Committee, resulting in a net increase of $160,480 in 2007-08.
Additionally, a one-time distribution of $347,710 will go to each of the Convention's three smaller seminaries: Southeastern, Midwestern, and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminaries. For the 2008-09 budget year, the same recommendation called for the ERLC's allocation to continue at 1.65 percent and the Executive Committee's portion to stay at 3.40 percent. The remaining .52 percent of GuideStone's .76 percent allocation would be included in the overall seminary allocation, resulting in an increase from 21.40 percent to 21.92 percent for the foreseeable future. Guidestone earlier this year announced it no longer needed CP funding and was releasing its portion for use by other entities.
Next year's meeting will be held June 10-11 in Indianapolis, Indiana.