'Major on the majors,' Chapman exhorts Southern Baptists

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)--Southern Baptists must put aside divisions over minor issues and reaffirm their commitment to cooperate in missions if they hope to reach the world with the message of Jesus, Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said June 13.

"My hope for our convention is simple," Chapman said during the Executive Committee’s report at the SBC’s annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. "It runs upon one premise. It rides upon one purpose. It rests upon one person. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.

"Our commission for sending missionaries to the ends of the earth is to scatter the seed of the Gospel. Our compulsion to scatter the seed is the transforming power of Jesus' death on the cross."

In order to focus on the great hope of Jesus, Southern Baptists must let the Holy Spirit lead them and turn their hearts away from sin -- especially the sin of division, Chapman said, adding, "My hope for our convention is that God's Spirit will move from heart to heart and church to church until we are changed by His power."

One potential cause of division in the SBC today is an inappropriate emphasis on Calvinism, Chapman said.

Most Southern Baptists are neither strict Calvinists nor ardent Arminians but are "biblical" and "Baptists," Chapman said. All Southern Baptists must agree that salvation is a gracious work of the sovereign God and not allow Calvinism to divide churches, he said.

"If you wish, debate Calvinism," Chapman said. "We should not fear theological debate as long as the participants understand they are brothers debating one another in a friendly environment. While Calvinism is a fair debate in the halls of academia, we do not need to bring the debate into our churches at the cost of dividing our congregations."

Another cause of division in the SBC is a minority of pastors who insist on introducing elder rule into churches that have always practiced congregational rule, he said.

"The insistence by pastors to incorporate elder rule in churches that have practiced congregational rule from their inception will serve only to cripple the ministries of our churches, divide the people and ultimately destroy the witness of churches that have been lighthouses for the Kingdom in their communities and cities. It's already happening," Chapman said.

Intense political posturing also threatens to divide Southern Baptists and distract them from cooperation for the Gospel, the EC president said. Fighting political battles to turn the SBC back to its conservative roots was "a worthy cause," but the current politicization in the convention will hurt God's Kingdom if left unchecked, he 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," he said.

Sounding a theme that was familiar throughout the annual meeting, Chapman warned against using Southern Baptists’ statement of faith to split the denomination.

"The Baptist Faith and Message was written as a confession to pull us together not as a creed to pull us apart,” he said. “It is time to cease narrowing the parameters of our collective convictions and widen the parameters of our vision for world missions"

As Southern Baptists put aside divisions, they will become an empowered convention that reaches the world for Christ through the means of the Cooperative Program -- Southern Baptists' channel of cooperative giving to missions, Chapman said. He emphasized that the key to the Cooperative Program's success is willing hearts.

"The Cooperative Program is not an end unto itself," he said. "The Cooperative Program is a means to an end. And the end is missions -- missions all over the world. Missions is about church planting, pastor training and personal witnessing.

"That's why we do not give to the Cooperative Program. We give through the Cooperative Program."

Referring to an Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee's recommendations, Chapman said increasing CP giving must be a priority for Southern Baptist churches as a matter of faithful stewardship.

"The report of the Ad Hoc CP Committee is a cry for help to expand our witness to all the peoples of the world," Chapman said. "It is not a cry for more money to keep a bloated bureaucracy afloat. It is a cry for support of state, national and international missions, theological education and religious liberty. The appeal of the report is not for dollars, but for biblical stewardship and a deep-seated conviction that the convention has a higher purpose, far exceeding a funding program."

Chapman urged Southern Baptists to "major on the majors" as they pursue the great task of missions and evangelism.

"I appeal to every Southern Baptists pastor: Major on the majors in our churches," he said. "We have no time to lose, no time to be distracted from our calling -- missions and evangelism."


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