This is the article that "explains" the resolution of the Consolation Baptist Association as sent to me by Joe McGee, Associational Missionary.
THE GEORGIA BAPTIST CONVENTION AND THE COOPERATIVE PROGRAM: GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION
From the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 through 1925, several institutions were added to help train ministers and to provide mission and ministry opportunities. Each sought-out contributions from the churches Sunday by Sunday by sending forth fund-raisers from their seminaries, colleges, orphanages, hospitals, mission boards, and benevolent organizations who procured time behind the pastor’s pulpit to solicit funds. Some churches and pastors complained that the traveling fund-raisers were a nuisance since they always interrupted their services by commandeering their pulpit. The fund-raisers who were more emotional or represented the more popular institutions would receive the majority of funds while many Southern Baptist and state conventions organizations received very little. Fund-raisers often kept up to fifty percent of what was raised as a commission. This type of fund-raising is known as “societal giving.” When a person examines an old association book of minutes published before 1925, he or she will notice that there was no central program in which to contribute to missions but rather about a dozen separate Southern Baptist and State Baptist organizations are listed in the contribution charts. It is a rare to find any church within the association that had contributed to every organization. In our association most churches only contributed to a few, therefore, leaving most ministries and missions unfunded.
In 1925, the Southern Baptist Convention decided to address the need of a cost effective and efficient program to replace the societal giving for financing the institutions of the Southern Baptist and State Baptist Conventions that resulted with the founding of the Cooperative Program. The benefits of the cooperative program was that a church could simply send their mission money (suggested ten percent) to their State Convention who would divide the proceeds on a 50 – 50 basis with the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (some states divided it on a 60 – 40 basis, while others on a 75 – 25 basis). The Executive Committee would divide their proceeds by percentage among the different Southern Baptist Institutions and the State Conventions divided their proceeds among their different ministries and institutions. The second benefit was that all the institutions were able to receive funding all year long and no longer participate in the financial high and lows they experienced during the societal giving. The third benefit was that all ministries and missions of both conventions were supported, not just those that were popular. The fourth benefit was the cessation of fund-raisers asking for pulpit time since all organizations receiving cooperative program had to agree to not send out fund-raisers in return. The last benefit of the cooperative program was that the different institutions no longer had to contribute a large amount of raised funds to the fund-raisers as commission, thereby providing more mission and ministry moneys.
The cooperative program has been a great program for funding Southern Baptist and State Convention missions and ministries for over eighty-five years. However, the cooperative program has been harmed by the down turn in the economy, and according to many Southern Baptists, by the establishment of the Great Commission Giving (GCG), and the continued controversies within the Southern Baptist Convention. These three factors have brought great harm to our State Conventions, one of the factors that brought additional harm to the State Conventions actually benefited the Southern Baptist Convention, and one factor has harmed the State Conventions by their being guilty by association with the Southern Baptist Convention through the cooperative program.
It is no secret that during the last three years the economy shares the responsibility for the decrease in giving to our churches. This decrease in finances has affected the amount of mission contributions that our churches are able to provide. Not long ago I checked the unemployment rate in our two counties and found that Appling County had almost twelve percent unemployment while Jeff Davis County had almost fourteen percent. The economy has not only affected the churches’ offerings and budgets, it has also affected those of Baptist associations and those of the state conventions. God has used our churches to bring blessings upon our association. Although, we still have a tight budget and sometimes we have to inform our churches of immediate needs our association has been able to hold our heads above water. Sometimes the amount of contributions that a church has sent in the past may be a little lower, however, the percentage is still the same and for that we are grateful. When I thank members of our churches for their faithfulness to association missions they often respond by informing me that they feel, unlike the Southern Baptist Convention, that they still have a voice in the association and did not feel disenfranchised.
Great Commission Giving
In 2012, many of our pastors and church members went to Florida to oppose the “Great Commission Giving.” There was a fear that the passing of the Great Commission Giving would harmfully affect the state conventions. It seemed that there were already several mega-church pastors who were contributing directly to the International Mission Board, and/or the North American Mission Board, and/or to one of the Southern Baptist Seminaries in which they had graduated. It must be noted that they have the right to contribute their mission monies anywhere they wish. Many encouraged the passing of the Great Commission Giving as a means to increase support for foreign missions. Because of their financial strength the large and mega-churches need for the local association and state conventions are minimum. They do not understand that by shifting much of their contribution away from the cooperative program and association missions that it affects the smaller and medium churches that are assisted by both. It also affects those who live in their local area who do not know Christ as Savior.
There is evidence that the fear or our pastors and church members were merited. Over the last few years most, if not all, of the state conventions have experience a dramatic financial decrease, resulting in the loss of many positions and programs that provide assistance for the small town, rural churches. Sometimes whole departments have been eliminated. Although the 2011 cooperative program giving was down by 5.86 percent the Southern Baptist institutions are receiving contributions up to 5-6 % over last year’s contributions during the same span. This is evidence that there has been a shift by some to give their contributions straight to the Southern Baptist institutions, therefore, affecting the total finances state conventions receive (Christian Index, Feb. 9, 2012, pages 1, 5, and 9-11). Many of those who oppose the Great Commission Giving believe in Acts 1:8. This includes local, state, country, and world missions. They feel that souls in their local area are just as important as souls in foreign lands. They can not afford full-time staff who may meet all their ministry needs. Thereby, they need the training and partnership with other churches provided by their local association and state convention. The decision of some churches to by-pass the cooperative program, who should not be demonized since they have that right, has resulted in an unbalanced division of contributions between the organizations of the Southern Baptist Convention and the organizations of each state convention. This unbalance must be addressed if the state conventions are to survive and provide the needed ministry to equip our churches and to minister to the nonbelievers within our own state.
Controversies in the Southern Baptist Convention
Having had the opportunity to speak with church members, pastors, and denomination workers it has been made plain that some churches have cut a percentage of their cooperative program contribution, while some feel this may possibility occur in the near future. As I listen to the individuals from these churches I have noticed that the great majority of their complaints are not with our state convention. Most of their dissatisfaction and feeling of disenfranchisement is, with what they perceive as controversies, with the Southern Baptist Convention. Following is a list of some of the complaints.
- Some feel that certain mega-church pastors control the Southern Baptist Convention (this is not a reference to all mega-church pastors, most are great men whose churches contribute to associations and the cooperative program). I do not believe that they feel the mega-church pastors are evil, but that they have a different religious worldview, a worldview that does not fit that of the great majority of Southern Baptist Churches.
- There is a perception that two Southern Baptist seminary presidents control the Southern Baptist Convention. The perception is that both men are the one’s who selected and encouraged the present and immediate former president of the Southern Baptist Convention to run for the office. One of these men authored, and the other helped push the acceptance of the document that led to the Great Commission Giving. There is an observation that they were involved in every major change in the Southern Baptist Convention for the last three years. I will be the first to say that they are good men who do a good job leading their seminaries. I find their books and blogs helpful in ministry. However, there is a perception of conflict of interest since their involvement has affected their seminaries.
- There is a perception that too often leaders of our institutions serve on committees that will have a tremendous influence on Southern Baptists; committees that are not always endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention. This alarms many pastors who wonder if the tail is wagging the dog. It also makes them feel that certain ones in leadership are manipulating and forcing their agenda on the rest of us. One pastor responded to this by stating, “It is as if the majority of Southern Baptists have no idea what they are doing and these guys act as if they have to save us from ourselves. They think they have all the answers.”
- There is a feeling that the present leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention is trying to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention through a backdoor method. During the years of my ministry there have been six attempts to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, the last dating during the 2004 Southern Baptist Convention. In every situation the messengers have overwhelmingly defeated the motion. Many feel that the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention went against the by-laws of the Convention when he appointed a committee to discuss the name change without approval from the messengers of the SBC. This way he was able to by-pass the people and select his own appointees to serve, again many of them are paid staff of Southern Baptist organizations and again another example of the tail wagging the dog. This backdoor method includes the use of a descriptor, “Great Commission Baptist.” When asked if the use of a descriptor was an attempt to eventually change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, their response was that no one could know for sure (Christian Index, March8, 2012, p. 11). There is suspicion that the employees of Southern Baptist institutions will begin to refer to Southern Baptists as Great Commission Baptists with the goal of a complete name change. How many people remember the Datsun automobile company that changed its name to Nissan? The automaker first placed a larger name Datsun nametag on the automobile with a smaller Nissan nametag for a year or two. The second phase of the name change consisted of two equal name tags on the automobile. The third phase consisted of a larger Nissan name tag with a smaller Datsun name tag. Then at last they only placed a Nissan nametag on the automobile and everyone forgot the name Datsun.
- There is dissatisfaction among many pastors and church members in the small town rural areas who feel that the majority of those who are leading the Southern Baptist Convention sit on the special committees, and recent elected presidents of the Southern Baptist Institution (NAMB for an example) served churches that historically contributes a small percentage to the cooperative program; some gave nothing If it had not been for a couple of men who served on the “Great Commission Giving” committee their average percentage of contribution to the cooperative program would have been between one and two percent. Remember, this was the committee to decide the future for the cooperative program giving. They question why a man was made the president of NAMB whose
church gave very little and was lacking in Annie Armstrong Missions contributions.
6. One of the complaints I hear is the teaching of Calvinism being taught in some of our
seminaries, NAMB, and LifeWay (Christian Index, February 9, 2012, ps. 6 -7). I want to be fair here. I know that there are many definitions of Calvinism. There is Hyper Calvinism, High Calvinism (sometimes referred to as Strong Calvinism), and two different forms of Moderate Calvinism (some refer to as soft-Calvinism). Most Southern Baptist fall into one of the Moderate Calvinism categories and may not even know it. I believe that when most people hear the word “Calvinism” they think of Hyper-Calvinism or Primitive Baptists. I believe that most of the Calvinism referred to in the Christian Index dealt with either High or Hyper Calvinism. I had an opportunity to talk with my friend Dr. Gerald Harris, editor of the Christian Index. He was gracious enough to send me a reply to his article. He shared that he was not referring to the moderate form of Calvinism, but to the hyper-Calvinism. He also stated, and I quote, “But there is an aggressive form of Calvinism that seems to be fairly intolerant and militant - that is why I wrote that there is a brand of Calvinism that is quite different from the Reformed theology of the founder of Southern Seminary, James Petigru Boyce.” He also quoted one of the Southern Baptist Seminary presidents who I respect, but disagree with, as saying on more than one occasion, “Calvinism is the shape of the future, because the options otherwise don’t very much exist.”
- Recently, I was informed of a new concern. I stated earlier that one of the benefits of the cooperative program was that it ended the constant request of fund-raisers for pulpit time to solicit funds for their organizations. Actually, any Southern Baptist Convention or state convention that receives funds from the cooperative program can not send people out to solicit funds. This is why the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home opted out of the cooperative program, so that they could go church to church. It has come to my attention that the International Mission Board is breaking the rules and agreement that they made to receive cooperative program funds in 1925. There are two men, Mark Griggs and Billy Hoffman who go church to church sharing the needs, successes, and concerns of the IMB. Though they use the word “development” in their job description, there is evidence that in fact they are fund-raisers. I was informed that they will ask a pastor for the names of members that they may approach about support for IMB projects. This brings additional harm to state conventions since most churches have limited income during this economy and it seems to reason that the monies that the IMB receives comes from mission money that may had gone to the cooperative program.
How are We to Respond?
I listed most of the reasons why many of our members feel discouraged, disappointed, and disfranchised from and with the Southern Baptist Convention. This is why some have already cut some of their cooperative program percentages and others are considering it. Should the Georgia Baptist Convention be punished for the feelings that many have against the Southern Baptist Convention? Should the Georgia Baptist Convention be found guilty by association since it is a part of the cooperative program? It is the Georgia Baptist Convention that provides training opportunities for our associations and churches. It is the Georgia Baptist Convention that provided funds for us to build the House of Care. It is the Georgia Baptist Convention that provides fund to help educate our ministers and lay members at our Golden Isles College. It is the Georgia Baptist Convention that our association works within a partnership. It is true that the GBC needs us, but it is equally true that we need the GBC.
Some may ask, “What can we do?” I know that there is limited finances in our churches; if there were more I have to be honest and say that I would be asking for additional funds for the association, but there is not. My answer is that we can re-balance the cooperative program, not do away with it. We are able to accomplish this by contributing a portion of the amount that a church has already voted to give to the cooperative program to state missions. This will help make up for the loss that has occurred by churches by-passing cooperative program and giving straight to Southern Baptist causes in which they have the right to do. Your church has a right to give 15 -25% of cooperative program monies straight to state missions. Some may fear that this would do harm to the cooperative program. My response is that the dam is already busted by the Great Commission Giving. Also, it is not recommended so that we might destroy the cooperative program but to fulfill the purpose, to provide financial assistance to both the Southern Baptist Convention and state conventions. This will result with balancing the two. It is just a thought and suggestion.
* It must be noted that the writer did not refer to the names of individuals addressed in this article for the purpose of demonstrating respect for a brother in the Lord. The intent was not a personal attack, rather to address differing religious worldviews between good people who both believe that they have the best interest in mind for the majority of Southern Baptist.