No doubt the 120 believers in Jerusalem’s First Downtown Church Plant, in Acts Chapter 1, were uneasy. The commission Jesus had given them was completely impossible. Unless, of course, God wanted to do something fresh, new and maybe even a little bit unconventional.
Enter Acts Chapter 2 – fresh, new and definitely a bit unconventional. Ten days earlier, Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem. “Don’t do anything, until you’ve been baptized with the Holy Spirit.” For the rest of Chapter 1, these 120 believers were in a 10-day prayer meeting together, laboring intensely before the throne of grace over what exactly this promise of God would look like when it came.
When it did, there was no question it was from God. The church could have set all the systems and structures in place. It could have had the best worship leaders, the most gifted expositors, the most dynamic children’s and youth ministries, and the trendiest technology but unless God breathed on it nothing would happen. So He did.
These 120 church members were completely overcome by the presence and the power of God when the Holy Spirit came over them. Then Jesus unleashed His Holy-Spirit-filled church on the world.
As Southern Baptists organized in the 19th century, God was stirring the waters. There was a fresh wind blowing through Christendom. Churches across the United States would lock arms together to take the name of Jesus around the globe. They formed associations. They sent missionaries. They trained local pastors. In 1925, with the formation of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists were poised to be the most operative mission-sending body in modern history. They had the systems and structures in place, and God breathed on it. In the decades to follow, they would plant churches, send missionaries, advocate in Washington for biblical justice and storm the gates of hell for the sake of the gospel to the glory of God.
But is God done with the Southern Baptist Convention?
We have all heard the reports of declining baptisms. There is an ominous political tension lurking between us. Racism and classism have begun to threaten our fellowship again. Moral failures have been exposed from within the ranks.
But, ultimately, who is writing this narrative? Are Southern Baptist churches not still churches of the living God? Are we not still baptized in God’s Holy Spirit and sent with power and purpose to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth? Even in our uneasiness, is not the gospel-centered local church still God’s only plan to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ among the nations?
God is not done with the Southern Baptist Convention.
I don’t know how you feel about the future of the SBC, but I get the feeling that right now in Southern Baptist life we are gathered together in an upstairs room in prayerful expectation that any day God could breathe on us and unleash us on the world anew. I honestly believe that God is getting ready to do something fresh, new and maybe even a little bit unconventional through our fellowship of theologically conservative, missionally driven, gospel-centered churches.
Our recent past should serve to remind us that we can have all the right systems and structures in place, but unless God breathes on it nothing will happen. Without the breath of God, churches and groups of churches lay lifeless in the dirt like a valley full of dry bones. But when the Holy Spirit moves in us and through us, we are filled with the power and the presence of God. I’m on the edge of my seat in prayer today, brothers and sisters. It could come at any moment. There’s a fresh wind blowing through the SBC.
I’m not exactly sure what God’s new thing is going to look like in this generation, but I’m laboring in prayerful expectation. We’ve got some great systems and structures in place. God has gathered the nations at our doorstep. But we need Him to breathe on us again. We need the Holy Spirit to saturate us with the power and presence of the Almighty.
I know this thought makes us nervous. I recognize it is a bit unsettling to pray with supernatural expectation without knowing exactly what supernatural things to expect. But I just want to get this out there today: I believe in God’s work in and through the SBC. Whatever God wants to do through our fellowship of churches today and tomorrow, as long as it’s God’s thing engulfed in God’s presence and fueled by God’s power, I’m in. Are you?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tony Wolfe is director of pastor/church relations for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)