In his plenary address during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) meeting Feb. 17, SBC President J.D. Greear called EC members to unity in order to continue to focus on “Gospel Above All,” his choice of theme for the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting in June – just as it was for the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting.
Saying his goal has been to see the gospel mission become the defining reality of the SBC, Greear challenged them on matters of sex abuse prevention, racial reconciliation, gospel focus, Cooperative Program efforts and missional resurgence.
“We don’t need a revision of our doctrine,” Greear said. “We stand unwavering and uncompromisingly on the Baptist Faith and Message.”
Greear then presented five practical functions of the mission.
Handling the sex abuse crisis
“From the beginning I’ve said that the issues of sex abuse in our churches is not something addressed by the appointing of a task force or the adoption of a resolution or a change of bylaws, as important as those things are,” Greear said.
Survivors do not want more words or resolutions, Greear noted.
“The problem of sex abuse didn’t occur because our words weren’t right, but because some of our churches fostered a culture, whether intended or unintended, that made abuse possible.”
Greear emphasized that what needs to change is culture in churches.
“Strong statements of condemnation against abuse without incumbent actions for prevention and care would be worse than not saying anything at all,” Greear said.
Greear then noted the newly established SBC Credentials Committee and the adoption of SBC resolutions and bylaw changes meant to combat abuse in Southern Baptist churches. The Credentials Committee is scheduled to give its first official report to the SBC Executive Committee on Feb. 18. The Credentials Committee was created in June 2019 in response to recommendations from Greear and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group.
“The Credentials Committee doesn’t have the authority to decide on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention really anything,” Greear said. “But what they can do is help us as a convention hold one another accountable to the standards that we have set for how we relate to each other.”
“We are asking now that all state conventions working with LifeWay add questions to the Annual Church Profile about whether or not they have a [sex abuse] policy in place and how it has been updated,” Greear added.
Background checks for trustee positions are being requested as a mandatory action, and the EC as well as the Great Commission Council are being asked to come up with an ordination resource to guide churches. The Great Commission Council is made up of SBC entity leaders.
Greear explained that these actions will help change culture.
“We are a people who are defined by love and protections of the vulnerable,” Greear said. “We believe it is a gospel issue, not a distraction, because we know that preaching a gospel about a God who gave His life for His children also means doing all we can to make our churches safe places for those children.”
Greear encouraged EC members to seek to make their churches safe places and when mistakes are made, to be sure they are made on the side of the survivor.
Noting the desire to protect SBC entities, Greear said God will take care of His [God’s] institutions, and pastors are called to primarily take care of God’s children.
Healing racial wounds and achieving gospel diversity
Reiterating the sentiment surrounding the handling of abuse, Greear said loud statements are simply not enough.
“Achieving racial reconciliation and growing in ethnic diversity has to be a priority for evangelism and witness reasons,” Greear said.
The goal is not uniformity, but unity, Greear emphasized.
Practically, Greear said, this happens by starting with honesty regarding the past.
Quoting R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Greear said “Indeed, we cannot tell the story of the SBC without starting with slavery. In fact, the SBC was not only founded by slaveholders; it was founded by men who held to ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in scandalous theology argument.”
Greear said the statements acknowledging the past were a long time coming, and the continual strains of racism in the SBC must be confronted and removed, again citing Mohler.
Carrying each other’s burdens and seeking to understand the pain of others is the practice all are called to, Greear noted.
“From there, we must show we are committed to fighting against any injustices our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing with as much fervency as if they were happening to us or our children.”
Failing to take action in this area, Greear said, reveals a tone-deaf attitude that causes grief to brothers and sisters of color.
“We have to continue to empower ethnically diverse leadership,” Greear said.
There are many rising leaders that many people simply do not know about, Greear said.
“We don’t maliciously not know them, it’s just not in networks that we run in,” Greear said.
Greear noted that nearly two-thirds of his recent meetings have been with women in the body of Christ or with people of color.
The North American Mission Board also reported that 63% of churches planted last year are led by people of color, Greear said.
“If we’re going to actually achieve this as something that makes the world marvel, it’s going to come because of continual diligence and because we don’t speak a word and then move on from it.”
Gospel Above All
Elevating the gospel requires more than just sentiment, Greear explained.
Speaking from Romans 14, Greear said there must be a greater desire for unity in the gospel than uniformity of opinion on every subject.
Southern Baptists can hold different opinions on matters not essential for salvation, Greear said. Tough questions need to be asked, but divisive attitudes are not to be encouraged.
“Truth is precious. I get that. But unity in the gospel is a precious thing too,” Greear said. “It’s what Jesus prayed for. It is the primary mark that would show the world we are His, not the amount of Cooperative Program giving, as important as it is.”
Greear reminded attendees that the standard of unity is established: the Baptist Faith and Message, and those who seek to cause division over other things should be avoided.
Applying the “Gospel Above All” heart to a current events matter, Greear noted that there are many believers who differ in their political opinions.
Discussions over politics are not wrong and there is a place for them, Greear said. “Just not with the tone and divisiveness with which they are currently being carried out by those who prioritize uniformity on these issues above unity in the gospel.”
Greear noted that current media has created an “outrage culture” where we assume the worst about everyone else’s motives, but that is not what the SBC is called to.
“We are the people of Jesus, and love suffers long and is kind. It is not puffed up, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, it never gives up.”
“Gospel above all,” Greear said, “means a greater love for the gospel mission than absolute uniformity in every non-essential. It means a charitability toward each other that respects, gives the benefit of the doubt and refuses to tolerate slander.”
Maintaining cooperative efforts and institutions
Greear said his continual message to younger Southern Baptists is that the educational institutions are worth it.
“If we’re going to see missionaries and church planters multiply, it’s going to because we understand the way that the two [institutions and missionaries] relate,” Greear said.
Quoting Rodney Stark, author of The Churching of America, Greear said the health a denomination can be determined from the number of individuals raised up for ministry.
“We need to restore the language of calling to our vocabulary,” Greear noted.
Referencing the effort of Ronnie Floyd, SBC EC president and CEO, Greear said Southern Baptists need to call out the called.
This looks like a greater Cooperative Program commitment, a greater Lottie Moon Christmas and Annie Armstrong Easter offering, and seeing states committed to planting churches and sending missionaries, Greear said.
“We owe it to the gospel to run lean operations getting resources to the lost and we owe it to Southern Baptist people who give the money they gave to missions to get it to the people that they meant it for when they gave it,” Greear said.
Great missional resurgence
Greear emphasized the responsibility of every believer to proclaim the gospel. Leaders should be encouraging students to consider ministry in their career, Greear said.
“If the Mormons can send 80,000 a year with a false, works-based gospel, imagine what Southern Baptists, filled with the Holy Spirit with the true gospel, can do mobilized together,” Greear said.
Speaking to the older generation, Greear said let the younger generation lead.
“I’ve heard that many times the biggest opponents of what God wants to do next are those who had a front row seat for what He did last,” Greear said. “Let’s not be that.”
He added, “The greatest ministry days are ahead of us; they have to be. There’s still 6,400 unreached people groups, and that means somebody’s going to experience a massive movement.”
Citing Matthew 28, Greear challenged attendees to go with God to the ends of the earth making disciples, relying on God’s promises to those who direct their efforts to the nations.
Greear opened his remarks by stating that as SBC president, he has never sought to dictate to churches who they can or cannot have in their pulpit. It was a reference to comments he made recently to the Houston Chronicle about whether former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, who was fired by trustees in May 2018, should be invited to speak at a conference.
Instead, Greear said, he urges Southern Baptists to heed the governmental and accountability structures they have put in place.
“When a duly elected trustee board dismisses an individual with cause, citing a spirit ‘antithetical to the core values of our faith,’ wisdom would demand that we pay attention and if we have questions ask (the trustees) directly,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Schoonhoven is a Baptist Press staff writer.)