The Convictional Cooperation of the Southern Baptist Convention

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
February 17, 2020

What holds the Southern Baptist Convention together? What beliefs shape our common faith and define our cooperation in missions and evangelism and theological education?

These are central questions in any generation, and every generation of Southern Baptists must answer those questions. Our answers will determine whether or not we pass on the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” to our children and grandchildren.

There is a short answer to the questions of theological identity among Southern Baptists. Beginning in 1925, Southern Baptists have summarized our beliefs in the Baptist Faith & Message [BF&M], most recently revised in 2000. I was honored to serve on the committee that led the Convention in that revision — nearly singular in the annals of church history, representing a confessional revision that was restated in a more conservative direction. The Baptist Faith & Message is the doctrinal statement that advertises to the world what Southern Baptists believe, it establishes the base parameters for SBC entities to use in employment, and it serves as a written testimony to the convictions that unite Southern Baptists and undergird our cooperation.

The Baptist Faith & Message is where we find the summary of Baptist beliefs, and that statement begins with the affirmation of the Bible as “God’s revelation of Himself to man.” That same statement affirms the bedrock of biblical inerrancy — the Bible is “truth without any mixture of error.” From there the Baptist Faith & Message proceeds to affirm the great central doctrines shared by all Christians, beginning with the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After this great statement of orthodox Christian belief, the BF&M continues to define and affirm the biblical doctrines of humanity, salvation, the church, ministry, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and more. Importantly, the BF&M also speaks to common commitments to moral issues, the definition of the family and marriage (as exclusively the union of a man and a woman). At every point, the BF&M is faithful to Scripture and truly Baptist.

But the BF&M also articulates a theology of cooperation among Southern Baptist churches, and that cooperation is theological — and that theology is unquestionably focused on cooperative missions and evangelism, the cause for which the Southern Baptist Convention was established in 1845. As the BF&M states, echoing the founding of the SBC, the convention exists “to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most desirable manner.” Yes, it does that, and we are about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Program — the most effective and efficient program ever devised for the support of missions and evangelism. We cooperate together, not because we believe in cooperation first of all, but because we want to see the nations hear the Gospel and gospel churches planted and ministers grounded in biblical Christianity and Baptist doctrine.

No generation arrives on the scene without context and challenges. The last generation bore the incredible responsibility of calling Southern Baptists back from the brink of theological disaster. The same pattern of theological liberalism that has led to the destruction of most denominations in the United States was apparent within the SBC as well, and especially within its seminaries. In one of the rare examples of a denomination pulled back from that disaster, the Southern Baptist Convention acted decisively and courageously to affirm the inerrancy of the Bible, the exclusivity of the Gospel, the penal substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement, and the great doctrines of scriptural Christianity. That same resurgence of conservative conviction was represented by the SBC speaking in the BF&M to the sanctity and dignity of every single human life, including the unborn, and to the Bible’s clear teachings on gender, sexuality, marriage, and the family. The SBC spoke to right order in the church, and affirmed biblical complementarianism in both the church and the home. Without that pull back from the brink of disaster, the SBC would be just another denomination lost to moral relativism, confusion, and doctrinal corruption. By God’s kindness, and through the efforts of countless Southern Baptists, this denomination was given a second chance. We dare not lose it.

The present generation faces a new set of challenges. We are looking straight into a cultural reality that is increasingly hostile to biblical truth, and it is both powerfully seductive and threateningly coercive. The rising generation of Southern Baptists will be called to even greater conviction, if we are to maintain our cooperation in the Great Commission.

Something interesting has happened among us. The generation of the Conservative Resurgence had no choice but to learn how to talk about theology, doctrine, hard questions, and unavoidable issues. Somewhere, over the course of the last couple of decades, Southern Baptists have lost our ability to talk respectfully and convictionally. We had better recover that ability fast, or we will destroy the very foundation of cooperation that has brought us to this moment.

The season of avoiding these conversations is over, but I have every confidence that Southern Baptists in this generation are up to this challenge. The BF&M is our doctrinal summary, and it serves us well. It should stand, as Southern Baptists revised it in 2000, as the central guide to the “certain definite beliefs” that establish our cooperation.

The SBC has never been marked by doctrinal uniformity on every point, and that has never been the point of our cooperation. At the same time, there must be adequate common ground on which we stand. Our cooperation is convictional, but not comprehensive. All Southern Baptists believe more than is in the BF&M. The point is that no Southern Baptist should believe less.

Our unity is in Christ, first of all. It is then found in obedience to Christ’s commission. It is also grounded, essentially, in common convictions. Within that unity, Southern Baptists do the most amazing things in obedience to Christ. When that unity is questioned, Southern Baptists must think clearly, talk openly, pray earnestly, and love one another eagerly. We had no right to think that hard questions would not come in this generation. That’s ok, Southern Baptists are up to this challenge. I know we are, because I have seen Southern Baptists do the right thing again and again and again. I trust Southern Baptists in this generation to do the right thing, yet again.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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