A Great Commission Resurgence?

May 29, 2009

For the last several months, Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been advocating a “Great Commission Resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention. In his chapel address on April 16th (audio), Dr Akin laid out twelve axioms required for such a resurgence. Since then, SBC President Johnny Hunt has embraced this message, and modified the axioms somewhat, reducing them to ten, as available here.

In many ways, I am impressed with the Great Commission Resurgence document, and believe the SBC should move in the direction it lays out. Here are some of the axioms that clearly resonate with our theology, vision, and values:

1: We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels.

2: We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our convention ministries.

3: We call upon all Southern Baptists to recommit to the priority of the Great Commandments in every aspect of our lives. . . .

4: We call upon all Southern Baptists to unite around a firm conviction in the full truthfulness and complete sufficiency of Christian Scripture in all matters of faith and practice.

6: We call upon all Southern Baptists to focus on building local churches that are thoroughly orthodox, distinctively Baptist, and passionately committed to the Great Commission.

7: We call upon all Southern Baptists to affirm and expect a pastoral ministry that is characterized by faithful biblical preaching that teaches both the content of the Scriptures and the theology embedded in the Scriptures.

10: We call upon all Southern Baptists to build gospel-saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and as our first and primary mission field.

Number 5 highlights the need for the confessional standards encapsulated in the Baptist Faith and Message, as revised nine years ago. While that is not a perfect document, it plays a necessary and valuable role in defining what those sent out by our cooperating agencies must believe.

Number 9 has led to the most controversy; it calls upon the denomination to “evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.” The explanatory comments include these sentences:

We believe that North American church planting, pioneer missions around the globe, and theological education are three priorities around which Southern Baptists will unite. Our Convention must be examined at every level to facilitate a more effective pursuit of these priorities.

While this is simply a logical implication of the other axioms, some have seen this as an attack on much of what denominational employees do.

Axiom 8 rightly argues that there are many subcultures in North America, and if we are to reach them all effectively, our churches must look and feel different from each other, even while they are all Gospel-centered and Bible-saturated.

So for all ten axioms, I can either shout a hearty “Amen!” or at least say, “Sure, that sounds ok.” The website provides an opportunity to sign the document. Almost 3000 people have done so already.

But not me. Not yet, anyway.

Why am I reluctant to sign the document?

The problem is not really about what the document says, but about what it doesn’t say. It calls for a “Great Commission Resurgence” – but it never defines the Great Commission. And that lack of definition keeps the document from serving what could be a pivotal role.

Thirty-five years after Ralph Winter coined the phrase “people blindness,” and 20+ years after the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) reoriented the agency to focus on unreached people groups, most Southern Baptists still have no idea what the Great Commission means. Too many think it means something like, “I should share the Gospel with my neighbor and give $25 each year to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.”

What does the Great Commission mean?

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We are to disciple all nations. That is, Christ’s church must reach every culture with the Gospel, every people group, every language; that’s the biblical definition of “nation.” God’s design and command is for His church to plant a thriving, evangelizing church in every people group of the world. And after 2000 years, we can complete this task in this generation.

The Great Commission is thus a cross-cultural commission. We must reach those like us with the Gospel. That is a biblical mandate. But that is not fulfilling the Great Commission. Were all Christians to be fully mobilized and wonderfully effective in evangelizing those like themselves, a large percentage of the globe would still be without Christ. The Great Commission commands Christ’s entire church to mobilize herself, to pray, to send, and to go so that every culture has an effective witness to Christ within it.

Could we not use this moment in SBC history to have a genuine resurgence in the SBC, formulated around completing the very achievable task (and the IMB’s goal!) of planting multiplying churches in every remaining unreached people group in this generation? Could this in and of itself not serve to help explain to our churches why we must reorient our priorities and streamline our bureaucracies? Would this not act to unite us and to mobilize us?

There are a few other details that I find unhelpful in the document. Contact me if you’re interested. But if it included a solid definition of the Great Commission, similar to that given three paragraphs above, I would sign it with no other changes. Absent such a definition, I think it misses a unique opportunity to at long last communicate this central biblical principle to the SBC, and to rally the convention to the primary remaining task we must complete before Christ returns.

[See also this sermon on Romans 15:9-24, “Where Christ Has Not Been Named.”]


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