Cooperation in Crisis: SBC, CP, and Vision 2025

Photo by Ben White: https://unsplash.com/photos/gEKMstKfZ6w?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

L.R. Scarborough, pioneer of a new denominationalism for Southern Baptists in the early-mid Twentieth Century, believed there was a clearly taught “doctrine of cooperation” in the New Testament which “extends from the individual of a local church to the co-operation of churches of like faith and practice with each other in carrying out the Gospel program of Christ in world-wide redemption.”[1] For Scarborough, a church’s financial cooperation with others of like faith and practice was a biblical expectation—an expectation both taught and modeled in the New Testament.[2] His influence on a new paradigm for inter-congregational financial cooperation is not to be underestimated.[3]

Scarborough was a stalwart of and relentless advocate for systematically cooperative Southern Baptist denominationalism: “Always and everywhere, he stressed co-operation and loyalty among Southern Baptists.”[4] His commitment to Southern Baptists was unquestionable. For him, it was a matter of “the power of conviction and loyalty to principle” that autonomous Southern Baptist churches should rally together to advance the Great Commission through strategic and sacrificial inter-congregational cooperation.[5]

His development of a biblical doctrine of cooperation was the missing link in the Southern Baptist missional mechanism of the early Twentieth Century. It was “the doctrinal train” that carried “gospel goods on to all markets.”[6] It was “pregnant and resultful,” linking, cementing, and vitalizing all other doctrines of the faith.[7] His development of and commitment to a New Testament doctrine of cooperation would bring the fullest weight of influence on his involvement in the committee that recommended an article on cooperation as part of the faith statement brought for a vote to the messengers of the 1925 Southern Baptist Convention.

Scarborough’s new denominationalism, grounded in confessional agreement upon a biblical doctrine of cooperation, would also set the stage for the convention’s new proposed funding model to be called “The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists.”[8] This came as the fulfillment of a 1924 recommendation made by Scarborough in the Conservation Commission report, under a looming twenty-million-dollar shortfall from the 75 Million Campaign’s projected goal: “We recommend that this work be continued under the Conservation Commission or the general campaign organization for the future and that the states be continued as the chief units of organization in this program… We believe that the work begun is but the beginning of a great and a more wonderful future for Southern Baptists.”[9] A year later, at the conclusion of his 1925 report on behalf of the 75 Million Campaign and immediately before the first Annual Report of the Future Program Commission was presented to the messengers, Scarborough communicated his hopeful expectation that the future program would carry on the zeal and good work of the 75 Million Campaign in an even “more glorious fashion… We must not lose the things we have already wrought through the mercies and power of God,” he continued, “but we must do our best to bring them to a full reward.”[10]

“We must not lose the things we have already wrought through the mercies and power of God… we must do our best to bring them to a full reward.” – @LeeRScarborough

Lumpkin adds that the Convention’s 1919 Statement of Principles in conjunction with the New Hampshire Confession “served as the basis of the new document” in which “additional sections” were added, including one on co-operation.[11] The New Hampshire Confession included only eighteen articles of faith.[12] Scarborough, in preparation for the new Southern Baptist confession of faith, advocated for an “Article XIX – on Cooperation.”[13] The fact that his suggestion was to make this article number XIX in the new and uniquely Southern Baptist confession may lend itself to the conclusion that in Scarborough’s opinion the greatest and most significant addition to Southern Baptist confessionalism would be to include the doctrine of cooperation as a confessional necessity in the new denominationalism.

At the 1925 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Memphis Tennessee, it was evident that the Southern Baptist Convention had developed a collective consciousness toward a biblical doctrine of cooperation and that the 75 Million Campaign had shown them the value and possibility of a greater cooperant work.

Ninety-six years later, June 15-16, 2021, messengers and guests from Southern Baptist churches will gather in the Volunteer State once again, where our collective consciousness toward biblical cooperation will be tested. While the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention is still the greatest missions giving and sending mechanism in our generation, several issues threaten the ongoing effectiveness of our cooperative efforts. Disagreements over presidential elections, social and ecclesiological issues, denominational politics, and cultural engagement loom over the heads of forty-seven thousand locally autonomous congregations in the United States who are evaluating the continuance of their identification with and cooperation within Southern Baptist life.

Some are threatening withdrawal from affiliation if a vote does not go the way they desire. Some have already withdrawn. Some are threatening withdrawal of Cooperative Program giving if a vote does not go the way they desire. Some have already withdrawn. I’m not saying there is never a time for withdrawal. But I am saying that if Southern Baptist Great Commission cooperation dissolves, the whole world loses.

“I’m not saying there is never a time for withdrawal. But I am saying that if Southern Baptist Great Commission cooperation dissolves, the whole world loses.”

Still today, the Southern Baptist missions giving and sending mechanism is still built on a collective consciousness toward voluntary inter-congregational financial cooperation for Great Commission advance. Our denomination is at a critical historical moment when it comes to Cooperative Program giving. While the last two years have seen a slight increase, Cooperative Program receipts are currently $15.1 million per year less today than just twelve years ago.[14] According to a recent study, 40% of Southern Baptist churches are not giving through the Cooperative Program at all.[15]

On the foundation of Scarborough’s influence and the influence of many others, Southern Baptists have pooled their financial resources for Great Commission advance for ninety-six years through the Cooperative Program. These resources fully fund thousands of missionary salaries all over the globe, scholarship tens of thousands of seminary students every year, mobilize relief for churches and communities in crisis and disaster, train church leadership in all areas of ministry, fuel church planting in North America, minister to church leaders who are pouring their lives into reaching their communities with the gospel, and so much more.

Willie McLaurin of the SBC Executive Committee explained, “Since the inception of the Cooperative Program, over 19 billion dollars have been given from local churches to advance the gospel at home and around the globe.”[16] Ronnie Floyd, CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently released his “Vision 2025” for the denomination in which his fifth goal is to increase Cooperative Program receipts to more than five-hundred million dollars per year by the one-hundredth anniversary of the Cooperative Program.[17] This is a cause worthy of our influence and our sacrificial investment. But if Southern Baptists are to meet Ronnie Floyd’s “Vision 2025” goal for Cooperative Program receipts topping five-hundred million dollars by 2025, we will need to recapture a collective conscience toward sacrificial inter-congregational financial cooperation. We will need to rebuild cooperation around our mutually agreed-upon doctrines of the faith and extend grace in every secondary issue.

Scarborough understood a biblical expectation for inter-congregational financial cooperation:

“We believe in the doctrine and practice of co-operation in carrying out and forward the world-will of Jesus Christ as set out in the New Testament and in the leadership of His Spirit in the hearts and plans of His people… We believe that this doctrine of co-operation also extends from the individual of a local church to the co-operation of churches of like faith and practice with each other in carrying out the Gospel program of Christ in world-wide redemption.”[18]

“The doctrine of church-cooperation” is “so clearly taught in the New Testament both in the commands of Christ and the example of the apostles as they were led by the Holy Spirit.”[19]

We need a resurgence of Great Commission cooperation.

“We need a resurgence of Great Commission cooperation.”

Will the messengers of the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention agree with Scarborough and “believe that the work begun is but the beginning of a great and a more wonderful future for Southern Baptists?” Will they unite to say with the framer of the denominational new day, “we must not lose the things we have already wrought through the mercies and power of God… we must do our best to bring them to a full reward.”

Will they prayerfully and graciously repave the path toward Great Commission cooperation for future worldwide gospel advance?

Will the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention see a resurgence of sacrificial inter-congregational financial cooperation by 2025, rising to the challenge of our executive leader?

The churches will decide.

Grace and Peace,
Tony


[1] Lee Rutland Scarborough, “Undated – Article – Article 19 On Co-Operation by L. R. Scarborough,” (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; retrieved from the Atla Digital Library: http://cdm16969.contentdm. oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16969coll11/id/1133).

[2] Lee Rutland Scarborough, “Undated – Article – Is Cooperation A New Testament Doctrine by L. R. Scarborough,” (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, retrieved from the Atla Digital Library: http://cdm16969.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16969coll11/ id/1135), 4. “The doctrine of church-cooperation” is “so clearly taught in the New Testament both in the commands of Christ and the example of the apostles as they were led by the Holy Spirit.”

[3] Glenn Thomas Carson. Calling Out the Called: The Life and Work of Lee Rutland Scarborough (Austin: Eakin Press, 1996), 53. As the General Director of the 75 Million Campaign, Scarborough “became the spearhead of an innovative ideology. The Campaign, which ran from 1919 to 1924, served as the forerunner and model of the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program… The Cooperative Program, initiated in 1925, was a natural result of the very successful 75 Million Campaign. Scarborough’s leadership helped Southern Baptists invent a new method of gathering and distributing funds for missionary, educational, and benevolent causes.”

[4] W.W. Barnes, The Southern Baptist Convention 1845-1953 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1954) 209.

[5] Lee Scarborough, Marvels of Divine Leadership: The Story of the Southern Baptist 75 Million Campaign (Nashville, Sunday School Board Southern Baptist Convention, 1920), 14.

[6] Lee Scarborough, My Conception of the Gospel Ministry (Nashville: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1925), 66.

[7] Lee Scarborough, My Conception of the Gospel Ministry, 65.

[8] Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention Nineteen Hundred Twenty-Five, 31.

[9] Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention Nineteen Hundred Twenty-Four, 27.

[10] Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention Nineteen Hundred Twenty-Five, 25.

[11] William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 2nd ed. (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2011), 408.

[12] William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 2nd ed. (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2011), 378-383.

[13] Lee Rutland Scarborough, “Is Cooperation A New Testament Doctrine,” 5.

[14] Willie McLauren, “Vision 2025: Reaching every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state, and every nation” (PowerPoint presentation, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, Nashville, TN, March 29, 2021).

[15] Willie McLauren, “Vision 2025.” In 2019, there were 48,709 SBC churches and 19,645 of them gave nothing through the Cooperative Program.

[16] Willie McLaurin, “Not Just a Program: A Vision Worth Investing In,” (accessed April 16, 2021, https:// sbtexas.com/not-just-a-program/?fbclid=IwAR1WHfPPkYkPOOifDfgPdz7Yskq0ibDNgCcEoDXHqn6GA827x-CDLfTvuWk).

[17] “Vision 2025.” Accessed April 16, 2021. http://sbcvision2025.com.

[18] Scarborough, “Article 19 On Cooperation,” 1.

[19] Scarborough, “Is Cooperation a New Testament Doctrine,” 4.

Post navigation

  One thought on “Cooperation in Crisis: SBC, CP, and Vision 2025

  1. Nelson Blackwelk
    May 29, 2021 at 6:14 PM

    You have to identify what the secondary issues are.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: