Great Commission Resurgence: A Momentum Builder

Posted: June 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

The last year has proved to be interesting to say the least.  Articles, blogs, videos, sermons, public and private meetings, coffee house conversations, and midnight dreams have swirled around one hot-button issue in SBC life.  That issue:  The Great Commission Resurgence (GCR).  

When the leader of an SBC entity speaks on structural reform within the denomination or calls for an evaluation of our current denominational structure, people usually take interest.  When that leader is the president of one of the SBC’s theological institutions, people take a serious interest.  And when that leader has the reputation and stature of Dr. Danny Akin, you can expect that serious interest to turn into conversations. Those conversations turn into debates, and pretty soon lines begin to emerge.  That is what has happened after Dr. Akin preached his Axiom sermon in Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel that called for a Great Commission Resurgence.  

From there, Dr. Johnny Hunt, President of the SBC, took the ideas set forth in the sermon and subsequently appointed, by the recommendation of the SBC messengers at the 2009 Annual Meeting in Louisville, KY, a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF).  The Task Force’s assignment has been “to bring a report and any recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, 2010, concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.” (From Dr. Mohler’s original motion) The Task Force’s findings and recommendations are just days away. 

As the annual meeting of Southern Baptists draws near, the issue of a Great Commission resurgence seems to become hotter.  Morris Chapman, outgoing president of the SBC Executive Committee, has voiced serious concerns about the GCRTF recommendations.  He has written extensively on the issue a number of times.  Others, like Dr. Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the GCRTF, have responded to the concerns.  Objections raised, objections answered.  More objections and more answers.  Round and round we have gone for the past few months. 

I, for one, am anxious to get to Orlando.  I think it is an exciting time to be a Southern Baptist.  It is an exciting time to go to a convention.  I hear talk of possibly over ten thousand messengers in attendance.  This year’s convention has the potential to be the largest meeting we have experienced in years, probably the largest annual meeting I will have attended.  That is exciting!  But, I am excited for more substantive reasons. 

I believe that the controversy surrounding the GCR has already accomplished some positive things within our convention body.  For one, the discussion surrounding the GCRTF report has created momentum within the convention that has the potential to result in great days ahead regardless of the voting results in Orlando, though personally I hope we vote in favor of the Task Force’s recommendations!  I certainly will cast my ballot in favor of the recommendations. But can controversy really be a good thing? If so, in what ways?  

Controversy within the body of Christ has historically had the tendency to accomplish some good things and is even somewhat expected according to Scripture.  Jude 3 calls us to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”  This passage itself calls us to some type of controversial posture. We see such contention played out unto good ends through controversy in the book of Acts. In Acts 15 we find the Jerusalem Council debating a hot-button issue: the necessity of circumcision in salvation.  The result of the controversy was a clarification of the gospel, namely that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone!  There is still more controversy in Acts 15.  Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement over John Mark tagging along on their next missionary journey.  They can’t agree.  The result of the disagreement was the creation of two missionary teams instead of one. Controversy was a means to good ends.   

Even church history shows us that engaging in controversy is, at times, necessary.  Athanasius knew this.  He spent his life engaged in controversy.  He would, during a time when it seemed the whole world abandoned orthodoxy, engage in a battle to defend the deity of Christ.  Athanasius was deemed contra mundum (against the world).  John Piper says, “he (Athanasius) stood steadfast against overwhelming defection from orthodoxy, and only at the end of his life could he see the dawn of triumph”.[1]  This life lived in controversy would help give us our orthodox understanding of the deity of Christ.  

Fast-forward from the fourth century to the sixteenth.  Martin Luther engaged in a battle to see the recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  His stand for the truth of the gospel, years after it had been clarified at the Jerusalem Council, sees the gospel begin to be recovered and clarified once again.  

One last historical figure to note is J. Gresham Machen.  As the winds of liberalism began to blow through the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A, Machen took a stand.  In March of 1935 he was found to be insubordinate for not monetarily supporting “the officially authorized missionary program of the Presbyterian church”[2]  Machen left Princeton Seminary and founded Westminster Seminary to carry on the legacy of men like Charles Hodge and Benjamin B. Warfield.  Thus taking a controversial stance against the winds of liberalism within his own denomination, Machen founded a conservative Presbyterian seminary committed to the truth set forth in the Bible.  From Machen’s efforts a conservative Presbyterian denomination would also emerge (The PCA). 

Clearly I think the examples found in the Bible and as witnessed in church history teach us that controversy is not necessarily bad and is in fact often needed.  As J. Gresham Machen has said, “Controversy of the right sort is good; for out of such controversy, as Church history and Scripture alike teach, there comes the salvation of souls”[3]  Francis Schaeffer said it well.  “As a matter of fact, we have a greater possibility of showing what Jesus is speaking about here, in the midst of our differences, than we do if were are not differing”.[4]  

As previously stated, I believe the controversy that has surrounded the GCR has already accomplished some tangible positive results.  I will end this post listing a few of those.

  1. Responsible evangelism and church planting are being talked about at length.
  2. We are talking about getting more money, resources, and personnel to the unreached and under-reached regions of the world.
  3. We are asking questions about faithfulness.  Are we being good stewards with what God has given us?
  4. People are talking about the need to continue cooperation while doing so in greater, more effective ways.
  5. We are all talking about the need for spiritual renewal and revival at the local church level, which leads me to the final point…
  6. We are putting a renewed sense of emphasis on the priority of the local church in missions, evangelism, and church planting. 

All those things have come as a result, in my opinion, of some controversial recommendations from the GCRTF that have yet to be, and may not be, approved.  The GCR ideals, by their very existence, have produced momentum in the SBC.  I pray this forward momentum continues in the days, weeks, months, years, and decades ahead.  I pray it continues with zeal until Christ returns.  Not for the glory of Southern Baptist, but for the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


[1] John Piper, Contending for Our All:  Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), p. 41.

[2] Ibid., p. 118.

[3] J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith? (1925; Reprint: Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), p. 42-43.

[4] Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of Love, in The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Vol. 4, A Christian View of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), pp. 193-194.

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Comments
  1. nasty-nate says:

    Jonathon, this was an articulate, insightful, credible and helpful post concerning the GCR.

    – The guy downstairs

  2. J Sok says:

    Jonathan, this was a well reasoned argument. I agree with you for the sake of the Southern Baptist Convention the GCRTF recommendations are crucial. For an organization that claims to be politically and fiscally conservative, much of their actual practice is liberal (expanded central governance and program spending that is at worst fruitless) reform is a good thing.

    As a question though, what effects does the GCR have for the average local SBC church? And does the GCR address Lifeway?

  3. Jonathon says:

    Justin,

    Really quick answers as I don’t have time to dive in at length.

    First, the local church is impacted a couple of different ways:
    1. The GCR, again and again, calls for the affirmation of the “centrality of the local church.” In SBC life, churches have, at times, abdicated their responsibility to missions by seeing their “giving” through the CP as their fulfillment of the Great Commission. Then they, many times, “give” and don’t “go”. The GCR calls for local churches to do better here.
    2. The GCR provides a compelling vision for cooperation that will affect how local churches budget for the CP.
    3. As I stated in the post, talk about evangelism and missions is happening all over…this will have an impact on our churches.

    There are other ways, I just have the time to give you a full list. And, I am sure, there are other things that need to happen at the local church level. With such a big ship to turn, this seems to be a good place to start. A more detailed set of “Challenges” is given to local churches in the actual report (Challenges section).

    As far as Lifeway being addressed, I am not sure in what ways you had in mind, but check out the Challenges Section of the actual report and see what they “say” to Lifeway.

    Hope that helps.

  4. joe white says:

    These are exciting times! The wind of change is blowing. I too look forward to Orlando, the approval of the GCRTF report, and the fulfillment of the GC of our Lord.

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