Confusion at the Convention

The following article is actually an excerpt from my soon to be published book. It will no doubt get the died in the wool, Southern Baptist’s ire up.  Hey I’m a Southern Baptist too (though raised Presbyterian), but I believe you would agree with me that correct biblical interpretation (exegesis) trumps denominational tradition does it not? This is a really mild exemplar compared to what other mainline denominations are pulling.

We know that as Christians we must stand on what scripture states; solo scriptura.  Not on what we would like it to say.  It is not for us to bend scripture for our own purposes, no matter how noble our reasons might seem.  If we are going to allow that, we might just as well all become Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons for that is exactly what they do. We either believe the Bible is the infallible, inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God or we do not. What follows is demonstrative of the entrenched position and the momentum sustaining the status quo in the Church.

Calamity at the Convention

At the 2010 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando Florida a report was generated entitled Penetrating the Lostness and subtitled Embracing a Vision for a Great Commission Resurgence Among Southern Baptists (whew!), hereafter referred to as The Report.

Clearly a lot of people put a whole lot of work into this document, nevertheless it is fatally flawed.  How so?  Simply put, the task force regrettably redefines Matthew 28:19-20 (the Great Commission).

The Report states that the “Great Commission Resurgence” grows directly out of a Great Commission theology.”[1] Okay, that sounds nice, but the theology the task force sets forth is not the true theology of Matthew 28:18-19.  The referent verses are explicitly about making disciples, not about evangelism or missions. Am I being too nit-picky?  I do not think so.  The correct meaning of the text comes from its author, not from its readers.  Additionally the words “Great Commission” do not appear in scripture.  They may be in some Bible translations as a section title, but they are assuredly not part of the original, inspired autograph.  What The Report posits is a different Gospel (2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6).

This Great Commission Theology is defined in The Report in a lengthy catechism of rhetorical questions.  A few of these are:

  • Do we believe Jesus saves?
  • Are we not united in the confidence that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved?
  • Do we not yearn to see the nations rejoice in the name of Jesus Christ?

All of these are great but have nothing to do with the scriptural meaning of the true theology of the Great Commission.  The Report compromises the exegetical meaning and context of the Great Commission verses.

I am not alone in my dissent.  Dr. Morris H. Chapman, President of the SBC Executive Committee expressed concerns at length in an Open Letter to Southern Baptists about the GCRTF Recommendations:

  • I am concerned [if the Convention approves these recommendations] . . . it will be embarking upon a harmful course. . . . Our core values, already recorded in Scripture, are God-breathed and sufficient. . . . We must concentrate on the only real solution. That solution is not structural, procedural, financial, or methodological. It is spiritual. And if we approve the task force report, we will be saying, as a Convention, that we believe our future performance lies in some realm other than the spiritual.[2]

I think his point here is cogent.  He is correct , the problem is spiritual and this spiritual dilemma may be broken into two parts. First scripture must not be compromised by reading into it what is not there (eisegesis).  Second is the need to obey what is actually commanded.

The Report further maintains that “the Southern Baptist Convention came into being in 1845 in order to mobilize the energies of the Southern Baptist churches for missions and evangelism . . . . And yet there are signs that the Great Commission commitment is diminishing among us” (italics mine).[3] So even since its founding 165 years ago the Southern Baptist Convention has embraced an embedded notion that the Great Commission as defined in Matthew 28 is about evangelism and missions.

It seems to be the case that the task force relied only on tradition—not hermeneutically sound methodology to frame the premises of The Report.  They have analyzed both scripture and the perceived problem through Southern Baptist tinted glasses instead of scriptural reality.  Thus the Great Commission has been redefined to fit a presupposed, erroneous template to maintain the status quo.  That is to say, they are not taking out of the Bible what God is saying, they are reading into the Matthews 28 passages what they want it to say.

It is bad enough they are plotting a course of error for Southern Baptist churches all over the world.  However they are also teaching many brethren a distorted model of what the Church should really be about and what Matthew 28 is really saying.  We must never ignore the real biblical meaning in favor of what is mere tradition.

This incident vividly demonstrates the very reason the Church needs to be making disciples.  Too many preachers and teachers[4] are getting sloppy in their interpretation and homiletical presentation which lead to just such incidents as this one with the Southern Baptists.  Is it any wonder only 9% of evangelicals have a biblical correct worldview?  When we get it right evangelism and missions both flow from making disciples and the Spirit will use us mightily.


[1] The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report and Recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention (The Report) in Orlando, Florida (2010), 5.

[2] Morris Chapman, Open Letter to Southern Baptists about the GCRTF Recommendations, http://baptist2baptist.net/gcr/articles/MHC-06-04b-10.asp, (accessed 6/21/2010).

[3] The Report, 4.

3 thoughts on “Confusion at the Convention

  1. I’m not sure if I understand your point. In what way, specifically has The Report redefined “making disciples”? I don’t think anyone believes that making disciples is not a spiritual endeavor. Of course it is. In fact, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore…” In other words, he has the power and authority to make us into disciple makers. There are certain ways to go about doing that and the rest of the Bible, along with the Spirit of God, gives us guidance as to how to do that. It is called the Great Commission because Jesus is commissioning his disciples to do something and it’s perhaps the best summary of our mission which is why it is referred to as “great”. “Trinity” isn’t found in the Bible either but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. This is one of those both and sorts of things. Having a baby is done by two people but it is also something that God does (“he knit me together in my mother’s womb”). To say God had nothing to do with it would be wrong, but it would also be wrong to say that the mom and dad had nothing to do with it either. Making disciples is the same. We use our gifts and personalities to make disciples but we recognize that it is God at work through us.

    Forgive me, but what am I missing here? What did the SBC task force do wrong in your opinion by focusing on “the Great Commission”?

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    • Thanks for asking Nathan.
      The Report did not redefine making disciples, which is what the Great Commission is indeed about. The convention has redefined Matthew 28:18-20 (the Great Commission) as being explicitly all about evangelism and/or missions–it is not.
      It is about making disciples, it is about teaching Christ’s followers, His disciples, in an intentional, systematic way.

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      • Hi Nathan,
        Thanks for the response. Let me see if I can clear up the confusion.
        My point is not that we should not evangelize–that is embedded through out scripture. Nevertheless, we are to make disciples, not converts.
        First and foremost is the question of interpretation. While there may be several or many applications to a scripture passage, there can only be one correct interpretation (the sensus unum).
        Non-scriptural good faith attempts are the same as no attempts (as in the failed “seeker sensitive” movement).
        You are exactly right in your definition of how the earliest disciples interpreted the Great Commission–what you wrote and what they did was biblical.
        Sadly that is not what the SBC is positing. Evangelism or missions without intentional, systematic discipling with accountability is not in line with Matthew 28:18-22.
        You are also right “making disciples doesn’t happen outside the Church. They must be part of the community of believers. We are not to be islands which is exactly what you usually end up with evangelizing someone with no real discipling. Then they become seeds sown on rocky soil.

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