One Baptist leader says Scripture’s case for cooperation is the most compelling reason to work together.
“My entire life growing up, what I heard about the Cooperative Program was, ‘give to it because it works,’” said Micah Fries (left), vice president of LifeWay Research.
Indeed, historical evidence supports it—CP does work. Southern Baptists’ main method of supporting missions and ministry here and around the world, will turn 100 in 10 years, and has helped mobilize one of the largest missionary forces in the world.
Last year, Baptists gave more than $186 million through the CP Allocation Budget to send and support church planters in rural America and the country’s largest cities, and to get the gospel to places and people around the world that have never heard it. At a meeting of the SBC Executive Committee last year, CEO Frank Page called CP the best way to “concurrently, consistently and, yes, completely fulfill Acts 1:8 as a church body. Through that, you’re involved in missions and ministries all over the world, all the time.”
But the average percentage churches give through CP has fallen over the years, from 10.7% in 1982, to less than 5.5% the last few years.
In this climate of decline when it comes to cooperative engagement, there is a better, more compelling reason to work together than to do so “because it works,” Fries said during a breakout session at the recent Midwest Leadership Summit in Springfield, Ill. He argued for a theological foundation, rather than pragmatic justification.
“…I want to plead with you to go back to your churches and plead with your churches, go back to your associations and your state conventions and plead with them to be faithful at partnership mission, but not because it works. But because the Bible tells me so.”
A better rationale
Our need for a biblical foundation for cooperation, Fries said, starts with characteristics we have that are specifically human, and specifically American. In our consumer-driven culture, most people shop for churches like they shop for blue jeans. Where can I get the best product for the lowest cost? If the personal price is too high, they’ll look elsewhere.
That consumerism, along with pride, independence, and the valuing of perception over reality, runs counter to the ideas of community and cooperative engagement.
“…When you and I call for community in the context of the local church, and cooperation or collaboration between local churches, we need to understand that what we’re calling for is a radically counter-cultural identity,” Fries said. “It strips away the core of who we are, and calls us to be like Jesus.
“This is challenging. This is why it’s not enough to say, ‘We need to give to the Cooperative Program because it works.’ Because ‘it works’ is not a compelling enough reason to deny the core of who we are.
“Because it makes us to be like Jesus, because it helps to advance the gospel, because it helps to glorify God; those are compelling reasons to engage in counter-cultural activity.”
Younger Baptists are looking for more than pragmatic justification too, Fries said. The generation raised after the Conservative Resurgence spends more time thinking about what the Bible actually says, than arguing its truth. “So, you’re not going to compel them with pragmatic arguments, it’s going to have to a biblical rich, theologically rooted argument.”
Toward gospel advance
“Without a doubt, the high calling and common cause that unites diverse Baptist churches in cooperation is the Great Commission of Jesus to make disciples of all the world’s peoples,” IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams wrote for Resource magazine last year. “Wherever else Baptists may disagree, we are agreed on the priority of advancing the gospel, both across the street and around the world.”
CP also helps involve different kinds of churches in that mission, Page noted during the Midwest Leadership Summit. The SBC is a convention of small churches, including many ethnic congregations. “The Cooperative Program levels the playing field so everyone has opportunity to bring worshipers to God.”
Ultimately, biblical cooperation leads to an advanced gospel, which is “the compelling apologetic for collaborative mission,” Fries said. Choosing for the gospel to go forward through believers wasn’t the most pragmatic choice for God to make, he said; rather, he designed it that way because it brings him glory and brings us joy.
Read more from the Feb. 2 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.