We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.
Dare we say the same of the year just past?
We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.
– The Editors
SBC candidates: Unity matters
What the U.S. presidential election may have lacked in civility, the 2016 election for Southern Baptist Convention President more than made up for in grace. When a close vote forced a run-off between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear, the election seemed poised to divide Baptists over matters of theology and generation.
Instead, the candidates talked the night before the third vote was to be taken, and one bowed out, urging his supporters to vote for his opponent.
“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us,” North Carolina pastor Greear posted in support of Tennessee pastor Gaines. “It’s time to look at what unites us.”
On paper, this decade’s SBC presidents are a diverse bunch, not united by much in terms of their backgrounds and interests:
- Atlanta-area pastor Bryant Wright (2010-2012), who recently spoke out in favor of ministering to refugees
- Dynamic New Orleans preacher Fred Luter (2012-2014), elected as the SBC’s first ever African American president
- Ronnie Floyd (2014-2016), pastor of a multi-site church in Arkansas and a prolific blogger who led the denomination toward a laser-like focus on prayer
- And Gaines, elected in 2016, who has espoused traditional Baptist theology and his own intense focus on evangelism.
What does unite them is a logical progression in the things they have called Baptists toward: For Wright, it was a return to Great Commission principles. Luter’s presidency was marked by impassioned pleas for spiritual awakening and revival. And Floyd called Southern Baptists to their knees—for themselves, their churches, the denomination, the nation, and the world.
Gaines announced he will continue the emphasis on prayer at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix. It may be a sign that the desire for unity, despite differences in age, theological perspective, and communication style, is actually, in Greear’s words, “what unites us.”
A new missions paradigm
After a season in which budget shortfalls and personnel cuts seemed to limit the future potential for Baptist missions engagement around the world, International Mission Board President David Platt continued to preach a message to the contrary.
“Limitless” is the word Platt has used to describe the mission force needed to take the gospel to places without it. To achieve that goal, he has said, the SBC has to think differently about missions and missionaries than we have in the past.
“Let me be crystal clear: the IMB is still going to send full-time, fully-funded career missionaries just like we’ve always sent,” Platt said during his report at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “They are the priceless, precious, critical core of our mission force.”
But the IMB’s emerging strategy is to put around those missionaries a “limitless” force of students, retirees, and professionals—people who, to borrow Platt’s words, are willing to leverage their jobs and lives so that more might hear and respond to the gospel.
The newly redesigned IMB website reflects the strategy, with buttons for people in a variety of categories to search for opportunities overseas. There are needs for business consultants, healthcare professionals, construction engineers, and more. The IMB also offers training resources for churches to equip and mobilize members for missions, both short-term and longer.
Global mission “is not just for a select few people in the church, but for multitudes of Spirit-filled men and women across the church,” Platt said in St. Louis.
A year ago, when hundreds of IMB missionaries moved back home, the chances of getting the gospel to some of the world’s darkest places seemed dimmer. Now, with a strategy focused on everyday people like the ones who sparked a gospel fire in the New Testament, the opportunities seem endless. Or, limitless.
If I had a hammer
We’ll hear it a lot in the new year. On Halloween night in 1517, disgruntled priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 complaints on the church door in Wittenberg and started an ecclesial revolution. We’re likely to hear about it from all corners, including events at our seminaries, panels at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, and bus tours of Germany. And we may have a few serious discussions about the theological direction of the SBC. Look for Reformation@500 in the pages of the Illinois Baptist throughout 2017.