Baptists studied board mergers since 1880
    August 20 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

    Southern Baptists have been studying potential merger of their two mission boards off and on for nearly 130 years.

    But in the first such study in 1880 and in separate committees and commissions in 1915, 1917, 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1933, 1956-59 and 1995 the recommendation has been the same: keep the national and international mission boards separate.

    Now, thanks to an informal proposal by the current chairman of the North American Mission Board; the president of NAMB’s Aug. 11 forced resignation; and work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, such a merger is again bound to be considered: for at least the ninth time.

    Archivist Bill Sumners of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives uncovered an unattributed document in a 1956 folder while looking for information at the request of the Biblical Recorder. The document appears to be a summation compiled for the Committee to Study the Total Southern Baptist Program initiated in 1956. It brought its report in 1959 and became known as the Branch Committee, after its chairman Doug Branch who was executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

    The document lists various study committees and their reports. Each was considering the efficiencies of SBC operations, which were considerably different in the formative years than today. Various committees considered the combining or eliminating of certain operations, boards and agencies.

    The SBC was founded in 1845 and just 35 years later members wondered if their mission boards should be combined since, “The work among the Indians in the Territory, and the Chinese of California bears as much resemblance to the work of the Foreign as the Home Board.”

    That committee was instructed to consider the idea and report later during that same annual meeting.

    The report urged state conventions to adopt “some system of co-operation with our Home Mission Board” to decrease the expense of collecting funds, and ultimately said, “We cannot, at present, recommend the consolidation.”

    Efficiency has been a byword for all the studies. In 1915 the study committee even took the name The Commission on Efficiency.

    It considered combining the mission boards. “But after canvassing the matter thoroughly, a vast majority of your Commission do not think it would be wise or expedient to consolidate the two Boards, either now or in the future,” its report said.

    In 1917 a Committee on Consolidation took up the banner again. It decided that “in view of the diversity of opinions” and “the distressing conditions in our country, resulting from the world war,” that all boards of the Convention should “remain separate at present.”

    A 1924 Committee on Correlation recommended the Home and Foreign mission boards “continue as now.” It also recommended that the Home Mission Board continue “in charge of the missionary work of the Southern Baptist Convention in Cuba and the Panama Canal Zone.”

    1925 Convention action affirmed the 1924 committee report “that the Foreign Mission Board, Home Mission Board, Inter-Board Commission work in student activities, Sunday School Board, Relief and Annuity Board and the Laymen’s Work be continued as at present.”

    In 1927 messengers assigned the SBC Executive Committee to “make a complete survey of the work of the Convention and its agencies.” It was to consider each department of work and its financial condition and whether new work should be started or current work discontinued.

    Its larger task was to find “a mutually satisfactory basis…for the division of funds between Southwide and state objects in the annual Cooperative Program.”

    This also took the name Committee on Efficiency when it brought its report in 1928, and recommended that “the Home Mission Board continue as it is at present organized.”

    Virginia Baptists brought to the Convention in 1933 a “memorial” asking the Executive Committee to “look carefully into the question of consolidating our three theological seminaries and the mission work of our two mission boards.”

    The introduction to this memorial said “the financial condition of the missionary and education agencies and institutions is, in our judgment, destined to grow steadily worse, unless a new and better co-operation between the several State Conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention can be arranged, or, failing in this, the elimination of some of the Convention activities.”

    In response, the Committee on the Virginia Memorial said it would be “unwise to disturb the minds of Southern Baptists by upsetting in any way the machinery of our denominational agencies.” In addition, a growing population and the “legal complications” sure to arise from “combining or moving trust funds,” prompted no changes to be recommended.

    The committee did say, however: “We feel that the states that participate in the Cooperative Program, since they make their appeal for all benevolent contributions mainly on the strength of our missionary work, that a more equitable division of funds for Statewide and Southwide causes should be adhered to. We recommend that a fifty-fifty basis be adopted hereafter if possible and that contributions to preferred causes be discontinued wherever possible.”

    The committee lamented that “churches of the South are not averaging 10 percent of their funds to state and Southwide causes. This is the major weakness in our financial system and will, if not corrected effect the complete ruin of all state and Southwide causes, and that very soon.”

    The Branch Committee, reporting 26 years later, would make recommendations for increased cooperation between the Home Mission Board and state conventions, but again, recommended that the HMB continue as a separate board.

    "Though some have suggested the consolidation of the Foreign Mission Board and the Home Mission Board we are convinced that such a union would compromise two different missiological strategies and confuse our missions vision," said the final report of the 1995 Program and Structure Study committee chaired by Mark Brister.



    8/20/2009 3:53:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 5 comments

Gene Scarborough
A most interesting and concise report, Norman. Thanks!!

It would appear these have been administrative issues much like inter-service rivalry between the Army / Navy / Marines / Air Force! They, too, have been a "work in progress" to meet the needs of an ever changing world.

In the past we had a vast country and the "lost" were mostly Native Americans" which inspired the Home Mission idea. Alongside this, we had foreign countries with spiritual needs such as China / Africa / South America.

With modern travel and immigration the 2 worlds have mixed in the American melting pot. I believe, someone has observed there are more Chinese in Los Angeles / San Francisco California than in many cities in China. Hence, we get a conflict of interest and need between a "Foreign" Board and a "Home Board." However, the need has a vastly different basis--transplanted people to America trying to assimulate vs. the same people with spiritual needs in their native country.

The latest innovation in Foreign Mission thinking has been to establish "indiginous churches." It means a church started by an American Missionary, but quickly turned over for funding and leadership to the native population. Us controlling Americans have problems letting anything we started and funded "get away from us."

Add to the mix the new concept of the local church sending "mission teams" to places both in the US and abroad for a "short term mission" to build a church or adopt a city and its Baptist missions. We can send all the local church teams we want, but what happens after they leave IF there is no resident missionary to continue the ministry.

A former FMB missionary to Brazil who was my good friend observed a unique thing about how the natives of Brazil respond. He said they embrace any new foreigner with great gusto, but when he leaves they quickly return to their old ways. It is a matter of social training. Any church sponsored short term mission effort will come back with glowing reports, but, in reality, there will be no real change without the continuous influence of a professional missionary who has worked through superficial acceptance to becoming a real part of the town and its culture.

What seems simple on the surface becomes far more complex when honesty breaks through superficiality.

Sadly, most of our Convention leadership looks at things with the CEO mentality of getting the gratest bang for the buck plus looking good in the eyes of the contributor! Sometimes reality seems to "waste" money when that money spent wisely brings back great dividends. I think I read a story in the last 10 years where Chinese Baptists were actually sending native missionaries to America to share the Gospel with immagrated Chinese in major cities!

I think the sharing of the Gospel will constantly be in flux. What worked years ago might not be working as well today. However, the measure is not in the "number of converts" as much as the quality of disciples produced in sharing the Gospel. Often, as Jesus said, "A little leven helps the entire loaf of bread to rise." Miracles happen when real followers of Christ share through word, deed, and example of who and what Christ was.

If the church becomes used by government to achieve peace, as Marx said, "Religion is the opiate of the people." Real Christianity seldom calms the crowds. "Liberation Theology" was an important issue in the 70's. It described how dictatorships were being overthrown in favor of a democratic and free stance for citizens under its influence.

This issue is far more complex than the organization of the SBC. The real question, in my opinion, is "How is our example and witness showing who Jesus was to a lost world?" Bold Mssion Thrust was a great attempt to share the Gospel--in reality it has failed miserably as we have focused on so defining "cooperating Baptist" that we have fought like the devil to say which side is right. The public notices "fought like the devil" more than "boldly sharing the Gospel."

It seems, humanity tends to spiral downward even in our religious ideals!
8/20/2009 8:20:41 PM

Brent, you stand with Baptists of the past 129 years!
8/20/2009 1:24:57 PM

Brent Hobbs
I am a GCR supporter and am hugely in favor of us finding effective means to control overhead costs and be organizationally efficient. However, it would take a whole lot of convincing for me to accept a merger of IMB and NAMB would be the best option.
8/20/2009 12:24:13 PM

In my opinion, the problems besetting the SBC are not organizational. The controlling fundamentalists have changed much of the convention's structure since 1979, and the same problems persist.
8/20/2009 11:02:44 AM

Gerald Hodges
Hmmmm; I guess Solomon was on to something when he said, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it can be said, "See, this is new"? (Ecclesiastes 1: 9-10 ESV)
Good reporting, Norman.
8/20/2009 10:42:20 AM

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