Associational leader offers GCRTF perspective
    June 8 2010 by J.C. Bradley

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — J.C. Bradley, retired director of missions, former professor at Golden Gate Theological Seminary and for many years the associational liaison for the North American Mission Board, is writing his perspectives on the recommendations of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force to be considered June 15 by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando.)

    Missional Vision and Values
    Reflections on GCRTF Recommendations #1 & #2

    The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) report certainly serves an admirable purpose.  Yes, there is a great need for a recommitment to the direct command of our Lord to “make disciples.” When William Carey’s essay and sermon kicked off the Modern Mission Movement, he made his case based on the Great Commission. His text was Isaiah 54:2-3 with its plea to Enlarge the place of your tent … lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. (Note that tent cords can be lengthened only so far unless the stakes are strengthened.) The theme he used then is also our challenge today — Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. (The order of these two phrases is significant.)

    We live in a time when every organization of every kind must justify its existence.  Denominations, and even churches, are no exception. The GCRTF Report has prompted Southern Baptists to rethink some issues. It has prompted positive, stimulating conversation on topics that really matter.

    There is, quite rightly, an appeal to go Back to the Basics: A Theology for Great Commission Faithfulness. I wish that the report had gone even further back to the basics to present a more comprehensive missional theology — one that embraced the Great Commission theology but went further toward helping Southern Baptists to become a truly missional denomination. In this article, I want to address the GCRTF’s recommendations and  discussion #1 and #2 regarding mission vision and values. These are important because everything else flows from them.   

    Recommendation 1 — Re the Missional Vision
    A stronger missional vision statement could be taken directly from the assignment given to the Task Force by the SBC in June 2009, i.e., to work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission. The missional vision proposed in the GCRTF report does not incorporate the full commission as given by Christ. Make disciples is the imperative, and going, baptizing, and teaching are the means of doing that. In addition, the Commission carries the promise that Christ would be with us. I don’t even want to think about the huge challenge of missions without knowing that Jesus promises to be with us. The missional vision presented by the TF would be suitable for a limited campaign, but not for the mission statement of the SBC.

    Teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you is the part likely to be overlooked in a single-minded emphasis on “penetrating the lostness.” Certainly that is an essential part, but not the whole of the Great Commission. Think of a three-legged stool with make disciples as the seat, and going, baptizing (penetrating lostness), and teaching as the three legs. All are necessities. As far as what Christ said, none of these is to be underplayed at the expense of the others.

    The failure of churches to teach everything I have commanded is a major contributor to the growing biblical illiteracy, even among regular church members. The need for an increased quality of discipleship is undisputed. The result of failure at this point produces nominal Christians who are who are “tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching.” Failure to provide sound teaching leaves syncretism, heresies, and even persecution in its wake.

    Several issues are worthy of further consideration:

    First, making disciples involves more than penetrating lostness. Although there is certainly something very attractive about the theme, “Penetrating Lostness,” there is also a question as to why this focus rather than the Lord’s own words in the imperative part of His commission to “make disciples.” There’s more to making disciples than to penetrate lostness. To “penetrate lostness” is necessary, but insufficient for full obedience to Great Commission. Going, baptizing (penetrating lostness), and teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you — all three of these are essential components of the Lord’s directive to make disciples.

    Secondly, where are the lost? There is no question that the Lord will have standing before the throne “multitudes … from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev. 7:9) — and that we have the responsibility of taking the Gospel to them. As we look at lostness, however, we have to ask where the lost are. We can look as far away as possible and see the multiplied millions who have never heard the gospel, but we can also look up close — in our families, in our churches, in our communities. We are increasingly surrounded by lostness in America. The NAMB Research Workgroup reported (11/09) that there were 255 million lost people in the US and Canada. Just in terms of lostness, the U.S. has the 4th greatest number of lost people in the world. Furthermore, the population is growing faster than we (and all other Christian groups) are reaching people.

    There are various reasons for this. Many people cling to the idea that America is a Christian nation. Some areas claim to be “the buckle on the Bible belt.” It is true that a 1931 Supreme Court ruling said that Americans are “a Christian people.” Also, in 1954, when the menace of atheistic communism was great and growing, Congress added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. The religious profile of the nation in the mid-20th century could be seen in Will Herberg’s masterful book, Protestant, Catholic, Jew. The signs of those times are also reflected in the title of a couple of other books of the 1950’s — The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and The Organization Man. It was a churched, highly receptive society. Modernism was at its peak.

    But that was then and this is now. The world of the 50’s no longer exists. To attempt to hold on to it is probably a mixture of nostalgia, wishful dreaming, lack of awareness, and denial. The day of “if we build it, they will come” is over. It might be replaced by “if we don’t go, they won’t be reached.” 

    So where is the mission field?  Start by looking around. Jesus did not give geographical priority, because people are neither more nor less lost according to where they live. Wherever your church is, that’s the beginning point for your church’s global missions responsibility (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). It’s not necessarily when you leave the church’s parking lot — or even the sanctuary. Let’s face it, for many churches the “mission field” starts in the sanctuary. Missions is all cut from the same cloth. You can’t be for one kind and against another. Like children in a family, one is not starved while another thrives.

    If Southern Baptists really want to reach the lost, at least a couple of things are necessary. First, we must acknowledge in word and deed that the US (and your state, county, city, and town) is a mission field. Second, we must accept the importance of incarnational missions (a possibility for and responsibility of every Christian). The mission field is not just “over yonder” somewhere. You are standing on it! Now, incarnate the Good News of the Gospel and share it with someone whose eternal life depends on it.

    Thirdly, remember who we are. Both individuals and churches run the risk of having spiritual amnesia — forgetting who we are, whose we are, and why we exist. As Christians we are the Body of Christ, we are his (you are not your own, you are bought with a price), and the purpose for which the church exists is to be the primary instrument of God’s redemptive activity in the world (Eph. 3:10-11).

    Now what does that mean to us? The fundamental issues are not with our actions (methods, money) so much as with our identity (spiritual and theological issues). After that, we can get at the questions for particular Southern Baptist organization issues. The focus throughout the GCRTF Report is, unfortunately, on what we are doing in contrast to who we are. What would it mean to be a missional denomination (not just mission-minded, mission-giving)? We act based on who we are — and I don’t see the fundamental issues as having been dealt with adequately. 

    Recommendation 2 — Re Core Values
    Either “partnership” or “collaboration” would be a stronger statement to supplement or replace relationships. The word needed should convey the idea of working relationships. “Cooperation” is a word that Baptists have long used and is incorporated in every Baptist Faith and Message since the 1920s. However, either partnership or collaboration would be stronger.

    Although all Baptist general bodies are autonomous in their own sphere, each functions best when the interdependence of all is recognized. We could compare these by thinking of a boat with the sides and ends of the boat labeled as church, association, state convention, and SBC. We are all in the same boat! The “boat” floats best when each part fulfills its particular role. Certainly there is no reason for any of the others to exist if were not for the churches — but the churches are best supported through the mutual respect and mutual support provided by all of the general bodies.  


    6/8/2010 4:45:00 AM by J.C. Bradley | with 0 comments




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