Can we ride this train?
February 22 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Can we ride this train? | Friday, Feb. 22, 2002

Friday, Feb. 22, 2002

Can we ride this train?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

I want to get on board this train.

I really do.

I want to ride up front, ring the bell and blow the whistle.

The train comes in the form of a report that grew out of a two-year-old task force of SBC agency heads and state convention executives appointed to study issues of cooperation between the Southern Baptist Convention and the state conventions. The task force was expanded to include two pastors, SBC president James Merritt, and a director of missions who later joined the North American Mission Board (NAMB). State executive directors and editors heard a preview during a Feb. 12-15 meeting in Albuquerque, and a slightly revised version was delivered to the SBC Executive Committee meeting in Nashville Feb. 18-19.

One of the major issues facing the task force was the SBC's criticism of state conventions whose cooperative giving plans include missions options other than the SBC. For the record, none of those states were represented. State conventions also have expressed concerns about the number of strings attached when Cooperative Program money sent to the SBC is returned through channels such as NAMB funding for jointly hired state and associational staff. Sticky issues of autonomy and questions of "who's the boss?" in state convention/SBC affairs needed careful attention.

The task force report addressed none of the issues that led to its creation. Instead, members said they felt led to lead the convention in a risky venture to live out the tenets of the kingdom of God.

The issues still need addressing and adoption of the report should not be seen as resolving them, but I can applaud any attempt to promote the kingdom of God.

Much of the report, which contained 13 pages of New Testament quotations about the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven), is a reworking of the "Empowering Kingdom Growth" emphasis that has gone through several incarnations in the South Carolina convention.

There is nothing I like more than to hear people talk about putting distractions aside to focus on the kingdom of God.

I grew up being taught kingdom principles. My seminary education focused on the ideals of Christ's teaching about the kingdom. My efforts as a pastor were always to help the church find and fulfill its role in the kingdom of God. When the Biblical Recorder's board of directors joined me in developing a mission statement for the paper, it began with "Our mission is to further Christ's kingdom among North Carolina Baptists ...."

Our calling to be kingdom people is not something new.

The report includes a number of highlights, including "five foundational, fundamental truths" that were outlined to the committee by LifeWay president Jimmy Draper:

1. People are more important than institutions.

2. Churches are more important than the denomination and its entities.

3. Families are more important than churches.

4. The Kingdom of God is more important than all else.

5. Obedience is more important than global events.

Draper was right on target. These are wonderful, insightful observations, and the report is entirely correct in saying "What we need to do is get in line with the Lord Jesus as He walked the walk and talked the talk about Kingdom concerns."

The report says, "We do not compromise on Jesus, and we do not compromise on the Bible."

That's good.

The report promotes an empowering of Southern Baptists that means "to grant permission, to set free, to encourage, to bless, to support someone to reach for greatness. It does not mean to stay the same, to control, to give strict direction, or to limit progress."

I like that.

The report defines the kingdom of God as being fully surrendered to Christ, being where God is at work. "There is no limit or bounds to the Kingdom of God," it says, "Everyone is invited to the Kingdom because Jesus died on the cross that all might be saved."


The report urges growth that comes from obedience to Christ's commission that "called for his followers to seek first and foremost the Kingdom of God and everything they needed would be provided for them."

Preach on!

The report also included a powerful paragraph that I quote in full: "The question for Southern Baptists is, 'Why can we not be Kingdom people? What keeps us from being about the Lord's business with Him? Why are we hesitant and given to distractions such as power concerns, money, doctrinal differences, gender issues, congregational size, worship styles, and out-dated organizational practices? Why can we not claim a true Kingdom focus and stay with it until Jesus comes again? Why can we not come to confess that we ought not pray "Thy Kingdom come" unless we are doing all in our power to hasten that event? Certainly the Evil One is constantly seeking whom he may distract and destroy, but the power and the call of God are greater than Satan. Do we serve the Lord of the Kingdom or do we not?'"

The Executive Committee voted unanimously to delete that entire paragraph while approving the remainder of the report, which suggests at least one answer to the questions it raised.

I want to celebrate this report and its goals, and to challenge everyone else to get on the SBC's new kingdom train. But I can't get past the puzzling paradox of leaders who simultaneously promote this report while systematically restricting full cooperation and participation in the SBC's corner of the kingdom. The conductor calls us to get on board but won't punch tickets that aren't doctrinally or politically acceptable.

This exclusivist attitude is precisely what fuels the ongoing conflict that distracts us from true kingdom living. Until we repent of our pride and learn to accept others as Jesus did, the train's bell will ring hollow, and the whistle's moan will be a mourning for lost opportunity.

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2/22/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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