Sunday, May 31, 2009

Morris Chapman and the Great Commission Resurgence

Morris H. Chapman is president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. Last week he published an article through Baptist Press entitled, "This One Thing I Do (Philippians 3:12-14)." In it he provides a critique of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) document and offers reasons for his unwillingness to sign it. I have previously explained why I did sign it and also addressed why I find the call for a GCR particularly urgent at this time. After reading Dr. Chapman's article I find that not only am I unconvinced by his arguments, my resolve to support Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin and others in calling for a GCR is strengthened. Indeed, Chapman's article actually highlights the need all the more.

I hope to explain my meaning by interacting with Dr. Chapman's arguments. Before doing so, however, I want to commend him for his willingness to speak openly and forthrightly about his concerns with the GCR document. This kind of open and honest dialogue about ideas is exactly what the Southern Baptist Convention needs. As Chapman has demonstrated, it can be done without stooping to personal attacks or assuming the worst about those with whom we disagree. I hope to follow his example by being pointed without being personal. I am concerned with his ideas and arguments, not with his motivation, intentions or integrity. I have no reason to doubt that his desire is to see Christ honored among the people known as Southern Baptists.

Dr. Chapman's main complaint about the GCR document is Article IX, which is entitled, "A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure" and states,
We call upon all Southern Baptists, through our valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This commitment recognizes the great strength of our partnership, which has been enabled by the Cooperative Program and enhanced by a belief that we can do more together than we can separately.
Chapman rightly points out that the explanatory language following this article has been softened as a result of concerns raised. What he finds particularly bothersome is the original language that said,
... our denominational structures have become bloated and bureaucratic at every level, from local associations to state conventions to the SBC itself. We believe our ministry effectiveness is being strangled by overlap and duplication, poor stewardship, and a disproportionate amount of Cooperative Program dollars being kept by the state conventions.
Though this statement no longer appears in the published explanation, Chapman fears that it reflects "an obvious, predetermined bias toward restructuring" of SBC entities. Furthermore, he believes that the Program and Structure Study Committee which completed its work in 1997 and issued the "Covenant for a New Century" (which the convention adopted and whose ministry statements are now part of the Organization Manual of the Southern Baptist Convention) has adequately met the concerns raised by Article IX.

On this point, I simply disagree with Dr. Chapman. Far from seeing the work of that earlier committee as being adequate for our present challenges, I believe that the structures of the SBC need to be carefully reexamined--and soon--to see how Southern Baptists can get more Great Commission bang for our buck. In my estimation, everything ought to be open to scrutiny. No entity or agency should be exempt.

His arguments against even considering possible restructuring almost sound protectionistic, but I am confident that they are not because, as Johnny Hunt mentioned a few weeks ago, Dr. Chapman himself called for a "major overhaul" of the convention in 2004. In an address at the Baptist Identity Conference at Union University, Dr. Chapman said this:
The Southern Baptist Convention needs fine tuning. In fact, the Convention may require an overhaul, not in its polity, but in its programming and processes by which it functions daily. A major overhaul by the national Convention and the state conventions appears to be an absolute necessity, letting the facts speak for themselves lest the conventions discover too late they were blind and deaf to a delivery system that better serves the churches (emphasis added).
This language is much stronger than anything in Article IX of the GCR. Furthermore, this recognition of the need for further structural change beyond the "Covenant for a New Century" was acknowledged again by Dr. Chapman on his blog post from September 25, 2006, when he wrote,
One primary question remains to date, "Should other changes be made within the SBC infrastructure for the purpose of enhancing our Southern Baptist witness in North America and beyond." A similar question is, "Can the operations of SBC entities become leaner, more focused, and more effective? To both questions, the answer is, "Yes." (emphasis added)
Article IX is doing nothing other than what Dr. Chapman himself has said ought to be done and in fact called on Southern Baptists to do. His objections to it, therefore, ring hollow.

The reason that he gives for objecting also are unconvincing. He raises the issue of revival (which is not raised in the GCR document) and then criticizes Article IX as an impediment to revival.
Revival and spiritual growth are the greatest needs in our Convention and our nation. This is the challenge around which all Southern Baptists can rally. Reorganization is not. Neither is it a prerequisite to revival.
Don't get me wrong. Effective and efficient organization is critical to any corporate endeavor and periodic changes are necessary. But revival in our churches and appointing a task force to study Convention structures are not two parts of one whole. They are two separate objectives that, if sought under the same banner, have the potential to cause both to fail.
This is a straw man argument. No one has ever claimed that studying the structures of the SBC will promote revival. To suggest otherwise only confuses the issue. As does this:
Perhaps some have the mistaken notion that if we get our stuff organized first, then God will pour out His blessings. Does history bear this out? Are there biblical examples from which to draw that would lead us to expect this? Reorganization does not change hearts.
Again, against whom is Dr. Chapman arguing? Certainly not the framers of the document that he is criticizing.

A paragraph that begins with this statement, "My overriding concern is that if Article IX remains in the Declaration, all attention will remain riveted on this one article," goes on to mention Article IX eight more times, thus supplying an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I fear that some who read Dr. Chapman's article may be misled by the following paragraph:
The work of the Program and Structure Study Committee was completed in 1997 under the Covenant for a New Century. At that time, the Southern Baptist Convention was restructured so that 95% of all Cooperative Program funds received by the Convention were, and still are, directed to the very three priorities identified by the framers of this Declaration -- our two mission boards and our six seminaries.
One of the biggest concerns that I hear from pastors today is not so much what happens to CP dollars after the funds are "received by the Convention" but rather, what happens to them once they leave the churches. According to this BP report, in 2007-2008 only 1.13% of undesignated offerings given by Southern Baptists made it to the International Missions Board. This is the kind of statistic that is causing alarm bells to go off inside the missionary hearts of Southern Baptists. Doesn't this at least raise a question about our structures and how funds are allocated and shouldn't this question at least be honestly asked and studied? That is all that Article IX is asking for.

Dr. Chapman's attempt to distinguish between his call for an "overhaul" of the convention in 2004 from the call in Article IX is unconvincing. He writes,
I did not recommend that a task force be appointed. I also did not recommend that the national Convention appoint a committee to judge other Baptist bodies. I could never do so, for the SBC has pledged never to even attempt to do so (SBC Constitution, Article IV).
This strikes me as odd given his expressed appreciation for the work of the committee that recommended the "Covenant for a New Century" to the SBC. Did that committee "judge other Baptist bodies?" Did it violate the SBC Constitution Article IV, which states, "Authority: While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention." No on both counts. Neither would blue ribbon committee violate the SBC constitution, despite to Dr. Chapman's contention to the contrary.

One further point and I will close. Chapman cites a concern for unity in the SBC as a reason that he cannot sign the GCR document.
I cannot sign the Declaration as long as Article IX is included because it is likely to be divisive.
I love unity among God's people and I hate division, so my heart goes out to this concern. But as one who worked for a Conservative Resurgence (CR) in the SBC from 1979 onward, this sounds eerily familiar. Those who opposed the CR at that time sounded this warning repeatedly for over a decade. If we allow fear of division to trump all other concerns, then we will soon be headed right back down the slope toward liberalism that we once trod.

How can taking an honest look at who we are and what we are doing be offensive to truth-loving, kingdom-advancing people? If there are better ways for us to do what we are trying to do in our cooperative efforts, why wouldn't we want to know? If needed changes are discovered that will benefit the kingdom of God and spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, why wouldn't we seek to make them?

I have great respect for Dr. Chapman, but on this issue, I believe that he is wrong. I much prefer his earlier call for a "major overhaul" of the SBC to this latter warning of division and quenching of revival. Weighing his arguments has caused me to appreciate the need for honest evaluation and appraisal even more than previously. If we don't then I fear we might miss an opportunity to strengthen our cooperative efforts in ways that will benefit kingdom work for years to come.


Michael Spencer said...

Every time I see the phrases "raises concerns," I want to say "from whom and about what?"

We are coming to a Crossroads, and it is going to be one where the relationship of churches to our historic denomination is going to be determined for years to come. The most significant vote in the SBC isn't on this document. It's what church treasurers are instructed to do with money churches entrust to the denomination. That is the place of trust, and things are not going well.

I pray the GCR succeeds, but what I more deeply pray is that worthy trust is restored when a dollar is put in the envelope. That's been the beauty of the CP.

Tom said...

Amen, Michael. I think you are right and join you in that prayer.

Tom said...

In the 14 Effectiveness Criteria we developed for a Local church, the final statement expresses the intention and process for continuous evaluation. Continuous means open to valid objective assessment that measures our stated purpose as compared to our actual accomplishment of purpose/mission.

The SBC needs the transparency & open evaluation that the Resurgence document calls for. I pray that we humble ourselves and submit to the probing and guiding wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

adubhigg said...

I posted a similar response to the statements by the NAMB and IMB chairmen. With all due respect, Dr. Chapman is running interference for the state conventions, who represent the major (if not singular) chokepoint for CP monies between the churches and the entities. I understand that Baptist polity and policy prevents the national convention from instructing the states....but the people or their leadership need to stand up and demand fair use of their money. If we were committed to our money going to the right places in 1979, why not today?

Bob Cleveland said...


After watching the SBC adopt some swell documents over the last three years, I'm concluding that the danger in things like this are that (A) everyone will jump on board, waving the flag, and (B) they will think we've done a good thing by doing that, and (C) nothing will change. That it will end up so much written talk, so to speak.

The principles set forth speak for themselves. If there are good things proposed for the SBC entities, let the respective trustees jump in and do something about it. If churches need more to concentrate on the gospel, let local pastors see the wisdom and pursue that. But having the SBC in Louisville appoint a committee and study it isn't going to make anything happen.

We don't need another grand pronouncement. We need folks who can do something about the things set forth in the GCRD to see the light and get busy.

Tom said...


I agree completely!


It is very telling that the chairmen of both NAMB and the IMB have weighed in on the question of restructuring and have suggested that something ought to be done. Perhaps the specifics of their ideas are not the best way, but it would be foolish simply to ignore what they have said.

Thanks for your comment. I agree with you on this and predict that if the state conventions don't begin to make some changes, more churches will join the trend to give around them.

Tom said...


I understand where you are coming from and share some of your fears. If the GCR gets co-opted into just another pep rally type of promotion then it will become a colossal fail. My hope is that what is being called for will promote some of the straight-forward, honest speaking that seems to be in short supply today. At some point, if the emperor has no clothes, somebody needs to be willing to stand up and say so, regardless of the consequences. Can a blue ribbon study committee do that? If it consists of the right kind of people--people who are not beholden to any political entity in the convention and who aren't jockeying for power or influence.

Local churches is where the action is and your admonition to pastors is spot on!

Curtis Hill said...


Thanks for the post. I think these thoughts are essential to be brought to the table.

I heard something last May when I went to an IMB meeting in Richmond. Essentially, I heard, "We have listened. We realize that we have missed a vital element of church/IMB relationship, and we are making necessary changes and moving toward a direction to better serve the churches." What blessed me was the humble posture of the IMB personnel (especially the high level ones). My overriding concern is that whenever concerns are brought, they seem to be too easily dismissed. The GCR is only asking for evaluation of structures. It does not outline major structural changes. That seems like a simple petition, and more than that a shared concern among many SBC'ers. If that cannot even reach the table, I don't think it speaks well to the health of the SBC.

I think I will always be encouraged when I see humility rather than defensiveness. God help me in my own life and ministry to cultivate that as well.

charles said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom said...


Please take your off topic comments elsewhere. They are not welcome here.

Perry McCall said...

I was at that Baptist Identity conference. Dr. Chapman was very impressive with his evaluation of the future of the CP. He was very prophetic about the issues that would be coming up in the coming years. He was very emphatic about the need to "overhaul" our system. When I first read Dr. Aiken's Axiom's my first thought was, "Morris Chapman was right and he must be loving this!"

However, I do recall that his main argument was that the Churches were going to make the changes. A big discussion that weekend was about non-geographical associations. He kept saying that Churches will change the structure because Churches will decide how they associate and give their monies. He addressed the State's retaining CP monies with the Churches will decide by the way they give.

I am still surprised that he is not supporting the call. However, his reluctance might not be as contradictory as I at first thought. But I do think he is right. The Churches will decide. If my State convention does not start moving to at least a 50/50 split soon, then I will be trying to lead our Church to a different giving pattern. I don't expect a fight. I have shared with many leaders that approx. 17 cents of every dollar makes it to the IMB and they are all immediately outraged. My challenge is holding off the changes while hoping for reform!

Perry McCall said...


Tom said...

I think many pastors and churches are in a similar situation. Once it becomes widely known just how much CP money never even leaves the state, much less makes it to the IMB, there will be an outcry.

Thanks for your comment.

steve.rives said...

Michael Horton wrote a book called "Christless Christianity." Knowing that my own convention is not immune (nobody is), I am not too thrilled with the idea that we can send out missionaries who continue the trend he identifies. I am not saying we are doing this (not at all), for I don't know. I don't know the actual messages being preached by our missionaries. For me, I don't want more budgetary oversight over the IMB. No, not now. Instead, I feel like the need for the hour is to test the missionary we have already sent.

I want a chance to regularly audit the preaching of our missionaries. I want to hear samples of their sermons. I want them to upload transcriptions or MP3 files onto the internet so I can hear what exactly it is they are teaching and preaching.

If Horton is right, then a Christless Christianity can be spread. Therefore, before I ask how much we fund all of our missionaries, I want to know: What are they teaching, exactly. And I want a mechanism to check up on them.

My congregation hears my preaching every week. I am accountable to them. They can test to determine if they are financially backing Christ-centered preaching. They hear the word weekly. In contrast, I feel completely disconnected from the Word-preached when money is sent to the IMB. I love the idea of the IMB. To improve the IMB, I want to know the sermons of the missionaries we support. And if I could direct our giving to the ones that are really preaching Christ, I would direct more! As it is, I have to trust the IMB. Hmmm, "Give us your money and just trust us..." Well, I do to a point. At the same time, I am not so unwise as to think that our missionaries are exempt from Horton's critique.

I hear online sermons from peers in my own part of the country, and I think, "Wow, I would not allow you into Eastside Church of the Cross to preach." Not only that, I would not want to send them money. So let's start testing our missionaries, and let's make it so we can fine-tune the ones who get more support. Those who teach well are worthy of double honor.

Steve Rives, Pastor
Eastside Church of the Cross

hckilgore said...

As a younger pastor, listening to my fellow younger pastors, the bloated beauracracy and SBC good ol' boy system are two of the main reasons many are leaving the SBC. I've yet to understand why we have to have 2 'special' offerings (Annie Armstrong/Lottie Moon) to support our missionaries. I thought the whole point of the SBC WAS to fund missionary endeavors?! I also think it's time to do away with Association Ministers (DOMs) and move to Regional Directors. Even in a rural area, hardly if ever, do our 25+ churches use/call upon the Association. So much info., helps, etc. is available online and elsewhere. This could also help streamline our states.

Pastor Jason said...

Good post, Tom. I think that you are being overly gracious. I am afraid that distrust, jealousy, and mainly money are the root causes of Dr. Chapman's response. And it is sad to see. It is this kind of convention politics that makes me feel sympathy to those who are leaving the SBC. And truthfully, I know I should not even read about it. The less I know, the better I feel.

Tom said...

I encourage you to invite some missionaries to hot church. There are some great servants working with the IMB. We have sent several from our church and have regularly blessed by others we've come to know. They are doctrinally and devotionally solid.

Steven said...

Dr. Ascol:

As a young(er) baptist, who came along after the CR, I have no idea how my money gets from the offering plate to the SBC and ultimately to the IMB or NAMB or a seminary. Is there a resource that explains this?



Tom said...


Read this article and click on all the embedded links. It will explain how it all works.


Tim Rogers said...

Brother Tom,

You said;

One of the biggest concerns that I hear from pastors today is not so much what happens to CP dollars after the funds are "received by the Convention" but rather, what happens to them once they leave the churches. According to this BP report, in 2007-2008 only 1.13% of undesignated offerings given by Southern Baptists made it to the International Missions Board.

I agree with that statement. However, the GCR Declaration does not address what happens when the money leaves the church. No Blue Ribbon committee can make any recommendation that will call on state conventions to change their giving structures.

I believe Dr. Chapman pointed to something that I did not see you address that is important. (If you did address it I must have missed it.) Dr. Chapman said: an undercurrent accompanying the request for structural reorganization is the dissatisfaction that local church missions offerings are not counted as Cooperative Program gifts." Then he goes on to say; "if all missions offerings were added to the Cooperative Program totals, there would not be more money for missions, just higher totals reported under the Cooperative Program." I am not sure exactly what his point is there. What does he mean about "local church missions offerings are not counted as Cooperative Program gifts."? Is this a trend that you see?

Also, for the young pastor that asked about monies getting to the mission field this link provides the % of each state convention.

Steven said...

Dr. Ascol:

Thanks for the links. After doing a little research, I am saddened to realize that for every $100.00 that someone in my church gives (other than for one of the designated offerings such as the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering) only $1.68 gets to the IMB and only $.77 gets to the NAMB.

Is there a resource that lists the trustees of the various SBC entities? Is there a resource that describes the process of becoming a trustee? Again, I am sorry for burdening you with such questions. Thanks for your time.


Tom said...


I would guess that you can find answers to your questions at I am not able to point you to a specific link.

Tom said...


I am not aware that any blue ribbon committee which may be formed will be given the task of making "any recommendation that will call on state conventions to change their giving structures." Morris Chapman himself has issued such a call to state conventions by encouraging them to increase the percentage of CP dollars that they release to the SBC. I don't see why a committee couldn't make similar suggestions, recognizing that they have no authority to implement such suggestions.

Like you, I don't understand Dr. Chapman's point about how counting gifts differently won't mean any extra money being provided for missions. That, to me, seems self-evident. But, to answer your question, yes, I do hear of more and more churches actually giving around their state conventions and considering doing so. It seems to me that this trend will inevitably continue as more and more churches are made aware of just how their money is being used.


Pastor Danny said...

Steve Rives:
I'm very concerned with your statement:

"I want a chance to regularly audit the preaching of our missionaries. I want to hear samples of their sermons. I want them to upload transcriptions or MP3 files onto the internet so I can hear what exactly it is they are teaching and preaching."

Brother, there are three reasons I disagree with you on this one.

1. Though I am huge on accountability, that goes a little far toward being controlling. I don't believe it is baptistic, much less biblical, to have such over bearing oversight on such matters. Are you going to start recording your Sunday School and Disciplehip Training teachers each Sunday? What if they have a differing view of eschatology than you? How far should we go with this? The IMB has a structure in place to visit those on the field and observe them in action, but also to see the fruit they are producing.

2. It is not possible to post all of their messages (audio, video, or manuscript) since many of them are in areas where that kind of communication is not possible or wise. Some of them do not even have a preaching/teaching role, but are in a support role. I would suggest corresponding with as many missionaries as possible so you can hear their heart. Take a trip at least once a year to where our missionaries serve so you can see their heart. I doubt you will find many missionaries who would give up their comforts here in the states to go and share a message they don't believe themselves.

3. They undergo extreme scrutiny before being appointed. Ask any missionary who has undergone the process and they will tell you - not just anyone gets appointed. If you have ever had any missionaries sent out from your church, then you already know this.

Remember what Jesus said in Mark "For whoever is not against us is on our side.". Remember what Paul said in Philippians 1 about rejoicing that Christ is preached, regardless of the motive. I doubt they have been commissioned if they were not preaching Christ and Him crucified.

I am endorsed by NAMB as an Army Chaplain. Trust me, it's not an easy process and the scrutiny and accountability is high. If word gets back to NAMB that I'm sprinkling babies or doing something that Southern Baptists do not endorse, then my endorsement is pulled and my ministry to soldiers and families are stopped dead in its tracks. My commission as an Army officer is only as good as my endorsement from NAMB. I preach and pray in Jesus' name regardless of how people feel about it.

Bro. Steve, like you I protect my pulpit and we should. We will stand in judgment one day for what we say and do as ministers of the gospel. Our missionaries will too. Paul rightly says in 1 Cor 4 that those who who have been entrusted with the gospel must prove faithful. He goes on to say that the one who will judge that in his ministry will be Jesus.

Make not mistake about it - if someone is preaching heresy or a different gospel (Gal 6) then they need to be pulled from the field or have their support taken away (it has happened before). We can trust the Lord to expose those who are teaching a different gospel through common sense measures and accountability, but without wasting time scrutinizing every manuscript, audio, and/or video message of our missionaries.

steve.rives said...
This comment has been removed by the author.