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What is the Southern Baptist Convention?
The Southern Baptist Convention is a body of people who are members of churches that have chosen to participate in cooperation with one another. The Convention's purpose is "to provide a general organization for Baptists in the United States and its territories for the promotion of Christian missions at home and abroad and any other objects such as Christian education, benevolent enterprises, and social services which it may deem proper and advisable for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God."
How did the Southern Baptist Convention begin?
The Southern Baptist Convention began in Augusta, Georgia, on May 8, 1845. Its stated intent was to be "for the purpose of carrying into effect the benevolent intention of our constituents by organizing a plan for eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the denomination for the propagation of the Gospel." On December 27, 1845, the General Assembly of the State of Georgia acted to incorporate the Southern Baptist Convention so that it could hold property, make its own bylaws, and participate in any business transactions. The act again stated that this was "for the purpose of eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians for the propagation of the Gospel."
The formation of the SBC was in response to the churches of the General Missionary Convention of the United States, who had struggled with the issue of slavery as the collective conscience of the nation was splitting into pieces on the eve of the Civil War. As the division between the North and the South was growing wider, the General Board faced the question of whether it was appropriate to appoint slave owners as missionaries. Pressure from both sides built until there was an unavoidable impasse. The churches of the South submitted James Reeves as a missionary candidate for consideration as a test case. They had already secured the funds for his salary from individuals in the South, so they only needed the board's approval. The General Board chose not to respond with any ruling, and in their silence there was no appointment. While they still did not articulate a direct ruling against slave owners, this nonaction spoke volumes to Southerners.
The committee that met in Augusta insisted that this lack of approval was a deviation from the original intent of the General Missionary Convention, and that the requirements for missionary service were stricter than they had previously been. The Triennial Convention of the General Board had originally advocated for "the principle of a perfect equality of members, from the South and the North." Under its constitution, the standards for missionary service were full membership in a church of the denomination and full evidence of a Christian life. The committee believed that the General Board's decision (or lack thereof) amounted to a change in policy and thought that their only option was to leave the General Missionary Convention of the United States and form their own missionary-sending alliance of churches.
While the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have since expressed painful regret over the root circumstances, they have also affirmed a commitment to the denomination's stated purpose, the Great Commission. Southern Baptists of the twenty-first century must necessarily acknowledge the reality of their beginnings, but they must also be ready to move forward in action with open eyes to the stated purpose for cooperation — the propagation of the Gospel.
What is a convention, and how does it work?
A convention is one form of a deliberative assembly. It is a large group of individuals, typically serving as representatives of smaller groups, who come together at a certain appointed time to make specific decisions. It only exists at the time that it is officially called into session. Robert's Rules of Order defines a convention as "an assembly of delegates ... chosen, normally for one session only, as representatives of constituent units or subdivisions of a much larger body of people in whose name the convention sits and acts." In this case, the Southern Baptist Convention is composed of what it calls messengers, who have been sent by cooperating churches. When the messengers convene, they act as a body.
A convention only exists for a fixed amount of days, which constitute a session. In accordance with its bylaws, the Southern Baptist Convention lasts two days, currently opening on Tuesday morning and adjourning on Wednesday evening. The Committee on Order of Business will present an agenda for consideration and approval by the messengers. The agenda must include certain elements that strike a balance of inspiration and motivation to Southern Baptists with accountability and the opportunity for democratic process: a Convention sermon, the President's message, Committee reports, resolutions, and the introduction of motions.
Who are the messengers?
Messengers are those individuals who actually compose the Southern Baptist Convention at each respective meeting. The term was first used to describe delegates to associational meetings of General Baptists in England as far back as the eighteenth century, and continued throughout the history of Baptists even as they formed different groups in different locations. Today, they are not delegates in the traditional sense because no authority is delegated to them by anyone. James L. Sullivan described them as "two way" messengers: "They go as voices of interest and concern from the churches to a Southern Baptist Convention. Once that Convention is over, they then become voices of communication for the Convention to the membership of the churches which have sent them."
There are very specific parameters for who serves as a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention. The calculation method and corresponding number of messengers has varied throughout the years, but the current practice is straightforward.
Each cooperating church may send a minimum of two messengers from their membership. Beyond those two, cooperating churches may send additional messengers according to a formula that allows for two options. One option is that for every full percent of a church's undesignated receipts in the preceding fiscal year contributed through the Cooperative Program, through the Convention's Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity, a church may send one messenger. The other option is that for every $6,000 contributed through the above channels, a church may send one messenger. Using either option, a church can send up to ten of these additional messengers, allowing for a maximum total of twelve.
Messengers must provide proper credentials in one of three forms. A church can register a messenger electronically before the meeting and receive an official Southern Baptist Convention registration document. A church can provide a letter signed by the pastor, clerk, or moderator of the church that certifies the messenger's election. A messenger can also provide verification through fax, email, or some other document (electronic or physical) from their church that is deemed reliable by the Credentials Committee.
Whatever form is used, it must demonstrate that a local church that meets the standards for cooperation has clearly selected the messenger.
What determines if a church cooperates with the SBC?
Autonomy of the local church means that a church chooses to voluntarily cooperate with other churches as a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. There is no requirement to attend the annual meeting, and failure to do so does not change the status of a church. There are, however, three standards of cooperation that a church must meet in order to seat messengers.
1. A cooperating church has a faith and practice that closely identifies with the Baptist Faith and Message. While this phrase may seem open to interpretation, the SBC Constitution gives only one specific example. It clearly states that churches who affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not in cooperation with the Convention.
2. A church desiring to cooperate must declare its intention to do so in some formal way. The Convention requests an annual report, and the Constitution names this as an appropriate example of this official declaration.
3. All cooperating churches must contribute financially in some way. They can do this through the Cooperative Program (which goes through their respective state conventions), through the Executive Committee to be used for Convention causes, or through a direct contribution to any entity. There is no minimum threshold for cooperation.
In the event that a church does not meet the first standard, the Convention or the Executive Committee must act to formally deem a church not in cooperation. Standards 2 and 3 are dependent on individual churches acting to declare their intentions and to contribute financially each year.
What is the relationship between the Convention and the churches?
The Southern Baptist Convention is not a hierarchical religious denomination. It is a Convention of churches that choose to cooperate with one another. This is in keeping with the Baptist distinctive of local church autonomy, and stated clearly in Article IV of the SBC Constitution: "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."
Autonomous churches have complete control over their own affairs. No entity outside of those local believers has influence over that church and what it does. Hierarchy would imply that someone has authority over a congregation without being a member. The ultimate authority in a body of believers is the congregation itself.
Cooperation means that a church chooses to be in friendly relationship and to be sympathetic with the purposes and work of the Convention. It chooses to stand with all the other churches and contribute resources together toward common values and goals. Churches in friendly cooperation are those who have a faith and practice that closely identifies with the Convention's statement of faith, who have formally approved the intention to cooperate, and who have made undesignated financial contributions.
It is more appropriate to say that the relationship between the Convention and the churches is actually the relationship of the churches to the Convention. The churches support the Convention, which is composed of messengers. This means that the Convention answers to the churches, not the churches to the Convention. The autonomy of the local church is upheld in this model of the Convention carrying out the corporate wishes of the churches.
It is possible for a church to fall out of cooperating status with the Convention if it does not meet the prescribed standards. However, this does not mean that the Convention has any authority over the affairs of the local congregation. It simply means that the church no longer has a share of authority in the affairs of the Convention.
The priority of local church autonomy also means that churches are free to choose their level of participation in Convention affairs. They can send no messengers or they can send a full slate. They can engage in the cooperative process minimally by simply sending funds or more fully by their members serving on boards or committees. But it should be understood that the level of engagement determines the level to which a church has a voice in what use is made of their resources.
Who governs the Southern Baptist Convention?
When the Convention gathers to do its business, no single messenger carries more authority or privilege than another. Every vote carries the same weight, everyone sits under the same rules, and every individual has the opportunity to use his or her voice. There are messengers who serve in specific capacities, but those roles can still be traced back to the deliberative body as a whole, either by messengers directly electing an individual to serve or by the Convention affirming a set of nominations.
The Southern Baptist Convention does not rule from the top down. Rather, it is a cooperative effort of the churches that does its business from the bottom up. The most important person in the Southern Baptist Convention is the individual messenger, and when the deliberative assembly gathers, the denomination is doing its most important work: the work that determines the future of its cooperative ministries.
What do the messengers do when they gather?
The messengers work collectively to exercise the will of the body as a whole. However, it would be difficult for the messengers to direct every individual decision for every entity. A representative system must be employed to oversee the distribution of resources and daily operations of denominational work on behalf of the churches. This representative system happens in multiple ways.
First, the messengers elect officers — a president, a first and a second vice president, a recording secretary, and a registration secretary. There are no specific qualifications for these roles. They may be held by vocational ministers or by laypeople, by young or old, by men or women. These roles have traditionally been held by pastors, but also by state convention leaders and occasionally denominational entity leaders. Therefore, the officers are typically those who have had significant experience in vocational ministry. This demographic tendency is not dictated by any rules in the constitution or bylaws, but rather by the will of the people.
There are term limits for the office of president only, with the stipulation that the president may serve only two years consecutively. It is permissible for a former president to return to office after at least one year has passed, although this is not typical in the modern era.
Messengers also approve bylaw changes and the annual operating budget, elect entity trustees as recommended by the Committee on Nominations, and any special business that arises. Trustees guide and govern entities on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Executive Committee represents the greater body throughout the year. But the task to approve those board and committee members maintains the active role of the messengers in the Convention's governance. They trust their representatives with leadership of entities, but they do not have to do so blindly. When they raise their ballots, they are approving of the men and women who will manage their resources according to their prescribed assignments.
What does the Southern Baptist Convention president do?
The messengers of the Convention elect a president every year to perform assigned tasks and to lead within a system of checks and balances. First, the president appoints a number of groups to serve at the annual meeting: a Committee on Committees, a Committee on Resolutions, a Credentials Committee to review and rule upon any questions that may arise in registration, a group of tellers to tabulate votes for all elections, and a team of Convention parliamentarians to assist with procedural questions. Each of these groups plays a specific role in the two-day meeting, and each must be appointed every year. The president does not need Convention approval for these appointments — the approval of the Convention is given in advance when they elect the president.
Second, the president presides over the meeting itself, working with the Committee on Order of Business and the parliamentarians to ensure that all business is carried out. Leadership of the meeting is done in service to the messengers to help them carry out their will in the allotted time for each annual session. The president also would preside over any special called meetings, although that is a rare occurrence.
Third, the president serves on a number of boards and committees by virtue of the position, including entity trustee boards, the Executive Committee, and the Committee on Order of Business. The president of the Southern Baptist Convention also typically serves throughout the year to inspire and cast vision for the churches, as well as to represent the Southern Baptist Convention in the public eye. This often includes preaching at churches across the nation, speaking at state convention meetings and other events, meeting with government officials, and speaking to the media on behalf of the denomination. The president also serves as a fraternal messenger to the National Baptist Convention and the American Baptist Churches USA.
Excerpted from "SBC FAQs"
Copyright © 2018 Amy Whitfield and Keith Harper.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Academic.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1: FAQs,
What is the Southern Baptist Convention?,
How did the Southern Baptist Convention begin?,
What is a convention, and how does it work?,
Who are the messengers?,
What determines if a church cooperates with the SBC?,
What is the relationship between the Convention and the churches?,
Who governs the Southern Baptist Convention?,
What do the messengers do when they gather?,
What does the Southern Baptist Convention president do?,
What is the role of the other officers of the Southern Baptist Convention?,
What does the Executive Committee do?,
What is the difference between the SBC president and the Executive Committee president?,
What is the Cooperative Program?,
What is Great Commission Giving?,
How are the categories of the Cooperative Program and Great Commission Giving reported?,
How many Southern Baptist entities are there?,
What is the International Mission Board?,
What is the North American Mission Board?,
How does LifeWay Christian Resources relate to the SBC?,
How does GuideStone Financial Resources relate to the SBC?,
What are our seminaries, and why do we have six?,
What is the role of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission?,
What is the Woman's Missionary Union?,
How are entities governed?,
What are committees, and how do they function?,
What is the role of journalism in Baptist life?,
What is the relationship between the SBC and state conventions?,
What is the relationship between the SBC and local associations?,
What is the relationship between the SBC and other Baptist denominations?,
In the SBC Annual Meeting, what are motions and resolutions?,
Why do we have a business meeting every year?,
How do states gain representation on boards and committees?,
What was the Conservative Resurgence?,
What was the Great Commission Resurgence?,
Who is Lottie Moon?,
Who is Annie Armstrong?,
What is the Baptist Faith and Message?,
Part 2: Guiding SBC Documents,
Southern Baptist Convention Charter,
Southern Baptist Convention Constitution,
Southern Baptist Convention Bylaws,
Business and Financial Plan of the Southern Baptist Convention,
Baptist Faith and Message,
Appendix A: Southern Baptist Convention Presidents,
Appendix B: Cooperative Program Allocations by State,
Appendix C: Report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force,