Crossway Christian Church is a Southern Baptist Church. But that may not mean much to you. In fact, many of the people who visit us, or have become members with us, have had no experience with Southern Baptists. Given our location in Michigan, this is not all that surprising!
So what does it mean that Crossway is a Southern Baptist Church? Simply put, it means that we are a local church that has voluntarily chosen to be “in friendly cooperation with, and contributing towards the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention.” That still may not mean a whole lot to you, so let’s begin with a quick history lesson.
A Brief History of the Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention materialized because of a perceived need to better support and facilitate missions – taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. In 1814, independent Baptist churches from all over the country – from South Carolina to Massachusetts – came together to form the first national Baptist organization in America. Those churches called it the Baptist General Missionary Convention.
Not long after, the name was changed to the Triennial Convention because it met every 3 years. The purpose of the convention was to coordinate the funding of international missionaries; it was a missions sending agency.But in 1845 the Triennial Convention found itself divided in controversy and eventually split. The split came from two central issues.
1) The first issues involved the board who appointed and sent missionaries. Should a central sending board, or local sending boards send missionaries? The southern churches wanted a central board, and the northern churches wanted local ones.
2) The second issue involved slavery. Could slaveholders be sent as missionaries? The southern churches felt the Convention didn’t have the authority to decide. They believed it should be a matter left to the local church.
The sad truth is that most of the southern Baptist (as well as Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian) churches didn’t believe slavery was morally wrong in the late 19th century. Many even went so far as to try to defend slavery using the Scriptures. However, the northern churches, Baptist and non-Baptist alike, strongly (and rightly!) believed that slavery was a sinful practice that was antithetical to the message of the gospel. The divisiveness of the slavery issue cut across all major Protestant denominations, including Baptists. Almost all split along northern and southern lines.
The Baptist churches of the Triennial Convention that separated from the northern churches and formed the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Since these days of its formation, SBC has publicly repented and apologized for its past position on slavery, declaring that church members must, “unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin” and “repent of racism of which we have been guilty whether consciously or unconsciously.”In 1845, the SBC founded two sending boards. One would oversee mission efforts in the United States and the other in the rest of the world. Today these agencies still exist and are known as the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.
In 1859, the SBC also began to coordinate funding of theological education with the founding of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
In 1891, the Sunday School Board was established t publish educational materials for churches. Now the Sunday School Board is known as Lifeway Christian Resources; it’s the largest Protestant publishing house in world.
Cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention
Again, as a Southern Baptist Church we have voluntarily chosen to be “in friendly cooperation with, and contributing towards the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention.” This is the official language of the SBC Constitution. Thus, the SBC is not a church. Instead, it is a parachurch organization made up of several thousand local churches. The purpose of this cooperation is the spreading of the gospel at home and around the world. At its heart, the SBC is organization devoted to missions and evangelism.
Furthermore, unlike other denominations (e.g., Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian), the SBC cannot tell any of the church what to do in regards to its oversight or ministry. Every local church is completely autonomous and may leave, or stop cooperating with the SBC, at any time. In fact, it is the local churches who send messengers to the SBC annual meeting that determine how the Convention’s money is spent and how the various agencies are to run. But we do not just cooperate on the national level.
We also cooperate with other Southern Baptist churches on the local and state level through associations. So, being a church in Bay City, MI, we are affiliated with the Bay Area Baptist Association (roughly covering the Bay City, Midland, Saginaw area) as well as the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Each is an entirely distinct and separate entity, independent of the other. There is not a hierarchy where the Convention makes binding decisions that are passed on through the state and local associations. One can’t control the other or tell the other what to do.
Every SBC church directly cooperates with other SBC church by giving financially through the Cooperative Program (CP). Think of the CP as the central budget of the SBC. It’s how Southern Baptists fund our efforts to accomplish missions and evangelism. The CP provides a means for large and small churches to pool their resources in order to accomplish something greater than they could do by themselves. The CP then distributes the money to the various agencies of the Convention.
We believe that the CP represents the best way to do missions for several reasons. First, unlike Independent missionaries, ours do not have to must raise their own support. SBC missionaries are fully funded. This enables them to spend their furlough resting, training and recouping, not raising money. So it is good for the missionaries. The SBC also protects the theological calling and direction of missionaries through centralized training and oversight. So it is good for us in terms of accountability. Finally, SBC missionaries don’t just evangelize individuals, they plant churches. This enables the work to continue and provides for the God-ordained means of the gospel to be made visible – through the context of a local church.
The Southern Baptist Convention Today
Today, there are 40,000 local churches in friendly cooperation with the SBC, with about 16 million members on their rolls, though the actual number of people who regularly attend church is much smaller. Even still, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the country. The convention operates:
- The International Mission Board with roughly 5,500 missionaries spanning over 100 countries across the globe with a budget of over $260 million.
- The North American Mission Board which send missionaries and church planters in North America.
- Six Seminaries: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY), Golden Gate Theological Seminary (San Francisco), New Orleans Theological Seminary , Southwestern Theological Seminary (Dallas), Southeastern Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC), Midwestern Theological Seminary (Kansas City, MO).
- Guidestone Financial Services which helps pastors and denominational workers plan for their retirement and acquire insurance.
- The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission which serves to alert SBC church members about ethical and moral issues facing our culture as well as speak for them to government and the media.
- The Executive Committee is elected by the churches of the SBC to oversee the various agencies and annual meeting.
At the end of the day, being Southern Baptist is all about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is about giving financially, working sacrificially, and praying tirelessly to see lost people hear and receive the forgiveness of sins that God offers through Jesus Christ. This is accomplished locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally as we support, train, send, and pray for our missionaries.
Furthermore, we support the work by living like missionaries ourselves, sharing Christ with our own family and friends, being a witness for our own communities.
We cooperate with Southern Baptists on three levels –