By John Greening
The words “good,” “bad,” and “not quite ugly” characterize the causes our Regular Baptist fellowship of churches has rallied around through the years. In our history, the expression “standing for” or “standing against” often became the call to action that defined us. Certainly a legitimate reason for that identity exists because of the theological and denominational context out of which our association was formed. The founders of the GARBC stood against the pervasive liberalism of the Northern Baptist Convention, affirming the Biblical fundamentals of the faith and Baptist orthodoxy. It is essential to remind ourselves of those commitments as lack of theological clarity and commitment fragments a group and takes it far afield from its founding ideals.
Posturing as “for” or “against” is not the totality of what defines our association. We must have a clearly defined statement of faith that establishes our theological parameters. We must preserve our faith. However, that commitment can easily become dead orthodoxy if it is not made operational within a Great Commission context of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. The didactic instruction of the Epistles exists only within the story line of the spread of the church in the book of Acts. The apostles were not only theological purists, they were also operational missionaries who shared the gospel and planted churches from one neighborhood to the next, from one city to the next, and from one region to the next. Realizing that the gospel was meant not only for Jews but also for Gentiles resulted in a “church without borders” mind-set among believers.
It is that “church without borders” culture that fueled a remarkable missions and church-planting mobilization within our fellowship of churches in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Once the initial battles for the truth of God’s Word were fought, a grassroots momentum of reproduction and multiplication surged to the cities and towns of our nation and beyond to the nations of the world.
Periodically, standing for or against issues arose during those same years, which required responses. But those issues were not meant to throttle back the Great Commission momentum of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. An honest appraisal of the following years indicates that much of the Great Commission momentum shifted toward the international arena. No one would deny the importance of global church-planting efforts, but there is no legitimate excuse for diminishing the momentum in stateside church planting. I admire those who continue to raise the banner for the Biblical mandate of church planting.
The time has come for our fellowship to develop a united strategy to accept the assignment that is ours. A group of church-planting practitioners within our network recently met in Florida to design a strategy to plant 1,000 churches in the next few years. God has generously provided unanticipated funds to Baptist Builders Club, earmarked in large part for church planting. During their November meeting, the Council of Eighteen expressed a strong desire to see a renewed church-planting movement surging within our fellowship. Currently, a task force is working to build a functioning church-planting construct that fits the distinctive structure of our fellowship.
I watch with interest what groups that are organizationally similar to our association are doing. Several years ago, Converge Worldwide (formerly the Baptist General Conference) decided to get serious about church planting. The leadership designed a strategy. The constituency bought into the concept, and now there is a vibrant, surging church-planting momentum.
The fact that our fellowship has no centralized mission structure can easily become an excuse for inaction. We can look to others and assume if something is going to happen, it is their responsibility. The truth is, we can’t defer to others! Each church must renew its commitment to the Great Commission in its evangelism, discipleship, and church-planting focus.
Standing for or against is still a necessity. However, if God’s Word, truth, and doctrine are genuinely important, then we should be doing all we can to see others share in the joys of truth by planting churches in our communities. May it be said of us, “They are standing for being a fellowship of ‘churches without borders’ and against inaction!”
John Greening is national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.