WAKE FOREST, N.C. — A seminary president calling for a "Great Commission Resurgence" in the Southern Baptist Convention says reversing the denomination's declining baptism totals is a matter of not just evangelism, but also biological growth.
Most attention to a Great Commission Resurgence petition that has collected more than 3,000 online signatures leading up to the June 23-24 SBC annual meeting has focused on an article suggesting streamlining the denomination's bureaucracy. Another less-discussed section, however, hits closer to home for Baptist families.
The last of 10 articles in the much-discussed petition calls for commitment to "build gospel-saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and as our first mission field."
It says too many Southern Baptists "have embraced unbiblical notions about marriage and family," including that "children are a burden rather than a blessing and smaller families are more 'responsible' than large families."
In an April 16 chapel address at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that started the discussion, seminary President Daniel Akin was more explicit.
"Southern Baptists have been seduced by the sirens of modernity in a very important place," he said. "We have been seduced in how we do family and how many we should have in the home."
"For example, we have been seduced with respect to the gift of children, who often now even in our churches are viewed as a burden, not a blessing," Akin said. "Less is best, or at least less is better. The result is we have less children."
Akin said another seminary president, Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, showed him statistics that declining baptisms paralleled the trend toward Southern Baptists having smaller families.
Akin said he remembered when he was a seminary student and Bertha Smith, an iconic Southern Baptist missionary who died in 1988, "scared the daylights" out of us by telling seminarians that using birth control is a sin.
"God killed Onan for it and he might kill you too," Akin recalled her as saying. "Then she said this, 'Listen, we will never win the battle against the religion of Islam, because they have children and we don't. And it's a very simple matter of mathematics. Eventually they will outnumber us.' She was a prophetess."
Akin said that is demonstrated by looking no farther than Europe. "Islam will take over Europe and it will never fire a shot," he said. "They will simply outnumber them as white Europeans have less or no children, and Muslims continue to have them at a very large, healthy rate."
"You say, 'What are you saying?' I'm saying you need to have a bunch of kids," Akin said. "It has a missiological motivation."
Neither Akin nor SBC President Johnny Hunt, the co-author of the current document, which has undergone revisions since its original posting, responded to recent e-mails asking for elaboration on whether SBC leaders were telling church members they ought to have more children.
Akin told a Baptist blogger, Trevin Wax, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Tenn., that he is not saying "the way we need to evangelize the world is to have more children...period," but, "We do need to have more children and faithfully teach them the gospel and the Christian scriptures."
Akin said he is not for baptizing children at a very young age, but the fact is that about half of baptisms of older youth and adults are rebaptisms of children who were first baptized at a young age. Since there are fewer children, he said, that number is shrinking.
"You put all that together with the fact that we are less passionate about the plight of the lost and you see why there is a significant decline and stagnation in baptisms," he said. "We have not been keeping up with the population growth in America for 30 to 40 years now. Even though we saw modest increases in the number of churches, and modest increases in terms of total membership, we were losing ground every step of the way."
Akin said pastors "should teach the Scriptures and point out that Psalm 128 talks about the beautiful gift that children are from the Lord. God blesses the one who has a large number of them. The psalmist uses different analogies of the quiver full or the olive plants around the home."
"Pastors should acknowledge that we do have a culture mandate to be fruitful and multiply and that the Scriptures consistently witness to the fact that children are a good gift from a great God," he said. "They are a prime avenue and a prime mission field.
"In fact, in my axioms message, I said that our first line of doing missions is our own families. Of course, if you have one child as opposed to four, five or six, then you have a much smaller initial mission field."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.