The sympathetic words were in reaction to the news that 600 to 800 Southern Baptist overseas missionaries and home office employees would soon lose their jobs as International Mission Board leaders try to deal with years of staggering debt:
“The current crisis facing the International Mission Board is nothing less, in my mind, than a terrible loss for the Kingdom of God that we should mourn. We need to pray, not only for those missionaries, but also for the convention and for their churches and look for ways and opportunities we can actively support them. We might disagree about things now and again, but we still can lock arms with brothers and sisters in Christ for whom we share a passion for the Great Commission, and passion to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” one person said.
Blogged another, “Despite significant differences over certain issues, the Southern Baptist Convention is made up of godly men and women who are trying to carry out the Great Commission. They might do that differently than some of us would, but such differences shouldn’t be enough for us to do anything other than pray for their success.”
To be sure, the news of the crisis — particularly its personal effect on missionaries, stateside staff and their families — has stunned Baptists. SBC auxiliary Woman’s Missionary Union predictably has called upon individuals to pray for all involved and is appealing to churches and their members to think in concrete terms in reaching out to help international missionaries make challenging transitions back to the U.S.
Many churches have already begun contacting an IMB transition team that will help link returning missionaries to stateside resources, including housing and vehicles, and in some cases potential ministries.
When they met Oct. 6-7, North American Mission Board trustees approved a gift of $4 million to IMB’s sister mission agency in each of the next two years. SBC leaders across the board are challenging congregations to increase their missions giving, in part to bolster the IMB’s income.
By the way, the quotes in the second and third paragraphs above were not words spoken by Southern Baptist leaders. The first sentiments came from Steven Porter, coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions, in his recent report to the national organization’s Governing Board.
A quick reminder: CBF is an organization formed 25 years ago by a group that distanced itself after losing the bitter battle for control of the SBC. Adherents to the SBC and to CBF have functioned over the past quarter-century more as estranged cousins than “brothers and sisters in Christ,” as Porter called them. During the days when the SBC conflict was most heated, even outsiders would have noticed that they were more prone to lock horns than to “lock arms,” as Porter implored.
Many SBC and CBF leaders and followers have tended to point out differences between the two bodies of Baptists in contrast to Porter’s reminder to his constituents that “we share a passion for the Great Commission, and passion to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
Porter praised an earlier blog entry by CBF Moderator Matt Cook, pastor of First Baptist Church of Wilmington, N.C., on his Facebook page when he first learned of the IMB crisis. “There was a day when moderates might have been tempted to gloat over such news, but hopefully such days are long gone,” he wrote.
Cook’s blog, quoted above, acknowledged “significant differences” between Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Baptists, but he called Southern Baptists “godly men and women” also trying to carry out the Great Commission. They might do that differently, he conceded, “but such differences shouldn’t be enough for us to do anything other than pray for their success.”
The responses of Porter and Cook are not merely philosophical remarks. Both urge active, caring responses, such as prayer for missionary care and Southern Baptist success. They ask CBFers to put differences in the proper context. And “locking arms” in pursuit of Christ’s commands is more than figurative language. This, too, is an action admonition that can be played out in communities where different Baptists see each other face to face.
Imagine that, Christian brothers and sisters locking arms in service to God.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.