Are Southern Baptists first commandment Christians? Do we, as Matthew 22:37 instructs, “love God with all our heart, soul and mind?” I am convinced the answer to that question will determine the future of the Southern Baptist Convention – if it is to have one.
Initiatives like the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR), Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG), God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS), Bold Mission Thrust (BMT) and “A Million More in ’54” have been serious attempts to advance the Kingdom of God. But I wonder if we have become captivated by our work and transfixed on the numbers. So much so that loving God with all our heart, soul and mind – as demonstrated by obediently living a life of personal holiness – has slipped to a secondary status. Has our work for Him become more important than our love for Him?
While our work for Him can be evidence of our love for Him (Scripture says we will be known by our fruit), it cannot be totally. For example, I can tell one million Chinese about Jesus, but turn around and act like a jerk to others (note the second part of Matthew 22:37 that deals with loving our neighbor). The issue is obedience to God in living a life of personal holiness because my love for God is the most important thing. There is no escaping 1 Peter 1:13-16. To truly love God with all our heart, soul and mind is to love Him so much that nothing can come between us – namely sin.
God has used Southern Baptists mightily in the past 165 years to spread the message of His love, but I fear we have become enamored with our latest strategy, a new program or conference, or the next baptism report to the point that the command to love God first becomes subsidiary. God does not need Southern Baptists. We desperately need Him. He can send missionaries from Africa or China to evangelize the Western Hemisphere. God wants us to love Him and that means obeying Him.
I do not mean to point a finger. When it comes to inadequacies and sin, put me at the head of the line. I write these words because I realize I have not always made Matthew 22:37 a priority. I fear there are others.
I also do not mean to imply nothing good is happening. That certainly is not true. However, in general, it feels like God is no longer granting Southern Baptists His favor. To a degree I feel we are wandering in the desert.
Why? These issues come to mind:
• Cooperative Program giving is in decline. Too many are not tithing.
• I fear too many churches suffer from an unregenerate membership, the product of easy believe-ism, pulpits stressing prosperity while never mentioning sin and the Cross, an infatuation with numbers and a lack of church discipline. The entire counsel of Scripture is not being taught (creeping liberalism).
• Uncertainty about future strategies at every level in the denomination, causing morale – especially at the state and association levels – to reach an all-time low and cause division in the body.
• Moral failures by leaders at every level of denominational life.
• A lack of discernment as to what sin is, including incorrect doctrinal teaching as we have seen by the likes of Rob Bell, who is not a Southern Baptist but one with whom too many young Southern Baptists hold an infatuation.
• The way we treat each other, even in the way we communicate. 1 Peter 1:22 says, “By obedience to the truth, having purified yourselves for sincere love of the brothers, love one another.” Consider the incessant scribbling and screeching on the ubiquitous blogs and how relationships too often trump truth and principle.
So what does it mean to love God with all our heart, soul and mind? It means we have no other gods, only Him. We are to love God, not the world (1 John 2:15). If we love Him, we will obey His commandments (1 John 5:3).
How do we get six million – much less 16 million – Southern Baptists to ask God to forgive us for not loving Him with all our heart, soul and mind? You and I can’t. Only God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can bring that kind of conviction – and ultimately revival. We need a miracle from the God of miracles. Perhaps it will happen if we all pray: Lord, let it begin with me.
DON HINKLE / editor