While researching information about missions, I came across a sermon by Dr. J.D. Grey, the pastor of the historic First Baptist Church of New Orleans. By every account, Grey was a “preaching machine.” He possessed a passion for God and the things of God. He was a man of deep conviction and incredible speaking skills.
Grey was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1951 and 1952. He was the presiding president for the 1953 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston.
That year, Grey preached an amazing message to a convention of churches that were gearing up to do something extraordinary. In 1953-1954, there was an obvious passion for reaching lost people with the gospel. Southern Baptist churches were collectively engaged in reaching over one million new believers—one million more in 54.
Grey spoke to this collective passion. “Every church we organize in the homeland, every institution we set up, every program we project, should have as its end result the giving of the gospel of Christ to all peoples of all the world. The spirit of missions, or world evangelization, has made us what we are and it and only it will maintain us.”
Little did he know that what he said would be so prophetic. Back in Grey’s days, as well as this day, if you have three Baptists, you have five opinions. However, the only time we cease pontificating is when we focus on missions in our state, the nation and the world. It is missions that assemble us into a collective force.
Grey quoted Robert E. Speer, “Any man who has a religion is bound to do one of two things with it—change it or spread it. If it isn’t true, he must give it up. If it is true, he must give it away.” Speer speaks the Great Commission message to our contemporary ears. These are days when so much of the gospel message is held hostage by how much money or time is discretionary. Those who walk in faith know that one of our highest priorities in life is sharing the gospel and resourcing ministries that share the gospel.
George W. Truett often used to quote Spurgeon as saying, “There was an old man, some thought him mad; the more he gave away, the more he had.” Grey’s message included this quote. As I read the text, I thought he might pause for an offering. But he kept right on preaching.
He further challenged them, “Nothing, nothing in the world, must cause us to slacken our place or lessen our gifts for missions. Many of us in our local churches are contemplating, or have already completed, magnificent new buildings. Yes, we need them, and we must have them if we are to reach people with the gospel in communities where we serve.
“But, oh, beloved, how tragic indeed it would be to erect one of these fine new buildings and force the missionaries to pay for it. We must not chide nor criticize any in this regard, but it is our solemn duty to remind one another that any building erected at the expense of missions cannot and must not be dedicated to the glory of God.”
I’m sure that many in the Convention hall that day thought to themselves, “Who is he talking about? Surely not me and my church.” But Grey was never one to pull a verbal punch. He was challenging each of them and his words have meaning to us today. He was clear: Facilities are tools and they must be maintained and adequate but not at the expense of giving to missions.
Then Grey gave his audience some statistics that are amazing by our standards. He preached, “The statistics for 1952 encourage us … last year our mission gifts increased 23 percent while our gain in property valuation was only 17 percent. A reversal in this proportion would indicate ‘spiritual imbalance’ and be indicative of a dangerous trend.”
My jaw nearly hit my desk. Cooperative Program grew by 23 percent in one year? Money was much tighter then than it is now, yet the generosity of God’s people demonstrated that they were on mission with God together to reach people with the gospel. If that were to happen in 2013, can you imagine how many new missionaries would be appointed? Such a growth in cooperative giving would be transformational. Instead of cutting vital programs and personnel, our cooperative ministries would make amazing advance.
Then as Grey closed his message, he quoted J.B. Phillips in his paraphrase, Letters to Young Churches: “In his translator’s preface, Phillips comments on the fact that the early Christians accomplished what they did because they were on fire with conviction. Then he says significantly, ‘Perhaps if we believed what they believed, we might achieve what they achieved.’ He is right, for ‘believing and achieving’ go hand in hand.”
These true words will never go out of date. Wouldn’t it be something if our conviction were such that it could be said of our generation that we believed and we achieved.