Legalism & the CP

Issues surrounding the creation of the Great Commission Task Force last year, and the report to the SBC Convention this summer, involve many agencies and missions endeavors promoted by the SBC. While I have personal opinions about the task force recommendations, I don’t know enough yet to evaluate them publicly. I can, though, generally agree that we shouldn’t waste mission money on domestic bureaucracy.

Not knowing enough, however, apparently does not stop others from opining,and I will assess the opinion whirlwind surrounding the GCR and its recommendations.

A church’s giving to Cooperative Program, has, for some years, been a litmus test of sorts. We tend to view the level of CP giving as an indication of denominational loyalty, manifestation of Great Commission passion, and, in extreme — but all too common — situations, cause to question each others’ salvation.

Large churches might give directly to missions projects and missionaries, while still giving to CP. Such a church might have a budget of $2 million, give $200,000 directly to missions, and $100,000 to CP. This sounds good, until smaller churches calculate and point out that the percentage of CP giving is “only” five percent (5%).

It has reached the point (and proceeded past it) that appointees to SBC boards, commissions, and other leadership positions in the denomination are considered unworthy solely on the basis of their churches’ CP giving. One recommendation of the GCR Task Force is to calculate “Great Commission Giving,” which would include CP giving as well as direct missions spending.

As a result, some say that such an effort is in violation of Jesus’ command not to call attention to giving. This creates the situation that the very people who called attention to others’ lack of CP giving are now sanctimoniously decrying the recognition of the existence of Great Commission giving.

Hypocrisy, it would seem, is no respecter of logic, nor appreciative of irony.

Unfortunately, the GCR reveals what has long existed regarding SBC attitudes toward CP giving. Without doubt, the CP serves a valid, important function in SBC life regarding out fulfillment of Great Commission living. But insisting that churches maintain certain levels of CP giving in order to qualify as true Southern Baptists, or worthy of leadership roles, is rank legalism.

First, if we assume that the New Testament obligation of individual believers is to give a tithe (10%) to their local church, fine. But the CP is NOT a local church, and congregations are NOT individual believers. Requiring — even informally — that congregations give a ‘tithe’ to CP is nothing less than adding a requirement to New Testament discipleship that is not found there.

Second, no church can evaluate the CP giving of another without judging what should be a matter of conscience and liberty for that congregation. When one church judges another in this way, there is a great danger that it will become envious of the larger church’s resources, liberty, or freedom not to give such a large portion of annual budget to CP.

Third,there are much more effective — and biblically faithful — methods to guage whether a given pastor would be the sort of denominational leader who is representative of a healthy Southern Baptist church. The ratio of members to attenders is one. Others include the level of involvement of members in discipling, witnessing, and serving; how biblically astute and aware the members are; and the degree to which members’ lives contradict the world.

The problem is that these other measures are difficult to assess, while CP giving is easy to see.

One thing, however, remains certain: if one church claims that the pastor of another is not qualified to serve in the SBC because his congregation gives more directly to evangelizing Muslims in India than to the Cooperative Program, something is amiss in our understanding of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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