2004 SBC Annual Meeting
Morris H. Chapman
President & Chief Executive Officer,
Southern Baptist Executive Committee
Morris H. Chapman became president
and chief executive officer of the Executive Committee of the Southern
Baptist Convention, Nashville, Tennessee, on October 1, 1992. He
served as SBC president from 1990 to 1992 and has been president
of the SBC Pastors' Conference (1986). In 1989, he preached the
Convention Sermon in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Prior to accepting the position in Nashville, Dr. Chapman was pastor
of the historic 7,700 member First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls,
Texas, for thirteen years. Each year the church's baptisms and Cooperative
Program gifts were in the top one percent in the Southern Baptist
Dr. Chapman is a native of Kosciusko, Mississippi, and a graduate
of Mississippi College, Clinton, Mississippi. He earned the Master
of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Southwestern Baptist
Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. He has been awarded honorary
doctorates from Southwest Baptist University, Boliver, Missouri,
and his alma mater, Mississippi College. He is an author and has
traveled and spoken extensively in the United States and overseas.
Dr. Chapman is married to the former
Jodi Francis of Memphis, Tennessee. They have two married children
and seven grandchildren.
FUNDAMENTALS OF COOPERATING CONSERVATIVES
by Dr. Morris H. Chapman
Southern Baptist Convention, Indianapolis, Indiana
June 15, 2004
They said it couldn’t
be done. Religious scholars and well-known pastors said it couldn’t
be done. Historians and futurists said it couldn’t be done.
Denominational leaders said it couldn’t be done. Liberals
believed that no band of Bible-thumping preachers, professors, and
laymen could ever be used of God to return a denomination to its
We need only to look at Mainline American churches
to see examples of once vibrant denominations in agonizing decline.
Do you know why? Their leaders abandoned the clear teachings of
the Bible. The faithful in the pews and pulpits tried to steer them
back to their conservative roots, but were defeated by the juggernaut
of liberalism. Their appeals for the fidelity to God’s Word
were ignored. These well-meaning believers, devoted to the absolute
authority of the Bible were condemned as narrow-minded, uninformed
proponents of an outdated theological worldview. As a result, once
proud gospel-preaching denominations accelerated off the roadway
of orthodoxy. They have overturned on the ecclesiastical roadsides.
Their wheels are still spinning, and more tragically, their motors
are still running wide open at full throttle, but they’re
going nowhere. The flames of revival fires are gone, compromises
with the world have come, apathy has set in, and the world is unmoved.
All of this has been happening while Southern Baptists have been
experiencing God’s miracle of returning us to our biblical
heritage. Think with me about the fundamentals of cooperating conservatives.
Cooperating conservatives are a convictional people.
I’m thankful to be a Southern Baptist. A quarter
of a century ago, rank and file Southern Baptists became alarmed
because we were sliding toward liberalism, and we embarked upon
a course correction. The pundits, both the sympathetic and the patronizing,
insisted that it could not be done. “The slide from orthodoxy
might be slowed but not stayed forever,” they stated emphatically.
It is inevitable. So they said.
They were wrong. Against all odds, against the status
quo, against the spirit of the age, a convention of churches, this
Convention, returned to the road of orthodoxy. The Southern Baptist
Convention, by God’s matchless grace, avoided the decimation
experienced by others, closed ranks with our founding fathers, and
declared to the world “We are people of the Book.”
What has been achieved is no less than a miracle
of God. While history shall record the names of those whom God raised
up for this critical hour in our Convention, the conservative resurgence
is not about what we’ve done. It is about what He has done.
We owe Him the glory. We have no cause for arrogance or false pride.
We have no cause to rejoice except that we rejoice in Him. We have
no cause for thanksgiving lest we worship Him in spirit and in truth.
The Lord is looking for men and women who have the heart of God.
He is looking for individuals who are clothed in humility. God is
looking for us to change the world and to do it now.
If our struggle for the authority of God’s
Word does not lead us to a spirit of humility and holiness, we’re
already going in the wrong direction, destined to lose our way in
Whatever we do, we must remember…the roadside
of liberalism remains hard against the road of orthodoxy. Whether
it is called neo-orthodoxy, open theism, post-modernism, or simply
politically correct pragmatism, the possibility of wrecking on this
roadside is an ever-present danger. So we not only celebrate, but
also pledge earnestly to “contend for the faith once for all
delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
This is a time for the declaration of God’s
grace and goodness. If there’s ever been a time the devil
would like to see the Southern Baptist Convention crash and burn,
it is now. While we celebrate the victories, we must forever refrain
from becoming haughty and high-minded. We must hold to all the biblical
principles our Convention has embraced historically. Cooperating
conservatives are a convictional people and we are a cooperating
There’s a road wrongly taken by many on our
left, the road of liberalism. But there is also a road wrongly taken
by many others on our right side. It may not be as treacherous as
the road of liberalism, but it is just as disabling to the Convention.
What is this road? It is the road of separatism
- an ecclesiastical methodology that devalues cooperation in favor
of hyper independence. In the past, we have avoided this road as
fervently as the road on the left. If Southern Baptists steer too
sharply toward the right, we will end up on the road of separatism.
Southern Baptists have never embraced the methodologies
of separatism. We can be both conservative and cooperative. It is
our distinctive heritage. It is the genius of our success. It is
our spiritual destiny.
We must never cease to be vigilant against heresy.
This is always the task of faithful Christians. However, crusades
cannot last forever. Again and again we have debated vigorously
that the conservative resurgence was theological, not political;
that our objective was doctrinal purity, not political control.
If this is true, the crusade phase of the conservative
resurgence has passed. The stated goals have been achieved. The
battle has been won. Now there are other tasks at hand. We cannot
linger at the base camp of biblical authority. We are a people who
not only believe the Book; we are compelled to live by the Book.
Biblical concepts such as surrender, sacrifice, righteousness, and
holiness must consume our hearts and minds. We must plant churches
on almost every corner of every block in this nation. And we must
take the gospel to the ends of the earth. This is our biblical mandate.
This is our commission.
In the spring of 1990 after it was announced I would
be nominated for president of the Convention, I pledged to Southern
Baptists that I would “enlarge the tent, lengthen the cords,
and strengthen the stakes,” those same words stated in Isaiah
My promise was to all Southern Baptists who believe
in the absolute authority of God’s Word. Then as now, there
were those who rejected biblical fidelity and have excluded themselves
from the historic convictions of Southern Baptists. They have excluded
themselves from the pledge I made.
While each SBC president has conscientiously sought
out Southern Baptists who had never served as a trustee of an SBC
entity or on a committee of the Convention, we have never executed
to the fullest extent that promise to “enlarge the tents,
lengthen the cords, and strengthen the stakes.” Why is it
important to this day? It is because the Convention is a convention
of churches and their members. There is no hierarchy. You who attend
the Convention as messengers are the authoritative and final word
in Convention business. That is our theology. That is our ecclesiology.
That is our polity. Therefore…it is to be our practice. There
are thousands of our people, young and old, just like ourselves
who need to be enlisted and encouraged to see that this old ship
Zion is still an effective witness for our Lord. She’s still
afloat. She’s still seaworthy. She may be in need of a tune-up.
She may be in need of paint and polish. But she’s still strong,
and sails the seas with grace. Cooperating conservatives believe
our Convention is at its best only when rank and file Southern Baptists
are pulling together and on the move. And we need every possible
person who loves our Lord Jesus Christ and believes He died for
the church to hear and heed the call of God to go to the ends of
the earth, empowered by His Holy Spirit.
It is imperative that our Convention return to some
sense of normalcy in the operation of the Convention. May I suggest
one way to begin the process? Southern Baptists now agree that our
trustees should be inerrantists. We believe they should embrace
the Baptist Faith and Message (there is only one, you know…
the last one). Most believe that trustees and their churches should
be faithful in giving a significant amount through the Cooperative
Program. We believe our trustees should have a heart for lost souls
and be affiliated with churches that evangelize at home, and support
missions around the globe. And finally, but most importantly, our
trustees should be people who have a close daily walk with our Lord
Anyone with these characteristics of devotion to
the Lord, His church, and our Convention qualifies to serve Southern
Baptists in these positions. We should elect trustees who attend
trustee meetings with the freedom of conscience to pray about decisions
facing that board, and voting accordingly. We cannot let this Convention
be driven by politics. It must be driven by passion for our Lord
Jesus Christ and for the unsaved and compassion for those who are
persecuted for Christ’s sake around the world. In a practiced
democracy, politics, the art of influence, is always an ingredient.
But the passion of a trustee should be born from deep within in
an encounter with the Living Christ, and then he is free to enthusiastically
persuade others of the burden God has laid upon his heart. This
is how it should be in the church, the association, the state convention,
and the Southern Baptist Convention. This Convention deserves to
be led by trustees who listen to God’s Spirit on the way to
making decisions, not trustees who are susceptible to political
agendas. Politics for the sake of control by a few is not how our
forefathers envisioned the operations of our Convention. But I must
warn you. Politics do not die easily. Do you know why? It is because
the death of politics in a spiritual environment only comes after
we die to self.
The conservative resurgence would not have been
successful had it not been for rank and file Southern Baptists.
Our Convention needs the help of the rank and file more than ever.
Our Convention needs your participation. Our Convention needs your
wisdom. Our Convention needs your leadership. Our Convention needs
young men and women to engage in the work and witness of this Convention.
We need churches planted at breakneck speed. The hour is late. Let
us encourage each other. Never has there been a greater need or
a greater urgency.
God has enabled us to be victorious in returning
to the faith of our fathers. Now He wants to empower us for His
Kingdom on earth. The question looms before us, “Are we as
willing to be empowered for His glory as we were willing to be enabled
to declare His Word to be the perfect written revelation of God?”
Cooperating conservatives are a convictional people. They are a
cooperating people, and they are a people of character.
No admonition is more useful to those of us who
highly value sound doctrine than “practice what you preach.”
For cooperating conservatives, believing must be accompanied by
ethical living; orthodoxy (right doctrine) must lead to orthopraxy
The example of lifeless orthodoxy parading as true
faith is found in the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. How ironic
that these defenders of supernaturalism--the miracles, angels, and
the resurrection of the dead, all the right beliefs--were out of
touch with the kingdom of God. The Pharisees had the right doctrines
but the wrong measures, the wrong motives, and the wrong means.
They measured their righteousness by their rule-keeping and their
affiliations. They were motivated by selfishness and ambition. They
believed the end justified the means. Thus, they employed subterfuge,
slander, false witnesses, and murder conspiracies to get rid of
Jesus. They congratulated themselves and despised everyone else.
They intimidated all who dared to oppose them, threatening them
with a first century form of excommunication. But in the end, they
missed God and all who followed them, missed God. They had the vocabulary
of the people of God but they did not have the character of the
people of God.
Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees is a lesson
for us. Simply holding the right doctrinal beliefs doesn’t
mean that our behavior is righteous. Christianity should be known
not only by its biblical convictions, but also by the life and testimony
these convictions inspire. A zeal for the Bible should result in
a zeal for “living” for Christ, i.e., treating others
with dignity, telling the truth, and insisting upon one’s
own integrity. A mistake of some fundamentalist movements in the
past has been the belief of the adherents that to be right with
doctrine is to be right with the Lord. True righteousness was too
easily discarded in favor of a type of dogmatism that was stifling
and demoralizing to other Christians. In other words, right doctrine
was equated to righteous living. They are not one and the same.
Contemporary shibboleths are employed to exclude
people. It is the sin of Pharisaism when good people, whose theology
and ministry are above reproach, are slandered, discredited, or
ostracized simply because they refuse to blindly follow particular
political posturing. Innuendos, unfounded rumors, sly winks and
nods are as deadly as an assassin’s bullet and usually as
Could Southern Baptists fall into the error of Pharisaism?
Could we ever, while priding ourselves on orthodox beliefs, be out
of fellowship with the Living God and the true saints of God? The
threat is real. I am concerned…now that we have affirmed by
vigorous endeavor that Southern Baptists are people of the Book,
that we will develop a censorious, exclusivistic, intolerant spirit.
If this occurs, we will be the poorer for it. It will not only result
in narrower participation in denominational life, a shallower pool
of wisdom and giftedness in our enterprises, and a shrinking impact
upon the world, but we will be in the unenviable position of being
right on doctrine but wrong with God.
No where on earth, more than among God’s people,
who are saved by the blood of Lamb, should we find, in plentiful
supply, the endearing qualities of honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness.
We can know the Bible, and believe in its authority, but what good
is it if we do not “walk in the Spirit.” Listen to the
Psalmist in the twenty-sixth Psalm,
“I have trusted in the Lord without
Test me, O Lord, and try me,
Examine my heart and my mind;
For your love is ever before me,
And I walk continually in your truth.”
Psalm 26:1b-3 NIV
God empower us to build His Kingdom upon the earth.
God empower us to build our families on the Solid Rock. God empower
us to die to self for Jesus' sake. God empower us to be so changed
in our daily walk with Christ that the world around us cannot help
but know that we know Him.