Why I signed the Great Commission Resurgence declaration

Danny Akin, Johnny Hunt and others have released a manifesto entitled, “Toward a Great Commission Resurgence.” It is a document aimed at Southern Baptists with implications far beyond the SBC. In some respects this call is the culmination of a growing concern among many Southern Baptists over the last several years. The essence of the concern, as I see it, is that having won the battle for the authority of Scripture in the SBC, we are in danger of losing the peace through infighting, political power struggles and neglecting the “weightier matters of the law” while championing other things.

I am sure that some would not articulate this exactly as I have, but from ongoing conversations that I am having with brothers and sisters across the SBC, I don’t think my way of stating it would be contradicted by those leading the charge in calling for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). One of the most encouraging dimensions of this growing movement is that those who are joining it come from diverse sectors of the SBC. Calvinists as well as non-Calvinists, elders (older boomers) and youngsters (Gen Xers) as wells as “in-betweensters” (I am sure that there is a name for us, but I didn’t read the newspaper the day it was announced) all all signing on. Denominational workers, pastors and laymen are on board.

What unites us in this movement is not some naive notion that we are all the same or that we all agree on every doctrinal or practical issue that confronts us. Rather, we agree that the gospel is central to any and every Christian effort and that we must not allow anything, no matter how good and noble it might be, to detract from proclamation of that gospel around the world.

Let me try to explain a bit. Everyone whom I regard as a fellow-laborer in the gospel would fully affirm the the first of the GCR’s 10 points, which has to do with the Lordship of Christ:

We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels. (Col. 1:18; 3:16-17, 23-24)

Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Therefore, Jesus Christ must be our passion and priority and we should aspire to both know Him and love Him more fully. We must long to see Him have preeminence in all things. We desire to see a Convention of Christ-centered, “Jesus-intoxicated” people who pursue all that we do by God’s grace and for His glory. We believe we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to lead us into a new and fresh intimacy and communion with the Lord Jesus that results in greater obedience to all that He commands. Christ’s Lordship must be first and foremost in a Great Commission Resurgence or we will miss our most important priority and fail in all of our other pursuits.

This is a great statement. I may want to call attention to our Lord’s commandment to exercise church discipline (Matt. 18:15-18) while others in the movement may be zeroed in on His commandments to love or to evangelize or to care for the poor and needy. The great hope of joining with brothers who are clearly committed to the statement above is that we can genuinely help each other by pressing each other to take seriously all that Christ commands and perhaps even expose our respective blind spots or weaknesses. I need that and want that and even invite it from those who are pre-committed with me to the type of vision articulated in the GCR.

Or take another example. The second point addresses the centrality of the gospel:

We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our denominational ministries. (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:17-21)

The gospel is the good news of all that God has done on behalf of sinners through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. As individual Southern Baptists, we must be gospel-centered from first to last. Gospel-centered living will promote a grace-filled salvation from beginning to end by putting on display the beauty of the gospel in every aspect of our lives. It will remind us that we do not obey in order to be accepted, but rather we obey because we are accepted by God in Christ. Gospel-centered living will help ensure that the bloody cross of a crucified King is the offense to non-believers rather than our styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes.

The gospel must also guide and saturate our local churches and denominational ministries. Too many of our pulpits have jettisoned the pure proclamation of the gospel, which has resulted in many of our people losing the full meaning and wonder of the gospel. Too often our denominational programs and agendas have been crafted without a close tethering to the gospel. If we assume the gospel, we will lose the gospel. We must get the gospel right and proclaim it with clarity and boldness if we are to experience a Great Commission Resurgence.

This statement reflects, perhaps more noteably than any of the others, the fresh winds that are blowing across many of our churches. The gospel is not only for unbelievers. It is for Christians, too. It is not simply the means for the beginning of new life in Christ. It is the way and essence of that life. I might want to argue (as I have repeatedly over the years), perhaps more than some others who affirm this statement, that in many respects we already have lost the gospel and need to work for its recovery. And as this statement recognizes by way of warning, I believe that one of the main ways we have lost it is by assumption.

Though others who buy into this movement may not agree fully with me on this point, by expressing our agreement on this statement we have established clear grounds to have meaningful conversations about it. The statement recognizes that without the true evangel, there cannot be true evangelism, and I am delighted by such a declaration.

No doubt many in the SBC will not want to sign on to the GCR movement. Some of these are men with whom I share much in common and for whom I have great respect. Bart Barber fits into that category and his recent explanation of why he cannot sign the GCR document is worth reading though, obviously, I did not find it convincing.

Others are opposed the the GCR for reasons that appear to me to be primarily political–they fear losing control of the SBC or at least their (or their elders’) sense of legacy in having fought for the conservative resurgence (CR) of the last 30 years. I have no sympathy with this mindset and hope that it will have no influence on those calling for a GCR. While I worked for the CR from the time I first cast a vote for Adrian Rogers in 1979 it is time for Southern Baptist inerrantists to recognize that inerrancy is not enough. Timothy George was prophetic when he warned decades ago that “the exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another does not a reformation make.” We must keep pressing forward for the sake of the gospel.

Others seem to be afraid that embedded in the gospel-centeredness of the GCR is an inevitable loss of Baptist identity–that to speak of Christian essentials as being more important than Baptist distinctives somehow diminishes the latter. While I don’t know anyone in this group to whom I would have to take a backseat regarding Baptist credentials (and I know several whose calls for Baptist distinctives–such as regenerate church membership–are more theoretical than practical when their church life is examined), I simply do not share their fear and believe that it is unwarranted. The call for a GCR is made by convinced Baptists and is direc
ted primarily to Baptists. To claim that the substitutionary death of Jesus is a “weightier” matter of biblical doctrine than believers’ baptism is no slight to baptism. Any view that disagrees with this will ultimately devalue both doctrines of atonement and baptism.

All of this to say, I am encouraged by this call for a Great Commission Resurgence. I am under no delusion that issuing a manifesto and gathering thousands of signatures will bring about the reformation that we need. But such actions may further that effort by clarifying lines of demarkation regarding what we must be and do, and what we must not be and do if we are going to be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is why I am grateful to Drs Akin, Hunt and others who are boldly leading the way in this effort.

Our God will receive the glory that is His due when His work is engaged in His way; when His message is received and passed on without any editorial adjustments by well-intentioned messengers; and when His Son is seen and honored and delighted in as the all-surpassing treasure of His people.

The GCR could well be an instrument that helps further this cause. For that reason, I support it and want to stand with others who are committed to the vision that it casts for the future of the SBC.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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