One Sacred Effort, by Brand and Hankins, articulates the Cooperative Program’s history, achievements since its inception, and present and future usefulness as an evangelistic tool. The book explicates the doctrine of cooperative giving as an important theological foundation of the Southern Baptist Church (SBC) system. It also describes the role of the SBC entities, explains the dilemmas faced in disbursing funds, and proposes structural solutions to bolster the program’s efficiency. This paper presents a review of the book and explains how it advances my understanding of the SBC and the Cooperative Program.
The Baptist Vision
The evangelical Baptist Church practices a reformed theology, meaning that it does not subscribe to the beliefs and practices of Roman Catholicism. The Baptists believe in the infallibility and the sacredness of scripture as the sole reservoir of authority. They further believe that salvation comes by grace through faith alone, not by works. Works are products of leading a Christian life1. Although the Baptist Church is a product of the Reformation movement, it does not accept the hierarchical structuring of the church practiced by other Protestants, such as Presbyterians. Baptists hold that the clergy, though anointed by God to deliver His message, is at par with the congregants as far as the ministry is concerned. They also believe in the evangelical mission of the church and in living “to the glory of God” daily as a Christian2.
The New Testament Church
Baptists live by the teachings of the New Testament with respect to baptism and the work of the Holy Spirit. Another theological foundation of this denomination is the belief that each congregant has a spiritual gift he or she can use to promote the ministry’s work. In this view, the Baptist church is organized in a congregational format to allow each member to contribute to church decisions. The church leadership comprises of the pastor, who, besides doing scriptural interpretation, works in the ministry alongside the deacons who are ordained church ministers3. This shared form of church administration is well explicated in the book of Timothy4.
Toward a Theology of Cooperation
The Body of Christ signifies a church founded on the theological doctrine of Universalism. For this reason, churches should not compete with one another but rather cooperate. Paul called out to churches to work together, especially in difficult times, to provide monetary support to others in a crisis or send their pastors to minister to other congregations5. Therefore, it is practical for churches to cooperate with each other to support the work of the ministry. However, cooperating churches should believe in the infallibility of Scripture as the “ultimate source of authority”6 over their work.
Churches on Mission
Sustaining the ministerial mission is a costly affair. In church history, the Catholic Church used unorthodox and unscriptural ways to obtain money for funding its evangelical mission. It charged fees to expiate sinners in purgatory and sold offices to raise funds. Luther reasoned that it would be prudent for local churches to contribute money to a central kitty for redistribution based on individual need7. The same kitty could finance the church’s missionary work. For this purpose, the Baptists established the SBC in 1845, which is akin to a “one Convention” that embodies all Baptist churches8. The SBC was to manage the convention’s donations and contributions.
The Southern Baptist Convention
Historically, the SBC funds were collected through emissaries on behalf of the SBC. However, this mode of operation was deemed ineffective, as the agents could not cover all churches making up the convention. This issue was addressed in the 1919 meeting and a five-year contribution target of $75 million was set9. Subsequently, a finance committee was constituted to oversee this campaign. The pledges from the member churches amounted to over $92 million; however, due to the effects of the 1920 economic downturn, the target was not achieved. To overcome these challenges, the idea of the Cooperative Program was conceived to allow members to share contributions made to the SBC equally.
Getting Down to Business
The SBC was incorporated into a legal entity to oversee the Cooperative Program. However, the corporation differs from conventional firms, as “it has no assets, employees, or property of its own”10. However, the SBC has established management committees to oversee its operations just like other organizations. The corporation has rules that guide its meetings that take up to six days each. The member churches elect ‘messengers’ who represent them at the annual meeting. The main agenda of the annual general meeting includes examining the Cooperative Program reports, electing new officials, and deliberating the appropriations for the program. The convention lasts for only two days a year, after which it is dissolved.
The Distribution System
The Cooperative Program operates using a well-considered system. Money in the form of tithes and offerings is received in the local church’s budget. The proportion of these monies that goes to the Cooperative Program is determined through a yearly vote. The church association is not supported by this fund. The convention retains the specified percentage at the state chapter of the Cooperative Program while the rest is remitted to the SBC executive committee11. This amount is redistributed via the SBC’s ministries based on specified criteria. Baptists are encouraged to give because “it is the persons whose pocketbooks are converted that are truly saved”12. Giving is considered a hallmark of discipleship under the Cooperative Program.
Network to the World
The SBC comprises of elaborate networks of Baptist churches. Churches in a particular area belong to a local association that oversees the ministries and manages funds distributed by state-level conventions. The association also cooperates with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to establish new churches within its territory13. Multiple local associations make up the state convention that runs a number of ministries. Their roles include establishing new churches locally and participating in humanitarian activities, among others. They also collaborate with the NAMB to support various ministries and plan evangelistic missions. All the state conventions make up the SBC. This overall body manages up to six theological seminaries that observe the Baptist doctrines.
The Entities That Serve Southern Baptists
The authors give a historical aspect of the SBC’s entities in this chapter. The International Mission Board (IMB) is one of these entities supporting missionary work worldwide. By 2004, the IMB was supporting 1,194 community groups globally with the funds received from the Cooperative Program14. The NAMB is another crucial SBC entity that oversees over 5,000 missionary programs. The Cooperative Program is the main funder of the NAMB. The chapter also outlines the six seminaries that fall under the purview of the SBC. An example of such seminaries is the LifeWay Christian Resources that develops and disseminates Christian literature.
Inspiring Confidence in Cooperation
The rationale for creating the SBC’s executive committee was to inspire confidence in the church’s operations through enhanced “organizational efficiency and accountability”15. This member-based body has a specific mandate and runs three sub-committees each with a distinct role. Its roles include the collection of contributions and disbursement of money to the SBC’s entities and conventions16. It also organizes the annual SBC meetings, handles lawsuits on behalf of the church, and provides training resources in line with the Baptist mission.
Tensions, Trends, and Troubles
In this chapter, the authors talk about the declining contributions reaching the Cooperative Program. They reckon that the view by some churches that the program is ineffective accounts for the diminishing contributions. In addition, disputes between state conventions over autonomy depict the program in a negative light17. They conclude that the congregants can only be passionate givers if the pastor talks positively about the program.
The big question raised here relates to the Cooperative Program’s long-term continuity in the 21st Century. The authors hold that for the Cooperative Program to continue to exist, the Southern Baptists must emphasize its link to the New Testament. Paul implores churches to cooperate and assist others as part of accomplishing the Great Commission18. This should be the mission of every Baptist church. The pastors should teach the congregants to be passionate givers to support the program’s mission.
Through reading this text, I understood the foundations of the SBC and the Cooperative Program and their relevance to the Baptist’s life. The program is crucial to the evangelical mission that will see God’s word reach all the corners of the earth to herald the coming of Christ. The SBC also supports the ministry and humanitarian activities through its entities. I believe that the Cooperative Program gives us an opportunity to participate in evangelism and discipleship.
Brand, Owen, and David Hankins E. One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005.
Norman, Stanton R. The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church. Nashville: Broadman &Holman, 2005.
Shurden, Walter B. Not a Silent People: Controversies That Have Shaped Southern Baptists. Smyth & Helwys, 1995.
Sullivan, James L. Baptist Polity As I See It. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998.
Vestal, Daniel, and Robert Baker A. Pulling Together! A Practical Guide to the Cooperative Program. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987.
Wardin, Albert W. Baptists Around the World: A Comprehensive Handbook. Nashville: Broadman &Holman, 1995.
- Stanton R. Norman, The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church (Nashville: Broadman &Holman, 2005), 117.
- James L. Sullivan, Baptist Polity As I See It (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998), 71.
- Owen Brand and David E. Hankins, One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 75.
- Norman, 118.
- Brand and Hankins, 82.
- Ibid., 83
- Daniel Vestal and Robert A. Baker, Pulling Together! A Practical Guide to the Cooperative Program (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 91.
- Brand and Hankins, 89.
- Ibid., 93.
- Ibid., 100.
- Vestal and Baker, 95.
- Brand and Hankins, 110.
- Ibid., 117.
- Ibid., 141.
- Ibid., 146.
- Ibdi., 148.
- Walter B. Shurden, Not a Silent People: Controversies That Have Shaped Southern Baptists (Smyth & Helwys, 1995), 78.
- Albert W. Wardin, Baptists Around the World: A Comprehensive Handbook (Nashville: Broadman &Holman, 1995), 44.
This book review on One Sacred Effort: Southern Baptist Church