The Baptist Faith and Message on Cooperation


The Baptist Faith and Message has become much more prominent in Southern Baptist life over the last six years. With its revisions that were adopted by the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention it has been used as a standard to help define the doctrinal borders of official SBC agencies and institutions. Article 14 addresses the issue of cooperation and makes some very good points that need to be taken seriously by SBC churches and leaders.

I am providing the full text of the article in this post, along with part of an exposition of it by Professor Mark Terry of Southern Seminary. Read carefully the wording of the article itself and also the insightful comments of Dr. Terry. In the next few days I want to comment on this article and show the way it provides some helpful markers for churches that want to cooperate thoughtfully with other churches in kingdom work.

Article 14 of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says this:


Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.

Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.

Mark Terry’s exposition includes these comments:

Each Southern Baptist church is autonomous and self-governing under the Lordship of Christ. These churches, though, may decide to cooperate with other like-minded churches to provide for mutual encouragement and the advancement of God’s kingdom through evangelism and missions.

Since the 1600s, Baptists have formed associations. An association is a group of churches that voluntarily join together for fellowship, encouragement and missions. Churches are the members of the association, but the association does not rule its member churches.

Churches may also choose to form a convention. In the United States, Southern Baptist churches have organized both state conventions and a national body, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Churches comprise the membership of state conventions and the SBC. They join voluntarily and may withdraw voluntarily.

Conventions exercise no control over the churches. Each level is autonomous. Thus, an association cannot dictate to a church or to the state convention. Of course, the reverse is true as well. A church might be a member of one body but not another, though that is unusual. Associations and conventions are governed by votes cast by messengers sent from member churches.

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13 Responses to “The Baptist Faith and Message on Cooperation”

  1. It looks like the Cooperative Program crosses (or at least blurs) the lines of autonomy between state and national convention. Maybe we should be asking if our current arrangement best secures cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God.

    I often shock people when I say there is no such thing as a Southern Baptist Church. There is a group of independent Baptist Churches that work together for common causes. But none are owned by the denomination. This distinction is more easily understood here in Indiana. We say we are affiliated with or cooperate with the SBC.

  2. I do believe biblically there is the concept of association or cooperative efforts among the early churches. But is there really any biblical precedent for the current structure of the SBC? The convention seems to be much more than what we see in the Scriptures and it is definitely much more than what the BF&M 2000 is declaring. When asked if the Cooperative Program or the current SBC structure is biblical I never get a response. Do we believe in the sufficiency of the Scriptures, the sufficiency of the local church to carry out Christ’s purposes in the world?

    Semper Reformanda,

  3. Be very careful, my dear brothers in Christ!

    When you discuss the CP of the SBC you are “messing with” a “sacred cow” and some of her calves (and denominational handlers) may kick!

    I write from personal experience. The wounds will heal eventually but the scars remain for a very long time!

  4. The actual structure of the SBC reminds me more of the Old Confederate system of government than anything we find in Scripture or in the earliest centuries of the church. (In fact, if we look beyond the first century, I think you see a remarkably Presbyterian system with strong episcopal tendencies, but that’s another thread).

    In the Old Confederacy, the states rights ascended over those of the Confederate government itself. The states were even allowed to have their own gauges for their railroads, which led to major problems during the Civil War. Local governments and state governments were often at odds. This sounds remarkably like the way the SBC is organized in principle. Add to that the new centralization of the National Convention’s bureaucracy in the modern period, and you can begin to see why these issues are such problems. In short, I think that the way we do church as a denomination is more influenced by the political and social structures of the past and present than it is Scripture.

  5. Refbaptdude,

    I think it’s quite obvious that there exists no explicit biblical precedent for the current structure of the SBC or the CP. But when asking is the SBC biblical, the reason your question is rarely addressed is because the question is not that simple. To answer that, you have to ask a prior question, “Should we do only what we see in Scripture?” Personally, I don’t think we need to confine ourselves to Scripture in our various ministries. Without doubt, we should be scriptural in all we do. But that doesn’t mean we do only those things that are mentioned or modeled in the Bible. Simply stated, all our efforts should be biblical in spirit.

    So, to answer your question. Is the SBC biblical? Yes, if you think the Bible provides parameters and guidance for the variety of ministries that are conducted. Is the SBC biblical? No, if you think the all ministries and methods not explicitly modeled in the Bible are unbiblical.

  6. Bart,

    I have no problem with the formation of associations or conventions and I do not believe that every ministry or everything we do has to be explicitly modeled in Scripture. There are biblical arguments and historic Baptist precedent concerning associations and conventions. But the Southern Baptist Convention in structure and power has grown far beyond the biblical parameters. Do you not agree?


  7. refbaptdude,

    Thanks for clearing things up. I think we are pretty much on the same page. I would ask, however, how far you think the parameters fall according to Scripture. In other words, how much is too much? What is permissible and what is unacceptable? I would love to hear your input on this.


  8. JohnMark,

    No I am looking for the salaries of SBC entity leaders like –

    1. Jerry Rankin, IMB President
    2. Bob Reccord, NAMB President
    3. Jimmy Draper, LifeWay President (future Thom Rainer)
    4. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
    5. O.S Hawkins, President of GuideStone Financial Services of the SBC (Annuity Board)
    6. The Six Seminary Presidents

    Since these men are paid from CP dollars should we not know their salaries?


  9. I cannot find these numbers anywhere. I have heard that SBC entity leaders have six figure salaries. Is this true?


  10. The worker is worthy of his labor.

    How much do you get paid in your service to the Lord? How much would be too much?

    Are not all things God’s? Are not all minister in the service of the same church (whether organized or not)?

    Also, just to give you a hint about the Biblical background of the cooperation of churches, look at the early churches and the way Paul planted them… Were they autonomous? OR, are ALL churches of the One True God not united under His blood and despite your maligning your brothers in Christ, I am sure you could find for me where it was ok to “blog” against faithful servants in GOD’S COOPERATIVE UNIVERSAL CHURCH!

    I guess those letters from Paul written to the Romans were only meant for that autonomous Roman church and the rest of us must search for those epistles to the 7.67th Reformed Baptist Fellowship – specifically written to us!

    Seek God, seek the lost. Quit arguing and pointing fingers at people who are doing the work of the Holy Spirit and get busy helping seek the lost in this wicked generation!

    Hope, Matt

  11. Please, forgive my outburst. I just re-read my flatulant response and was inappropriately coarse… Please, will you all forgive me?

    What I meant to say was, “Jesus, I saw some Southern Baptists healing the sick all over the world, educating many ministers, and more through the cooperative program in Your name… What should I do?” I imagine His answer to be: “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” {Mark 9}

    Also, I do think that your search for their pay scale ought to be easier… That’s how
    I found this blog. It would be nice to see how much they were paid so that we could report to the ‘secular’ charity world how little our (Christian) leaders make in comparisson to leaders of equal caliber (according to the flesh) in the secular benevolence world (Red Cross ,etc.)

    Hope, Matt


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