Overlooking the Cooperative Program
The president’s gavel hammered vigorously. “The Chair recognizes Brother Stealey.”
“Mr. President, we must settle this evolution issue at once,” Clarence Stealey said. “Let the messengers to this annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention vote now. It’s the most pressing matter before us in 1925. Brother Burts’s money report can come later.”
“Mr. President!” shouted Bronson Ray taking advantage of Stealey’s pause, “the editor from Oklahoma may think other matters are more important than money. But that’s because he doesn’t have the foreign missionaries looking to him for their salaries. He doesn’t have debts piling higher every month and precious little money coming in to pay them. I tell you we are in a bad way. This Convention must do something before it leaves Memphis...”
The gavel beat out an insistent interruption.
“Gentleman, Gentleman!” said President McDaniel. “Let’s get on with the order of business. Brother Charles Burts has been standing here for ten minutes now to give his report. We shall hear him now.”
Burts eyes moved over the big room, and then back to the paper in his hand. He read slowly, his voice lifting slightly as he accented certain words and phrases. His was the first annual report of the Future Program Commission, of which he was general director. The report set forth and named the new unified budget of the denomination.
“From the adoption of this report it shall be known as the Cooperative Program,” read Burts.
The report was adopted in routine fashion by messengers anxious to get on with debate on evolution. With that action, the the Cooperative Program was launched May 13, 1925 at the Southern Baptist Convention in Memphis, TN.
The Cooperative Program was almost overlooked in the beginning. State papers were concerned with debts and debate. Few messengers paid attention to it or caught its significance.
Our Cooperative Program By W. E. Grindstaff, Sunday School Training Course material 1965 Published by Convention Press
Such humble beginnings for something that most Baptist’s would be quick to praise now. Something that seems to be an indispensable part of Baptist life is less than 100 years old and got off to a slow start, as Grindstaff later discusses in his book. Grindstaff served as pastor of several churches in Oklahoma after attending Oklahoma Baptist University, and later served the BGCO and was director of Cooperative Program Promotion with the Stewardship Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, so this is an area he is well familiar with. There were several failed attempts at funding the work of Southern Baptist before this, such as the Judson Memorial Fund, the $75 Million Campaign, and the many special pleas made by agencies to churches every week across the country. Until the Conventions agencies paid off most of their outstanding debts with the “Hundred Thousand Club” from 1933-1943, the CP was slow in getting going.
Once it finally started rolling, it funded untold salvations, missionaries, block parties, and baptisms, among other things. There has been much discussion about the future of the CP, and of the way that we need to fund our work among the nations. But as I read this book, by a man commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention to write a training course to educate all Southern Baptists on the Cooperative Program, I was struck at the time it took them to reach the conclusion of the CP, and the time, again and again, it took to fine tune it. I know that we have now reached that time again, but I doubt the CP will be scrapped any time soon. It will be tweaked, challenged, changed, and more, as it has throughout it's history. Obstacles arise, new ideas come forth, and we must do the best to continue to push the gospel, to our neighbors and the nations. The history of the SBC is one of change, believe it or not. We tried whatever we could to get the name of Jesus out to the world. Some attempts were ill advised, some were spectacularly successful.
The history of the CP is well documented, but don't think that everyone was in agreement with it. Grinsdstaff records the sentiments of three people who left that convention in 1925.
"Happiness of former conventions was not on the face of delegates. This was due, perhaps, to the depressing effect of our huge debts." CW McEloy
"The Convention was the least satisfying of all I have attended in twenty-five years." TC Skinner
"The Convention struck no high tide. We seemed to not be together." Frank L Hardy
At a time when they just voted to start cooperating, to institute the great CP, it was felt as if nothing was accomplished. It feels like the SBC is more divided than ever now, so it's good to be reminded that this is not a new spot in history! Although our concerns are many, and there are difficulties to overcome, we can look at history and see God worked through that time and is working through ours as well.
There were many varied opinions that were put forth, and tempers flared as the SBC fought to figure out the best way to fund God's work. At the time, it seemed like there were more pressing issues to deal with, but there is no more pressing issue than sharing the Gospel. As we continue to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the world, we must continue to work together, finding new and creative ways to work together, as we have before.
We won't all agree on every single detail. We are Baptist's, after all. But by the grace of God we will continue to work together to take the good news of Christ across the street and across the world. I trust the leaders God has blessed us with in the SBC, and trust the heart of it's pastors and members to put Christ first above all.