I have been a Southern Baptist, specifically an Alabama Baptist, since my parents first brought me to church as an infant. Yet, I admit that I never actually knew what it meant to be a Baptist. Until college, I never even considered it, and I imagine others haven’t either. When I started seminary, the first class I took was about the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program. I learned about Baptist commitments such as religious liberty, church autonomy, and the inerrancy of Scripture, among others. And while all of these are vital and foundational to Baptist life, there is one more ingredient that makes the Southern Baptist Convention special: cooperation.
Cooperation among the different levels of Baptists
I recently had the opportunity to go to Birmingham, Alabama, for an ultrasound dedication. The ERLC’s initiative, the Psalm 139 Project, seeks to raise awareness about the incredible influence that ultrasound machines can have in a mother’s decision to choose life for her baby. The project works to raise the resources necessary to place ultrasound machines in pregnancy centers across the country.
Sav-A-Life, the PRC that received an ultrasound in Birmingham, is located in the same building as its partner, the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association. This new location needed an ultrasound machine in the clinic. Seeing a need, Baptists were able to do what they do best: come together in cooperation in order to meet physical and spiritual needs.
The ERLC worked alongside the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association, and the North American Mission Board to make sure that an ultrasound machine was placed in this Sav-A-Life clinic so that mothers and their preborn babies would be cared for and supported.
The imagery and symbolism of this level of cooperation is astounding. In this case, there were Baptist ministries from the local level to the national level partnering to ensure that the implications of the gospel were being lived out in an undeniable way. There are very few places in which multiple ministries or organizations work together like this.
Cooperation due to the faithfulness of Baptists
All of this happens because of the Cooperative Program—which is how the Southern Baptist Convention is able to financially support the work that it does. This is how the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and the various seminaries and boards are able to faithfully carry out their gospel work for the glory of God.
Without this funding, it would be more difficult for the IMB to send out missionaries to unreached people groups. It would be less effective for NAMB to deploy church planters all throughout North America, and it would be hard for the ERLC to be missionaries of sorts to the public square. The Cooperative Program is what makes the work of the Southern Baptist Convention possible. And all of this begins with the local church and the faithfulness of SBC members.
As I discovered on my recent trip, the ultrasound donated to Sav-A-Life was a tangible picture of the faithfulness of Alabama Baptists. And I realized that an Alabama Baptist like me can be a part of future work like this for the sake of the gospel. Giving to my church allows me to play a role in the sending of IMB missionaries, the support of NAMB church planters, the convictional work of the ERLC in the public square, and the ministry of other entities. What a remarkable privilege. Cooperation that enables us to take the gospel to our various areas of influence and ministry is why I am a Southern Baptist.