By Andrew Spencer
The Cooperative Program is one of the most effective funding mechanisms for worldwide gospel ministry in the history of Christianity. Annually, autonomous local congregations give millions of dollars to support the advancement of the Great Commission at state, national, and global levels. Hundreds of pastors, missionaries, and lay people graduate from the six Southern Baptist Seminaries each year, better equipped for ministry and less financially burdened that would be possible if millions of people did not give to the Cooperative Program through their local churches. Missionaries go to language school, are transported to the field, and sustained in thousands of international locations because the gifts of small congregations are pooled with those of large ones to enable men and women from any sized church to dedicate their lives to getting the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Some might say the Cooperative Program is a wonder of modern missions. It serves as a catalyst for the spread of the gospel and offers a bright future for engaging the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ. Tragically, sometimes the purpose and fruit of Cooperative Program giving are invisible to people in the local churches. If Southern Baptists are going to continue to function in a collaborative manner to fund gospel ministry in the years to come, we must work diligently to celebrate the positive impact our cooperation can have and explore the shared theology that enables congregations who differ in their understanding of some doctrines to work together to advance the Great Commission.
The SBC has needed an updated simple, brief, and theologically informed case made for continued cooperation for several years. Together on God’s Mission: How Southern Baptists Cooperate to Fulfill the Commission, which released in early 2018, is a resource that fills that need.
Scott Hildreth’s recent book on cooperation in Southern Baptist life offers a concise history of the convention, with an emphasis on the Cooperative Program, and outlines a theological foundation for the ongoing collaboration of SBC churches in advancing God’s mission on earth. In less than one hundred pages, Hildreth significantly updates previous histories of the CP and makes explicit the ecclesiology that has for generations been assumed by cooperating Southern Baptists.
Part One of this volume consists of three chapters. The first chapter of Together on God’s Mission gives an overview of the early history of the Southern Baptist Convention as they shifted from mission society to a convention cooperating in ministry on multiple levels. Chapter Two traces the evolution of the early convention to a robust network of churches joined together to efficiently fund Great Commission activities. The third chapter helpfully informs readers how the Cooperative Program works.
In Part Two Hildreth shifts from history to theology. Chapter Four succinctly outlines a theology of mission. The fifth chapter offers a basic Baptist ecclesiology for cooperation which unites the many autonomous local congregations of the Southern Baptist Convention and enables them to work together with the other churches in the convention. In Chapter Six Hildreth outlines some of the ways the local congregations of the early church—that is, those documented in Scripture—cooperated, pooled funds for ministry, and sent personnel to accomplish the common mission of advancement of the gospel.
Part Three of the volume contains a single chapter. In the seventh chapter, Hildreth summarizes his arguments and offers some proposals for continued cooperation among Southern Baptists in the future. He commends churches to consider the theological implications of the Cooperative Program, evaluate cooperation in broader, non-financial terms, and celebrate the ability to participate in CP giving rather than viewing it as membership dues.
Together on God’s Mission was published by B&H Academic because it contributes to the academic conversation within the SBC about ecclesiology and history. However, the volume is written in plain English, with short chapters, and clear argumentation. These make the volume suitable for a popular audience. This book would be helpful to pastors who are not sure exactly what the Cooperative program does. It will also make a useful resource for prospective members of SBC churches who wonder what makes Southern Baptists distinct and unites them. As tensions continue to simmer over differences in ministry methodology, political persuasions, and doctrinal debates, this book can help recall to mind the good things that keep Southern Baptists working together. Together, the local churches of the Southern Baptist Convention can do a great deal more than we can do working alone.
This is a book that fills a void for the SBC at a time when a call to unity and recognition of the powerful way God has used the Cooperative Program to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. Together on God’s Mission deserves to be read broadly and discussed carefully as the convention marches toward two centuries of cooperative missions.
Andrew J. Spencer is a member of CrossPointe Church in Monroe, MI. He regularly writes at EthicsAndCulture.com.