In his excellent book To the Ends of the Earth, Dr. Jerry Rankin makes the following observation on pp. 161-62...
We had just affiliated with the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies (EFMA) in 1995 when a Global Consultation on World Evangelization (GCOWE) was held in Seoul, South Korea. The EFMA is a fellowship of about one hundred twenty diverse mission agencies. Many are rather small and specialized, but others - both denominational and para-church organizations - are quite large. When the proposal considering membership was presented to our trustees, I asked the EFMA Executive Director, Paul McKaughan, to tell us what would be said about the IMB when we were mentioned in discussions among other mission agencies. He was a bit embarrassed but proceeded to answer my question: "Large, wealthy, independent, exclusive, arrogant..." At this point I stopped him and said, "We get the idea!"
A few weeks earlier Avery Willis, Senior Vice President of Overseas Operations for the IMB, made a presentation at the large GCOWE meeting in Korea. He apologized to the more than four thousand representatives from 186 countries for Southern Baptists' working independently and thinking we could do the job by ourselves because we were so large. He asked forgiveness for our arrogance and ackowledged that if all the peoples of the world are going to hear the gospel, we are going to have to work together. He went on to pledge our cooperation in the effort to complete the Great Commission and distributed our people group research database that had previously been used exclusively by the IMB. It totally revolutionized attitudes and relationships among Baptist partners and groups all over the world who had seen us as aloof and self-sufficient.
These two paragraphs, in my opinion, describe one of the most positive and significant developments in Southern Baptist life, as well as in world missions at large, in the past century. When I first heard about this new perspective at the IMB, I was thrilled!
What concerns me the most about some of the things I am reading and hearing from some in Southern Baptists circles is what seems to me to be a possible step back from the wonderful progress we had made in the IMB in recognizing that the fulfillment of the Great Commission does not rest on our shoulders alone. Maybe I am "reading too much in between the lines", but I would urge the Board of Trustees and Southern Baptists in general to not go back on the promise that Avery Willis made to the GCOWE, and, effectively, to the worldwide evangelical community at large.
Of course, Dr. Rankin is not talking here about a "come one, come all, free-for-all". On p. 163, he adds:
Cooperation neither requires one to compromise doctrinal positions nor to sacrifice convictions concerning methodology, because cooperation and unity is not an end in itself. Cooperating with others is a utilitarian approach to accomplish a mutual objective. But there must be parameters to any partnership. When various organizations come together, seeking to impact the lostness of Unreached People Groups, a synergy can result that makes the gospel known on a broader scale than if one were trying to do it alone.
Ecumenism implies an organic unity in which each participating entity gives up something for the sake of unity. Southern Baptists would never select unity over doctrinal convictions based on the inerrant Word of God. We would never compromise essential matters of faith for a utilitarian objective. But we have seen that cooperation with others can provide an opportunity for doctrinal influence and leadership. Even Baptists have a broad diversity of beliefs and practices; it takes more than a common name to reflect doctrinal conformity and spiritual convictions that are true to the Word of God.
To all this, I say Amen! Hallelujah! What do you say?