The 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Message
Just before lunch yesterday, Al Gilbert delivered the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Message. The biblical text focused upon in this message was 1 Corinthians 4:1-2. The message began with Gilbert telling of how when doctors had told him that he had cancer, and possibly only 5 years to live, but a short while later more tests had revealed the growth to be non-cancerous. Gilbert told of the time between these tests, when he thought he might have a short time to live, and he had done a “death-check”- evaluating the state of his soul before God. He then said of the SBC that the “denominational doctors” have told us that we’re sick and possibly dying, but we should not write the obituary yet. We do, however (Gilbert asserted), need to perform a “death-check” to evaluate the state of the Convention before God.
Turning to his text, Gilbert gave an exegesis of the words “servants” and “stewards.” He demonstrated how these words were used in relation to the main theme of the text, “the mysteries of God.” Gilbert asserted that we will give an account of to God for how we act as servants and stewards of his mysteries. Gilbert explained from other Pauline texts that “the mysteries of God” is a term used to indicate “the message of the Cross.” In relation to this, he quoted Dr. Albert Mohler’s statement from last year’s Convention meeting, when Dr. Mohler referred to the Church as the repository of the gospel. Further explaining “the mysteries of God,” Gilbert cross-referenced Ephesians 3:1-6 to make the point that this term does not only indicate “the message of the Cross,” but also indicates the delivery of this message to the whole world. The gospel must be delivered to all the nations, to all the people of the world- Gilbert explained– for Jesus is not one way among many, but the only way to the Father. Gilbert gave the example of William Carey– that in his day, the imagination of the people had been captured by Captain Cook’s journal, and that this had given them more of an awareness of the larger world; Carey used this to promote putting theology into action by reaching the whole world with the message of Christ. Gilbert applied this example to our day, when the Internet has served to make us more aware of people across the world; Gilbert asserted that we as Southern Baptists must harness this awareness and urge church members to reach the whole world with the message of Christ.
Returning to 1 Corinthians 4:2, Gilbert emphasized our accountability to exercise our stewardship. Gilbert boldly asserted that we must radically re-organize our Convention if we are going to fulfill our stewardship and reach the world for Christ. We need to re-organize our money, Gilbert said; we must ask, ‘How can the Convention be more efficient and more effective so that the churches would want to give more to the CP?’ Gilbert further challenged, ‘Why have state conventions not fulfilled the goal of giving 50% to the CP, rather than keeping the majority of the money in the state?’ A challenge was given that we return to our state conventions and demand that they fulfill this goal. Furthermore, Gilbert asserted, the SBC needs a Great Commission Resurgence, with a keen sense of stewardship before God to reach the whole world for Christ.
This was a great message with great exegesis and appropriate cross-references to explain the text. The main point of the text was, I believe, the main point of the sermon. The sermon remained focused on Christ and His work on the Cross, and the text was boldly applied to the particular audience. (I stress “boldly” due to Gilbert’s call for radical re-organization of the Convention.) I do wish that Gilbert had explained how the text fit within Paul’s flow of thought in 1 Corinthians, as this may have led to more specific application, but even this oversight may have been due to the time restraints of the Convention.
I was personally convicted by this sermon to reconsider how I exercise my stewardship of the gospel message.
Again, I am encouraged by this message and the one delivered by Dr. Page. In the past, though much lip-service has been given to expository preaching, the sermons at the Convention have not been as faithful to exemplify expository preaching. Usually these sermons have been more devoted to giving pep-talks for “missions” (undefined) and increased CP giving. I appreciated Page’s call for the Convention to return to love for Jesus Himself and Gilbert’s focus on Christ and His Cross. By focusing on missions, on giving, on church planting, or on baptisms, the Convention will fail in all areas. But if we repent and focus on our Savior, God will be pleased to bless our devotion and to use us as His humble servants to introduce others to Jesus and to build up the church of Jesus.