Southern Baptists seem to have put their hand in the hand of the Man who stills the waters. At least there was barely a ripple at the 116th annual Southern Baptist Convention in Portland, Oregon, last month, the first time the largest Protestant denomination in North America migrated to the Pacific Northwest for its annual session.

The closest thing to turmoil was a brief clash over Women’s Lib, when Mrs. Richard Sappington, wife of a Houston pastor, disarmingly put down an attempt by the resolutions committee to water down her resolution defending scriptural precepts of the women’s place in society against the attacks of Liberationists. The attractive Texan affirmed that Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of the woman, and children are to be in subjection to their parents—in the Lord. Almost all the convention’s 8,800 “messengers”—90 per cent of whom were males—thundered a hearty “aye.”

The convention’s tranquility was noted by veterans who weathered storms of yesteryear when liberalism suspected of creeping into denominational Sunday-school material occupied major time and attention. This year there wasn’t a mumbling official word on the Broadman series. “It was one of the quietest conventions in the past ten years,” declared messenger Ed Pettis of Shreveport, Louisiana, who is also religion editor of the city’s evening paper. And Owen Cooper, 65, of Yazoo City, Mississippi, who was returned to a second year as SBC president by acclamation, concurred: “People want to get on with the main business,” he said. “Divisive issues don’t help this.”

Southern Baptists are getting it on. They took justifiable pride in layman Cooper’s glowing “State of the Convention” report. In the past year, membership increased 240,821 to break the 12 million barrier, a new high; 445,725 baptisms (conversions)—up 36,000 from 1971—set a new record, erasing the prior high of 429,063 in 1959; Sunday-school enrollment totaled 7,177,651, with an increase (36,198), first in seven years; and giving for all causes topped the billion-dollar mark for the first time, with mission work advancing $14 million to a total of $174,772,885. Messengers approved a record $35 million cooperative program budget for twenty-two SBC agencies, expressing confidence in the future growth and health of the denomination. Reports from the agencies and interviews with some of their executives tell the story behind the statistics.

Baker James Cauthen, head of the Foreign Mission Board with 2,507 missionaries in seventy-seven countries, pleaded for 800 new overseas workers immediately: “There is work to be done which cannot be done until reinforcements are available,” he said. “God has opened an unbelievable door in India and Bangladesh, land with more than 500 million people.” And he challenged the convention to be ready when “the door of China will open again … it will be one of the most colossal mission challenges before us.”

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Parents and church leaders needn’t worry; it won’t be another Woodstock. True, there will be nationally known musicians and speakers, and a weekend camp-together of perhaps 10,000 or so, but Jesus is what it’s all about. The big happening is Jesus ’73 (mailing address: Paradise, Pennsylvania, 17562), a combination Explo-type celebration and teach-in to be held August 9–11 on a 250-acre farm at the intersection of routes 10 and 23 near Morgantown, Pennsylvania.
Among the musicians: Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, Danny Lee and the Children of Truth, Randy Matthews, Danny Taylor, Randy Stonehill, and Katie Hanley (see story, page 50). Speakers include ex-gang-leader-turned-evangelist Nicky Cruz, black evangelist Tom Skinner, Catholic lay evangelist Larry Tomczak, pastor-author Stuart Briscoe (Where Was the Church When the Youth Exploded?), innovative pastor John Gimenez, ex-Satanist Mike Warnke, Jew for Jesus Arthur Katz, disc jockey Scott Ross, and Hollywood Free Paper publisher Duane Pederson.
Pre-registrations are lagging a bit, but organizers (Lancaster County Jesus people and lay leaders) are confident they can meet their estimated expenses of $40,000. Any profits, they say, will go into drug rehabilitation and related ministries. The $15 registration fee (groups of ten or more get a 20 per cent discount) entitles one to stake out a camping spot (ample running water and sanitation facilities will be provided, plus food concessions at modest prices), take in all the sights and sounds, and be a part of what may be the biggest non-establishment Jesus event in East Coast history.

Meanwhile, on the Home Mission front, Executive Secretary Arthur B. Rutledge declared: “There is a new hunger, a new awareness.… The best days of evangelism are not in the past; they are in the future.” Rutledge announced the appointment of C. B. (Bill) Hogue, secretary of evangelism for the Oklahoma General Convention, as new National Evangelism head (replacing Ken Chafin) over a staff of nine. A career Home Missionary force of 2,200 is augmented this summer by 1,000 student summer missionaries. Joy, the first Home Missions musical, movingly performed in Portland’s Memorial Coliseum, is a snappy multi-media by-product of the church music revolution, and is sure to attract even more Southern Baptist youth to evangelism- and missions-oriented life work.

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Indeed, the Education Commission already reported that for the first time in history all fifty-three Southern Baptist colleges and universities are fully accredited, with enrollments up more than 5,000 since 1971, and 16,438 students studying for various church-related vocations. The six SB seminaries registered almost 6,000 students last year—up 240.

Church officials interviewed during the three-day convention agreed that evangelism and missions—in that order—account for the SBC success story. Behind that, observed a veteran Latin American missionary who now views the Baptist boom from Stateside, “is emphasis on the Word of God as our base.” A lay program, Witness Involvement Now (WIN), with a counterpart abroad, has equipped laymen to communicate their faith winsomely, leaders point out. Because the program is church-oriented, the harvest is garnered into Southern Baptist barns. Almost everyone approached by this reporter appeared excited about future evangelism and mission thrusts; “this is only the beginning” was a comment heard often.

Some spokesmen gave credit to an enterprising bus ministry for swelling Southern Baptist church and Sunday-school attendance. According to bus evangelism director William Powell of the Home Mission Board, there has been a 2,000 per cent increase in SBC churches with a bus ministry since 1971. With 14,000 routes, 7,000 churches are able to drive home the Gospel to an estimated half million riders.

The stewardship scene generated one of the few debates of consequence in Portland. Duke McCall, Southern Baptist Seminary president at Louisville, attempted to abolish the denomination’s Stewardship Commission and turn its function over to the Convention’s Executive Committee. Messengers rejected the motion, as they did last year at Philadelphia, fearing too much power in the Executive Committee.

In defense of the Stewardship Commission, treasurer James V. Lackey pointed out that SBC total income jumped 22.6 per cent between 1968 and 1971, trailing behind only the Seventh-day Adventists and the Church of the Nazarene among larger church bodies, and far surpassing the comparatively dismal showing of the United Methodists (7.5 per cent), United Presbyterians (5.3 per cent), and American Baptists (4.6 per cent) during the same period.

Southern Baptists didn’t ignore social issues: a sweeping statement about the moral condition of the nation by the Christian Life Commission called on them to tackle racism, castigated “arrogant, immoral government,” and decried the “absurd stockpiling of weapons” and “tragic junkpiling” of welfare programs.

Portland was so placid June 12–14 that most secular press reporters found little to write about. But still waters sometimes run deep.

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