The Role of a Christian Social Service
Agency in the Life of the Denomination
___This is the complete text of a message delivered by Ken Hall at the Texas Baptists Committed Convocation in San Angelo, July 17, 1999. As presented, the message had slight modifications but generally followed this manuscript.
__The title of my speech today has changed from the assigned title with intentionality. I was assigned to speak on the subject of a Social Service Agency in the Kingdom of God. I intentionally changed the title because it is my fear that it is easy to talk about the Kingdom of God in ethereal terms. We can say what should go on in a broader sense and never talk about specifics. Texas Baptists Committed has stated that its purpose for existing is to preserve and promote the work of Texas Baptists who are committed to our historical beliefs of local church autonomy and individual priesthood of the believer. Therefore, I want to speak to this group about how we Texas Baptists are doing in our ministry to human welfare issues.
___In 1879, one hundred-twenty years ago, Buckner was established as Texas Baptists' first effort at human welfare ministry. R.C. Buckner, our founder, challenged Texas Baptists with the simple message of James 1:27, "This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." Dr. Buckner was a pastor, editor, philanthropist, and denominational servant. He was among Baptist leaders that rallied Texas Baptists to create the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1886 so that collectively Baptists could do something together that individual churches could never do alone. Buckner Orphans Home at that time was the only human welfare institution in our BGCT family. R.C. Buckner served as President of the BGCT for 18 years, longer than anyone that has filled that important office. He was founding chairman of the board of trustees of Baptist Sanitarium Hospital of Dallas (Baylor Healthcare System).
___It was institutional leadership that gave birth to the BGCT and to the preservation of our denomination. During the height of the Hayden controversy among Texas Baptists, it was the President of the BGCT, R.C. Buckner, who presided over the tumultuous convention at Abilene with a bouquet of flowers instead of a gavel. He brought a trainload of orphan children from Dallas to Abilene and had them form a circle around the auditorium of arguing Baptists. He asked the Convention to focus on the needs of broken lives instead of their controversy. Peace emerged in the denomination.
___It was an institution (Baylor University) that rallied Texas Baptists eight years ago to push back the forces that sought to divide us. People came to Waco and stood shoulder to shoulder for our basic Baptist heritage. Stability emerged as our focus and standard.
___Today, it is my considered opinion that our human welfare agencies and education institutions are necessary to our future effectiveness and even our future existence as a denomination. In a day where denominational loyalty is waning or non-existent, Texas Baptists need a compelling argument that justifies our existence in God's Kingdom work. The thesis of my remarks is that Texas Baptists' future is inextricably tied to how well we involve ourselves in human welfare ministry and Christian education. My esteemed colleague, Gary Cook of Dallas Baptist University, is assigned the role of advocating for Christian education. I have been asked to talk to you about human welfare in general and Buckner in specific.
Why Texas Baptists Should Support Human Welfare Ministry
___Because the Bible demands ministry to the oppressed as the highest of all Christian expressions
___Paul, writing in Philippians 3:10 said, "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death ...."
___The great apostle wanted to be for Christ all the things that would bring value to the death of Jesus. His was a prayer that made real the great commandment to love God completely and to love others, as he loved himself. There is no greater calling than to serve others in Jesus' name. Jesus said, "When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me!" (Matthew 25:40)
___It may surprise we who are religious that gatherings such as this are not the most important service a Baptist Christian is to perform. Please don't misunderstand my comments. This meeting has value, but the real work of God is what is being done at that Children's Home in Round Rock, that nursing home across town, that counseling session in Midland, or that hospital room in Abilene. Service to the "least of these" is the best way Texas Baptists serve the King of Kings and impact our world.
___Because our history and heritage has laid a foundation that must be supported
___It is clear from the history of Texas Baptists that we have valued the contribution that our Christian institutions have brought to the Kingdom's work in our beloved state. A Christian university was established as one of the first acts of organized Baptists in Texas. As R.C. Buckner and others surveyed the broken lives in Texas after the Civil War, Texas Baptists established our first formalized benevolent work (Buckner Orphans Home) inspite of economic depression of Reconstruction Texas. Texas Baptists have from our earliest beginnings been a people who saw God's work being done in a way that resulted in cooperative, collaborative service. I believe that the strength of Texas Baptists has been our institutions. In many ways they are a major part of the glue that holds us together.
___I want to challenge you to support the foundation that undergirds our cooperative spirit. If we neglect the human welfare institutions we lose a resource that gives us a reason to exist as a Convention. They tie us together rather than separate us. There is very little controversial about caring for the "widows and orphans." James 1:27 states that is what pure and undefiled religion is. We are never more pure or holy than when we are serving the poor, broken-hearted, sick, or frail.
___Because social ministry keeps us culturally relevant to those who need the message of God's love
___One of the greatest issues facing our Texas Baptist churches today is that we do not reflect the culture that surrounds us. We are very white in a society that is increasingly black or brown. Our churches are middle class, yet one in every five families in Texas falls below the poverty line. Our church programs are dominated by a philosophy that protects our Baptist comfort zones and neglects the issues that many single-parents face. Churches throughout Texas state in their mission statements that they exist to take the gospel to everyone, but they struggle at finding ways to make contact with those outside their culture.
___Your human welfare agencies, such as Buckner, are one of the best contact points for legitimate ministry and evangelism to people outside the Baptist norm. We serve effectively people from all cultural and ethnic groups, all kinds of dysfunctional families, people all over the economic spectrum, and individuals desperate for the knowledge that God through us can love them unconditionally. Everyday thousands of people are touched by our ministries. These are individuals and families who may never walk through the doors of our churches; they will not attend our Baptist schools; they will not come across the paths of most of our constituency in the normal course of their lives. Yet, because Texas Baptists have chosen to have children and family services, senior adult ministries and facilities, health care services, and maternity and adoption interventions, God is allowing us to be where all the people are. Your human welfare agencies are enlarging the Kingdom of God everyday. We are fulfilling the Great Commission as well as the Great Commandment to love God and others.
___I am reminded about a story from R.C. Buckner's life that illustrates my point. Father Buckner wrote this account:
___"It was during the earlier years of Buckner Orphans Home. We were about ready to retire for the night when a timid knock was heard at the door. The nine o'clock train had just passed and we supposed the knock that of a friend, as the orphans usually came on the morning train, but it was a bright-faced little boy of eight. His clothes were ragged, but his faith was great. He did not know who I was, but supposing I might have some influence at the home, he said: 'Mister, I want to get into the Orphans Home.'
___" 'Who sent you?'
___" 'I have no papa or mamma, but others sent me here. I do want to get into the home so bad,' and the tears gathered in his eyes. 'If you will let me in, Mister, I will give you all my money,' and pulling out thirty-five cents, he handed it to me.
___ "By this time, my own eyes were filled with tears and I took the little orphan by the hand and said: 'My boy, you shall have a place and food and clothing as long as God's blessings continue to rest on us. And I will seal up your money in an envelope and keep it for you.'
___"I assigned him a place and he was a happy boy."
___Because our stewardship is a reflection of what we value the most
___The fact is that the amount of money Texas Baptists allocate toward human welfare ministries has not kept pace with the growth of our denomination. In fact, Texas Baptists give almost as much to theological education outside of Texas as we do to care for neglected and abused children and families in Texas. I have a serious question as to where Texas Baptists have placed their value.
___We as part of God's family must discover ways to touch more lives for Christ's sake. Our ministry must be directed toward the disenfranchised and forgotten. We are called to be servants. We are not called to make more religious types. We negate our witness rather than strengthen the message of a loving God when we spend more on ourselves than we do on people outside our community of faith. Can anything give our witness more validity than serving people in distress?
___May I give one example? Baptists have passed numerous resolutions concerning Right to Life issues. Repeatedly we have stated our opposition to abortion. Did you know that until the proposed budget for the year 2000, Texas Baptists have not budgeted any money to support Adoption and Maternity services? In the 2000 budget, for the first time ever $15,000 is being set aside for adoption aid. The question I raise is this a proper response to people we tell that they should not abort their child? What does our stewardship say to a world that often hears us in a condemning spirit? Where are we putting our resources?
___In conclusion, the work of our human welfare institutions is a vital part of the Kingdom of God. Our work is only effective when it is tied directly to local churches. The Baptist General Convention of Texas is a voluntary gathering of churches doing part of God's Kingdom work. My challenge to all of us is that we will value the ministry to the hurting masses of people in our state with prayer, financial support and volunteerism. Let us look for ways to exemplify the challenge of James 1:27, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
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