Preface to Letter
The following document is our open letter to Pastor Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. Before anyone reads the letter we want everyone to know how thankful we are for Dr. Graham. We are thankful that he preached in our chapel today and we are thankful that he took the time to answer some of our questions. We hope that this letter communicates our position clearly and concisely. The drafting of this letter has been a labor of love and it is something that we have constantly prayed over. We hope that our tone is gracious and that everyone who reads this understands that we are writing this in love and not hate. Thank you again Dr. Graham. We hope to get your feedback on our letter to you. We also hope to send letters to people on the other side of some of these issues. We look forward to partnering with Dr. Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church in the future.
An Open Letter to Pastor Jack Graham
We, the undersigned students of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, would like to express our concern with respect to the recent decision made by Prestonwood Baptist Church to escrow their Cooperative Program (CP) contributions. Prestonwood Baptist Church has done so in order to express their displeasure with various Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities. As students who attend an SBC Seminary and worship and serve in SBC churches, we recognize that the CP is the lifeblood of our convention and a crucial element of our Southern Baptist identity. The CP sets us apart from all other evangelical denominations, allowing us to operate one of the largest mission-sending agencies in the world. As members of SBC churches, we feel a deep sense of unity toward all who consider themselves Southern Baptists, including Prestonwood Baptist Church.
We appreciate Pastor Jack Graham, and the members of Prestonwood Baptist Church in all the ways God has used this local body to further His Kingdom. We are grateful for and honor the leadership of Pastor Jack Graham throughout his decades of service within the SBC, including the mentorship that he has provided for countless pastors during his years of faithful service. We rejoice in God’s work through Pastor Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church manifested in numerous baptisms, church plants, and support given to the CP. Because of these acts of service considered, we do not question the dedication of Prestonwood Baptist Church or Pastor Jack Graham to the Kingdom of God, the Great Commission, or the SBC.
Despite these advancements of the Gospel, we have deep concerns for the recent measures that have been taken by Prestonwood Baptist Church. Our reasons for concern are listed and explained in the following paragraphs:
Church autonomy should not hinder the unity we have within our denomination. Church autonomy is paramount in Baptist life. We want to publicly affirm Prestonwood Baptist Church’s position as an autonomous body to designate its funds wherever her members decide. We are concerned, however, that withholding CP funds to influence the convention or her entities unnecessarily hurts our gospel effort. Southern Baptists are endowed with two mechanisms to influence the direction of the convention or her entities: The Executive Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention itself. Using these mechanisms does not hinder the gospel, but it still guarantees representation. We desire to encourage Prestonwood Baptist Church to express their concerns through these other channels of communication within the SBC.
Speaking through means of church funds circumvents the processes of the convention. The convention is designed to allow a maximum of twelve messengers from each church to be able to represent their local body. This process allows churches large and small to speak their concerns on an equal platform. However, for a church to use its budget as the prominent means to voice their desires gives them undue power within the convention. This manner of maneuvering side-steps the process established by the leadership of the convention and is in danger of turning the convention into an oligarchy of the elite.
Smaller churches are at risk of losing their voices. Some may reason that “money talks,” and that these actions are justified if they meet a beneficial end. Aside from this expression not being found in Scripture, such a philosophy is in danger of dwarfing the voices of the smaller churches within the SBC. Being able to speak in the same manner as those who have more resources available to them will be impossible for smaller churches. Considering the fact that nearly 90% of churches within the SBC average 250 members or less in weekly attendance, this should be a grave concern for all within the convention.
These actions set a precedent that puts the Cooperative Program at risk. If such a method of escrowing money proves popular, a dangerous precedent will have been set for our denomination. Megachurches may withdraw their funds from the CP when they become disgruntled with the convention, spurring smaller churches to follow suit. Amidst such a climate, more missionaries may have to return home, church plants could close their doors, and young pastors may have to seek their theological training elsewhere, or even withdraw from classes.
Above all else, our heart is for the gospel to reach the lost. We believe that Prestonwood Baptist Church and Pastor Jack Graham share this heart with us. Withholding any money from the CP has a direct negative effect on the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board. The salvation of the lost means more than any number of non-dogmatic arguments.
We love the SBC and all of its churches, and do not write this letter out of anger towards Prestonwood Baptist Church, or Pastor Jack Graham. We are writing this letter because we love the CP. We are not Southern Baptists merely because we hold to orthodox beliefs; those beliefs simply make us Christians. We are not Southern Baptists because of doctrinal distinctives; those distinctives simply make us Baptists. We are Southern Baptists because of the CP, and the numerous ministries it supports.
We desire, above all else, reconciliation between Prestonwood Baptist Church, Pastor Jack Graham, and the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. We hope that churches will join us in recommitting our efforts to further the Kingdom through the Cooperative Program. Pastor Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church have loyally partnered with the Southern Baptist Convention for many years. We at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary look forward to continuing our partnership for many more years to come.
We love Pastor Jack Graham.
We love Prestonwood Baptist Church.
We love the Cooperative Program.
The Signing Students of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
*If you would like to sign in agreement with these students and nearly 100 other NOBTS students who love the Cooperativee Program please fill out the form below. Your names will be added to this online letter as well. Thanks!