Article XIV of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000: Cooperation

Following is another in a series of columns on The Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

Southern Baptists realize the limitations of their own local-church resources and understand that joining hands with other like-minded churches enables them to accomplish more together than they ever could alone.

Article XIV of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:

“Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”

Southern Baptists cling tenaciously to the doctrines of the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church. At the same time, they embrace the Baptist distinctive of voluntary cooperation. As Herschel Hobbs puts it, “Baptists are an independent but cooperating people.” 

Members of local Southern Baptist churches work together for the sake of the gospel in their communities. They also realize the limitations of their resources and understand that joining hands with other like-minded churches enables them to accomplish more together than they ever could alone.

This idea of voluntary cooperation is rooted both in Scripture and Baptist tradition. Perhaps the earliest New Testament example is the Jerusalem council in A.D. 49, which was convened to address doctrinal purity (Acts 15; Gal. 2). Representatives of the churches in Antioch and Jerusalem met voluntarily to discuss the Judaizer controversy. They respected each other’s autonomy while reaching an agreement that preserved both unity in fellowship and the doctrinal conviction of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Another example is the apostle Paul’s plea to the churches of Macedonia and Greece to gather funds for the relief of suffering Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 8-9). This was a voluntary offering. And though the Macedonians themselves faced economic distress, they “begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4).

Baptists traditionally have followed this biblical model. For example, the first Baptist churches in London organized themselves into an association. This enabled them to enjoy wider fellowship and share a mutual commitment to the gospel message. 

In the United States, the first organized convention of Baptists arose from a desire to take the gospel to other nations. In 1812 in Philadelphia, Baptists organized the Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, which resulted in the founding of the Baptist General Convention. 

The issue of slavery and a concern that the convention was becoming a centralized governing authority ultimately led to the convention’s dissolution. But cooperative work continued through various mission societies and new conventions, including the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). 

The SBC was birthed in 1845 from a pro-slavery mindset – specifically, the view that slaveholders could serve as missionaries – and this left a perpetual stain on Southern Baptists’ reputation, despite remarkable advances in global evangelism and missions. Messengers to the 1995 annual meeting of Southern Baptists formally acknowledged and repented of their historic support of slavery and racial segregation.

Three levels of cooperation

For Southern Baptists, cooperation plays out on three levels: the association, the state convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention. A local church may affiliate with any of these three networks. Typically, it does so with all three. 

Associations are networks of churches in a geographical regional such as a county or a group of neighboring counties. Currently, there are more than 1,100 associations in the SBC, and 60 in Missouri.

State conventions are networks of Baptist churches across a state or, in some cases, a region such as the northwest United States. Nearly 1,800 churches are affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention. There are 41 SBC-affiliated state conventions.

The SBC is a network of roughly 47,000 independent churches that work together “for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people everywhere,” according to the convention’s Fast Facts

Each level of cooperation embraces kingdom tasks for which it is uniquely suited. For example, the SBC carries out evangelism, church-planting, and human-needs ministries on a global scale, coordinating the work of 9,000 full-time missionaries through the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. The SBC also operates six theological seminaries, promotes ethics and religious liberty on a national scale, and runs the day-to-day business of the convention through an elected Executive Committee.

The SBC may affiliate with other Christian denominations “when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament,” according to Article XIV of the Baptist Faith & Message.

By the same token, Southern Baptists generally do not cooperate with groups or ministries that deny the gospel or do not accept the Bible as the Word of God.

But how do Southern Baptists pay for this cooperative kingdom work that extends from the local church to the ends of the earth? Through an amazing, collaborative innovation called the Cooperative Program (CP). The Cooperative Program is the funding process Southern Baptists have used since 1925 to support missions at the state, national, and international levels. Through CP, the ministry reach of each local church extends around the world as 47,000 cooperating Southern Baptist churches join hands to fulfill the Great Commission.

To learn more about CP, visit

Next: Article XV of the BF&M: The Christian and the Social Order  

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