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A Godly Heritage: The History of the Cooperative Program

JACKSON, Tenn.Dec. 11, 2003 – It was muggy day in Memphis, Tennessee and that made conditions a bit unbearable inside the city's brand new convention hall-packed with 5,600 messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

And the oppressive humidity added to an SBC meeting already rife with debate. The issue of the day was evolution and Baptists had brought the national fight with them to the Convention. And while the debate was subdued, a few messengers were edgy and short-tempered about it.

But the bigger issue at the 1925 Convention was a report brought by E.Y. Mullins, whose committee presented its first draft of the Baptist Faith and Message. There was another issue that was discussed at the 1925 Convention and even though it did not elicit much debate, its approval would revolutionize the Southern Baptist Convention-the Cooperative Program.

The adoption of the Cooperative Program came on the afternoon of May 13 and it didn't generate much debate. At the time, it was called the Future Program Commission and its report was delivered by the chairman, M.E. Dodd. Many in the auditorium considered the presentation a magnificent committee accomplishment.

In his 1930 book Missions Our Mission, Dodd said the Cooperative Program would unite the SBC.

"Our entire denominational Cooperative Program (orphans' homes, hospitals, ministerial relief, Christian education, city missions, state missions, home missions, and foreign missions) is one," he wrote. "It is not to be looked upon in segments with each worker over in a corner attending to his own little job entirely apart from the others."

"They are not competitors but cooperators in a common cause," Dodd wrote. "What helps one helps all. What hurts one hurts all. They must all stand or'fall together. To seek to put one of these departments over against the other is detrimental to all."

The committee itself was comprised of a who's who in the annals of Baptist history including Dodd, C.E. Burts, J.F. Love, B.D. Gray, I. J. Van Ness, W. Lunsford, J.W. Cammack, J.T. Henderson, Mrs. W.C. James, B.H. DeMent, D.F. Green, J.S. Rogers, S.B. Rogers, A.C. Cree, B.F. Rodman, C.M. Thompson, E.D. Solomon, Miss Kathleen Mallory, E.Y. Mullins, L.R. Scarborough, C.E. Maddry, J.B. Rounds, C.A. Jones, R.B. Gunter, A.J. Barton, C.W. Stumph, O.E. Bryan, F.S. Groner, R.D. Garland, and W.H. Baylor.

The Cooperative Program name came following the adoption of the presentation when the messengers heartily approved the report with the following recommendation: "That from the adoption of this report by the Convention our co-operative work be known as 'The Co-operative Program of Southern Baptists.'"

The Cooperative Program was created with twelve basic working principles:

1. The Cooperative Program was an equal partnership between the Southern Baptist Convention and the state conventions;

2. General promotional responsibility rested with the "Commission on Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists (later SBC Executive Committee);

3. Field promotion responsibility belonged to the various state conventions;

4. Money given by the churches was to be evenly divided between the state convention and SBC;

5. Except for major special offerings already established, any special offering of any agencies would need to be approved by the appropriate convention;

6. The state conventions would divide their share of the money to their causes, and the SBC would divide its share to its causes;

7. Agencies participating in the CP would not be permitted to approach the churches directly;

8. Certain basic items were to be deducted from the total before division; such as the cost of promotion in the states and the direct costs of administration;

9. The CP would preserve the right of personal designations;

10. Agencies would be permitted to seek out individuals for special gifts to capital or endowment programs;

11. The funds given by the churches were held to be sacred trust funds belonging to both the state conventions and the SBC. The state conventions were not to touch the SBC portion for their own use;

12. The CP included both designated and undesignated offerings.

By 1927, the Commission claimed CP was "fairly well established," despite some mild confusion in the first two years of the plan.

That confusion was cleared up when Austin Crouch, was elected to serve as the first president of the Executive Committee, a position he held from 1927 until 1949. Crouch was a firm supporter of CP and he guarded the founding principles of CP. The success of CP, even in the first twenty years of the plan, were evident in remarks Crouch made shortly before his death.

"The Cooperative Program is scriptural," he said. "The work supported by the Cooperative Program may be classified under three heads: missions, teaching, and benevolence .... The Cooperative Program is scriptural in its objectives and methods. The plan is, of course, through cooperative of individuals and churches. Paul gave a fine example of cooperative effort. He had urged the churches in different sections to make contributions for the poor at Jerusalem, and the method for raising this money was according to his instruction to the church in Corinth: 'Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come' (I Cor. 16:2). The appeal of Paul and the Cooperative Program is to individuals."

This story, written by Todd Starnes, first appeared in SBC Life, published by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.

Media contact: Todd Starnes, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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