S.C. Baptists: Facing The Next Century

One hundred years ago, Charles Elford Burts was the executive secretary (now called the executive director-treasurer) of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Having been born in 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War, Dr. Burts served from 1919 until 1925. If he were writing an article about what South Carolina Baptists might face in the next hundred years from 1921, he would have had no knowledge of the coming significant events ahead.

His term of service began two years after the conclusion of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic, which took the lives of 50 million people globally. Little could he have imagined the stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression of 1929. He did not see another World War coming, whose seeds were planted by the uneasy peace of the war just concluded. He would have had no knowledge of the future Korean Conflict and war in Vietnam. He could not foresee the turbulent years of the civil rights movement. He did not experience the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King.

He likely would have been appalled at the legalization of abortion, which would become the law of the land. Given the modesty of the day and age in which he lived and ministered, he could not have seen the coming of a sexual revolution that would dramatically change our social and moral climate. That revolution has ultimately led to the radical redefinition of long-held mores regarding marriage, the family and gender identity issues, which are front and center today. He certainly did not see the division we have experienced in our nation in the past two years nor the global pandemic we now face in this century.

In pondering the possibilities of what life for South Carolina Baptists might be like if the Lord tarries His coming another 100 years, there is no way anyone can possibly see all the major events that lie ahead. What I do know with certainty is that Baptist advancement of the gospel has survived, and even thrived, through the many times of challenges in the past. Our confidence is in God alone that the witness of South Carolina Baptists will continue in future generations.

Having just celebrated our 200th anniversary, we were reminded of the three primary things that brought us together: missions, theological education, and a cooperative spirit. Our aspirational hope would be that those things will continue to hold us together. Of those three, the one that will likely face the greatest challenge in the future will be cooperative spirit. In just four years from now, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Program. Prior to this centralized system of giving, there was a “societal” way of supporting missions and education. These were small networks of churches or individuals who would unite for specific causes.

A trend has emerged over the past few years for some churches to return to a more societal approach. Others have carved out a hybrid model of reallocating CP dollars in order to directly fund causes over which they have more direct connection and control, while continuing to support the Cooperative Program at some level. Only time will tell, but it seems this trend will likely continue and will challenge the unified approach that has served us well for nearly a century.

South Carolina Baptists have long held to strong convictions regarding the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. While every generation must, as Jude 3 says, “contend earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints,” I have great hope that future generations of South Carolina Baptists will continue to stand firmly on that conviction. Given the radical cultural changes we now face, future generations of South Carolina Baptists will likely face great pressure, and perhaps even persecution, to maintain those convictions. The religious liberty that many of our Baptist forebears helped to secure will probably not be enjoyed to the degree we have for the past two centuries.

Historically, our great passion for evangelism and discipleship has been the driving factor of our cooperation in the past. While methodologies change from generation to generation, it will be this passion that will lead the next generation of Baptists to continue to advance the Great Commission.

As in the Old Testament, God has always preserved a remnant unto Himself. It may very well be that the ministry of South Carolina Baptists in the future will not be measured by our size but by our spirit and gospel impact. Regardless of what the next 100 years might bring, there is great cause to rejoice today that we have the privilege of being called a disciple of Jesus and to do so as a family member of the South Carolina Baptist Convention of churches.

— Gary Hollingsworth is executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.