Missions, Education, and the Cooperative Program,
or How M. E. Dodd helped to put a baptistry in my family’s garage
and helped to pay your Union tuition
Gene C. Fant, Jr., Ph.D.
influenced my life more than that of my parents’ decision to enter into
missions when I was four years old. My
parents, Gen and Ramona Fant, were church planters in
Saturday night, Dad would shave our heads with his electric clippers, we’d move
the furniture in the living room and set up folding chairs. My brother and I would have to clean our bedroom,
because it was where our Sunday school class met. When we made our public professions of faith,
we walked down the aisle between the folding chairs in our living room. We couldn’t get baptized in
Soon thereafter, though, our church purchased its very own baptistry. We put it in the garage. When we would baptize people, we’d lift the garage door and the congregation would stand in the driveway and watch. I know that the neighbors thought we were crazy, but after all, they knew that we were SOUTHERN Baptists, and a little weird anyway.
Because my parents
answered the call to go into missions.
They believed that the people of
legacy of Dr. Dodd is extensive and reaches to every student, alumnus, faculty
member, and staff member in this auditorium.
Washington, a man whose ideas about education have greatly influenced mine, encouraged
a study of the theoretical alongside the practical; central to this idea was
the study of great persons. As
Washington wrote, “The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no
education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to
that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women” (Up from Slavery 26). This is the idea behind
E. Dodd grew up in the Lickskillet community, west of
As the church grew in prominence, Dodd was drafted into several leadership positions in the life of the Convention. At that time, the Convention was loosely knit, poorly financed, and enduring theological crises. However, Dodd understood something valuable: the solution to these crises could be found in a renewed, sacrificial focus on missions. In 1925, Dodd’s vision for a passionate support of missions, education, and benevolence articulated itself in what we now call the Cooperative Program. In this vision, all Southern Baptist churches would commit themselves to funneling at least 10% of their budget to their state conventions, which would then pass along at least 50% of their budgets to the national convention. In this manner, the pennies and nickels of millions of Baptists could convert themselves into billions of dollars in the support of Christian causes across the nation and the world.
For Dodd, the work of the church reached into every aspect of the world, starting in our own communities. As he wrote in 1929,
“Christ’s churches today are carrying out that full program as a service of: 1.
benevolence to the body, in orphans’ homes, hospitals, and relief work; 2.
education to the mind, in schools, colleges, seminaries, and missionary training
institution; 3. salvation to the heart, in evangelistic and missionary enterprises, at
home and abroad” (Concerning the Collection 32).
Dodd’s vision of Southern Baptist
life was that we would join together in sacrificial work for the
“The Cooperative Program is intercession in behalf of all our great causes which Christ has committed to our trust. We believe that Southern Baptists should go forward together year by year in high and holy endeavor until His Kingdom shall stretch from shore to shore, and His name shall be known from the river to the ends of the earth. . . . It is a Jesus program. Millions of Southern Baptists are pooling their resources for one purpose—to advance the cause of Christ. . . . We are unapologetically committed to winning people to Jesus Christ. That’s our only reason for being!” (qtd. in Daniel 69).
The campaign was successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Since 1925 Southern Baptists have given over $10 billion to CP causes (Daniel 72). Tennessee Baptists alone have given almost 1/3 of a billion dollars in the last ten years. According to SBC.NET, the SBC has over 10,000 missionaries at home and abroad; there are about 15,000 students at our seminaries. Our disaster relief ministries are important partners with groups such as the Red Cross. Our children’s villages are national leaders in aiding needy children. Our ministerial annuity program is almost without peer. The various Baptist colleges and universities across the convention turn out lay and professional leaders who enrich our communities and our churches.
The best statistic, though, is this one: in 2002, 816,436 new believers were baptized!
Dodd had a proper perspective on the world. He knew that God reigns over everything and is, in fact, the ultimate source of every good thing. As Christians, we cannot be materialists. We know that viewed from a proper perspective, there is a metaphysical aspect to everything. That’s why we say that power is not simply about the ability to control and manipulate others. That’s why we understand that sex is not simply about sensual pleasure. That’s why we believe that money is not simply about finances and ledger sheets.
Dodd knew that our resources should flow in the praise of God and in the service of others. Our stewardship of resources is an overflow of our spiritual state. It’s not about financial responsibility; it’s about spiritual discipline. Dodd wrote, “The highest aim in asking for the church offering is not to get money but to secure the consecration of manhood; not coin, but character; not talents of clanking silver, but talents of mastered manhood” (qtd. in Daniel 83).
Likewise, Dodd understood that the worth of our tithes and offerings is not defined by the economic value of our dollars: “An ounce of energy, a pound of talent, an hour of time, a dollar of money given to the church will go farther, rise higher, sink deeper, spread wider, last longer, and accomplish more than when given to any other cause in the world” (qtd. in Daniel 15).
This young man came to Christ and asked what was the greatest commandment. Christ combined two Old Testament passages into one. We are first to look vertically, to see God in His rightful place in the universe, transcending it as Creator, King, and Redeemer. Then we are to look horizontally to see others who need love, encouragement, and care. How amazing that Christ anticipates the Cross in this statement’s vertical and horizontal perspectives! How awesome to see that the statement applied to the very Incarnation of Christ, as God Himself came down to love humankind sacrificially!
Part of the genius of Christ’s response, though, is that it establishes for us a right perspective on the world. One of the ideas that I come back to time and time again in my own heart is that orthodoxy means little without orthopraxy, and vice versa. That my right belief in God makes little difference if it is not combined with right action toward my fellow persons.
One of the failures of Christianity in our postmodern world is our failure to heed Christ’s admonition. We look up to God and place a period at the end of verse 30, creating an otherworldly stance toward others that leaves them lost, hurting, and hopeless. Others in Christendom essentially have placed an ellipsis over verse 30, skipping over the spiritual, vertical foundation of the passage and establishing ministries that bandage wounds without ever caring for the soul diseases that cause the wounds.
In both of these cases, we find selfishness involved. Across Christendom, we see churches and institutions dying because they have maintained theological “purity” while ignoring the obvious needs of their surrounding communities. We see churches and institutions dying because they have established social service programs while completely omitting the Gospel of Christ from their actions.
The vision and wisdom of M. E. Dodd was that the Cooperative Program would prevent us from thinking in terms of the horizontal first. For Southern Baptists, the Cooperative Program has been our primary inoculation against the isolation that so easily afflicts us. Our polity rightly asserts the independence of the local church fellowship, but simultaneously we are not isolated in our independence, for we are parts of the Body of Christ. We stay focused on God even as we minister to those around us. The beauty of the Cooperative Program in Southern Baptist life has been the way that it has compelled us to fulfill the Great Commandment. By participating sacrificially in Cooperative Program giving, we work together to change lives through Christ’s redeeming power. We work together in hunger relief, well drilling, medical clinics, and literacy programs.
By living our lives in accordance with Christ’s commands, we gain God’s perspective on this world. We are sensitized to the needs of this world, over and above our own selfish wants and desires.
Most of us, however, follow the basic impulse of human nature, selfishness, especially as we grow older and encumber ourselves with more cares and responsibilities. We stop looking up and instead look to others before looking back unhappily on ourselves. We look at the supposed wealth, success, and beauty of others and when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we see only lack, failure, and ugliness. We begin navel gazing (sitting on the sidelines, staring at our own navels and ignoring the world around us) and grow self-centered. We isolate ourselves in smug selfishness and superiority. The solution to this attitude is to lift up our eyes and to see God as the center of the universe, and not ourselves.
The other extreme of selfishness is a cynical arrogance. When this attitude overtakes us, we then lash out at others and boast ourselves to be the centers of the universe. It’s the impulse that reflects itself so clearly in popular culture, causing Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit to rap, “Gonna do things my way, it’s my way, my way or the highway.” It’s the assertion that Gwen Stefani and No Doubt sing about: “It’s my life. Don’t you forget.” And they are lifting up anthems that are not that far removed from Frank Sinatra’s solipsistic brag, “I did it my way.”
Well, Fred Durst, it’s not “your way,” it’s God’s way. And Gwen Steffani, it’s not “your life,” it’s God’s life. And yes, even to the Chairman of the Board, it’s not about doing it “my way,” it’s about doing it God’s way. That may even help to reduce the number of regrets you have along the way.
Living in the
proper perspective touted in Mark 12 lies at the core of what we do here at
Such a worldview requires us to think redemptively. As John Milton wrote, The purpose of education is “to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, . . . by possessing our souls of true virtue, which, being united to the heavenly grace of faith, makes up the highest perfection” (On Education 439).
This redemptive thinking reflects the greatness of the Christian humanistic enterprise. We look up to learn about God, and we look around us in order to find out more about God. We want to learn more about God’s nature, so we study science and find Him revealed in our world’s order, structure, and providential design. We want to learn more about God and our fallen humanity, so we read literature and hear the voices of the centuries that articulate our shared human experiences. Every academic discipline can pursue such forms of inquiry in such a devotional manner. In the process, we learn to move beyond our own discomforts, to become compassionate, thinking, globally minded Christians.
was no stranger to Christian education; in fact, he was the president of the
“Schools under the domination of material philosophers will turn out materialists.
Schools conducted under the dominating spirit of Jesus Christ turn out men and
women of Christian ideals and principles in life. There may be occasional
exceptions as there are to all rules. The character of the students reveals the
character of the school. A tree is known by its fruits.” (49)
quickly came to love
I was growing up near
As Christians, we likewise can learn this lesson: our focus is where we ultimately end up. If we are focusing on God, we will find success, as defined by His terms. If we focus on ourselves or on the chaos that surrounds us, we will be distracted and end up failing to achieve the goals that God has set out for us.
At church this week, I saw several children in front of a mirror watching themselves. They posed and preened and ignored the fact that people were watching them be so silly. Many of us, though, do the same thing. We spend our lives looking at ourselves rather than looking to God and looking around to see how we can serve others and to learn about Him.
Where are you looking? God calls us to live our lives in proper relationship with him. How are you considering his priority in your life? Are you looking up? Is God the focus of your life, your worship, your study? Are you looking around? Are you serving others, encouraging them? Are you living up to the legacy of godly persons like M. E. Dodd, who went before us and who provide us with great examples of Christ-likeness?
provided M. E. Dodd a vision of excellence and cooperation. He offered my family the opportunity to have
a baptistry in our garage. He blessed
Gene C. Fant, Jr., Ph.D., chairs the English department at Union University, Jackson TN.
Daniel, Jewel Mae. The Chimes of
Dodd, E. M. Concerning the Collection.
---. Missions Our
Durst, Fred. “Gonna Do Things My Way.” From the Limp Bizkit CD Chocolate Starfish
and the Hot Dog Flavored Water. 2000.
Holy Bible. New International Version.
Milton, John. “On Education.”
SBC.NET. Search internal links for complete figures and details.
Sinatra, Frank. “My Way.” The Reprise Collection, Disc 3. Songwriters credited as Paul
Anka, J. Revaux, and C. Francois. (http://www.thepeaches.com/music/frank/MyWay.txt).
Stefani, Gwen. “It’s My Life.” From the No Doubt CD The Singles 1992-2003. The
song is a cover of the original by Talk Talk (1984).
Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery.