I have made a list of the ten most important events in Southern Baptist life in order of significance. Your list may very well be as good as or better than mine, but I thought you might find the list interesting and that it might provoke you to construct your own list.
First, There is the persecution of the early Baptists in America. Roger Williams, who founded the first Baptist Church in America (in Providence, RI), was called “an offensive rebel’ and “evil-worker” by his contemporaries and sentenced to banishment because of his faith and quest for religious liberty.
John Leland, a New Englander who traveled to Virginia in 1775 to spread the Baptist message, witnessed the persecution and imprisonment of his fellow Baptist preachers and was threatened at gunpoint himself.
The Baptists led the fight for religious liberty in America and became the most vocal advocates for the separation of church and state in the 17th and 18th centuries, perhaps because they were the most persecuted.
Second, the Conservative Resurgence in the last two decades of the 20th century is the second most important issue in Southern Baptist history. This movement led by Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, Adrian Rogers, Bailey Smith, Jimmy Draper, Charles Stanley, Jerry Vines, Morris Chapman, and others turned SBC seminaries and agencies from a moderate/liberal mindset to a conservative theology that righted the denominational ship and spared Southern Baptists from an early demise.
Third, the establishment of the Cooperative Program in 1925 was an extremely important step toward properly funding Southern Baptist missions and ministries. Baptists were operating under a societal method of giving prior to the Cooperative Program. This approach resulted in severe financial deficits, competition among entities, overlapping pledge campaigns, and frequent emergency appeals that were in some ways counterproductive. The Cooperative Program was an efficient answer to these problematic issues.
Fourth, the Southern Baptist Convention broke from the North in 1845 with one of the primary reasons being the issue of slavery. During the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s the SBC took no active role, and some Baptists were vehemently opposed to racial equality. However, in 1995 at the 150th anniversary of the SBC, messengers adopted a resolution on racial reconciliation at the Convention in Atlanta. The resolution apologized to African-Americans, asking their forgiveness, and pledged to eradicate all forms of racism from Southern Baptist life.
Fifth, Southern Baptists, being a missionary-sending denomination, established two mission boards in order to help fulfill the Great Commission. In 1846, after the first year of operation, the Foreign Mission Board reported that only two missionaries had been appointed to one field – China. By 1891, however, the board had raised nearly $2 million and increased the number of missionaries to 91 serving in six fields. Today Southern Baptists have the largest Christian missionary force among evangelical churches and have given more than $1 billion for international missions.
The domestic mission board, or Home Mission Board, was founded in 1862 in Marion, AL and relocated to Atlanta in 1882. It seeks to motive churches to evangelize the lost and plant churches in underserved areas.
Sixth, the addition of the Baptist Sunday School Board, now LifeWay Christian Resources, has been another monumental addition to the SBC. J.M. Frost, a Virginia pastor, was the primary advocate for a Baptist publication entity for Southern Baptists. He was opposed by a large number of SBC leaders, but after some heated debates and sensitive confrontations the BSSB was formed in 1891. Robert A. Baker, professor of church history at Southwestern Seminary, stated, “The formation of this board marked a new era for Southern Baptists. It signaled the move of the Convention toward becoming a truly denominational body.”
Seventh, on May 14, 1925, Southern Baptists adopted a confession of faith called the Baptist Faith and Message. The confession of faith has been updated twice, in 1963 and 2000. The statement is not a creed, but statements of religious convictions drawn from the Scriptures. The newer confessions of faith have evolved to significantly address different cultural and ethical issues of concern to Baptist people, but constitute a consensus of belief for the general instruction and guidance of Southern Baptists.
Eighth, On June 19, 1997 Southern Baptists approved the Covenant for a New Century, which called for a reorganization of the Southern Baptist Convention. Several new agencies were eliminated, some ministries were reassigned to other agencies, and five agencies (Stewardship Commission, the Education Commission, the Southern Baptist Foundation, the Southern Baptist Commission of the American Baptist Seminary, and the Historical Commission) were completely dissolved. Perhaps the most significant change was the merging of the Radio and Television Commission, Brotherhood Commission, and Home Mission Board into one new agency called the North American Mission Board.
Ninth, At the SBC Convention in Orlando in 2010 messengers voted to accept the recommendations of a task force to rally fragmented segments in the denomination around the Great Commission. The adoption of the recommendations established a new giving category – “Great Commission Giving.” The approval of the task force report also included phasing out the cooperative agreements between the Baptist state conventions and the North American Mission Board, transferred the assignments of the stewardship and Cooperative Program promotion from the SBC Executive Committee to the state conventions, and increased the IMB’s CP allocation from 50 to 51 percent.
Tenth, we are currently witnessing a precipitous decline of the Southern Baptist Convention. The latest statistics compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources from church reports show membership dropped by more than 204,000 in 2015, the ninth year in a row that there has been a decline. Baptisms, which have declined in eight of the past ten years, totaled 295,212 – a 3.3 percent drop. From 2006 to 2015 Southern Baptist membership has declined by 1,001,982. We are following the path of the mainline denominations in America that have seen their numbers dwindle for years. Reported baptisms have fallen eight of the last ten years.