CHARLOTTESVILLE—Virginia Baptists turned out in large numbers at a special called meeting May 10 to launch the next-to-last step in a “Kingdom Advance” vision for unity that would offer options to Baptists across the theological spectrum.

The final step in approving Kingdom Advance will come at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV), Nov. 8-9, in Virginia Beach.

Kingdom Advance would envision the BGAV and its Virginia Baptist Mission Board (VBMB) as an umbrella under which diverse Baptists can cooperate on the “main thing” – spreading the gospel and ministry of Jesus Christ while maintaining their church autonomy and freedom to choose.

More than 2,500 Baptists from 385churches registered as messengers and visitors at the five-hour session that overflowed the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va., into another area with closed circuit television.

Some 2,400 voting messengers—more than double the number at the BGAV’s 2001 annual meeting—overwhelmingly approved two recommendations:

  • Endorse the Kingdom Advance vision presented by new Executive Director John V. Upton, Jr.; use input, gleaned at the called meeting’s “town hall” portion and from other Virginia Baptists, to develop “the necessary policy, structure and funding for Kingdom Advance” for approval in November.
  • Amend the working relationship between the BGAV and Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia (WMUV) on use of the Alma Hunt Offering for Virginia Missions.

Kingdom Advance, if approved in November, would open up wider missions option to all of the BGAV’s 1,500 churches to find “a place at the table,” regardless of what Baptist missions efforts they choose to support.

BGAV currently allows churches to develop their own giving plan or to choose among the state’s World Missions 1 (WM-1) giving plan, which supports ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention; WM-2, a BGAV-directed plan; or WM-3, which supports ministries of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Kingdom Advance would simply allow the churches to find open avenues to Virginia Baptist ministries around the state, nation and globe, while continuing to maintain their diversity.

Upton said a “core value” of Kingdom Advance is that “it will be church-based, not agency based,” expanding the concept of the VBMB’s current Church First emphasis.

Approval of the Alma Hunt Offering recommendation potentially expands the scope of the annual offering to include use not only in Virginia but also in national and international Virginia Baptist missions efforts.

That would allow the Alma Hunt Offering to be one of the options Virginia Baptists could choose to help fund missions efforts of Kingdom Advance, if Virginia Baptists approve Kingdom Advance at the November meeting. Upton said it would take at least $1 million a year in new funds to finance Kingdom Advance.

Asked why the rush to alter the Alma Hunt Offering before November, Upton and WMUV Executive Director Earlene Jessee explained that it is a matter of timing. They said delay until November would delay implementation of Kingdom Advance allocations until 2004. Upton said Virginia Baptists have options available for ministries now that likely will not be open if they wait until 2004.

He said Kingdom Advance comes at a time when the state population is outstripping Christian growth, when there is a growing crisis in church leadership development, and when ministries are opening up all around the world.

The Kingdom Advance initiative envisions expansion of missions, not as a response to controversy, but as a positive way to expand missions and ministry to people, Upton said. It envisions aggressively starting new churches in Virginia and rejuvenating existing ones, identifying and developing a new generation of leaders for Virginia Baptist congregations and ministries, and empowering pastors and other church leaders to carry out their ministries more effectively.

It envisions a flexible approach to missions that would avoid competing with other Baptist bodies, such as the SBC’s International and North American Mission Boards, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, or the Baptist World Alliance.

Instead, it would expand current cooperation with these and other entities and open up opportunities for Virginia Baptists to partner with other Baptists around the world.

Upton and other VBMB leaders have repeatedly emphasized that they will not launch an effort to lead Virginia Baptists out of the Southern Baptist Convention or undercut the SBC’s Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings.

“BGAV local churches will decide, in the Baptist way, what they will support. We will offer options and opportunities to all of them who wish to participate,” Upton said.

Upton said his vision “bubbled up from the grassroots” as he traveled the state to glean input from over 400 pastors and a variety of other Baptists.
He said he got three consistent questions: (1) Can you give us something bigger than us to excite our church? (2) Is there a place for us at the table? (3) Is there anyway to lift ourselves out of this denominational controversy and get on with the gospel and ministry of Jesus Christ?

“Kingdom Advance says, ‘Yes’ to all three questions,” he said.

The recommendation to approve Kingdom Advance and the Alma Hunt Offering amendment passed overwhelming. They drew debate, but only about two-dozen votes were cast in a show of hands against Kingdom Advance and less than 100 in opposition to the Alma Hunt Offering amendment.

A meeting participant, opposed to Kingdom Advance as being too inclusive of diverse Baptists, read a long statement from the floor during the “town hall” portion of the meeting.

He characterized the day of the called meeting as “a sad day” that history books would record as one of “Kingdom Divided,” not one of “Kingdom Advance.”

Upton answered with one sentence that drew a standing ovation from messengers and visitors in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Charlottesville, the church where Southern Baptist missions pioneer Lottie Moon was baptized in 1858.

“It’s my prayer” that the history books will record that today “Baptists divided became Baptists united,” Upton replied.

Upton also quickly affirmed the response of another messenger, who rose to say that he supports Kingdom Advance but hopes that Virginia Baptists will always allow a dissenting voice to be heard.

That, Upton said later, has been the point all along.

“We all may disagree about some things, but we are going to find things we can agree on and get on with the main thing—the gospel and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Robert O’Brien is a freelance writer from Richmond, Va., who attended the meeting.

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