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7/22/97 Lift up Jesus in Europe, Rankin urges Baptists

INTERLAKEN, Switzerland (BP)–Europe’s unchurched millions are as much a mission field as the most isolated people group in Africa or Asia, the president of Southern Baptists’ world missions agency told a group of European Baptist leaders attending the summer assembly of the European Baptist Convention at Interlaken, Switzerland.
Remote people groups of Africa, Central Asia or the Middle East “are no more lost and separated from God than those (in Europe) who in their pride and secular humanism walk the streets in the shadows of the great cathedrals but have never, never experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ,” said Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
More than 800 Baptists from 60 English-speaking churches across the continent attended the annual gathering, surrounded by some of the tallest peaks in the Alps. Along with group worship and Bible study times, the July 5-10 sessions included more than two dozen special interest conferences. The assembly was supported by Arkansas Baptists, who have a partnership with the European Baptist Convention.
Rankin repeatedly urged European Baptists to lift up Jesus Christ as he drove home the assembly’s theme, “Lift Him Up,” based on John 12:32.
Sharing the gospel of Christ with lost Europeans is the only way they will escape God’s condemnation, Rankin declared. He took issue with Christians who say a loving and merciful God would not condemn people to hell if they’re following the religion of their culture as best they know, yet don’t believe in Jesus.
“God does not condemn them to hell. They’re condemned by their sin,” he said. Jesus himself asked God for another way to bring salvation to the world before he was crucified, but “there was no other way, except to be lifted up on that cross,” Rankin said.
If there was any possibility a person could be saved apart from a saving faith in Jesus Christ, the most effective mission strategy would be to never mention the name of Jesus again, he said, “because if they never heard, a loving God would provide them salvation.”
Rankin urged those present to rediscover the joy of their salvation and to carry a constant burden to see lost people saved. He warned of a cynicism that does not even expect people to turn to God “and we cease to cry over the people we see on the streets and in the post office and in the shopping centers.”
Urging European Baptists to “go all the way with God,” Rankin told the group that sharing the gospel with lost people is worth discomfort and going without rest, entertainment and consumer goods. He quoted a missionary who helped open work in a remote part of India, a physician who gave up a successful medical practice in Tennessee to become a missionary. “How can I count it as a sacrifice to go to India for him, when he counted it a privilege to go to Calvary for me?” the missionary said.
The European Baptist Convention has mounted an aggressive church-planting program in recent years, expanding the total number of congregations despite seeing some churches closed because of the drawdown of U.S. military forces in Europe.
During the Interlaken meeting, the assembly pledged support for David and Candy Pettis, who will move to St. Petersburg, Russia, to start a new English-language EBC church. Pettis has served as pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Bittburg, Germany. The St. Petersburg church start will be backed by an EBC church in Paris and a congregation in Little Rock, Ark.