ST. LOUIS, Mo. (BP) — Southern Baptists must sacrifice traditions that hinder biblical unity and intentionally seek new ways to approach missions and evangelism, said panelists at the eighth annual Baptist 21 luncheon June 14, during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis, Mo.
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., told moderator Jon Akin that he attributed the denominational decline in baptisms to a “loss of evangelistic intentionality,” in addition to the lack of reporting churches.
“In the churches it can’t just be everybody’s got a rock star pastor with people coming,” said Greear, whose fast-growing church leads the SBC with more than 120 missionaries serving overseas with the International Mission Board. “We have to teach our people what it means to share Christ and do normal life with gospel intentionality.”
Church planting, Greear said, is a key method for revitalizing evangelism in the sponsor churches and increasing baptism rates. But more importantly, he noted, Southern Baptists must be obedient to share the Gospel today rather than wait for God to send revival.
David Platt, president of the International Mission Board, also urged Southern Baptists to consider new strategies for sending missionaries overseas. Platt praised the commitment of Southern Baptist churches for contributing the $165.8 million record Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, and announced the IMB will be entering 2017 with a balanced budget. But he stressed that sustaining the current model is “unacceptable” and noted how churches that support their own missionaries financially often increase their giving to the Cooperative Program.
“I want to see thousands more people going from Southern Baptist churches,” Platt said. “In order to do that, we’ve got to be willing to rethink paradigms and structures and models, not in a way that undercuts but in a way that fuels giving, going, spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is what we exist for.”
Panelists also confronted traditions, whether relics of Southern heritage like the Confederate battle flag or overt displays of American nationalism, that hinder evangelistic outreach to minorities and missionary work overseas.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Southern Baptists have often practiced moral relativism concerning race issues when deferring to family heritage and cultural sensitivities in support of the Confederate flag. Moore’s comments came hours before the SBC messengers overwhelmingly approved an amended resolution repudiating the display of the Confederate flag.
Calling the Confederate flag a “living symbol of terror of physical violence against our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ,” Moore said, “If we can’t say that with moral clarity, we have no business standing up and calling a lost world to repentance.”
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, affirmed Moore’s comments by emphasizing that any symbol interfering with the advancement of the Gospel “needs to be put away.” This includes overt displays of American nationalism in churches and worship services, especially if they hinder missions efforts among internationals, because “being a follower of Christ will always trump being an American,” Akin said.
Jon Akin, co-founder of Baptist 21 and senior pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., raised the question to R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, of whether policies mandating alcohol abstinence for SBC seminary students and missionaries also hinders biblical unity with other believers. Mohler said that while alcohol abstinence is not a Gospel issue, the policy faithfully meets the expectations of the Southern Baptists who have invested in theological education and cooperative missions.
“In higher education, one of the greatest vulnerabilities is what to do with alcohol,” Mohler said. “We’ve got a really clear policy. We understand what too much drinking is: It’s any.”
While the alcohol policy “undoubtedly” eliminates potential students and missionaries who would otherwise be faithful, Mohler said he does not believe it is an ultimate impediment to gospel ministry. Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, and president of the Acts 29 church planting network, said he understands the wisdom of these alcohol policies so long as they do not claim moderate consumption is sinful, and he often tells church planters that “freedoms are most time given to be laid down because there is something greater.”
Mohler and Moore also responded to questions regarding the 2016 presidential election, and both said they would vote third-party or write in a candidate in November. Mohler noted that while he cannot vote for a pro-choice candidate, he also cannot vote for a candidate simply on pro-life claims because “character is an indispensable issue.”
Mohler recalled first meeting former President Bill Clinton hours after appearing on national TV calling on him to resign during the scandal involving Monica Lewinsky. Mohler said he could not be consistent if he voted for Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose character “eclipses” Clinton with his unrepentant adultery and support of the pornography industry.
“I find myself in a situation I never envisioned in my life as a Christian or as an American,” Mohler said. “But I’m going to have to be Christian in order to be a faithful American.”
Moore explained his reason for writing in a candidate because “character matters” and “the life issue cannot flourish in a culture of misogyny and sexual degradation … when you have people calling for the torture and murder of innocent non-combatants.”
“You lose an election, you can live to fight another today and move one,” Moore said. “But if you lose an election while giving up your very soul, then you’ve really lost it all.”
For more information on Baptist 21, including video of the panel, visit http://baptist21.com/. B21 focuses on addressing issues relevant to Southern Baptists in the 21st century.