PHOENIX (BP)–The need for renewed evangelism, concerns about Calvinism and comments regarding North American Mission Board budget cuts were voiced during the annual evangelists-sponsored worship service prior to the SBC annual meeting.
The Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ gathering June 12, with the theme “Ageless Urgency,” featured three preachers: Eric Fuller, Harold Hunter and Brian Fossett.
“If there was ever a time that evangelism needed to be at the forefront, now is that time,” COSBE president’s, Braxton Hunter, told the assembly. “There is little concern for evangelism in our convention.”
Fuller, an evangelist based in Fort Worth, Texas, preached a sermon titled “Not on Our Watch” from Ezekiel 3:16-19.
Fuller equated the role of a contemporary evangelist with the role of the prophet Ezekiel and the watchman in Old Testament culture, saying: “Failure to warn people of God’s judgment results in death,” and that pastors and evangelists “will be held accountable. Their blood will be on our hands if we fail to tell them.”
Pastors and evangelists “must remember that we are not defined by the numbers of souls that are saved in our ministry, but by our character, integrity and obedience to God …,” Fuller said.
Calvinism is “a big problem today in our country, and among Christians,” Fuller said.
“If you are a Calvinist in this place this morning, stop trying to convert Christians to Calvinism and begin sharing the Gospel with lost people so that the Lord can convert them to Christianity,” Fuller said. “If you are a non-Calvinist this morning, stop talking about sharing the Gospel and get out there and actually do it.
Brian Fossett, a former COSBE president and member of Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton, Ga., preached from Ephesians 4:11, encouraging attendees to get back to “the three T’s” of evangelism — “tracts, training and testimonies” — that he said would “revolutionize our churches.”
Harold Hunter, president of Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Ind., and the father of Braxton Hunter, said in his message he is “burdened about the direction of our Southern Baptist Convention,” noting that Southern Baptists baptized 17,416 fewer people in 2010 than in 2009, representing the lowest number of annual baptisms in 60 years.
“Evidently this new wave of trying to be relevant to the people in the bars on Friday night is not really working,” Harold Hunter said. “Either what you do at your church and what this convention does is supernatural or it’s superficial.”
Referring to Acts 2, Hunter said Jesus’ disciples “were together in one accord.” Though Southern Baptists are gathered in Phoenix, he said, “We are together but, pardon my English, we ain’t together.”
“We’ve gotten into celebrity worship,” Hunter said. “Just look at all the names on pastors’ conferences and state evangelism events. … They are not as well attended as they once were, because to be a major speaker on the program you must be a mega-pastor or else you’re a failure. Jeremiah would’ve never made it on the program of the Pastors’ Conference.
“We have become a convention that is known for its concert divas, pulpit prima donnas and academic elitists, and that is not the Southern Baptist Convention,” Harold Hunter said.
“I hear those of Reformed theology say, ‘Well, the founders of our great convention — all of them were basically Calvinists,'” Hunter said, adding that for every Calvinistic founder of the SBC he could name three who were not.
“Let me tell you something: It was not the giants, be they Calvinists or not, who made the Southern Baptist Convention great,” Hunter said. “It was the great host of people whose names are never mentioned: the evangelists, the missionaries, the small church pastors, the laymen, and the women, bless God.”
Noting he wanted to “clearly preach about the ethics of those who aspire to leadership in our convention,” Hunter said: “There is scarcely a week goes by that in my office I hear of some church fallen into disrepair because some man who was a Calvinist — limited atonement — and didn’t tell the pulpit committee or the deacons until he became pastor, and then it split the church. I believe you ought to be honest. If that’s what you are, then tell them that’s what you are.”
Harold Hunter also referred to an action of the North American Mission Board toward defunding the Baptism Assistance Project, a COSBE-NAMB partnership. That initiative provided COSBE-certified evangelists a modest, pre-determined honorarium with travel and lodging expenses to preach at any Southern Baptist church requesting assistance to reverse a church’s lack of baptisms.
“I want to say a word that I hope gets back to NAMB,” Hunter said, noting that he was speaking for himself and not COSBE. “You cut the funding of COSBE. These evangelists are listed in the Word of God as a gift to the church. They were laid hold upon by the hand of the Holy Spirit and are guided by the [Bible].”
Noting that Psalm 105:15 “categorically says ‘touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm,'” Harold Hunter said he wanted North American Mission Board leaders to know that “in my opinion, you sinned against God. You cannot mistreat the only position in the entire Southern Baptist Convention that exists primarily to bring people to Christ … and you had the audacity to cut that funding in the face of a holy God. Shame on you.”
Hunter’s comments prompted two statements to Baptist Press, one by Dean Forrest, COSBE’s vice president who will serve as the organization’s president during the coming year, and the other by Mike Ebert, NAMB’s vice president for communications.
Forrest, of Pike Road, Ala., stated:
“There is one statement that you can say about Southern Baptist Evangelists: we are all passionate about sharing the gospel and seeing people come to a genuine, eternal relationship with Christ. It should come as no surprise that some of our members were upset when NAMB, under the directives of the Great Commission Resurgence, essentially de-funded all three of the long-term partnership initiatives with Southern Baptist Evangelists. Those three partnerships were the Annual Evangelist Retreat which brought over 100 evangelists to participate in Crossover, the SBC Sunday Morning Worship Service, and the Baptism Assistance Project; none of which were fully funded with CP dollars.
“According to a member of the Baptism Assistance Project committee, Keith Fordham of Fayetteville, GA, ‘Every Baptism Assistance Project that our members conducted resulted in salvations and baptisms in churches that were categorized as reporting ‘no or low baptisms.’ The partnership with NAMB had a 100% success rate.’ In a day when thousands of our churches are reporting zero baptisms on their Annual Church Reports, it is difficult for evangelists to understand why the program funding was cut. That being said, Southern Baptist Evangelists have a rich heritage in and with the SBC and NAMB. With or without CP funded partnerships we will continue to proclaim the gospel and be proud to be known as Southern Baptist Evangelists: partners with the SBC, NAMB, and the local church in the Great Commission harvest.”
Ebert stated: “We still have money budgeted to work with COSBE and we still cover the cost for their website. Virtually every area of work at NAMB has seen budget cuts as we re-allocate resources toward church planting. Travel budgets for Alpharetta staff have been cut by half. So COSBE has not been singled out in any way. We are just involved in a process of pushing as many dollars as we can toward missionaries and toward starting more churches in North America.”
COSBE also elected new officers June 12. In addition to Forrest, Phil Glisson of Memphis, Tenn., was elected vice president; Russell Johnson of Conway, S.C., worship director; Eric Ramsey of Mountainburg, Ark., technical director; Cindy Hogue of Cullman, Ala., secretary/treasurer; Sid Peterson of Bakersfield, Calif., parliamentarian; and Eric Fuller, recording secretary.
Norm Miller is a freelance writer living in Richmond, Va. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.