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Elliff urges Baptists to chart course by the unchanging Christ


SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–The only hope for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention lies in “charting our course by the unchanging Christ,” proclaimed SBC President Tom Elliff in his message June 9.
Giving extensive credit to those who spoke with prophetic force to shake off “barnacles which would debilitate and diminish the power of the convention,” Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., addressed the need for members to emphasize holiness, mobilize for harvest and personalize the hope of Christ’s return.
Elliff is completing two one-year terms as SBC president with the June 9-11 annual meeting at Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace Convention Center.
“Jesus must be to us as the pole star is to the ocean navigator, that fixed point of reference by which everything is judged. If we know where Jesus is on an issue, we can always know where we are supposed to be,” he emphasized.
Describing holiness as the forgotten pursuit of this generation, Elliff encouraged Southern Baptists to recognize that Jesus is personified by his holiness and has provided for the holiness of believers through salvation.
“He is holy!” Elliff declared, “Not just morally perfect … never changing because perfect cannot become more perfect.”
Elliff said the lack of holiness by believers renders them powerless, regardless of personal charisma, human energy, acquaintance with the culture or methodological expertise. While praising those who encourage ministers hurt by “unthinking and uncaring churches,” Elliff asked about the pain churches have suffered as a result of leaders who have “self-destructed in the throes of personal immorality.”
He argued that supposed prophets are reduced to offering “the pablum of positive thinking because they are too embarrassed to preach before their own wives and children who know they are preaching about a standard they do not practice at home.”
To avoid “the sinkholes which have destroyed other denominations,” Elliff urged Southern Baptists to heed God’s call to holiness.
With holiness describing Jesus’ character, Elliff said harvest is the cause that the Lord advocates. “He is not a mere man who, through human effort, became some minor god among other gods. Jesus is Holy God who became man for the cause of our redemption.”
With believers called to be co-laborers in the harvest, Elliff said Southern Baptists should offer a witness of their faith in Christ as an act of obedience. “If you’re waiting for God to develop in you a burden for the lost, you’re missing the point. We are to witness even if the burden is not sensed at the moment.”
Southern Baptists must be passionately committed to the fulfilling of Jesus’ commission to be witnesses, Elliff said. As a result, they will find themselves “constantly going, helping others to go, or letting go” of loved ones so they also may answer the call for laborers in the harvest.
Elliff pled with his audience to be more committed to praying for those who serve on mission fields.
“Our Cooperative Program giving keeps them on the field while others often must return to tap their financial wells. But what if our missionaries were required to raise a specific level of prayer support before going on the field?” he asked. Through such a system of accountability, Elliff predicted praying Southern Baptists would be “more passionate about going, helping go, or letting go themselves.”
As he called on Southern Baptists to personalize “the blessed hope of Christ’s return,” Elliff reminded them of the reality of the Lord’s return as well as an ultimate reckoning with his judgment.
“It would be foolish of the author of Hebrews to mention that Jesus Christ is the same forever unless there was some prospect of spending that forever with him,” he said. It is the confidence in Christ’s return that gives “hope to our lives, motivates us to holiness and keeps us focused on the harvest.”
Noting that life is a stewardship for each believer, Elliff reminded that every work will be tried as by fire. “Everything you have done is in one of two categories: gold, silver and precious stones or wood, hay and stubble. Every conscious minute of your life you are sending ahead either treasure or trash.”
A recent experience of sharing his faith with a young wife and mother in Mendoza, Argentina, reminded Elliff of living life with such priorities in mind. Having expressed the bleak outlook she had for her life, she stopped Elliff and veteran missionary Robert Crockett as they presented God’s plan of salvation, saying, “I believe God has sent you to my house.”
“As she prayed in a language which she and the missionary and God understood, I thought, ‘She’s right. God did send us here,'” Elliff said. “Our course had been charted by the unchanging Christ.”

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  • Tammi Ledbetter