Updated June 2, 2005
DALLAS (BP)–I remember vividly the first conservative resurgence meeting.
It was on a Wednesday evening in 1979 and I was one of six invited to W. A. Criswell’s office. He asked me if I would recruit evangelists, pastors and laymen and go to Houston to help elect Adrian Rogers as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He said we are going to rid this denomination of liberalism and we are going to bring it back to evangelism — Souls! Souls! Souls!
Criswell was much more than a theologian; he was a soul winner.
Whatever happened to the focus on evangelism in the conservative resurgence?
In 2004, only 315 SBC churches out of 43,000 reported baptisms of 100 or more. Sadly, 11,000 churches did not baptize anyone and 20,000 did not baptize a single teenager. We need to face the music that we actually baptized fewer than 85,000 teenagers from a lost pagan culture of 34 million teenagers. We must face the embarrassment of how few lost people we are reaching.
In my opinion dead orthodoxy has created a lack of passion for souls in our pulpits. The battle for the Bible has been won. The battle for souls has not begun.
However, there is a fresh wind blowing in. Our SBC president, Bobby Welch, has a God anointed passion for souls. He has one drumbeat — Souls! Souls! Souls!
Bobby Welch is bringing us to focus our lives on what used to be our main concern, evangelism. Without a doubt he has been one of the most effective voices for evangelism in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. Bobby Welch is leading us to prioritize once again the saving of souls as the passion of our lives.
I came on the scene in 1952. Our goal was a million souls in 1954. I was in the right place at the right time. From the historic pulpit of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Dr. Criswell called me the bouncing ball of fire. But no way could I make it in evangelism today because I was a 9th grade dropout. It was house-to-house evangelism, a rerun of the book of Acts. I had come on the scene in the day when evangelism was the passion of the leaders.
“Souls! Souls! Souls!” they would cry.
Jesus said to go into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. I took God at His Word. I was told every human being had a lost soul and I never got over it. I knew very little theology — all I knew was Jesus. I was saved, born again, redeemed by The Blood.
We had a chorus we would sing “Ringing door bells for Jesus, wearing out your shoes, telling God’s good news.” Another chorus was “Harvest time.” We sang “Saved, Saved, Saved.”
Everything was geared toward reaching lost souls.
Baptist churches had altar calls, tent revivals, all-night prayer services, testimonial meetings and open-air crusades. Churches in the same association would have revivals going on at the same time. We were taught that real discipleship was teaching and training new converts to go reach another lost soul. We were taught that discipleship was not complete until those evangelized became evangelists. We were taught to reproduce.
We didn’t know anything else.
Back then if you were not a soul winner, you were out of place. Today, if you are a soul winner, you are out of place. Souls being saved was not only on the agenda, it was the agenda.
Those were the glory days!
Bobby Welch has reminded us that the redemption of sinners was Christ’s passion. Saving souls meant more to Him than the joys of Heaven, for He left those joys and became a man of sorrows.
Bobby Welch has challenged us to remember that winning the lost meant more than life to Jesus, for He gave His life as ransom.
Bobby Welch has urged us to consider that soul winning was the only business big enough to bring Jesus out of the glory of heaven into this world of sin and wickedness.
What is it going to take for our Convention to rekindle a fire for the first love that once consumed our every energy?
What is it going to take to recapture our passion — Christ’s passion — for the souls of lost men, women and teenagers?
I gave fifteen years of my life believing that the conservative resurgence would bring us back to the glory days of W.A. Criswell.
Perhaps it was not all in vain. I pray that Bobby Welch will return us to the passion we once had — Souls! Souls! Souls!
Freddie Gage has served as a fulltime evangelist for over half a century. He has served as president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists and was instrumental in starting Crossover, which has become a regular evangelistic event at the SBC annual meetings. He and his wife Barbara have raised four sons who are ordained Southern Baptist ministers.