GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–Evangelist Ted Stone implored Southern Baptists to stop regarding broken and hurting people as “second-class citizens in the family of God” in a message at the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions June 11.
Stone, himself a recovered drug addict, has carried the message of “hope in Christ” for 29 years to those broken by chemical addictions. On June 18, the 72-year-old Stone will begin his fourth walk across America spreading his message to those with broken lives and challenging local churches to reach out to broken people with the grace and truth that sets men free.
As examples of those broken people whom God can transform, Stone told the stories of some of his “sons in the ministry” whom he has discipled — “something that has brought great joy to my life,” he said.
Philip Barber’s journey to Christ, and his path to freedom from substance abuse, began in 1997. A police officer spent more than an hour sharing Christ with Barber and invited him to church to hear Ted Stone. Barber went to the service, not to hear Stone, but because “he wanted to see where that police officer got that sense of love that made him want to love somebody like Philip,” Stone recounted.
Stone became a mentor to Barber, even though Barber was not ready to accept Christ. In September 2000, after having accompanied Stone on two of his walks across America, Barber finally trusted his life to Christ. Barber has answered God’s call to ministry and now is a master of arts in theology student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.
“Philip used to have a drug habit,” Stone said. “He used to be a recovering individual. But hey, he’s not a drug addict anymore. He is no longer recovering. He is recovered forever by the grace of God. And he’s got a purpose.”
Sean Reece, also a former drug abuser, will drive the escort car for Stone on his fourth walk. “Sean was fortunate just like Philip was to have an encounter with a church that has an open heart for broken people,” Stone said, referring to a youth pastor who reached out to Reece and introduced him to Christ.
Reece had not completely broken free from his life of drugs and gangs the day he heard Stone and Barber speak, but that event was a turning point in his life. Reece also has surrendered to Christian service and now is a student at Southeastern College at Wake Forest in North Carolina.
“Now these miracles in these two young persons’ lives would never have been possible had it not been for churches with open doors, open hearts, to broken people,” Stone said.
Stone noted how most churches slip into comfort zones, seeking after people who are like themselves.
“They have to dress like we do, they have to have the same background, they have to want the same things we want,” Stone said. “If it’s a rich man’s church, they all have to be rich; if it’s a poor man’s church, they all have to be poor. If it’s a contemporary church, everybody has to be contemporary. If it’s a traditional church, everybody has to be traditional. We’re all members of the same family of God, and we have got to learn to be together on this earth.”
Grace and truth, Stone said, is what God exhorts Christians to demonstrate. “If we do not share that grace, who then will share that grace?”
Stone cited the words of longtime evangelism professor Roy Fish in his address at the SBC annual meeting in 2004: “We must guard against allowing the resurgence movement to degenerate into a lifeless orthodoxy — our heads full, but our hearts so empty; believing so much, while expressing so little.”
Stone said he fears that legalism in the church is a form of that “lifeless orthodoxy” and that it has become a significant threat. Stone then explained the difference between legalism and truth: “Let me tell you what legalism does. It binds. It makes prisoners. It places them in shackles. Is that what Jesus told us to do? I will say, ‘1000 times, No!’ He called us to share the truth. The truth originates from God. The truth sets men free.”
Stone asked, “How on this earth can we say to a lost and dying world, ‘Come on. You’re welcome to be a second-class citizen in the family of God?’”
He then added, “It’s not pleasing to God for any entity of the Southern Baptist Convention to tell people they are second-class because they have committed this sin or that sin. Which sin is the worst? Is divorce? Is murder? Self-righteousness? Lying? They are all sins. His grace was more than sufficient.”
Stone, in comments to Baptist Press, said the Apostle Paul is a classic example of someone with a sinful past being used by God. “Who are we to say that someone can’t preach or teach because of a sin in their past?” he asked. “It is strange how difficult it is for someone to gain forgiveness from his fellow man, and how easy it is to gain it from God. The reason is, God is grace-filled. After all, it’s not who we used to be that counts with God; it’s who we are today that matters.”
Stone concluded his address by calling the directors of missions to get down on their knees in prayer to make a commitment to broken people and then to return to their associations and beg their pastors and lay leaders to reach out to broken people. “I pray for the day that it will be voiced aloud all over our convention that Jesus is here!” Stone said.
Ted Stone is available to speak in local churches and to train those interested in ministering to individuals with substance abuse problems. His fourth walk across America will begin in Chicago on June 18 and end nine weeks later in Pensacola, Fla. He will be speaking in churches along the way. Those interested in inviting Stone to speak should contact him at Ted Stone Ministries, P.O. Box 1397, Durham, NC 27702, or telephone 919-477-1581.