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Live like a missionary, Stetzer urges

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention were challenged June 13 to set aside secondary and tertiary theological issues to unify for the sake of reaching the spiritually lost.

Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Christian Resources’ director of LifeWay Research and resident missionary, was asked by SBC President Frank Page to “bring a charge” on how to reach North America for Christ. But Stetzer said, “We must never think that reaching America is so different than reaching the world.”

Stetzer said North America must be treated like a mission field, noting that “we have to break down the extra-biblical notion that evangelism and missions are two separate things.”

There has been much discussion about the word “missional” and Stetzer said the essence of the word is to live as missionaries in whatever context a person finds himself/herself. Lottie Moon, the missionary sent by Southern Baptists in the 1800s to China, lived in the Chinese culture, dressed in Chinese clothes and ate Chinese food until she starved to death giving it all away.

“Isn’t it a great irony that one of the greatest missionary examples in history -– whose work is celebrated each year at Christmas -– is not our model,” Stetzer said.

“Instead, our churches often live just like the world -– the same teen pregnancy rate, the same divorce rate and maybe even more gossip and gluttony,” Stetzer said. “Yet, a trip into many of our churches is a step back into another time period of culture. Let me encourage you to consider three simple phrases: biblically faithful, culturally relevant, counter-culture communities.”

Stetzer referenced Romans 9:3-4, saying the Apostle Paul was willing to sacrifice his very salvation so that the Hebrews might be saved. Unfortunately, he said, Southern Baptists often cannot “give up [their] Sunday morning preferences” that have become an impediment to reaching the culture around their churches.

“From this very SBC pulpit,” Stetzer said, referring to the various speakers during the SBC annual meeting in San Antonio, “we have preached against models and ministries that are reaching more people for Christ than we ever have.”

“When every category of baptisms is trending down except those under 5 years of age, when more than 50 percent of SBC churches baptized no youth last year and when less than 10 percent of SBC churches are significantly involved in church planting, there is something significantly wrong.”

Stetzer said it was fascinating to “see people pile up” around some of the radio programs hosted from the adjacent exhibit hall to hear theological debates over issues such as private prayer language. Theological discussion is needed, he said, but pointed out the irony that so many people were interested in debates concerning second- or third-tier theological issues considering the SBC’s declining effectiveness in evangelism.

“Is it debate that enlivens us, controversy that excites us or is it God’s mission?” Stetzer asked the audience. “It was ironic that those in the debate could turn around and see the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists booth -– mostly empty at that time. Are we going to let the least of the [spiritual] gifts keep us from completing the greatest of commissions?”

Spontaneous applause interrupted Stetzer’s address several times as he preached from Acts 16:7-10. Stetzer said that Paul immediately responded to the vision he had seen where a man was standing in Macedonia begging for Paul to “come to Macedonia and help us,” adding that Paul immediately crossed over into that culture. “Our Macedonias are calling us and we have not crossed over to help,” Stetzer said.

Stetzer said that many times people confuse contextualization of the Gospel message with compromising the message. “Many people have assumed that contextualization means throwing off all restraint; cursing like my neighbor at the opposing team while at the Super Bowl Party; and generally, the abuse of Christian liberty,” he said.

“The help we offer is Jesus Christ. The help we offer is to act as agents of reconciliation [between God and man],” he said. “Contextualization and relevance are tools, but they are not the goal. Place your eye on the goal, the prize for which you were called heavenward –- the high calling of Christ.”

Stetzer acknowledged the discussion and controversy surrounding the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 during the convention and said that as a confession of faith it is not perfect but it must be a common confession if Southern Baptists are to work together for the sake of reaching North American and the world for Christ through evangelism. “It will be an odd time indeed,” he added, if the BF&M 2000 is seen as controversial or political.

Emphasizing the importance of both biblical theology and a common confessional statement, he added, “No group without a firmly held theology reaches people for Christ. Rallying around missions while ignoring doctrine does not work. Missions without doctrine leads to compromise. Compromise leads to a lack of commitment to biblical truth. Soon, we no longer see the need for evangelism because we have flawed and weak doctrine.

“There are things we [as Southern Baptists] find essential for the Gospel and some things we find convictional as Baptists. We cannot reach this continent by compromising those, but we do need to live them out in different contexts.”

Stetzer concluded his challenge by saying that Southern Baptists can either bemoan declining baptisms for another year or figure out that change is needed and necessary.

“We need to hurt for the lost to make the needed changes and reach a lost world for Jesus. Perhaps we could leave this convention not with a passion for controversy, but with a passion for the cross.”