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Merritt exhorts SBC messengers to ‘contend earnestly’ for faith

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–Southern Baptists were exhorted June 10 to take seriously the Apostle Jude’s admonition to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The alternative, said Georgia pastor James Merritt, is an inevitable drift from truth and consequently God’s favor.
“Institutions, whether they be governments, schools, churches or denominations, are like a car out of line — without a firm hand on the wheel they will always drift. And they never veer to the right, they always veer to the left,” Merritt said in the Southern Baptist Convention annual sermon in Salt Lake City. “The battle for the soul of our denomination, our colleges and seminaries, our churches, even for the Bible itself, will never be over,” he added. “There may be a cease fire, but Jude says we can never let our guard down.” Preaching from Jude verses 3-4, Merritt said a passion for salvation is one imperative for the defense of the faith. Jude chose to write about salvation, he said, “and it ought to be the bottom line for us. …
It is what we ought to write about, sing about, preach about, talk about and shout about, because there is nothing like being saved. That was (Jude’s) first love and it ought to be ours.”
He cited statistics showing that while baptisms are up over the last few years after earlier decline, nearly 25 percent of churches report no baptisms at all. Also, he said, while it took 19 Southern Baptists in 1950 “to win a soul to Christ and baptize him,” today it takes 39. “Yes, we have turned this denomination around theologically, but it is now time we turn this denomination around evangelistically,” Merritt said, referring to the denomination’s internal struggle during the 1980s that resulted in a conservative shift in convention leadership and its agencies. He told of a celebration at a New Orleans city pool in which more than 100 lifeguards and additional guests celebrated the first summer in years at the pool with no deaths by drowning. It wasn’t until the party was nearly over that they noticed a man lifeless at the bottom of the pool, “surrounded by lifeguards who were celebrating their success.” He praised God for convention successes in record missions giving, missionary counts, church membership and new conservative leadership at its seminaries. “But let us not get so caught up in back-slapping that we forget that there is a nation of lost people drowning in a pool of sin, with no hope without Jesus Christ.” Merritt also stressed the importance of upholding the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, as well as the sufficiency of Scripture as the revealed Word of God.
“We don’t need Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen White, golden tables, dreams and visions, or another testament,” he said in a reference to the extra-biblical scriptures of Salt Lake City’s Mormon founders. “All we need is what we have, which is the inspired truth of the infallible Word.” Inspiration is confined to the Bible, experience must be confirmed by the Bible and doctrine must conform to the Bible, he said. “If any group extends inspiration beyond the Bible, elevates experience over the Bible or edifies doctrine contrary to the Bible, let that group be anathema.” The Greek word translated “contend earnestly” gives us our English word “agonize,” he said, referring to an athlete struggling for victory in a wrestling match. “When others deny the faith, we are not to shy away from defending the faith,” he said. “Christianity is not a playground for sissies, it is a battleground for soldiers. And it is right to fight when you fight for right.” Merritt also warned of “so-called scholars” who would deny the essentials of the faith, calling them “stealth liberals who fly in under spiritual radar so they can take over and steal that which has been built by Bible-believing conservatives.” He told how Jesus Seminar participants have determined 82 percent of what is attributed to Christ in the gospels was not actually said by him, and much of the remaining 18 percent is in doubt. Also, he said, they determined Christ did not predict his death on the cross or his second coming, and they deny Christ’s virgin birth , resurrection and miracles. “True biblical scholarship never brings disdain to the Word of God, disgrace to the Son of God or disbelief to the church of God. And if it does, it is neither biblical nor scholarship,” he said. Jude, he said, spoke of “certain men who have crept in unnoticed … who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“These religious charlatans who hide behind clerical collars, religious robes and seminary degrees preach a heaven without hell, love without wrath, mercy without judgment, salvation without a cross. They put the grace of God in a showcase and the judgment of God in a suitcase,” he said. The Bible teaches, Merritt said, that grace is “not a license to sin but the liberty not to sin.” “A denomination is known as much for what it does not debate as what it does debate. And let us never debate what God has already decided. For when a denomination begins to debate what God has already decided, that denomination is doomed to die and that denomination deserves to die.” In the same passage in Jude, Merritt said, the words “God” and “Lord” both refer to Jesus Christ, making it one of the strongest affirmations of his deity in the Bible.
“No matter what a preacher behind a pulpit or a professor behind a podium says. If they are wrong about Jesus, it doesn’t matter what else they are right about. Get it down and get is straight, Jesus Christ is God.” He went on to list truths of Scripture running counter to modern culture that Southern Baptists should steadfastly hold high:
— The infallible truth of the Bible.
— The right to life “for both the born and the unborn” in an age of abortion and euthanasia.
— The sinfulness of homosexuality.
— Sex within the bonds of marriage alone.
— Christ as the only path to salvation.
— Divine creation, not evolution, as the origin of life.
— The unique identity of a virgin-born, resurrected, Christ. He compared Southern Baptists struggle for “the soul of the denomination” to Winston Churchill’s battle to save England in World War II. “If the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years,” he quoted from Churchill, “men will say: ‘This was their finest hour.'” “If there is a group called Southern Baptists 1,000 years from now,” Merrit said, “when they look back at their spiritual ancestors and see why we stood — for truth — and where we stood — on this Book — may they declare to a world that will still need Jesus, that ‘just as they stood, here we stand: now and forever.'”

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  • James Dotson