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Paige Patterson addresses both sides of evangelical-Catholic controversy

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson has issued a statement addressing both sides of a controversy over an evangelical-Catholic accord which was signed by two SBC agency leaders.
Patterson said:
“While I wish that our Southern Baptists who signed the ECT document [‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium’] would not have done so, I understand why they signed it.” Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Larry Lewis, then-president of the SBC’s former Home Mission Board, were among 40 signers of the 1994 document. After a year of controversy, however, Land and Lewis removed their signatures from ECT. Patterson, in his statement, did not specify his understanding of why the two SBC leaders signed the document.
“My discomfort with the signing of ecumenical documents and my fear of crippling compromise is probably not news to anyone.” said Patterson, also president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
“Furthermore, until Rome disavows the conclusions and anathematizations of the Council of Trent [1545-1563], I cannot imagine how significant progress can be made in any reproachment other than to understand one another better and work together to eliminate the evils currently warping our social order,” Patterson said.
Then, concerning Southern Baptists who continue to call for Land and Lewis to repent of having signed ECT, beyond removing their signatures from the document, Patterson said:
“On the other hand, those who demand repentance on the part of leaders who signed ECT are misguided.”
Patterson continued: “Repentance is the appropriate response to sin. ‘ECT+5: A Biblical Response’ conferees [who met in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in late March] have confused the issues of sin and cerebral judgment.” A biblical-based call to ECT signers to renounce their action and ask the church at large for forgiveness was approved by all but a few of the 600 participants in the recent two-day conference.
Signing ECT, Patterson said, was “in my judgement, an error, but not a sin demanding repentance.”
“Those in Southern Baptist Convention agency endeavors withdrew their names and that action alone is both significant and adequate,” he said.
“There are some elements in our own convention that need to redirect their own energies toward leading people of all backgrounds to faith in Christ rather than attempting to judge the hearts of godly leaders,” Patterson concluded.
Land and Lewis told Baptist Press they had no further response to the ECT matter after receiving a copy of Patterson’s April 6 statement. Lewis is now the national facilitator of the evangelical Mission America movement.
Jerry Moser, a Louisiana pastor and a leading ECT critic among Southern Baptists, responded April 7 to Patterson’s statement.
“Even great men do make mistakes, but for Christian leaders to continue to allow the broad public perception of their endorsement of such perversion of the gospel of Christ, to resist the godly counsel of fellow brethren in Christ, to continue to excuse and explain and avoid proper public correction of this grave error … this is sin of a most disturbing sort. Scripture admonishes Christians to avoid even the appearance of sin,” said Moser, pastor of Bayou DuLarge Baptist Mission Church, Theriot, La., in a written statement.
“To hold Christian leaders accountable for their public actions is guided by the Word of God,” Moser continued. “It is God who demands repentance, and we are left to agree with him who says, ‘Those [leaders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. I charge you in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism’ (1Timothy 5:20).
“ECT endorsers are gravely wrong,” Moser said, “and this public wrong has adversely affected the lives and witness of many Christian brethren. This controversy is not about judging the hearts of these men. It is because of their actions in endorsing and defending heretical ECT documents that many fellow brethren in Christ continue urging these men to turn. Dr. Land and Dr. Lewis’ withdrawal of their signatures while continuing to proclaim their personal endorsement is indeed ‘significant’ but hardly ‘adequate.’”
In his efforts in opposition to ECT, Moser has cited numerous passages from the document as heretical.
In his April 7 response, he noted, for example, this from the 1994 document: “Those converted — whether understood as having received the new birth for the first time or as having experienced the reawakening of the new birth originally bestowed in the sacrament of baptism — must be given full freedom and respect as they discern and decide the community in which they will live their new life in Christ.”
Moser asked, “The ECT concludes that there are two different ways of receiving the ‘new birth.’ Are we at liberty to accept EITHER a biblical faith OR a sacramental system of belief? Is salvation ever ‘bestowed’ through a religious ritual performed by men?”
Patterson issued his statement as a follow-up to comments made by a representative he sent to the recent “ECT+5” conference.
David Nelson, an adjunct professor and doctoral student at Southeastern Seminary, speaking on behalf of Patterson, disavowed in no uncertain terms ECT and a second document, “The Gift of Salvation,” issued in 1997, but Nelson did not address the issue of calling anyone to account for involvement with the ECT movement.
Nelson said Patterson intended to further address the ECT issue, telling the conference that “most members of our convention are quite unhappy” with ECT and were “relieved when our two official agency representatives, Richard Land and Larry Lewis, removed their names from [the original] document. Charles Colson’s name remains, yet he is not in any official way representing our convention.” Colson, a Southern Baptist church member, is the founder of Prison Fellowship.
ECT can be interpreted in ways “harmful” to missions, Nelson continued. “We’re not willing in any way to compromise any of the Reformation solas, and we hold to those solas simply because they are expressions of biblical truth, and there we stand,” he said.
Land and Lewis, after weathering a year of criticism from a number of SBC conservatives and Hispanic Baptists for signing the first ECT document, issued a joint statement in April 1995 announcing they were removing their signatures from ECT, saying in part, “…we believe it is in the best interests of our agencies that we eliminate the persistent perception that our agencies have endorsed ECT. It appears that the only way to do so is to remove our names from the document.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, at its 1994 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., overwhelmingly adopted a resolution which affirmed “the benefit of conversation with any religious group, which is willing objectively and openly to discuss their faith, and to examine it on the basis of Holy Scripture.” But the resolution also called on the SBC to continue evangelism and missionary witness among groups “not characterized by genuine faith in Christ alone.” The resolution called for cooperative efforts between Christian organizations on moral concerns, but reiterated the “historic Baptist doctrine” of salvation through grace alone and denied any view of salvation adding or subtracting from “the sole sufficiency of Jesus as redeemer.”
Land, in response to an invitation from Moser to defend his involvement in the ECT process, declined an opportunity to participate in a “point-counterpoint discussion” March 25 prior to the ECT+5 conference. Moser led a February 1995 confrontation with Lewis over ECT at an associational missions rally in Louisiana.
In a letter to Moser prior to the ECT+5 conference, Land recounted that he and Lewis had removed their names from ECT “because it proved to be virtually impossible to separate ourselves as individuals from the impression that our respective agencies were endorsing the document.”
“For me to come to a public forum and defend the document would rekindle that confusion,” Land continued, “and would serve, in my opinion, no productive purpose. In fact, I believe that it would be a distraction from my primary calling of encouraging Southern Baptists to be salt and light for our Lord and Savior.”
Lewis, in a telephone interview March 24, said he stands behind the statement he and Land issued when they formally removed their names from the ECT document, “and as far as I’m concerned, that’s final.”
The ECT was “a good effort” to attempt a “united voice against the moral, social ills of our day,” Lewis said, and for that effort he said he does not feel the need to repent.

Dave Couric contributed to this article.