ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Through the experience of a southeast Texas Royal Ambassadors mission camp, Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson learned that God appoints every Christian to be an ambassador “pleading with men everywhere to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.”
Patterson referred to 2 Corinthians 5 as “the matrix that transformed my own life on a March evening in 1951, the year of my personal reconciliation to God and my appointment as a heavenly ambassador to an alien world.”
He added, “The theme of ambassadorship is wonderfully appropriate to make clear what it means to have citizenship in heaven while living in a world that is rebellious and hostile toward its Creator and Sovereign,” he said.
While Christians who serve as ambassadors deserve nobility and honor, according to Patterson’s exegesis of the text, they also are representatives entrusted with freedom to operate in a distant court within the bounds agreed upon by the Sovereign who commissioned them. The verb form of the word describes not only a title of honor, but an activity, Patterson said. As a result, the ambassador’s behavior should not damage the reputation or message of God whom he represents.
Patterson spoke of three motivations Southern Baptists should recognize in discharging their ambassadorial duties — accountability, affection and assignment. The knowledge that every believer’s life will be assessed by Jesus Christ should motivate them to action, he explained, distinguishing that event from the Great White Throne judgment before which only unbelievers are arraigned.
“If God thought the human race sufficiently worthy to send his own Son to die a vicarious and substitutionary death on the cross, the very least we can do to please him is to share our Savior’s concern for the lost,” Patterson said.
The Christian’s awareness of accountability to God motivates many of the concerns in Baptist life today, Patterson said, first referring to worldwide religious liberty. He applauded the courage of evangelicals who crossed denominational lines to draft the recent Chicago Declaration on Religious Freedom which emphasizes “the obligatory nature of our Christian mission.”
In spite of criticism of the SBC’s International Mission Board for producing prayer guides for particular faith groups such as Hindus and Muslims, Patterson said Southern Baptists need not apologize for such accountability to their missionary assignment.
Other issues motivated by the accountability of Southern Baptists to God include individual convictions about Christian schools, homeschooling or more traditional school models, Patterson said. “Our children and grandchildren are, after all, our first responsibility before God. We’re accountable to God for what comes into their purview,” Patterson reminded, asking Southern Baptists to seriously consider the forms of entertainment to which their children are exposed.
Through free copies of advertisements produced by the North American Mission Board, individual churches, associations and state conventions are able to explain the message of salvation in Jesus Christ and help people understand who Southern Baptists are, Patterson said.
Another aspect of accountability involves doctrinal steadfastness, Patterson explained, urging passage of a proposed revision of the Baptist Faith and Message confession of what most Baptists believe to be biblical truth. Patterson said the denomination’s views on racism, the sanctity of the family, abortion, homosexuality, the Scriptures and the role of the pastor are clarified by the new language.
“For more than 20 years you have attended these conventions and voted to return of the faith of our fathers and to be bound only by the authority of Christ and his God-breathed Word of our Lord,” Patterson said. “Now let us tell the world in a succinct confession of those truths most widely believed among us. May we seize this moment in A.D. 2000 to give our distinctive witness to a world with overwhelming endorsement of these freshly stated truths from God’s Word.”
Patterson praised the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Cooperative Program as a funding mechanism for worldwide mission enterprises. “If support of the plan is not passed along to a younger generation, he warned that “we shall yet kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”
In addition to the anticipation of standing before God to give account of their actions, Patterson said Southern Baptist Christians should be motivated by “the incomparable affection” of Jesus Christ, citing 2 Corinthians 5:14. Noting God’s abundant love toward his creation, Patterson said the spirit of the living God transforms a new believer beyond the limits of human forgiveness. “Divine forgiveness is limited only by the man who refuses to accept it. We cannot help but say, `The love of Christ compels us.'”
Patterson interacted with dramatic impersonators of Southern Baptist witnesses who have since died to describe the “incredible assignment” to which ambassadors of Christ are called. With the testimonies of Lottie Moon, Bill Wallace and Bertha Smith in China and Adoniram Judson in Burma, Patterson reminded the audience of their sacrifice and intercession for missions.
Other Baptist statesmen were cited by Patterson to emphasize the role of ambassadors, including:
— the emphasis on evangelism and church planting by Shubal Stearns.
— the appeal for financial support of missionaries by Luther Rice.
— the urging of mothers to “pray our sons and daughters to God” and ultimately to the world by B. H. Carroll
— the need to join with Christ to seek the lost as expressed by L.R. Scarborough.
Since Southern Baptists have not yet graduated to a heavenly home, Patterson urged their commitment to “get the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to all 6 billion people on the face of this globe.” As he described the scene at Calvary when God sacrificed his Son on a cross, Patterson closed by quoting a familiar hymn’s refrain. “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain — He washed it white as snow.”