NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Various religious pundits may be signaling a post-denominational era, but Paige Patterson isn’t among them when assessing the Southern Baptist Convention’s future.
The “greatest adventure it will ever have” is ahead for “a convention of cooperating churches who will enthrone Christ,” Patterson said in his message as SBC president during the opening session of the SBC Executive Committee’s Feb. 21-22 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Patterson, who also is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., also listed key expectations Southern Baptists can have of the convention’s various agencies and institutions, and those who lead them, including an avoidance of “ecumenical entanglements” and charismatic theology and practice.
In comments referencing the widely publicized opposition by a council of Chicago religious leaders to an SBC evangelistic and ministry “Strategic Cities Focus” in the city later this year, Patterson reiterated the call to Southern Baptists to participate alongside Chicago-area Baptists in the outreach.
“[The religious leaders] said, ‘Don’t come. You are purveyors of hate crimes with your evangelism,'” Patterson recounted, noting, “I cannot begin to tell you how dangerous that statement is.
“It therefore behooves us … to go and assist the poor and the disenfranchised,” Patterson said, noting that great churches are known for loving “all the people in the community that nobody else loved.”
“Let’s go to Chicago and love and be gentle to all,” Patterson continued. “Let’s go to Chicago and witness to every single person who will listen to us. Let’s go to Chicago and explain to them that we have no choice except to obey the commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“And while we’re at it, let’s be very careful and very much aware of contemporary attempts to suppress religious liberty, because they’re beginning to happen on every hand,” Patterson said.
The word, “target,” has been used particularly by critics of various SBC evangelistic initiatives and in the media, Patterson said, agreeing with those who regard it as “an irritating word.”
“There’s no place in our vocabulary for targeting people,” Patterson said. “We don’t need to target anybody. What we need to do is get the gospel to everybody. That’s simple enough, isn’t it?”
Concerning the upcoming SBC annual meeting June 13-14 in Orlando, Fla., Patterson cited various anticipated highlights, including a report from a 15-member committee studying the Baptist Faith and Message, the statement of Southern Baptist beliefs first framed in 1925, revised in 1963 and amended to include an article on the family in 1998.
The committee is “doing a superb job of reexamining the Baptist Faith and Message and bringing us some emphases that have needed to be there,” Patterson reported. “It’s not a massive rewrite or anything even approaching that.”
Messengers to last year’s SBC annual meeting in Atlanta authorized the committee by a 2,327-1,963 vote, with Patterson subsequently naming former SBC President Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, suburban Memphis, Tenn., as chairman, and 14 other committee members.
Missions will be the overarching theme of this year’s annual meeting, Patterson said, noting, “I am unalterably convinced that it is still wrong for us as Southern Baptists to use 95 percent of our resources on 5 percent of the world’s people, and only 5 percent on the 95 [percent].”
Southern Baptists are posting record giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions and in Cooperative Program gifts for SBC causes, 50 percent of which are allocated to international missions, Patterson acknowledged.
Yet, he underscored concern “about whether or not there is a real heart in our people to get the gospel to every person on the face of the globe.”
Patterson voiced a hope that “two kinds of people” will emerge from the Orlando meeting: “those who will leave with a new commitment as never before to take the cause of world missions back to their churches and infiltrate those churches with that desperate need” and “those who are desperately ashamed of themselves because they don’t leave that way.”
Repeating a concern he first voiced last year, Patterson also urged Southern Baptist churches to send at least one teenager as a messenger to the convention.
It would be “the most wholesome thing in the world” for churches to take definite steps “to get our young people involved in being Southern Baptists,” Patterson said.
Patterson said he will soon distribute an open letter for use in state Baptist papers urging churches to send messengers to the Orlando meeting, including at least one teen. The first such letter for state papers last year was used by “many of them … and some gave it just a little space and others didn’t do it at all,” Patterson said.
Concerning the SBC’s future, Patterson commented, “Every time I turn around lately I hear it: ‘Well, the day of the denomination is over. We’re in the post-denominational era.'”
Not so when it comes to the SBC, Patterson said, declaring:
“[A]ny convention of cooperating churches who will stay true to God’s Word has an inerrant roadmap to lead them through the labyrinth of the postmodern era. …
“Any convention of cooperating churches who will keep a theological head and evangelistic lungs and a missionary heart will never be put on anybody’s life-support system anywhere.
“And finally, any convention of cooperating churches who will remember its martyrs and why they died will have the courage to sacrifice and therefore to inspire and win a quaking and confused world to faith in Christ,” Patterson asserted.
“I am convinced that God has blessed our denomination across the years not because we were the richest, for we were decidedly on the other end of the line most of the time; not because we were the most brilliant …; and not because we were the most gifted programmatically, although we’ve certainly been busy bees.
“I am convinced that God has blessed us for one simple reason, and that is, in some measure of humility we sought the King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” Patterson said, citing the words from Psalm 127, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it … .”
Southern Baptists can be assured, “You have a remarkable group of institution and agency heads,” Patterson said, listing eight expectations which Baptists can have of SBC leaders and the entities for which they are responsible:
1) SBC entities can be expected “to operate, teach, educate, missionize and evangelize in strict observance of the Baptist Faith and Message,” Patterson said.
2) SBC entities “will not be drawn into neo-Montanism in theology or practice,” he said, referencing the first charismatic movement in the second century and noting that “periodically through the years [such movements] have arisen again.”
Patterson said he is not seeking “to put down anybody who believes that way or to instruct any churches in it one way or the other,” but to report that “your agencies and institutions are going to be Southern Baptist to the core, and we are not going to follow the invitation of the neo-charismatic movement.
“We are going to stay true to what made us great in days gone by that God has blessed, namely reaching men and women for the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Patterson said.
3) SBC entities “will not to be drawn into ecumenical entanglements.”
Patterson said he is “somewhat influenced by the Landmark movement” of the 1800s, though he’s not a “Landmarker.” “They made some mistakes” in various doctrines, he said, “but their emphasis upon the cruciality of the local church is still very much with us, and I am right there … . We shall emphasize the local church. And we shall emphasize that we will not be drawn into ecumenical entanglements.”
Patterson said he also is “a pretribulation premillennialist,” which, among other things, “means that I am frightened to death of the coming one-world church, and, consequently, ecumenical movements of any kind scare me to death … because it is the deceit of Satan in the last day.”
“Now, you don’t have to buy into my theology on that, by the way,” Patterson said. “I’m just explaining to you who I am and why I think like I do.”
4) SBC entities “will at the same time be involved in cooperative efforts with many others,” Patterson said, affirming the work of such groups as the pro-family Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; the Association of Theological Schools; and the Evangelical Theological Society.
Also, Southern Baptists will partner with “those who, though they may not believe like we do soteriologically or ecclesiologically [encompassing doctrines about salvation and church structure, respectively], nevertheless have in mind the saving of babies, and the stopping of taxing on families when people want to be married God’s way and not be taxed for doing it God’s way,” Patterson said. “And we’re going to be committed to those who will work with us, no matter what their theological understanding will be, on matters of religious liberty.”
5) SBC entities will be “committed to emphasize evangelism, church planting, missions, Baptist theology, church discipline, the exposition of the Word of God and prayer,” Patterson said.
6) SBC entities will be “committed to freedom of religion, absolute freedom of religion and religious autonomy.”
While individual believers, local churches, state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention are autonomous, Patterson noted: “It doesn’t mean any of us are autonomous from the Word of God. But it does mean that we are free to seek the leadership of the Holy Spirit and find out what in the Scripture is the right way.”
7) SBC entities are “determined to work with our state conventions … to serve our churches.”
Some difficulties have arisen at times in recent years, Patterson acknowledged, while noting that SBC leaders “recognize the strategic importance of the state conventions.”
“[W]e’re going to work with the state conventions, and they with us,” Patterson emphasized, “as all of us together try to do the one thing we’re supposed to do, and that is to be the servants of the local churches.
“Remember, headquarters is still in the local church,” he said, “and that’s one of the things that makes Baptists so very, very unique,” though it also leads to “all sorts of wonderful problems.”
“But I’d rather have those wonderful problems,” Patterson said, “than … the kind of hierarchies that exist in most denominations.”
The SBC structure rooted in the local church, he added, is “what enabled us to see a day when we, by a grassroots movement, could turn the convention back to the faith of its fathers.”
8) SBC entities will be “the arch advocates of the biblical guidelines for the family,” Patterson said.
“Almost every problem we have in America, whether it is pornography, divorce, child abuse and spouse abuse, you name it, it relates to having violated the biblical guidelines for a family.”
SBC agencies “are more committed this day than ever before to putting the family issue on the front burner and saying as we did in [the family article added last year to the Baptist Faith in Message] we are going to be the champions of the family whether anybody else comes along for the ride or not.”