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Patterson urges SSB employees to be active witnesses of faith


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“I plead with you, set the highest goal of all — to do as much personal soul-winning as you do preaching, talking and analyzing about it,” Paige Patterson challenged employees of the Sunday School Board May 22.
Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., who is expected to be nominated June 9 as Southern Baptist Convention president, spoke at the service commemorating the SSB’s 107th anniversary.
“We live in a postmodern era when it’s going to be easier to talk about and analyze the matter of witness than it is to do it,” Patterson said.
The main difference between the modern and postmodern periods, he said, is that truth still existed in the modern era.
“In the postmodern era, people have given up on truth altogether. All truth is merely social convention, postmodernists believe,” Patterson said.
However, he emphasized, “There is a God who exists to whom we are absolutely accountable and truth to which we must respond.”
In his message from the 11th chapter of Revelation, Patterson described two unidentified witnesses who, despite humiliation, “just kept on witnessing up to the point of their death.”
He called on SBC agency employees to set a positive example in being witnesses.
“We owe it to the churches that sustain us to set the example of personal witness and evangelism. How can we expect the churches to do that if you don’t, if professors aren’t daily practitioners?” he asked.
Out of his desire to be a more active witness, Patterson said he reads his Bible as he travels by plane, not only for his own edification but to solicit questions from persons sitting beside him. He told the story of witnessing to a young man from Australia who turned out to be the brother-in-law of a Southeastern student. Unknown to Patterson, the sister, brother-in-law and mother of the young man had prayed that he would sit beside a Christian on the plane.
While he did not become a Christian on that flight, Patterson had another opportunity to witness to him before he left to return to Australia. He did accept Christ as his Savior, was later called as a missionary and is now serving in Norway.
“There is no joy like the joy of spiritual midwifery,” Patterson said. “Could that be the calling in my life, in your life?”
In a world where everyone will spend eternity in heaven or hell, “anything we might think of doing pales into insignificance” compared to being witnesses, he concluded.
Earlier, James L. Sullivan, who served as SSB president, 1953-75, told the humorous story of how his title came to be changed from executive secretary to president.
Sullivan, 88, said he had asked trustees to consider a title change because of confusion by those who thought an executive secretary was a person who supervised other secretaries. Also, he said, Tennessee law required that he fill out an affidavit every time he signed a contract for the board affirming that, in fact, he was the chief executive officer and his duties were those of president.
After receiving a letter from a woman who expressed concern about the theology outlined in an SSB periodical, Sullivan wrote her a response and left the country for an international Baptist meeting. Upon his return, he had an irate second letter from the woman who questioned Sullivan’s audacity, as an executive secretary, in responding to a letter about theological issues.
She requested that he “pass my letter on to someone who knows something about the word of God.” Upon sharing that incident with the appropriate trustee committee, his title was unanimously changed to president, Sullivan quipped.
“Our listening ear is always to the masses of Baptists,” he said. “It must remain that way.”
SSB President James T. Draper Jr. noted that the 1998 Anniversary Day could be the last observance under the name Sunday School Board, if SBC messengers in Salt Lake City this June approve a proposed change to LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
He expressed support for the new name which is rooted in Christ’s words in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, except through me.”
A new name represents “an opportunity to rededicate the heart and soul and mission of the Sunday School Board,” Draper said.

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  • Linda Lawson