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Pressler: Seminarians responsible for future of Southern Baptists

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Paul Pressler passed his legacy to a generation of ministers-in-training at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary April 15, saying that the “future of Southern Baptists” was in their hands.

Pressler, a former Houston judge, spoke in chapel at the Texas seminary for the first time, and used the occasion to reflect on the future of denominations in general and the Southern Baptist Convention specifically.

Pressler and Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson are considered the architects of the Conservative Resurgence, the movement that returned the Southern Baptist Convention to its historical roots.

Beginning with the 1979 convention in Houston, Pressler and Patterson spearheaded a tireless and concerted campaign which resulted in the election of Adrian Rogers as president. In each convention since, a conservative has been elected to the presidency.

Over two decades, Pressler and Patterson saw their efforts bear fruit as, one by one, the entities and seminaries were once again operated and led by people who held orthodox views of Scripture.

Pressler warned, cajoled, joked with, and exhorted Southwestern Seminary students to do the work of an evangelist. He related how a young graduate student recently asked him why denominations were necessary.

“I immediately said denominations were necessary to do the things that a local church cannot do,” Pressler said. “And then I have been thinking of it a whole lot more. There is a second reason … Every brand has a label so that you know what ingredients are in the brand that you are considering.”

Pressler said he is a Southern Baptist for two primary reasons.

“Southern Baptists are doctrinally biblical and correct, and Southern Baptists have a methodology that no other group has that can be utilized for winning this world for Jesus Christ,” he said.

For Pressler, Southern Baptist methodology is demonstrated by the SBC’s establishment of six seminaries and its support of missionaries.

Southern Baptist seminaries educate 30 percent of all non-Catholic seminary students around the world,” Pressler said.

“That is an awesome responsibility,” he said. “There is no other group of people that has that track record of seminary education.”

He highlighted the fact that Southern Baptist missionaries do not have to raise their own financial support.

“God calls them, Southern Baptists supply the money, and they do not have to waste years in deputation work to get to the field,” Pressler said.

Lamenting the apparent decline in denominational loyalty, Pressler expressed wonder at “people who will go to a church practicing infant baptism just because they like the music or because they find the people friendlier.”

“We must evaluate everything based on doctrine,” he said. “Think about it. As you are educated by a Southern Baptist institution, you have the privilege of working with Southern Baptists. … I hope we will realize the importance of staying together and the opportunities given to us by God. God has gifted us, but with the gifting comes responsibility.”

Pressler shifted attention to the Apostle Paul’s ethical and pastoral advice found throughout 2 Timothy.

“We must be strong in the grace, attending to the faith, enjoying the fruits of the grace that is given to us, and we must utilize that which has been given to us by God,” Pressler said, referring to 2 Timothy 2:1.

Each generation of Christians is responsible to pass the message of the grace of God on the next generation, he said.

Pressler described Paul as a man who grew up with so many privileges. Paul had an outstanding education, a valuable citizenship, and was on the fast track to power within the political structure of first century Palestine. But after Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, all his earthly competence and perquisites became secondary to the cause of Christ, Pressler said.

“He was in jail, awaiting execution because he endured hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” Pressler said. “Paul instructed Timothy to do likewise, and through the Holy Spirit each one of us is also instructed to do likewise.”

It is important for the next generation of Southern Baptist leaders to “study to show [themselves] approved of God.”

Pressler joked that “study” was a four-letter word among many seminarians.

“It is not something that any of us really enjoy … but none of us are born with knowledge. Knowledge is obtained through hard work. Part of the regimen is studying.”

Pressler warned that “those of us who have not prepared sufficiently to proclaim the Gospel will make hash of the proclamation of God’s truth because we do not know how to answer the questions that are posed to us.”

Ministers of God’s word are also called to “shun vain babblings,” Pressler said.

“Don’t go listen to all these people that have a new theory that glorifies the sayer and not the Savior…. If it glorifies the sayer, leave it alone. If it is the dispensing of the truth of God, adhere to it,” he said.

“Flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness” are two sides of the same coin,” Pressler said. “My heart breaks as I see those who have had a ministry for our Savior, whose ministry is destroyed, and the lives of numerous Christians are destroyed, by infidelity,” Pressler said. “We cannot sacrifice all that God has given us to satisfy the desires of the flesh.”

Paul exhorted Timothy to “continue in what you have learned,” Pressler noted.

“The emphasis is so much here on avoiding false teachers, not compromising with false teachers, but to adhering to the truth of God,” Pressler said.

“The old Gospel story should never give way to intellectual attacks. The old Gospel story glorifies the Savior. The intellectual sophistication that deals in a lot of technical things that do not center back on the Lord Jesus is not appropriate.

“The future of Southern Baptists is in your hands. The future of the Gospel witness is in your hands.”

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  • Brent Thompson