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Rankin addresses COSBE, focuses on Acts 1:8 mandate

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–Southern Baptists should embrace all four dimensions of Acts 1:8 — taking the Gospel both locally and internationally — International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin told members of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists in Greensboro, N.C., June 10 during their annual retreat.

“It’s not a geographical sequence (in Acts 1:8) — not Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria and then the uttermost parts of the earth,” Rankin told approximately 150 conferees attending the annual event, held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Rather, Rankin said, churches should embrace and express concern for missions in their own communities as well as in places the Gospel hasn’t been preached.

“God hasn’t given permission for anyone to draw a circle around their community,” Rankin said. “It’s a full package. It’s not an ‘either-or.’ The heart of God is to reach the whole world.”

During the COSBE business meeting June 12, a proposal for an Acts 1:8 strategy for 2006-07 garnered unanimous support from members. The strategy proposed numerous recommendations on how members of COSBE may work with local churches, SBC entities, state conventions and Baptist associations in evangelism and missions. COSBE President Bill Britt said the strategy “complements the SBC’s Acts 1:8 strategy.”

Citing Old Testament examples, such as the calling of Abraham and of the nation of Israel, Rankin said that the Great Commission wasn’t a “new” command from God.

“The Great Commission was just a reminder and reinforcement that the heart of God was to reach the nations and the ends of the earth,” Rankin said. “Where are the uttermost parts of the earth? It’s those places where people have yet to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Rankin expressed sorrow over those who die without having heard the Gospel.

“People will say, ‘How can we say they’re condemned to hell?’ — that surely a merciful and loving God would not condemn them to hell,” Rankin said. “But they are condemned by their sin. I’ve been challenged on that point, and I say it deliberately.”

A Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami that struck the coastlines of countries around the Indian Ocean provided a stark reminder about the pressing need for global missions, Rankin said.

“Even in my own heart, that task of going into all the world reached a new urgency,” Rankin recounted, adding that a quarter of a million people likely died lost. “They lived in a place that never had access to the lifesaving message of Jesus Christ.”

Southern Baptists must not entertain the notion that those who die without Christ will be saved, Rankin said. If such an idea were true, he said, then Christians should never again share the Gospel or mention the name of Christ to a lost person.

Rankin thanked the members of COSBE for their concern for evangelism, saying they “share our heart for a lost world.”

During the retreat, Britt said COSBE members gained insights on “how they can partner with the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board.”

“I think we’ve been encouraged and motivated to strengthen our ministries to reach out further into the whole world,” said Britt, a full-time evangelist based in Gallatin, Tenn.

During the next year, Britt noted, NAMB and COSBE will launch an initiative to help “low baptism and no-baptism” churches develop customized evangelistic strategies for reaching their communities.

More information on the initiative will be announced in the months to come, including details on how some churches “who feel like they can’t afford to have a full-time evangelist come preach” can have financial assistance, Britt said.

Toby Frost, NAMB’s senior director of strategic evangelism coordination, said the retreat “provides fellowship and encouragement to a group that I consider the brightest and best in Southern Baptist life — namely our vocational evangelists. Here they get to receive inspiration, fellowship and the ‘cross-networking’ of ideas.”

He affirmed the evangelists for “trying to articulate a cogent Acts 1:8 strategy for reaching Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. Many of our evangelists are specialists in one of these areas.”

Victor Benavides, associate in personal and mass evangelism at NAMB, said the retreat was especially important since COSBE members often travel constantly.

“This is a time to help rejuvenate our evangelists because they’re on the road so much,” Benavides said. “It gives them a time of refreshment and encouragement.”

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  • Keith Hinson