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SBC leader urges conservatives to reflect Christlike behavior

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–Issuing a call for a kinder, gentler and more loving witness, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention said March 1 the world needs to see conservative evangelicals presenting an authentic Christianity.
“What would happen in 2001 if God’s people began to act like God’s people?” Paige Patterson asked at the 33rd annual conference of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in Austin, Texas.
“One of the tragedies in our world today is that there are conservative, Bible-believing Christians whose lives do not match their professions [of faith],” said Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He expressed concern with those “who are often unkind, uncharitable and un-Christlike in how they express the gospel and how they establish the mandate of God.”
A Christian’s life is the frame that holds the gospel, Patterson said, recalling a visit to an art museum where he noted how the poor condition of a painting’s frame detracted from the beauty of the painting.
“While the frame is not really important, it’s the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that is important,” Patterson said. “But if the frame is ugly and marred, sometimes people won’t hear the message because of the ugliness of the messenger.
“I believe we have come to a stage in America when no longer are we going to be heard if our lives do not stand behind our witness,” Patterson said, not citing specific instances but saying he was “preaching to preachers.” He said Christians must find a way to say to even those with whom they are in diametric opposition: “We love you in Jesus Christ.”
“Let your life be without hypocrisy,” Patterson said, echoing Romans 12:9 and explaining a hypocrite was originally an actor in a Greek play or drama who would play a multitude of characters by donning different masks.
“When our lives are inconsistent with our professions, we become hypocrites,” he said, adding that “a watching world is looking at every move we make.”
“The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God,” Patterson insisted during the ERLC’s “Faith, Family, and Freedom: The Moral Challenges of the Next Millennium” conference at Austin’s Great Hills Baptist Church.
Christians who are crestfallen with the state of society and the crisis in the culture on the eve of the new millennium should take heart, he said, noting the world is looking for those who have a solution to the hurt and hopelessness they are feeling.
“What an opportunity,” Patterson exclaimed. “The more bad things that happen, the more people begin to realize there are no worldly solutions.” He said answers will not be found within the realm of government or public policy, though still urging Christians to be active in the public square.
“There is no place where the superiority of Christian faith becomes so apparent as when you are in middle of trouble and tribulation,” Patterson said, looking again to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans wherein Paul urged Christians there to persevere in their trials.
“I don’t know anybody happier than a Spirit-filled child of God,” Patterson said. “There’s no room for complaining. We are to be rejoicing in hope.
“When you are worn out, you stay with it,” Patterson insisted, saying the text paints the picture of someone laboring under a heavy load. “The world is going to listen when you are framing the beautiful picture of the gospel.”
A Christian’s response to those who persecute and attack colors the gospel to which a believer is to be witnessing, Patterson said. The Apostle Paul’s call to heap burning coals upon the head of an enemy, as recorded in verse 20 of Romans 12, is not a statement of retribution but a statement of the conviction the Spirit of God brings upon an individual as a result of a Christian’s faithful and true portrayal of the gospel, he said.
One of the toughest passages in all the Bible is the verse that makes clear vengeance is the Lord’s, Patterson suggested. “’I will repay,’ says the Lord; our responsibility is to bless those who persecute us,” he said. “Bless and not curse.”

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  • Dwayne Hastings