SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–Just as a ship at sea is constantly subjected to powerful forces that would either drive it or draw it off course, Southern Baptist Convention President Tom Elliff warned June 9 that the Southern Baptist ship is subject to a similar fate.
While his president’s address focused on holiness, harvest and hope, Elliff developed his introduction as a means of thanking those who “rescued our ship from peril” in recent years of the conservative resurgence.
“The blowing winds of cultural change, currents of popular humanistic thought and theological tides are all relentlessly working against the course God has established for us,” Elliff said.
“It is to God alone that we must give thanks for frequently raising among us voices of warning, voices which have called us to the alarm when Southern Baptists began to stray from a course which was soundly Christ-centered, Word-driven, missions-focused and Spirit-empowered,” he said.
He cited an early movement in Southern Baptist history toward societal missions that offered “a veritable smorgasbord of societies,” with varying levels of proven success, doctrinal soundness and screening, accessibility to smaller churches and accountability to local churches.
The Cooperative Program emerged out of a desire to find a better way of supporting mission endeavors, Elliff said, drawing applause from messengers.
And while Southern Baptist churches depend upon ministers trained at seminaries which receive funding from the Cooperative Program, Elliff recalled a day when the seminaries were battered by “the storms of modernism and postmodernism, lulled into the doldrums of neo-orthodoxy or lashed by the riptides of universalism.”
Elliff termed what followed “a rumbling of discontent” which he said some labeled as “a mutinous takeover by a handful of malcontents.” The Oklahoma pastor said that “Southern Baptists as a whole saw the necessity of a God-ordained take-back so that the course would once again be established on the inerrant and infallible Word of God.”
As a result, Elliff said he believes Southern Baptists today can expect those who come from the denomination’s seminaries to be “God-called, missions-sensitive, theologically sound, fire-baptized soul-winners.”
Cultural forces also seek to invade and erode the structure of the Southern Baptist ship, Elliff said. “Under the guise of openness or tolerance, the traditional, biblically supported definitions of the family, marriage, the roles of man and woman in the home are taking a beating in the media by entertainment giants and by some of our highest officials in this land, both elected and appointed.” He praised Southern Baptists for refusing to be intimidated by forces that run contrary to the Scripture, encouraging them to adopt an amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message which declares a biblical view of the family.
Before presenting the focus of his message on the unchangeable Christ, Elliff warned of the continuing need to remove barnacles which attach themselves to the understructure of a ship.
Applying his analogy to the SBC, Elliff expressed gratitude to those who “stood flat-footed, iron-backed and broad-shouldered and would speak with such prophetic force that the very hull of the ship reverberated with their thunder,” he said.
Such declarations “shook off the barnacles of parasitic unions, conferences and fellowships, no matter how baptistic or cooperative they seemed to be,” Elliff argued. Without the courage of those who acted on their convictions, Elliff said he believes Southern Baptists would have been relegated to a growing list of “denominational has-beens.”
“I believe for the cause of Christ we need to pray for more of that prophetic thunder.”