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Southern Baptists: Rescue the perishing, Whitten urges

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Blending conservative resurgence history, a text out of Acts 27 and a line from a hymn, Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., delivered the Southern Baptist Convention sermon June 22 in Nashville, Tenn.

Praising the integrity of messengers who have clung to the inerrant, infallible and sufficient Scripture since 1979, Whitten said, “I’d rather have 15,000 people in unity than 45,000 people fighting each other.”

Using the illustration of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 as “a metaphor for life,” Whitten said a denomination like the SBC can be preserved if it heeds four warnings and drops four anchors found in Acts 27:9-44, where the Apostle Paul survived a shipwreck.

The Fanny Crosby hymn “Rescue the Perishing,” which captures the spirit of the SBC’s unfolding “‘Everyone Can’ Kingdom Challenge! … Witness, Win and Baptize One Million,” is a vivid example of how to achieve the goal, Whitten said.

“That’s the song, that’s the question for this generation,” Whitten said.

Whitten set out to honor all of the SBC presidents since 1979 and dozens of other Southern Baptist pastors and laymen who have formed the backbone of the conservative resurgence. Listing every SBC president from Adrian Rogers in 1979 to Bobby Welch, who was re-elected June 21, he also showed video clips of Rogers, Jerry Vines and the late W.A. Criswell to emphasize various points within his sermon.

Messengers also viewed a historic clip from the 1997 annual meeting in Dallas when six Southern Baptist seminary presidents signed a covenant between the seminaries and the churches to produce biblically sound graduates.

“We are indebted to those men,” Whitten said.

The conservative resurgence, Whitten preached, was more about integrity than it was about power, politics, personalities or position. Because of this emphasis on integrity within the denomination, Whitten reasoned that Southern Baptists are better equipped to rescue the perishing and care for the dying souls that Welch, another Floridian, has so highly prioritized.

The alternative would have led to the demise of the SBC much like the sinking of the Titanic, with Southern Baptists compromising, compartmentalizing and capsizing the faith.

Just before Whitten delivered his sermon, his wife, Ginny, who planned the June 21 Ministers’ Wives’ Conference luncheon on the first day of the annual meeting, stepped to the platform to pray.

“May we never forget the great shoulders that we stand on,” she said.

In explaining the four warnings he said are needed to preserve the SBC, Ken Whitten highlighted the consequences of doubting, drifting, discarding and despairing.

Doubting is the first warning given to a wavering denomination, Whitten said. When counsel, consensus and convenience are preferred over convictions, a denomination may be headed for shipwreck.

Drifting is what Paul experienced physically in the Acts 27:14-15 shipwreck account, with Whitten noted that Paul knew it was too dangerous to sail. But, as a prisoner, the apostle had no say in the matter. Today, Christians can be “driven by the wind of culture rather than the Word of conscience,” Whitten said.

Of discarding, Whitten said cargo, food and tackle were tossed from the ship, which Whitten equated to when Christians begin to give up their faith and their friends because they have been caught up in sinful pursuits.

Finally, the fourth warning, of despairing, is when one is left without hope (Acts 27:20).

In response to the crisis, Paul throws out the four anchors — God’s presence, God’s purpose, God’s promises and God’s provision — that can still moor us today, Whitten said.

Paul expressed confidence in who God is and how God viewed his destiny, Whitten said. That led to him believing the promise of God (Acts 27:25) and accepting the favor of God (Acts 27:44).

It is instructive that all of those sailing on the ship with Paul managed to get safely to land, Whitten said.

“I love this denomination,” he said. “This denomination was born in the spirit of missions and evangelism, and we may differ when it comes to styles of worship, and whether you have church on Sunday nights. You may even call Sunday School ‘life groups,’ you may call it ‘small groups’ [or] you may call it ‘Bible fellowship.’

“But bless God, can’t we all agree [that] God gave us a denomination which is a collection of churches to be salt and light and to rescue the perishing and care for the dying?”

Whitten closed his message by asking, “If Fanny Crosby, with those blind eyes, could be here today, you know what she’d say?

“Rescue the perishing,” Whitten said, “care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave. Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.”

And the messengers responded by singing, “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”

    About the Author

  • Allen Palmeri