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WRAP-UP SBC takes gospel to Salt Lake City, elects Paige Patterson as president


SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–Within sight of the Mormon Temple, on the Temple Square grounds and throughout the greater Salt Lake City area, Southern Baptists proclaimed a message of saving faith in Jesus Christ during their June 9-11 annual meeting and in an array of evangelistic initiatives.
Paige Patterson, a leading figure in the 20-year-old conservative resurgence, is the SBC’s new president. Elected by acclamation, the North Carolina seminary president succeeds Tom Elliff, an Oklahoma City-area pastor who served the traditional two one-year terms in office.
Underscoring the Bible’s teachings on the family, messengers overwhelmingly adopted an addition to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement declaring, “Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”
The new BFM article also notes, “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. … A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. … A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”
The SBC’s 1 millionth messenger — a surprised Jennette C. Briggs of Fort Worth, Texas — was registered during the Salt Lake City meeting, which drew 8,586 messengers from 47 states to the city’s Salt Palace Convention Center. Another SBC in the West, 1973 in Portland, Ore., was the last time registration dipped below 9,000. Last year’s count in Dallas was 12,420.
Beyond the spires of the Mormon Temple, the Utah state capital provided messengers at the 141st session in the SBC’s 153-year history with the unusual June sight of the Rocky Mountains’ snow-capped Wasatch Front. Southern Baptists, meanwhile, provided Salt Lake City with its largest-ever evangelical gathering.
In the home base of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Southern Baptists spread a gospel message that challenged a multitude of extra-biblical LDS doctrines, such as a god who was once a man with flesh and bones.
A video, “The Mormon Puzzle,” produced by the SBC’s North American Mission Board’s interfaith witness team, familiarized Baptists across the country with Mormon beliefs. But the 2,000 Crossover volunteers who made their way to Salt Lake City to work alongside local Southern Baptist churches also encountered plenty of non-LDS residents in door-to-door and street witnessing and evangelistic block parties.
In all, more than 1,000 professions of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior were recorded through Crossover, which was supported by a NAMB-sponsored media campaign, including several TV spots, one featuring Olympic gold medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton.
A block party and other Crossover activities at First Southern Baptist Church of Salt Lake City, for example, resulted in more than 100 professions of faith, including a man who came by the church and “just said ‘I’m LDS, I’m not happy with that anymore, and I would like to have a Bible,'” recounted Cherry Barfoot, a Crossover volunteer from Texas who led the man to faith in Christ.
In addition to personal contact with Mormons and non-Mormons, the local newspapers, TV and radio stations accorded Southern Baptists an area-wide witness.
“Anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation is going to heaven, regardless of denomination,” Tennessee pastor Emerson Wiles was quoted as saying on the Sunday front page of The Salt Lake Tribune. “From my study of their religion,” the Crossover participant told the reporter, “their Jesus is not the same as my Jesus.”
The reporter then asked, “So does that mean faithful Mormons are headed for a happy hereafter?”
“No,” said Wiles. “That’s why I’m here.”
The Mormon-owned Desert News, meanwhile, carried a five-part series on Southern Baptists just prior to the convention, which included an explanation of salvation from a Baptist viewpoint. “When people have faith in and a personal relationship with Jesus,” the writer recounted, “they are ‘saved’ through the atoning blood of Christ only and will ultimately go to heaven. Good works naturally follow this ‘born again’ state but have nothing to do with actually being saved.”
To the mix, messengers added a resolution, “On the True Christian Gospel,” with 14 clauses expounding on the historic Christian faith. “All Christians are called to give a reason for the hope that is within them,” one of the clauses notes, “to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and to proclaim its truth to all people everywhere.” Patterson, 55, in a news conference after his election, voiced appreciation that Baptists and Mormons share common concerns on many of the moral issues facing America, but he lamented that “we are light years apart doctrinally. … I hope for a day when Mormon friends would say Jesus is the only way to be saved and by grace alone.”
In voting to add a family article to the Baptist Faith and Message, messengers embraced the work of a seven-member committee created in response to a motion at last year’s annual meeting in Dallas by a messenger from Baltimore, Charles Lawson, who contended, “The very meaning of family has been redefined by those whose agenda it is to include homosexual couples and generalized to include any two (or more) people living together.”
Every line of the four-paragraph BFM family article “is deeply rooted in the clear teaching of Scripture,” said committee chairman Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “While cultural standards are like shifting sand, this article stands on the firm foundation of the Word of God.”
Messengers’ approval of the article followed votes that, also by wide margins, turned down two amendments. One proposed change called for “husband and wife … to submit graciously to each other,” while the other urged that single adults, widows and widowers and childless couples be included as “biblical expressions of the family.” The family article marked the first addition to the Baptist Faith and Message since a 1963 revision of the document first adopted in 1925.
“‘Submit’ is not a negative word,” said Mary Mohler, one of the seven committee members and the wife of R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. “It may be a politically incorrect word. It may not be a popular word,” she said. “But it is a biblically correct word, and that is what counts.”
In a resolution, meanwhile, messengers voted to affirm “marriage covenant” initiatives by state governments and local church groups to strengthen marriages and families.
The convention’s final speaker, James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, addressed a gamut of moral concerns, starting with martyred and persecuted Christians around the world who receive “very little” support even from conservative churches in the West. Targeting abortion, his comments drew extended applause: “They call it partial-birth abortion. That’s not what it is. It’s murder during delivery.” Of teen killings, violent video games, sexual immorality, babies born without a father in the home and gambling, Dobson said, “We’re a sick nation … suffering from the disease of sin.” Among comments addressed directly to the SBC, Dobson said: “Thank you this week for your defense of the family.”
Patterson, president since 1992 of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., is the first seminary president to serve as SBC president since the 1939-40 term of L.R. Scarborough, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.
Of Patterson’s lead role efforts in the conservative resurgency, James Merritt, a Georgia pastor who nominated Patterson, said, “Because of his commitment to his beloved Southern Baptist Convention, he was willing to lay his personal reputation and denominational future on the line in calling Southern Baptists back to their biblical roots.”
Patterson is a former president of Criswell College in Dallas, a doctor of theology graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the son the late T.A. Patterson who served 14 years as executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Serving with Patterson as the SBC’s new officers will be Rick Ferguson, first vice president, who is pastor of Denver’s Riverside Baptist Church, and Mike Gray, second vice president, who is pastor of Salt Lake City’s Southeast Baptist Church. Messengers re-elected longtime registration secretary Lee Porter, a retired denominational worker now living in Lawrenceville, Ga., and recording secretary John Yeats, editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger.
Previous milestones before the SBC reached this year’s 1-million mark in messenger registration included the 1975 meeting in Miami and the 1930 meeting in New Orleans, when the 500,000 and 100,000 marks, respectively, were passed. After the first SBC meeting in Augusta in 1845 with 293 messengers, it took 43 years to break the 10,000-messenger mark.
Of the 1 million messengers who have attended SBC annual meetings, 45 percent, or approximately 450,000, have registered during Porter’s 22-year tenure.
Briggs, the 1 millionth messenger, is director of alumni relations at Southwestern Seminary and a member of University Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, who has been attending SBC annual meetings more than 40 years.