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WRAP-UP SIDEBAR Leaders looking toward a more evangelistic SBC


SALT LAKE CITY (BP)-While conservatives prevailed in the Southern Baptist Convention’s theological struggle, an equally serious matter is rising to the top of their agenda, key SBC leaders noted during the convention’s June 9-11 annual meeting in Salt Lake City.
The SBC must become more evangelistic, they said.
Paige Patterson, the convention’s new president, for example, announced weeks before his election his call for the SBC to aim for 1 million baptisms during the year 2000 — 500,000 baptisms in the United States and 500,000 in its overseas efforts, up from 412,000 stateside baptisms during 1997 and 283,100 overseas. Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, said of his election as SBC president, “If people are enthusiastic about missions and evangelism, they’re probably going to feel good about this. If not, then they’d probably rather have someone else.”
The 500,000 U.S. baptismal goal is akin to the Bold Mission Thrust 1995-2000 goal of 2.5 million baptisms, or 500,000 per year, adopted at the 1987 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis. Bold Mission Thrust was launched at the 1976 annual meeting in Norfolk, Va., as the SBC strategy for sharing the gospel with every person in the world by the year 2000. No specific overseas goal, meanwhile, has been set by the SBC. James Merritt, who delivered this year’s convention sermon, stated, “Yes, we have turned this denomination around theologically, but it is now time we turn this denomination around evangelistically.”
Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., in suburban Atlanta and chairman of the SBC’s Executive Committee, cited statistics showing that while baptisms are up over the last few years, nearly 25 percent of SBC churches report no baptisms at all. Also, he said, while it took 19 Southern Baptists in 1950 “to win a soul to Christ and baptize him,” today it takes 39.
Bob Reccord, president of the SBC’s new North American Mission Board, signaled during the agency’s inaugural report to the convention a new emphasis on inspiring an evangelistic spirit in each individual Southern Baptist.
“As gifted as these wonderful (missionaries) are and as committed to the mission of reaching North America as we are,” Reccord said, “our strategic planning process has led us unanimously to the same conclusion: The key to reaching North America for Christ is God renewing the evangelistic soul of our churches.
“Our prayer is for a growing network of on-mission Christians and on-mission churches that will partner as never before in evangelistic and church-planting strategies throughout North America,” Reccord said.
Even the president of the Baptist World Alliance, Brazilian pastor Nilson Fanini, observed during a BWA breakfast in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting, “In the U.S., you have big church buildings and many of the Christians in them are asleep.
Fanini, who has made evangelism the key emphasis of his five-year BWA presidency, said, “America has done a lot for the other countries of the world. Praise the Lord for America. But it is time to save America again.”
From a global standpoint, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin asked during the agency’s report to messengers, “What would happen if exalting the unchanging Christ among the nations became the priority for Southern Baptists that it represents in the heart of God? Would it be unreasonable to anticipate that one out of every 1,000 church members would respond to God’s call — which would mean not 5,000 but 16,000 missionaries?”
In a word to preachers, outgoing SBC President Tom Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., in suburban Oklahoma City, took note in his presidential address of those who have “self-destructed in the throes of personal immorality.” Thus, these preachers have been reduced to offering “the pablum of positive thinking” to their congregations, Elliff said, “because they are too embarrassed to preach before their own wives and children who know they are preaching about a standard they do not practice at home.”
In other news of note during the June 9-11 SBC annual meeting in Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace Convention Center:
— Targeting a recent executive order by President Clinton prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in the federal civilian workforce, messengers voiced opposition to “government endorsement, sanction, recognition, acceptance, or civil rights advantage on the basis of homosexuality.” The resolution also urged Congress to nullify the order.
Another resolution, on the personal integrity and morality of public officials, called on government leaders “to live by the highest standards of morality, both in their private actions and in their public duties.” While not citing U.S. President and fellow Southern Baptist Bill Clinton by name, the resolution insists no Americans, including politicians, are above the law.
— Two motions asking that the 2000 site of the SBC annual meeting be moved from Orlando, Fla., were referred to the convention’s Executive Committee, upon recommendation from the Committee on Order of Business. Another motion, also referred to the Executive Committee, proposed to criticize the City of Orlando for flying “363 homosexual flags in their city streets” when nearby Disney World hosted what has come to be an annual “Gay Day” drawing many homosexuals to the Florida theme park.
Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Buena Park, Calif., proposed one of the motions, suggesting New York City as an alternative site. Drake, whose church is located a few miles from Disneyland, has been an outspoken proponent of Southern Baptists’ boycott against the Disney Company. At the 1996 SBC annual meeting, Drake spearheaded a successful effort to toughen the language of a resolution that laid the groundwork for the 1997 boycott.
Herb Hollinger, vice president for convention news for the Executive Committee, said in a Baptist Press release that the proposal to relocate may present problems since three major contracts have already been signed with hotels in Orlando and a letter of agreement has been signed with the Orlando Convention Center. One of the motions, however, proposed moving the convention “even at considerable cost to underscore our resolutions on Disney and opposing homosexuality and consistent with the revised (Baptist) Faith and Message article on the family.”
Patterson, commenting on the boycott in a news conference, noted that many other organizations are “as deeply into sin as Disney,” but cited an “integrity problem” on Disney’s part by its claim “to be an organization trying to make family life in America better.”
— Two motions proposing studies to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention also were referred to the Executive Committee.
— The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention became LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in a show-of-hands vote by messengers, with only a scattering of votes against the new name. Although messenger action allows the entity to begin immediate use of the name, a corresponding amendment to SBC bylaws will require a second vote by SBC messengers in 1999.
The change, at the recommendation of SSB trustees and the SBC Executive Committee, came in recognition of the SSB’s vastly expanded role since its 1891 founding with the sole assignment of producing Sunday school literature for churches. Today, that assignment comprises only 25 percent of the agency’s work, SSB President James T. Draper Jr. told messengers.
“Over the years the convention has given us tremendous additional work such as discipleship, music, bookstores, conference centers, trade publishing, drama, media library, architecture, worship, Christian schools, home schools, etc.,” said Draper. In addition, he said, the agency recently has taken an expanded role in new partnerships with the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.
Draper said the name LifeWay is based on John 14:6, in which Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the father except by me.” — In an unusual parliamentary move, a messenger’s motion succeeded in amending the Committee on Resolution’s final report on the disposition of proposed resolutions to call on SBC President Paige Patterson to communicate Southern Baptists’ support of the nation of Israel in its refusal to withdraw from land the country “deems necessary for its security.” Another messenger’s attempt to further amend the report to express the convention’s support for a strong U.S. military and decrying the decline in the U.S. defense budget was defeated.
Among several resolutions adopted by messengers: opposition to the use of women in combat and to the “public funding of religious bigotry,” citing various examples relating to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System.
— The SBC annual meeting will be reduced from three days to two beginning in 1999, by a vote of messengers this year. Convention sessions will end Wednesday night rather than Thursday at noon, with time reserved on Wednesday afternoons for “seminary luncheons and other necessary meetings.”
— A $155,005,723 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget for 1998-99 was approved by messengers . The new budget represents a $6.8 million increase over the 1997-98 budget and is based on actual receipts for 1996-97. Also adopted: a 1998-99 convention operating budget of $6,175,185.
— Jerry Falwell and seven other members of his congregation, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., were among the messengers to the 1998 annual meeting — bringing the nationally recognized independent Baptist pastor one step closer to unqualified identification as a Southern Baptist.
Falwell first became affiliated with Southern Baptists in 1996, when his church gave $1,000 to Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, a recognized state convention affiliated with the SBC. Fifty percent of that contribution went to the SBC and made the church a cooperating Southern Baptist congregation, although Falwell said at the time in at least one reported newspaper interview that he had no interest in participating in SBC annual meetings. In a statement to Baptist Press at the time, however, Falwell said, “… we fully intend to take our permanent stand with the national and Virginia Bible-believing conservatives who have rescued the Southern Baptist Convention from theological liberalism.”
Thomas Road was among 108 churches approved last year for unique affiliation with Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia as opposed to dual affiliation with the Baptist General Association of Virginia and SBCV.