The pressing question & how to deal with it

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--What is the pressing theological question for this generation? And how are preachers supposed to deal with it?

Such questions were at the forefront of sermons delivered to more than 7,000 pastors, their wives, church staff members and others at the 2004 Pastor's Conference hosted by the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 31-Feb. 3.

O.S. Hawkins, president of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, was among the speakers who focused on the first question, while Jerry Vines, pastor of the Jacksonville church, examined the second.

Jesus posed many questions during His earthly ministry -- questions designed to reveal something about the person being asked, Hawkins said. Jesus' questions have continued to convict hearts and minds of His followers over the centuries, Hawkins said. "Each generation throughout church history," he said, "had a question of their time."

The great question for Christians in the early 21st century, Hawkins said, is found in Matthew 16:15, "Who do you say that I am?"

"The exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the issue of our time in a culture of inclusivism and pluralism," with Christians today in no less a struggle to answer that question than previous generations struggled to answer questions about the divine nature of Jesus or salvation by grace through faith alone, Hawkins said.

Pastors must take the lead in answering the question of the exclusivity of Jesus as the only way for salvation, Hawkins said, pointing out that there are two kinds of leaders: those who lead by public consensus and those who lead by personal conviction.

Those who lead by public consensus consult polls before they take a stand, Hawkins said; they pander to people and avoid confronting culture or challenging public opinion. Their leadership fosters pluralistic compromise, the attitude that Jesus is just one of many paths to salvation.

Leadership by public consensus, Hawkins said, also leads to politically correct inclusivism -- the idea that although Christ died for our sins, He automatically saved every human being so there is no need for a conversion experience.

"Pluralism affects our doctrine and message," Hawkins said. "Inclusivism affects our duty, mission and methods. Have you ever noticed that churches that become liberal stop sending out missionaries?"

Vines, addressing the question of how pastors are to respond to the pressing issues of our generation, turned to the Apostle Paul's second letter to Timothy, particularly in 2 Timothy 4:1-8. Interspersing his sermon with video clips of the late R.G. Lee, Homer Lindsay Jr. and W.A. Criswell, Vines encouraged conference attendees with the message that "old preachers never die, they just preach away."

Paul warned Timothy about apostasy, people falling away from the faith, which Vines said is the same problem pastors face today. "People have no stomach for the sound doctrine which is supposed to promote spiritual health," he said. "They have an appetite instead for their own lusts, pleasantries and entertainment. We are living in a day of itching ears."

Vines warned against falling into the trap of catering to people's shallowness. "The practical result is the same for the liberal preacher who does not believe in the inerrant Bible as it is for the conservative preacher who does not preach the inerrant Word," he said.

"Here was Paul, close to death, in prison, beaten and old," Vines said. "These are his farewell words as he passed the torch of ministry to Timothy." Yet Paul did not complain but instead told Timothy that the preaching ministry is like being both a shepherd and a soldier, Vines recounted.

"As shepherds, we must preach the Gospel to our flock regardless of size," Vines said. "We must feed and guard the sheep."

As soldiers, pastors are called to endure hardship; they live in difficult quarters, get shot at and encounter affliction, Vines said. "I know about those poison letters preachers get, I know about being stabbed in the back by the ones you think you can trust," he said. Paul had experienced all that and worse as he sat writing this letter in a stinking, dark, infested prison cell, Vines said. Yet Paul instructed Timothy to "endure hardness like a good soldier."

The apostle also told Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist," Vines said, "to bring people to Christ and get the church red-hot to also do so. The most important thing is to get people out of hell and into heaven."

To the wives of preachers, Vines directed special encouragement. After acknowledging the ministry of his own wife, Vines asked all wives of preachers to stand. He led in a round of applause of appreciation which quickly turned into a sustained standing ovation.

After the ovation, Vines read Matthew 10:41, "Whoever receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward." To the preacher's wives, he then said, "For all those white shirts you ironed, for all those lonely nights while he was out ministering somewhere, Jesus promised you will be rewarded."


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