Time to 'stand up ... speak up,' Graham tells Southern Baptists
INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--Southern Baptists know their priority is to fulfill the Great Commission, stated Texas pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church of Plano in his final address as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Graham, elected president of the 16-million member denomination in 2002, spoke during the first session, June 15, of the two-day SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis.
While "sharing Jesus one-on-one and cooperating around the world is God's agenda," Graham acknowledged "some say we just need to share the Gospel and shut up about the rest of this," referring to the cultural war of values.
"I simply ask you a question: As Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians, if we don't stand up, wise up and speak up on these issues, who will be left to deal with the issues of our times?" he asked. "If not us, Southern Baptists, then who? If not now, when? We will look up [to heaven], step up in personal witness, wise up to our responsibility to this culture and gear up for a spiritual battle."
Graham addressed the meeting's theme of "Kingdom Forever," reminding messengers that God gave Christians a clear assignment to share the Gospel and expand His Kingdom forever.
Turning to Ephesians 3:20-21, Graham said the epistle provides an instruction manual for the local church as well as a doxology praising God's ability "to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think."
Graham compared the need for Christians to cultivate a watchful anticipation of eternity with the attitude expressed by the acronym "CAVU" on a sign in former President George H.W. Bush's office. The president borrowed the expression "ceiling and visibility unlimited" from his years as a pilot in World War II, Graham said.
"Southern Baptists, this is where we are today as a convention of churches," Graham said. "We have a ceiling and visibility that is unlimited because we have been blessed immeasurably with all of the blessings of heaven. Therefore, we live today with eternity in our hearts."
Citing the answer often given by Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards when critics accused him of being too heavenly minded, Graham said, "Would that people say of us that we have eternity stamped on our eyeballs."
Graham warned that God would hold Southern Baptists responsible for world evangelization, reflecting on evangelist Billy Graham's plea that the evangelistic harvest is always urgent. "If we are to complete our mission, we must walk worthily and witness intentionally. Our message must be clear -- it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ," he said, noting the Gospel includes Christ's death, burial and resurrection -- "the power to change lives."
Power is not found in personalities, worship styles or denominational strategies, Graham said, but only "in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and promise of the Holy Spirit to enable us to take that Gospel to the world." He appealed to God to help Southern Baptists evangelize "urgently and cooperatively, knowing that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to break down the hardness of the human hearts" while empowering their words and witness.
Graham asked, "If we have this abundant provision, why are we so often failing? Why do we seem defeated? Why is the job of world evangelism not getting done? Why is the culture collapsing around us?" Graham asked. "Could it be because we have become disoriented and unfocused?" he asked. "We have become earth-focused and not eternity-focused."
The SBC president thanked God for the inerrant, infallible Word of God, but added, "If I study the Bible and know my Bible and believe my Bible and won't walk across the street to share the Gospel, what's the point? If evangelism is buried in orthodoxy, it is an unworthy grave. We must step up," he insisted, prompting applause from the audience.
"In spite of every advantage, we're falling behind in the world and in this country," Graham said. To illustrate, he noted:
-- The United States is the third-largest unchurched nation in the world.
-- North America is the only continent where Christianity is not growing.
-- Seven out of 10 people in America do not know Christ.
-- The United States is now the 13th-largest receptor of Christian missionaries in the world.
-- Only 4 percent of Americans have a biblical worldview.
-- More than 80 percent of all churches in the United States are plateaued or declining.
-- Christians lose 72 churches per week or 10.27 per day.
Amid "these startling statistics," Graham said, the denomination has "flat-lined in baptisms" in America. Overseas, however, he praised missionaries and their co-workers for "bringing people to Christ at an unprecedented rate" of a half of million baptisms annually for the past two years.
"God help us to make our neighborhoods and communities a place from which it is hard to go to hell," Graham said. After lamenting that too many Southern Baptists have become calloused to the need for evangelism, Graham challegened listeners.
"Pastor, it starts with you and me. Every pastor needs to get over the idea of being a CEO in charge of the church and remember that God has called us to be shepherds who love sheep, including lost sheep!" he said.
Commending Southern Baptists, Graham said they have chosen not to limit their witness to the South. Just as the Apostle Paul went to the great cities of the ancient world, Southern Baptists are reaching out to the great American cities for Christ -- New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, Graham said.
"Millions of people in these massive cities are groping in darkness and need the Gospel," Graham said, asking churches to cooperate with the SBC mission boards, the state conventions and local associations to "adopt a city for Christ" and invest in starting new churches, visiting those areas and sending young people to minister.
Graham called also on pastors to "wise up" by thinking biblically and living truthfully.
"We are salt and light in this culture but so often the church has been compromised. The anti-Christian, secular culture is not compromising in its efforts," he said, noting that feminists, terrorists and homosexuals have an agenda. "These agendas apart from Jesus Christ are the pathway to hell," he warned. "But God has given us the agenda which is the pathway to heaven," defining that as "Jesus who is the way, the truth and the light."
Graham called for preachers to stand up and preach the truth and call sin by its first name. "Why aren't we as preachers in our pulpits teaching what the Bible says about marriage as God defined it and what the Bible says about homosexuality as God has condemned it?" he asked.
Graham argued, "There's not much wrong with America that couldn't be changed if those of us who preach and teach the Word of God would stand squarely on the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ and declare the truth to this culture, starting with our own congregations who need to wise up and think about these issues.
"The moment I leave the Bible and the truth in my preaching, I am not a true preacher. I may be a speaker, motivator, communicator or entertainer," he added, "but I am not a preacher until I am preaching the Word of God prophetically and powerfully. I'm not smart enough to tell people how to live apart from the Word of God."
Graham said, "The issue is whether it is true, not whether it's is popular. Politicians need to be popular. Preachers need to tell the truth and we need to tell it now."
Further influence should be offered through the political process as "we vote our values," Graham said, and then "live our values" based on the Word of God."
He encouraged Southern Baptists to be a part of the Southern Baptist emphasis to register and inform voters launched by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission via its www.iVoteValues.com website.
"This election in 2004 matters because of two different viewpoints in this culture as to which direction America needs to go. The moral issues of our times are still on the table," Graham said, citing Ephesians 5 as a reference for how God defined marriage since the beginning of time -- "a husband and a wife, a man and a woman." Any redefinition violates the "mysterious picture of Christ and the church," he said.
Graham also called on Southern Baptists to press for passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment.
"Get this done for the sake of the family and the future of our homes," he said to the audience's applause. He cited Texas Sen. John Coryn's advocacy of the effort, stating, "'I can't think of anything more important than preserving the sanctity of the family and making sure that traditional families -- the fundamental building block of our society -- are preserved.'"
The last chapter of Ephesians also instructs Christians to "gear up," Graham said, urging the church to stand firm. "We are not to retreat or relent, we must not flinch or fail. We must not give up an inch of God's territory," he said, asking Southern Baptists to preserve it and protect His property.
Uncertain whether Christians will win the cultural war on earth, Graham said he prays for revival in the church and spiritual revolution in America. "One thing I do know -- that His kingdom is forever." Quoting Isaiah 40:8, Graham said, "I know that the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever."