Former Muslim addresses media at SBC Pastors' Conference
INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--Addressing America's media in a sermon, "What the Media Get Wrong About My People Every Time," Ergun Caner, a former Muslim who is now a theologian, launched into a defense of biblical doctrine during the Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference.
The June 13-14 sessions at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, which showcased more than a dozen preachers, focused on the theme of "Jesus Came Preaching."
Caner, a theology professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., reminded listeners his "people" have been both Muslims and Baptists since he converted to Christianity as a teen. He said his remarks would address "the most infuriating and exacerbating thing [Southern Baptists] have to deal with ..., the one constant we deal with every year [at the SBC]." Drawing from John 8, Caner paralleled the numerous ways Jesus Christ was questioned, rebutted, maligned, misunderstood and misinterpreted with "what the media get wrong every time."
He lamented media reports about the SBC's annual meetings, asking the crowd, "How many of us have gotten into our cars and gotten onto the plane after a convention and shook our heads as we read the newspapers or saw the reports and wondered, 'Were they at the same meeting we were? Could they not get it right one time?'
"Sometimes we are just way too nice for our own good. And we are so gracious and sweet and kind and loving and clean and thrifty and brave and reverent -- that we help them perpetuate the lies," Caner said.
"And when I'm sitting in front of my TV, wanting to throw a shoe through the screen at Dan Rather, I wonder, 'Is anybody ever gonna say something?'"
Caner admitted that what makes living out Christianity difficult is when "some nut-job living in a tree somewhere" will, unfortunately, identify himself as a Christian after committing some unchristian act.
"Why is it that you can never find an intelligent, well-spoken, well-thought-of person to represent Southern Baptists or Christianity on television?" Caner asked rhetorically of the mainstream media. "Why is it that you always have to find some knuckle-draggin', three-toed troglodyte, who's chuggin' Woolite, goin', 'We hate all y'all'? That ain't us."
Citing a recent poll, Caner said one out of five people in American believes the Bible to be the Word of God.
"Stop calling us a fringe group, stop calling us a bunch of fundamentalists, stop calling us extremists," Caner declared.
Pointing to common media coverage about Islam, Caner said he is bothered by misconceptions perpetuated when someone comes on television and says, "Oh, Islam is peace. Jihad does not even appear in the Koran."
Caner said that he disagrees with the portrayal of Islam as a religion of peace, saying numerous tenets of Islam from the Koran infer jihad and other writings considered authoritative by Muslims command Jihad. Various Islamic tenets regarding the afterlife explain why there is no shortage of suicidal/homicidal Muslims, he said. He further rejected Islam as a religion of peace because Muslims are commanded by Mohammed to kill any Muslim who converts to Christianity.
Recognizing that with his conversion, he was rescued from such a fate, Caner said Christ "even died to save" Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw.
"Jesus strapped a cross to his back so that I wouldn't have to strap a bomb to mine," he said.
Voddie Baucham, a self-described cultural apologist from Spring, Texas, asked in his message, "When the homosexual movement jumped on the bandwagon of the civil rights movement in order to get 'gay marriage' through, where were the black leaders in this country who say they trust in Jesus? ...
"I want to know: Where was Jesse Jackson's voice when the homosexuals were using the civil rights movement? Where was Al Sharpton? Where were our black pastors? Where were you?"
Baucham warned that the silence of those claiming to be Christians is but one reason why the truth claims of Christianity are being pushed from "the public square and the marketplace of ideas."
Citing Acts 4:13-18, Baucham compared the apostles Peter and John -- who were characterized as uneducated men by the Jewish Sanhedrin -- to modern-day Christians who are similarly characterized by a post-Christian American culture.
"Our culture looks at us and says, 'You've checked your brain at the door. You've committed intellectual suicide, because no one in this day and age who has been properly educated believes [the Bible is the Word of God]. But we do."
Baucham echoed some of Caner's concerns with the media's misconceptions and misrepresentations of Christians and Southern Baptists.
"It's because they speak a different philosophical language," he said, citing three points of references to support his point: religious relativism, a new tolerance, philosophical pluralism.
Baucham, putting the three elements together, said they sound something like this: "We all worship the same god. We just refer to that god by different names. So what we need to do is learn to be tolerant of one another and embrace one another's beliefs - even learn from each other. Because after all, there's no such thing as absolute truth. And even if there were, who are you to say that your religion is correct and someone else's is wrong?"
With various religions making mutually exclusive truth claims, religious pluralism cannot work, Baucham said.
"Biblical Christianity does not fit within the confines of our culture's current philosophical thinking. That is why we are always going to be misrepresented, misquoted and misunderstood in the press. They operate from a philosophical grid that cannot comprehend what we believe or why," he said.
Referring to the ABC special program, "The Search for Jesus," Baucham said, "I love Peter Jennings - because Jesus told me to." Baucham wondered why Jennings did not choose to interview more Christians who believe what the Bible says about Jesus rather than turn primarily to commentators from the Jesus Seminar -- a group, according to Baucham, that denies the virgin birth of Christ; all of the miracles; and Jesus Christ's death, burial and resurrection.
"It would seem to me that, if you wanted to search for the historical Jesus, you would get scholars who actually believed in the historical Jesus," Baucham said.
Saying he understands why people in American culture, who believe tolerance is the ultimate virtue, cannot understand biblical Christianity, Baucham said, "I happen to agree with G.K. Chesterton, who wrote, 'Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction.'"
Baucham asked Southern Baptists why they are not more prevalent in the marketplace of ideas and why so few Southern Baptists associate with others of divergent views. He suggested Christians are afraid of being called "narrow-minded bigots."
"I understand that; as a black man in America people won't call me a narrow-minded bigot. Membership has its privileges," Baucham said, noting that he has been called "Uncle Tom, house nigger and everything else by black folks because -- oh yes, I did say that -- because that's precisely what people call me." But Baucham said such names don't keep him from speaking the truth.
Former homosexual Mike Haley shared the nightmare of his former life, saying he had a weak relationship with his father from a young age, and a sexually abusive relationship with an older man as a boy and teenager.
Haley, a member of Focus on the Family's public policy division and board member of Exodus International, detailed his struggle with homosexuality and the freedom he eventually found in Christ.
Raised in church, Haley said he made a profession of faith at age 8, but as a young man became disillusioned with Christianity because of the anti-homosexual message he often heard in church. At 16, a school counselor told him he was born as a homosexual and should embrace the lifestyle. He followed the advice and spent more than a decade in empty relationships, hopelessness and isolation. He later crossed paths with Jeff Konrad, who mentored Haley and helped him abandon his perversion.
Haley discovered God's forgiveness and soon married a woman who suffered with the guilt that came with previous abortions. They now have two sons.
"What I pray more than anything in this half an hour that we've spent together is that you've not heard the story of an ex-gay man, or the story of a post-abortive woman, but instead the story of a powerful God who will go out of His way to reach one that many believe to be beyond his grasp," Haley said.
The "most hated doctrine in all of the world today" is the "exclusivity of Christ in salvation," said Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Patterson said remarks made at the memorial services for "our beloved president, Ronald Reagan" illustrate the misconceptions about salvation that still pervade society, quoting a clergyman at Reagan's memorial service in Washington, D.C., who said, "We're really all the children of God."
"The name of Jesus was never uttered by that same clergyman in prayer, and he made no reference whatsoever to the grace of God in salvation," said Patterson, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
But at the burial of Reagan in Simi Valley, Calif., "a very different sort of clergyman stood up, and he spoke of the grace of God," Patterson recounted. And the late president's own son, Michael Reagan, told of when his father talked specifically about coming to salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Washington, D.C., clergyman, Patterson said, represents how the world sees the way to heaven for everyone. "But in stark contrast to that, our Lord says, 'No. Broad is the way; wide is the gate that leads to destruction,'" Patterson quoted from Scripture. But the path to eternal life is "difficult" and "there are few who find it."
The exclusivity of the means of salvation is noted repeatedly in the New Testament, Patterson said, noting that the Apostle Peter wrote, "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved but the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord."
"Jesus Himself said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father but by me.' Some crazy, fundamentalist Baptist didn't say that. Our Lord said it. That's who said it. And if He said it, we can't say we follow Him and say anything else," Patterson emphasized.
Jesus made it "crystal clear" that no one has salvation unless "they come to Him" by "decisive commitment," Patterson said. "It is an exclusive claim.... The world hates it. You will be hated if you preach it. But if you're going to follow Jesus, I exhort you to preach it clearly."
Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, challenged Southern Baptists to become like Christ. Luter, the first African American to bring the keynote address at the SBC in 2001, cited the advertising campaigns of several companies that used basketball great Michael Jordan's persona, leaving America with the jingle, "I wanna be like Mike."
After all those "wanna-bes" drank the sports drink, wore the underwear and ate the hamburger, they awoke to the stark reality that they were no closer to being like Mike than before they spent their hard-earned money, Luter said. "God created us to be like Christ," not Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Michael Douglas, Michael Bolton or Mike Tyson, he said.
Preaching from John 13:34-35, Luter said Christians become like Jesus by having "a love for the Savior, a love for the Scriptures and a love for the saints."
When Christians have these attributes and actions, "then the world will know we are Christians," Luter said.
In the face of increasing persecution worldwide, Bryan Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Van Buren, Ark., urged believers to live consecrated lives, have a consistent light and keep preaching the word with joyful confidence.
Cultural pressures that he described as "anti-biblical and anti-family" are increasingly moving society down the path of secularism. "We need to understand that the goal and the aim is to silence the church," he said. While Christians shouldn't seek suffering, they shouldn't shirk from it, either. "To suffer for Jesus' sake," Smith said, "should be a joy and a blessing."
Noting that persecution can be internal as well as external, Smith called on pastors to "preach God's Word without compromise and without cowardice." As this world grows darker, he said, "God is calling each of us to radical new levels in our preaching and witness."
Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and a former president of the Pastors' Conference and the SBC, said preachers have a treacherous assignment, but one that carries eternal rewards.
"If you'll keep preaching and you'll keep on working, one of these days God has promised you a crown of glory," Vines said. "Every faithful sermon you ever preached, God's going to reward you. Every ministry you performed in Jesus' name, God's going to reward you."
Pastors have a responsibility to fight against apostasy, a task that is becoming more difficult, Vines said, urging ministers nevertheless to be faithful to preach the entire Word of God.
"There has become in our day a growing intolerance for Bible preaching on the part of those who sit in our pews on Sunday," Vines said. "Our job is not to dilute the message, it is not to delete the message, it is not to dissect the message, it is not to doctor the message, it is not to dumb down the message. Our job as faithful heralds is to deliver and to declare the message of the word of the living God."
Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., said Southern Baptists may have won the battle over Scripture's inerrancy, but the fight over Scripture's sufficiency still rages.
"We are cultivating a generation of illiterate young people," Wilton said. "Many of our churches today are built on bubble and froth. What do we believe as Southern Baptists? We do not believe that this word contains the Word of God. We believe this is the Word of God, and therefore it behooves us to study the Word of God."
Wilton used the life of Moses to illustrate that pastors must repent for a variety of reasons, including a failure to settle the issues of to whom they belong, on whom they focus and what they believe.
Pastors must preach the sufficiency of Christ with no variation, no deviation, no capitulation and no intimidation, Wilton said.
Paul Negrut, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in the Romanian city of Oradea, drew his sermon from a familiar New Testament parable taught by Jesus Christ, the parable of the talents.
Preaching from Luke 19:11-24, Negrut highlighted the need to be stewards of God's calling despite circumstances. When Negrut was 18 years old and living in a communist country, God called him to salvation in Christ. Ten years later God called him to become pastor of a church under persecution.
"It doesn't matter who's in charge; when God speaks, things come into being," Negrut said of the years before 1989 when communism collapsed in Romania. "Political freedom is great, but is not enough. If people are not free spiritually -- if they are not free from their sins and bondage -- they are not free at all."
Political and religious freedom allowed Negrut and other Christians to undertake evangelistic efforts in stadiums and on television. Thousands of people came to Christ, swelling the number of Baptist churches from 600 in 1989 to more than 1,900 today, Negrut said.
Negrut said one of his greatest encouragements is what has become of a particular room in the personal palace built by Nicolai Ceaucescu, Romania's communist leader who was ousted in 1989. Under Ceaucescu, the room was set aside as the official headquarters of communism and atheism but is now dedicated for use as a prayer room for the Christians in Romania's parliament.
"The main things in prophecy are the plain things," said Ed Hindson, a professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Stressing there is room for interpretation and speculation, Hindson said prophecy ultimately is not about what happens in the future, but rather around whom prophecy is centered.
Jesus tied the call to repentance and faith to prophecy, Hindson said, and noted that every time a church is planted or a person converts to Christianity, Jesus' prophecy that He would build His church is fulfilled.
Starting in Genesis, Hindson traced Bible prophecy throughout Scripture book by book. "In the Old Testament, He is our high priest, our atoning sacrifice.... [I]n Revelation, He's the revealer of the future.
"It's all about Jesus Christ," Hindson said. "Preach Him, and it will change the world."
Others who preached at the Pastors' Conference were Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale Ark.; Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.; and Ted Traylor, conference president and pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., who replaced Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn. Rogers, a two-time president of the SBC, is recuperating from surgery.
Steve Gaines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gardendale, Ala., was elected president of the 2005 Pastors' Conference, to be held in Nashville, Tenn.
With reporting by Tim Ellsworth & Don Beehler.