Page: Watch for the signs
INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--Discerning eyes are needed to recognize the spiritual condition of Southern Baptists, Frank Page said in his final sermon as Southern Baptist Convention president during the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis June 10.
Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., said Southern Baptists should develop the kind of discernment akin to that which saved the villagers of the island of Simeulue after the South Asian tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004.
Village elders noticed the water retreating from the coastline and in minutes warned islanders to run for higher ground. Their communal memory of a 1907 tsunami that nearly destroyed the entire island helped them realize the impending danger. The island lost only seven of its 75,000 inhabitants, as was reported in The Seattle Times.
"The people of that island had assiduously told the story over and over of what might be the signs for such an event again, and taking note of that history, recognizing the warning signs, the elders in just a few minutes were able to spread the alarm and the villages were evacuated to higher ground. Their physical lives were saved that day."
Page asked if Southern Baptists would be able to recognize the signs of what is happening within the convention, among its churches and in the lives of individual believers.
"Will we assiduously impart to those after us the signs that God has set forth for blessing and the signs God has set forth for judgment?" Page asked.
Preaching from the John 4:7-30 story of the woman at the well, Page said Southern Baptists need to experience the same transformation as did the Samaritan woman. But before transformation can take place, he said, believers have to examine themselves to discern their spiritual conditions.
In her encounter with Jesus, Page said, the Samaritan woman "was compelled to see herself as she really was. I believe God wants that from us."
"I believe when we are confronted by Christ, we are compelled to see ourselves as we really are," he said. "We are compelled to deal with who we really are and to let go of all the false facades we sometimes place before us, all of the pretenses, all of the excuses and all of the outward appearances. They are all invisible to Him and we are forced to see ourselves as we really are."
Being confronted by Christ is often a painful process, Page said, but Southern Baptists individually, in churches and in the convention need to "deal honestly with the past and quit running, as is our tendency."
The world wants Christians to keep things shallow and refuse any kind of deeper examination or calling from Christ. This, Page said, is the "call of cultural Christianity."
"Do not deal with reality. Do not deal with what is really going on in your family, in your church, in your life. Keep it on the surface. Keep things shallow. That is cultural Christianity at its best and its worst. It is strangling the lifeblood out of our churches and our families."
Cultural Christianity, Page said, is a "grave into which we have all fallen," warning that the churches of the convention might easily do the same because too many people avoid truth, evade reality and blame others for what is wrong. But Page said troubling signs in the SBC and its churches are not the fault of political positioning by different groups or because of the failure of the Conservative Resurgence to increase the baptismal rate.
Instead, he said churches and individual believers need to take the same approach as the Samaritan woman in her encounter with Jesus. The woman couldn’t blame others for her condition, and in the same manner, "God is calling us to see that the problem lies with me," Page said.
"We’ve been ignoring God’s call for repentance," Page said. "We have been failing to be relevant to a culture that sees us as representatives of death and not as representatives of life. When the quickening power of the Holy Spirit comes on us, we do what we’ve always done; we avoid and we evade."
Page said he had deep concern about the disintegration of churches in the SBC. Few seminary students, he said, are graduating and going to serve in traditional churches. He also said that many individual believers no longer practice personal evangelism.
"If anything comes out of this convention, would you join me in saying that the problem is not somebody else, it is me?" Page asked.
"I believe God wants to look into the heart of our convention and our individual lives, to look past our hurt and pain and see what we can become … and that it is a group of people who love Jesus, who love His inerrant Word, but who love the world and want to be as culturally relevant to the world as Jesus was to His world with the unchanging message that Jesus is the Messiah and that He never changes."
Page said God can see a body of believers that are unified despite differences in order to share the Gspel to the lost of the world. He also said that God can look past hurt and pain to see a body of believers "who can support the Cooperative Program [of SBC-wide missions and ministries] … and win the lost to Christ at the same time."
"They are not mutually exclusive and don’t listen to anyone who gives you that false dialogue," Page said.
Page concluded his sermon by reminding messengers that the Samaritan woman’s first instinct after her transformation was to share with the citizens of her town what she had received. She had been "the talk of the town," but now wanted to talk only about Jesus, Page said. Similarly, it should be only natural for Southern Baptists to follow the spiritual instincts Jesus gives to those who believe and share the Gospel.
Jesus is the only hope for the convention, for churches, for families and for the world, Page said, adding that he believes God wants the convention to move forward with sharing the Gospel with the lost. But Page added, "a Great Commission resurgence will occur only when we fall in love with the one who spoke the Great Commission -- and that is the Lord Jesus."
Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.