Seminary presidents affirm Southern Baptist doctrines
SALT LAKE CITY (BP)--Basic doctrines of the Christian faith are crucial for effective and genuine Christianity, six seminary presidents declared during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference June 7-8 in Salt Lake City.
Each president addressed what conference planners termed an "anchor point of faith" during the conference prior to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., spoke on the doctrine of heaven, noting that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven with no requirement for mediation by the Mormon Church, the Roman Catholic Church or even Baptist churches.
"To add anything to Jesus (or) to take anything away from Jesus is to make the sacrifice of Christ on the cross a matter of indifference," Patterson said.
He noted that the "assembly of heaven" will include angels, Old Testament saints, Christians, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God the Father.
Patterson emphasized heaven begins on earth with the new birth, at which time Christians become "ambassador pilgrims (with) a message to the world for others to come and go with us. ... Until we get to heaven, that remains our assignment."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., spoke on the doctrine of God, which he said has been distorted by the Mormon Church.
"We are told here by some in Salt Lake City that the Bible does not tell us all we need to know about the one true and living God," Mohler observed. "(Mormon founder) Joseph Smith said, 'God himself was once as we are now and is an exalted man and sits enthroned in yonder heavens.'
"Brothers and sisters, (God) is indeed exalted in yonder heavens, but he was never once as we are now," Mohler stated, as conferees shouted "amen" and broke into applause.
Mohler also emphasized the doctrine of the Trinity (God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit), which Mormons reject. "The Trinity is not an accessory doctrine to Christianity; it is our most central doctrine. This great doctrine sets apart the worship and witness of the church over against all the rampant paganisms of our day."
Most Americans, including many church members, do not know God and are ignorant of his character, Mohler said. He challenged pastors to proclaim the sovereignty and holiness of God. "While others may preach a dehydrated deity, let us bear witness to the God who revealed himself in the Bible -- the God who is our creator, our redeemer, our deliverer, our sovereign and our king."
Mark Coppenger, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., addressed the doctrine of revelation, urging conferees to remember the special revelation of the Bible is the only source of information on the true Jesus.
"There are many rivals to Jesus -- many false Jesuses," Coppenger declared, adding that Christians do not need to learn about Jesus from other purported sources of authority, such as tradition or the Book of Mormon.
Coppenger described the Bible with 15 key biblical terms: pure gold, sweetness, fire, hammer, heritage, cleansing water, lamp, workman's tool, sword, mirror, rock, seed, rain, milk and solid food.
He suggested pastors should proclaim the Bible with power and effectiveness. "If you preach (in a) way where no one gets their feelings hurt and nothing gets broken, you're doing 'Nerf Church'," Coppenger commented, referring to a brand of foam-like toy balls that are extremely lightweight and generally incapable of causing damage.
Charles Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, speaking on the doctrine of salvation, described three misconceptions about how to be saved.
"The Bubba Approach" claims God will let people into heaven who lived a "good-ole-boy" kind of life -- treating people fairly, helping neighbors, refusing to litter and so on, Kelley said.
"There are a lot of people who think that is what it takes to know God ... always trying to choose the right, to do the right thing," Kelley observed.
Another misconception is "The Perry Mason Model," a reference to a television series where Raymond Burr portrayed a winning attorney whose clients -- though innocent of murder charges -- were often guilty of lesser crimes, such as leaving a crime scene, Kelley recounted.
Many think they only have to prove to God that "I wasn't nearly as bad as I could have been," Kelley said.
The third misconception, "The School Model," assumes that God -- like a seminary professor -- looks for improvement, progress and growth, Kelley said.
But God's standard for salvation is perfect righteousness, which can only be found by trusting Jesus Christ, he noted.
"Jesus did not come into this world to create a race of gods; he came to redeem fallen mankind," Kelley declared. "He is our substitute, and by faith in that substitute, we have eternal life, we have forgiveness of sin, we have salvation."
Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, spoke on the doctrine of Jesus, emphasizing the uniqueness of Christ's identity.
"Scripture affirms that Jesus Christ was fully god and fully man in one person," Hemphill stated. "If Jesus had not been fully man, he could not have died in our place on the cross. If he had not been fully God, he could not have risen from the dead."
Hemphill disputed contemporary descriptions of Jesus, such as the stance of the Jesus Seminar -- a think-tank of theologians who hold that Jesus did not speak most of the words attributed to him by New Testament writers.
The New Age Movement also does not accept the biblical description of Jesus as uniquely divine and human, because New Agers claim all human beings inherently possess divinity, Hemphill said.
Similarly, postmodernism rejects the biblical Jesus, because it rejects "fixed absolutes" and sees all religious ideas as "equally meaningless or equally valid," Hemphill said.
But confusion over Jesus' identity presents an opportunity for Christian "apologists to demonstrate the total qualitative difference between Jesus Christ and all other religious teachers. ... In no other person does God become incarnate. No other person has ever risen from the dead," Hemphill said.
William Crews, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, Calif., addressed the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
Crews said Jesus described the work of the Holy Spirit with a Greek word that refers to "a prosecutor who does such a powerful job of bringing evidence to bear ... that the person who has been charged admits to the offense; he confesses his guilt."
Crews called the Holy Spirit a "heavenly prosecutor" who alone can bring that kind of conviction.
As Christians seek to evangelize the lost, Crews acknowledged that Christians may at times properly use the tools of logic, eloquence, emotionalism and psychology. "But each of these and all of these combined are poor substitutes for the work of the Holy Spirit of God. ... You and I need to let the helper do his work. Don't get in his way."
The Holy Spirit also comes to "bring conviction concerning Satan. ... It's the business of the Holy Spirit to convince us that Satan and his cause is a losing cause. ... The monster is dead; his power is shattered forever," Crews stated.