5 entity heads field messenger questions
PHOENIX (BP) -- Questions were posed to five Southern Baptist Convention entity presidents during time allotted for messengers' questions during the leaders' respective reports at the June 13-14 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, replied to two questions after his report.
Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., and host of a radio program, said he accumulated from around the world a two-part question for Moore: "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and, if so, how did that come about?" Groans from some in attendance greeted his question.
"Yes, I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as my only hope in this world," Moore told Drake.
He was saved because he had a godly grandmother who insisted he attend Sunday morning and evening worship, Sunday School, Training Union, Wednesday night Bible Study, Royal Ambassadors and everything else the church offered, and he "consistently heard the Gospel," Moore said.
He was walking home from a revival meeting one night, Moore said, when he was "struck by the fact Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and if I am going to come to the Father, it will only be through Him, and if I cry out to Him, He will receive me. And He did, and we've been walking together ever since."
Mark Collins, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Yorktown, Texas, told Moore the ERLC president had prompted him to search Scripture when he said during his 2016 report, "What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody."
Collins said the only place in the Bible he found soul freedom was in the garden when Satan "promised soul freedom for all." As a fifth-generation Baptist, Collins said the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment have been what it means to be Baptist in the past. He asked Moore, "[D]oes that statement a year ago actually identify us as Baptists, or should we go back to the old ways?"
Moore told Collins, "Those are the old ways, sir, because we share with many Christians many doctrines and many truths, including the same Gospel. What separated Baptists out from everybody else is the conviction of saying every single person must come to the Father only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and through the personal regeneration of the Holy Spirit, which means no one can come into the kingdom of God on the basis of his or her family or in order to get government benefits or to keep away government punishment."
When Baptists say, "[T]he Scripture says the conscience is free, what we are saying is that Caesar is not God. And you can bribe people with money and you can threaten them with punishment, but you can't make them Christians that way. What makes them Christians is the open proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that says you -- not your government bureaucrat, not your mayor, not your city council -- you must be born again. That's what we mean by soul freedom."
International Mission Board
-- David McDaniel, a messenger from Calvary Baptist Church in Moscow, Ohio, said to IMB President David Platt: "Let me say first that we are very proud to be part of the Southern Baptist Convention and all the great work the IMB does. We've been a member for over 50 years now. Recently, though, we've had some concerns, especially regarding the [ERLC] -- the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission -- their signing of the 'friend of the court' brief that ultimately helped a group of Muslims build a mosque. I know that's been a lot of controversy. Brother Platt, you issued an apology. Part of that said, 'I am confident in the days ahead the IMB will have better processes in place to keep us focused on our primary mission.' My big question is: What is that process? How do we know that we are never again going to, any way shape or form, help those who oppose the Gospel of Jesus Christ?"
Platt answered that -- without diving into the issue of religious liberty and all Southern Baptists believe about that based upon the Baptist Faith and Message -- he would assure Southern Baptists that IMB trustees have fully looked into ensuring that a proper process is in place for reviewing and approving any future amicus briefs.
"We want the conversation about the IMB to be focused on making disciples, multiplying churches among the nations," Platt said.
-- Kambiz Saghaey, coordinator for Persian leadership development at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said he is originally from the Middle East. Saghaey stated to Platt: "I want to say thank you. Because you came, I heard the Gospel, and God saved me and my family, and many others. I want to say thank you to all Southern Baptist churches, because you send your support."
Saghaey expressed that only God can change a Muslim's heart to become a Christian leader.
"We need your prayer -- please, pray for us. As a member of your family -- we are a family from different nationalities -- we want to reach the world, reach the Muslims. We want to say thank you. God bless you."
Following applause from the crowd, Platt responded, "It's an awesome thing to watch when the mission field becomes a mission force. And as we reach unreached people around the world, our goal in all of our work we do is not just to lead them to Christ, see them baptized, gather the together in churches, and then move on. Our goal is to then help those churches to take the Gospel with us to the next unreached people, and to the next unreached people. And we are seeing this happen all over the world.
"It's one of the most exciting things that I get to watch in the IMB, to see our personnel around the world -- not just lead them to Christ and planting churches -- but in helping those churches from the nations reach the nations, and finding ourselves as part of this global family accomplishing this Great Commission," he said.
-- Nathan Stuller, pastor-teacher of Sojourn Church in Belleville, Ill., asked Platt, "When God blesses the efforts of our missionaries overseas and churches are established, what, if any, ongoing affiliation or relationship exists?" He clarified he was asking about relationship between the IMB or the SBC and indigenous leadership of those established churches.
"We aim for a Pauline-type relationship with the churches we plant," Platt answered. He noted that the apostle Paul would maintain ongoing relationships with churches he planted while moving on to begin new work in other regions, meanwhile helping connect those churches for the spread of the Gospel where the Gospel has not gone.
At IMB, that relationship is called "globalization," Platt explained, noting "we've actually taken steps over the last six months to raise our intentionality when it comes to that globalization." He gave the example of the five largest house-church networks in East Asia who desire to learn from IMB's 170-year history of sending missionaries.
"We're coming alongside them, helping them think through training processes, assessment processes, sending processes, how best to support them." Platt said.
He referenced attending a conference where Christians from East Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa met, saying, "How can we work together for the spread of the Gospel among the nations?" Such relationships are part of what Southern Baptist missionaries are doing all around the world.
Midwestern and Southern Seminary
Following the six seminary reports, pastor Sammy Tabufor of Agape Baptist Christian Fellowship in Plano, Texas, addressed all of the seminary presidents by asking how they can "build a bridge" for students who may be lured by liberal theological education that offers reduced fees.
-- Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to the question, "Given the spectacular and persistent generosity of Southern Baptists, our tuition at all six seminaries is remarkably lower than the tuition at any comparable institution."
Concerning students choosing a more liberal institution over a SBC seminary in light of a marginal cost differential, Allen said, "I question their calling and their convictions in general."
Allen concluded saying, "I speak for my brothers when I say we monitor this (tuition and fees) carefully, yearly, and do our very best to keep it as affordable as possible."
-- In response to the same question, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, acknowledged that a small number of well-endowed liberal schools are able to offer tuition-free theological education. But he said the generosity of Southern Baptists allows denominational students to receive accessible tuition. He exhorted messengers to make students aware of the disparity between SBC seminaries and liberal institutions, illustrating the true cost of theological education.
"I just want to make a plea on behalf of the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention that you help young persons, anyone called to ministry, [understand] why they should attend a seminary that stands without reservation for the faith once for all delivered to the saints and is confessionally accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention and not allow them to go somewhere else just because the theological education is free," Mohler said. "That kind of theological education is so expensive it costs eternity. Please help us to make that clear."
Robert Marvin, a messenger from Broadview Missionary Baptist Church, asked Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson a question regarding his report of the seminary's Global Theological Innovation (GTI). Specifically alluding to the graduation of 11 Ecuadorian pastors from Southwestern's online Maestría de Estudios Teológicos (MET) program, Marvin asked how his church, which has been working in Ecuador since 2015, could find out whether any of those 11 are serving in the same areas in which Broadview has ministered.
Patterson answered by directing Marvin to Brent Ray, a former International Mission Board missionary to Brazil, who now serves as director of the Patterson Center for GTI at Southwestern. Noting that Ray's position requires an abundance of global travel, Patterson also submitted the name of Daniel Sanchez, professor of missions at Southwestern, who is also involved with GTI's international partnerships.
Patterson explained that if Marvin would contact either of these men at Southwestern, they could put him directly in touch with each of these 11 graduates.
"They are a fine group," Patterson added of these 11 Ecuadorian church leaders, "and they will be available, I'm sure, to help you."