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Patterson calls on Southern Baptists to evangelize nation's mega-cities
--By Lee Weeks
    ATLANTA, June 15--Declaring that while the battle among Southern Baptists for the inerrancy of the Bible has been won, Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson called on churches to practice what they preach by evangelizing the nation's mega-cities.
    "Brothers and sisters, if we reach the cities of our country, it will take more than an affirmation of belief in the inerrancy of the Bible," Patterson said during his address June 15 to messengers attending the 142nd session of the SBC annual meeting in the Georgia Dome.
    With 47 U.S. cities, each numbering more than 1 million inhabitants, Patterson said the "great metropolises of our own nation have burgeoned into some of the world's most demanding mission assignments."
    Patterson, also president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., challenged the convention's 40,000-plus churches to baptize at least three more people during the 12-month period from October 1999 to September 2000 than each church recorded in the previous 12 months. If accomplished, Patterson calculated, the SBC would eclipse its goal of 500,000 baptisms nationally. He also has set a goal of 500,000 baptisms internationally over the next year.
    As the SBC's Cooperative Program celebrates its 75th year, Patterson challenged Southern Baptists to set a goal of $750 million in giving to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings for international and North American missions.
    Patterson said the increased giving is necessary for a much-needed SBC-supported international television ministry, as well as increased funding for the SBC's six seminaries and efforts to reach mega-cities with the gospel.
    Citing a recent survey authorized by the Tampa Bay Baptist Association which revealed that only 46 percent of members of Southern Baptist churches could explain how someone becomes a Christian, Patterson said this "is a microcosm of the SBC" that must be changed.
    The survey also showed that 77 percent of non-SBC church members surveyed had not been contacted by any church in the past six months and only 26 percent had any idea how to become a Christian.
    Patterson said that for SBC churches to reach the millions of people lost without Christ, they must hold strong to the belief that the inerrancy of the Bible makes God's Word sufficient for preaching, counseling and doctrine.
   

"The clear persuasive exposition and application of the Word of God must not be sacrificed for a bowl of narrative pottage," Patterson said. "Some among us counsel that we should abandon the careful explanation of the biblical text, alleging that contemporary audiences are no longer charmed by such tunes."
    But Patterson said to preach "sermonettes generated by felt needs" is to challenge the sufficiency of Scripture. "This rejection is to substitute the perceived needs of people for their real and eternal needs. It is to suggest that human wisdom surpasses God's expression of his will and purpose as recorded in his Holy Word ... . Let the rest of Christendom chart its own course, but may Baptists remain forever a people of the Book, not merely by confession but by the method of their preaching as well."
    Patterson warned Southern Baptists to be careful not to embrace modern psychology that has been "scrubbed up a bit and baptized in the faith. We Christians sometimes speak the language of psychotherapy more often than we speak the language of Zion.
    "We now all seem to come from dysfunctional families or backgrounds ... suffering from some sort of codependency from which we need to be liberated," Patterson suggested.
    "Enough of our successful marriage to psychology," Patterson continued. "The Sermon on the Mount, and the Psalms and the Proverbs exceed the commiseration of modern psychotherapy as the heavens as a whole overshadow a minor moon of Jupiter. To adopt the language and methods of contemporary psychotherapy is like suggesting to God that he save Jonah with a minnow. It is for Jesus to offer Lazarus a tourniquet when what Lazarus needed was for the Lord of life to cry, 'Lazarus, come forth!'
    "If the Bible is sufficient, it is sufficient not only for salvation and eternity, but also for biblical guidance and for happiness in living in the present world."
    Patterson warned Southern Baptists not to get caught up in charismatic practices sweeping across denominational lines. He cited expressions such as "barking like dogs or erupting into convulsive laughter ostensibly under the influence of the Holy Spirit, or most recently the instantaneous changing of amalgam fillings in teeth into gold fillings."
    "Hear this please as a criticism of none, but rather as a call for integrity among those adopting charismatic practices other than those that are clearly sanctioned and regulated on the pages of the New Testament," Patterson said.
    Patterson addressed "the growing emphasis on the part of some Southern Baptists on what is variously referred to as Calvinism, or the Reformed faith or the doctrines of grace."
    "Discussions of Calvinism will not injure our corpus or hinder our future so long as we remember that two distinct tributaries feed our Southern Baptist river" -- the sovereignty of God and the freedom and responsibility of man, he said.
   

"As long as we can, with Christian charity and brotherly compassion, discuss these verities whose mysteries clearly transcend even our brightest minds like the blazing noon-day sun transcends a flickering candle, we shall not squander our heritage," he said.
    Patterson said the SBC's future in a post-denominational era should remain strong as long as three things remain true: 1) the convention "insists its membership consist only of people who bear witness to an experience of having literally been born again through the blood of Christ;" 2) they "have given a faith-witness testimony to that faith through believer's baptism by immersion;" and 3) "by the grace of God will recover not merely church discipline but specifically New Testament church discipline in the pursuit of holy living commensurate with the new birth experience."
    He said his compassion for the cities was born as he watched his late mother, Honey Patterson, view the evening news and then weep for the multitudes in the cities lost without Jesus.
    Patterson concluded with an appeal reminiscent of the burden on his mother's heart.
    "Southern Baptists, will you pray as never before? Southern Baptists, will you go to the great population centers of our nation? Southern Baptists, will you give? Will you get your church to take a city? Will you ask your association to accept the challenge of the inner city? Southern Baptists, will you weep before God like Jesus wept over Jerusalem? Will you wet your pillows and discolor the varnish on your church pews until God gives us the souls of our cities?
"May God grant it."

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