Following our annual meeting of the SBC in New Orleans, I was asked how I viewed the upcoming year as your president. I answered that I intended to view it as a "365-day sprint" with no backward look. I am humbled that you would accord me this privilege. This letter is written so that you might know my heart and pray faithfully for Jeannie and me in the coming days.
To illustrate my heart, let me share this story: Bueno Venturo Bello was viciously attacked and left for dead because he refused to tear his country's flag from the wall of his classroom. After the enemy forces left the area, his bullet-riddled body was found and carried to a casualty clearing station where he was nursed back to health. A Christian friend, upon discovering the cause for his injuries, exclaimed, "Why didn't you just pull the flag down?" His reply was convicting: "There comes a time in the life of every man when he must prove what he believes by what he does."
That Time Has Come!
That time has come for Southern Baptists! Unlike any other Christian body of our size and strength in all of history, we have corporately reversed a perilous drift toward liberalism and restored the Scripture to its rightful position among us as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. With the Scripture as authority, we now see the Lord's Commission, not as a mere suggestion but as a divine mandate.
Moved upon by the command of our Lord, the lostness of mankind, and the urgency of the hour, we have boldly set about to restructure our great Convention so that we might be the sharpest possible threshing instrument in these critical hours of history. The positive encouragement and approval given our "Covenant for a New Century" can only be accounted for as a supernatural moving by our Sovereign Lord. We are now readying ourselves for the greatest time of harvest in the history of the SBC! Cooperative Program dollars are a sound investment with eternal rewards!
There is, however, a pressing matter which we must not overlook. Resurgence and restructuring are simply futile activities unless we turn our hearts toward God for revival. History has shown that any external reformation not preceded by internal revival is short-lived. We can only win, as Shakespeare's Henry V said, "if our hearts are in the trim."
The heart-cry for revival was echoed by virtually every speaker during our convention. Ronnie Floyd's Convention message culminated with a call to prayer and fasting which I trust we all will heed. We must all seek the face of our Holy God and call out to Him for revival in the land!
One great concern is that we may have on our church rolls many who have yet to experience genuine conversion. Is it possible that we have unwittingly victimized ourselves by the preaching and teaching of a synthetic gospel which looks like the real thing but is short on Holy Spirit conviction, repentance, faith, and Lordship? Is it possible that an appeal for revival falls on deaf ears because revival is only for the regenerate? Are we asking many of our people to seek something which is impossible for them to experience? Our own church rolls could be one great immediate harvest field.
At any rate, there is no doubting the need for genuine, Spirit-orchestrated revival. Will you join me by altering your agenda, changing your lifestyle, and focusing your attention on the Lord? His appeal to us is simple: "Turn to Me!" Unless our lifestyle is somehow altered, we have not acted sacrificially in seeking revival. Again, will you join me in seeking His face?
Our Lord's Commission is the common thread which ties Southern Baptists all together. During the next few months, I will be assuring our SBC entities that they have our support in reaching the lost through means only dreamed of in years gone by. I envision our Foreign Mission Board and our soon-to-be North American Mission Board thinking, not of thousands but rather, of multiplied thousands of Southern Baptists on mission all over the globe. I will encourage them to develop a ministry involving thousands of students from our trusted Baptist colleges and universities. This program alone would enable every qualifying Baptist student to spend at least one semester on the mission field, with credit and at a cost comparable to what they would normally expend for a semester at home.
Our radio and television associated entities could help marshal the greatest prayer force in America's history. Our Annuity Board could challenge experienced and able servants of God to move beyond the idea of "retirement" to a refocusing of their energies and abilities so that, with proper preparation, their latter years can be their greatest years of service.
Our Sunday School Board is readying itself to make available to our churches a short-term Sunday school curriculum to be used in training those who will be going on partnership missions.
I will be challenging every SBC church, in connection with the Foreign Mission Board, to partner with a mission church somewhere in this world and use its local church resources to multiply its worldwide outreach.
Personal witnessing should be the hallmark of every seminary professor, student, pastor, and leader. As one man said, "All it takes to kill evangelistic fervor ... is for the leadership to stop talking about their own recent witnessing experiences."
Southern Baptist men and women and their families should become the standards by which the term "traditional family values" is measured. By example and exhortation, we should call our nation back to God.
And Finally ...
I believe we are living in crucial times for our nation, for the world, and for our SBC. Our Lord has lovingly brought us to this moment, perhaps the most significant in all of history, and given us the opportunity to shine as His lights in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation. We are not unprepared or unable. But what a tragedy if He found us unwilling for what would be our finest hour! Let's set aside our private agendas and adopt His. Let's "Go ... and teach all nations!"
Faithfully, Your servant
As cited by Elliff, the challenge to Southern Baptists was:
• an emphasis on prayer and fasting, Oct. 27
• a period of prayer and fasting, Oct. 27 - Nov. 3
• an emphasis on humiliation, prayer, and fasting, Oct. 30
• an emphasis on revival, Nov. 3
Tom Elliff is SBC President and Pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Oklahoma.