Utah evangelicals on ‘vanguard’ for American believers, Mohler says
Southern Baptists in Utah and other western states live at the forefront of a cultural change sweeping the nation at a rapid pace, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Feb. 25 at First Baptist Church of Provo, Utah.
Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke earlier in the day at Brigham Young University in Provo owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That evening, Russ Robinson, pastor of First Baptist Provo, invited Mohler to bring a message to area evangelicals, who travelled from as far as Winnemucca, Nev.; Twin Falls, Idaho and St. George, Utah, five hours southwest of Metro Salt Lake City.
At the conclusion of his message, Mohler answered questions from the approximately 140 people in attendance. During more than three hours at the church facility, Mohler also met with 41 pastors and church planters to dialogue further about their challenges.
“We’re watching in one generation the collapse of cultural Christianity … and it’s coming with a new velocity and a new intensity,” Mohler told the Provo congregation, noting the rapid approval of gay marriage, among other aspects of a moral revolution advancing across the world.
“What is now being mandated as morally right, wasn’t even morally mentionable a generation ago,” Mohler continued. Referring to a “time of tremendous reversal,” he warned that “in short order we are going to find out what it’s like to be on the underside of society, rather than the upside.”
Evangelical Christians in Utah and surrounding states already know what that feels like, he said. “You are the vanguard” of a nation that increasingly does not value Christians, Mohler said, noting the extreme minority status of evangelicals in Utah and other western states.
“We have had a certain season of unreality in which, in this privileged country, we were able to operate under the delusion we belong here, that everybody wants us here, they’re glad we’re here and they want to ask us how the society should be ordered and how the laws should be arranged,” Mohler said.
Preaching from the first epistle of Peter, Mohler said American culture is moving toward what first century Christians faced.
The speed of cultural change is “beyond our imagination,” he said. “But in many ways, if you look at 1 Peter, this is the normal, if not normative, experience for the church. The church, usually where it’s found, is not found in power; it’s found among the powerless. It’s not found as the dominant force; it’s found as a group of holy, elect, faithful exiles.”
Referring specifically to Utah and western states Southern Baptists in the audience, Mohler said, “You are living in some ways as the advance edge of what that looks like. You’re living in a place right now in which gospel Christianity is the minority position. The predominant influence is held by others; the cultural-shaping influence is in the hands of others. And the apostle Peter would say, ‘That’s where we started. That’s what it was like.’”
Yet, Mohler said many Christians today are in denial about the cultural shift away from Christianity and Christian morality because in most places it’s not as overt as it is in Utah.
“We’re a nation that does benefit from the promise of freedom of religion and religious liberty. … But we can’t count on these things that have been given to us in times past,” he said.
Noting the modest facility in which First Baptist Provo meets, Mohler said, “This is not a particularly grand building.” One day if tax-exempt status for churches is removed, “My guess is the members of this church are blessed with enough to keep this church here.
“What are you going to do with the massive cathedrals Southern Baptists own [elsewhere] when the tax man comes and says, ‘You don’t have a tax exemption anymore; you have to pay property tax,’” Mohler asked. “I used to think this was something my children and grandchildren would have to deal with. I now think it’s something I’ll have the opportunity to see where it leads.”
As “one exile in the presence” of other exiles — like first century Christians, Mohler said, “I think it was good for me to feel again today what it is like to be outnumbered, to understand the power is not in our hands. … I pray God will bless the Mormons in this area and throughout the world with the knowledge of the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and all the promises that are in Christ.”
Provo pastor Robinson told Southern Seminary News that pastors from as far away as 450 miles made “so great a sacrifice” to hear Mohler, motivated by his “faithful witness to the gospel through the years.”
Robinson praised Mohler’s clear gospel proclamation at BYU and his “compassion” for the pastors and church pastors across the region.
Mohler’s “timely” message from 1 Peter was a “real boost in the arm of those who labor in difficult places for the gospel and often feel ostracized for their faith,” Robinson said.
Idaho pastor Paul Thompson drove about four hours to hear Mohler’s address and spend the rest of the day with other pastors and church planters at First Baptist Provo.
Thompson, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, said the BYU lecture — “Dr. Mohler at his best” — will “serve as an example of compassion for the unconverted, respect for moral commonalities and loyally keeping the theological incompatibilities clear.”
Mohler’s time with pastors and church planters — “a band of brothers, pastoring and planting churches in some of the most unconverted communities in the United States, did not go without deep appreciation,” Thompson added.
Rob Lee, executive director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, said Mohler’s comparison of the challenges faced by evangelicals in the west to first century Christianity was “very encouraging that we are in good company.”
Also encouraging was Mohler’s desire to assist Utah-Idaho Southern Baptists in their challenging ministry, he said.