Former Mormon seeks to bring Gospel light to LDS darkness

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — John Divito has a passion for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Mormons and it is a passion driven by an insider’s perspective.

For the first 19 years of his life, Divito—a master of divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

Late last month, Divito spent one week passing out Gospel tracts and discussing the Gospel with Mormons at the church’s annual Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah. Divito worked with Mormonism Research Ministry (MRM), an apologetics group for which he serves as a staff member.

MRM is one of many Christian groups who attended the 37th annual pageant with a mission of converting Mormons from a false gospel to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The pageant is essentially a two-hour Mormon play during which 2,000 years of the church’s history is played out on stage. The drama runs nightly for two weeks each June and draws thousands to the small town of Manti, the site of the Manti Temple, a giant castle-like structure completed in 1888.

Though the message of MRM and other Christian groups was not warmly received, 11 persons made professions of faith in Jesus Christ.

“Quite frankly, many of the Mormons were not interested in taking the literature, and many refused to talk,” Divito said. “There were periodic announcements coming out of the sound system, one of which warned people about reading the information not published by the LDS church.

“The Mormons I did talk to believed they were Christians, so they wanted to understand why we were out there saying that they were not true believers. I would show them that our understandings of who God is is different and our gospels are incompatible.”

Divito learned the difference between the false message of Mormonism and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ after spending much of his life as a Mormon.

He completed many of the steps necessary to progress in the Mormon faith. He was baptized in the church at age eight, received the Aaronic priesthood at 12, had a temple recommend, and was baptized for the dead in the Mormon temple. Much of Divito’s family remains within the Mormon church.

When he turned 18, Divito faced a difficult choice: go on a mission expected of men his age or go to college. He opted for college, which turned out to have profound eternal implications.

While attending Southwest Missouri State University, Divito began to date an evangelical Christian. He sought to convert his new girlfriend to Mormonism, and to shore up his missionary efforts, Divito decided to read Christian materials designed to refute Mormonism.

Soon, Divito’s studies took a strange turn: he began to see the fallacies of Mormon doctrine alongside the veracity of Christian teaching. He began to attend a campus ministry and regularly heard the Gospel.

Before long, he was convinced of the truth of Scripture, convicted of his sin, and converted by the grace of Christ.

“The evidence they gave me was well documented and easily verifiable,” Divito said. “As a result, I began having a crisis of faith. Was everything I had ever been taught through the Mormon church wrong? After my studies, I found out what I believed was indeed wrong.

“Over time I came to realize that I was a sinner and that Mormonism did not have the answer. I could never be good enough to make things right with God, even by keeping the ordinances of the church and the law of the Gospel. Worst of all, I knew that I deserved punishment for my sins.”

He was converted in 1996. The next year, Divito married Jennifer, the girlfriend who had been pivotal in his pilgrimage into the marvelous light of Christianity. Divito is a second-year master of divinity student and is one of the first enrollees in a new apologetics track at Southern Seminary.

Divito hopes to continue dialoguing with and ministering to Mormons and other groups who are following false gospels.

There are several pivotal issues that Christians need to address when witnessing to Mormons, Divito said. Unlike orthodox Christianity’s Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, Mormonism stresses gaining eternal life through works.

Mormons believe that Christ’s atoning work purchased sinners’ resurrection and ability to be saved, but the sinner must appropriate eternal life through his own works. Divito said it is important to stress God’s standard as given in the law—that God demands perfection, but this is a perfection we ourselves cannot accomplish.

Because of this truth, Christians need to point out Christ’s imputed righteousness to Mormons, Divito said. That is, in biblical salvation, a transaction takes place in which Christ’s perfect righteousness is credited to sinners.

Said Divito, “After all, the book of Mormon itself says that ‘no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of God?’ This is where the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is essential.

“All true believers in Christ are perfect because they are in Christ and He is perfect. This perfect righteousness is not our own, it is Christ’s. Christ took not only our sins upon Himself on the cross; He also accredited us with His righteousness. This is the glorious truth of His Gospel.”

Divito said Christians should avoid chasing “rabbit trails” on Mormon doctrines such as baptism for the dead, preexistence, and historical church issues. Instead, they should focus on the Gospel.

Most Mormons are not well-versed in their faith’s history or theology, Divito said. Many of them know little about the Scriptures and base their faith on practical and moral issues, he said.

A Mormon’s foundational beliefs rest primarily on subjective feelings, because members of the LDS church are taught that the Book of Mormon’s validity is established by the “burning of the bosom,” which is said to be the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

“As a result, when speaking with a Mormon, it often will not be long before they will start to bear their testimony,” Divito said. “They ‘know these things are true’ because they think they have had feelings given by God.

“We are dealing with two very different truth claims. This is one of the most difficult and important hurdles to overcome in witnessing to Mormons.”

Dealing with Mormons can be challenging, but believers must finally trust in the Gospel, he said. Divito points out that his own conversion is a testimony to the Gospel’s inherent saving power.

“I get the impression that some individuals believe Mormons are harder to win to Christ than others,” Divito said. “But all unbelievers are dead in their trespasses and sins, as Ephesians 2:1 says, and the salvation of Mormons is no more difficult for God than that of any other believer.

“We should trust in Christ and in the power of His Gospel, boldly proclaiming God’s truth to all people, including Mormons.”


Southern Seminary students examine a missiology of suffering

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — What is a martyr? Are Christians called to suffer or does the Christian faith exempt one from suffering?

Sixteen students sought to answer these questions during a class/conference held May 27-30 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The class, “A Missiology of Suffering, Witness, and Church Planting in the Midst of Persecution,” examined the questions in detail and the answers they found differed from some popular notions regarding both issues.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Long Run Baptist Association in Louisville. Its purpose was to equip students for cross-cultural ministry in strategic locations throughout the world.

The first task class members undertook was to define the term “martyr.” Properly defining this term alongside a biblical definition of a Christian holds important implications for missions. Many groups that compile statistics define both terms broadly and wrongly consider many countries as already evangelized.

“There are several sensational books about martyrs out there that say things such as, ‘there have been more martyrs in the 20th century than in any other in history,’” said David Sills, associate professor of Christian missions and cultural anthropology at Southern Seminary. Sills taught a section of the class on missions and suffering.

“However, those statements include many groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, that we would not consider Christians. We took a much more narrow definition of who is a Christian and who is a martyr.”

Some missions groups define a martyr as anyone who suffers in any way or dies by any means while on the mission field, Sills said. For example, some groups might count as a martyr a missionary who dies in an automobile crash while serving on the field.

Other groups that tally martyrs define a Christian as anyone who claims the title, ranging from Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons to nominal Roman Catholics and Protestants. Some would say that 97 percent of Latin America is Christian because many in the country subscribe to some form of Roman Catholicism, he said.

This inclusive definition of Christianity, coupled with a broad definition of a martyr, leads to grossly inflated statistics regarding the number of Christians who annually suffer for the faith, Sills said.

Worse, it causes millions of persons to be counted as having heard the Gospel when the authentic Christian message has never reached their ears, he said.

“The major problem with this is that some groups will say that such-and-such a country has already been reached with the Gospel because of this broad definition of ‘Christian,’” Sills said.

“It also exaggerates the number of martyrs. If Latin America were to be wiped out by a communist country, for example, because of these broad definitions of ‘martyr’ and ‘Christian,’ (some groups) would say that there were a large number of martyrs among those killed.”

Because of these inclusive definitions, some groups estimate that between 150,000 and 170,000 Christians are martyred for their faith each year.

Sills said the class agreed with the IMB’s definition of a martyr, which is much more narrow. This definition says a person is not a martyr until he or she is killed because of their Christian faith.

Augustine, the church father, wrote that “the cause (the Christian faith) and not the suffering makes a genuine martyr.” Sills said the class more or less agreed that Augustine’s understanding of martyrdom, like that of the IMB, is the most balanced definition. By this understanding, there are between 500 and 5,000 who are martyred each year, he said.

Sills said perhaps another category should exist for those who die while on mission but are not killed expressly for their Christian belief. Sills and the class suggested the category of “hero of the faith,” for these persons.

“There is no way you can come up with a definition that encompasses all the reasons a Christian might die while witnessing,” Sills said. “If a person is not a martyr according to this definition that does not take away from their death or their service in any way.”

The class also examined a ‘theology of suffering’—the biblical teaching that Christians are called to suffer. The New Testament—particularly in the words of Christ and the apostles—is replete with evidence that Christians will suffer for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, he said.

It is the blood of the martyrs that has provided the seed for the growth of the church through the ages, a biblical teaching Christians need to recover, Sills said.

“This was the basic theology of the (17th century) Puritans,” Sills said. “That is, we need to kiss the rod that afflicts us and not try to escape so we can live a life of ease. We need to embrace it when it comes.

“The Lord never gave us the option to avoid persecution but it is a mindset out there, even among some Christians. Evangelizing in some areas will cause people to die if the church grows. Knowing this is essential for a balanced ministry.”


Although some advised abortion, mom-to-be resolute in trusting God

EDMOND, Okla. (BP)--When Robin Fiechtl’s second daughter was born, Fiechtl cried for three hours.

It wasn’t because she was disappointed her second offspring was also a girl, and it wasn’t even post-partum blues.

Fiechtl’s cries were tears of happiness and praise because all 7 pounds, 12 ounces and 21 inches of Delaneigh Elizabeth were perfect.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

If the baby made it to term, she was supposed to be either terribly deformed, brain-dead or born with little chance to take her first breath. And the outlook throughout the pregnancy wasn’t bright for her mother, who also faced possible death.

Fiechtl’s pregnancy with Delaneigh was a surprise to her and husband Dan, who were so wrapped up in 2-year-old daughter Isabel that they had not even thought of another child.

However, when Fiechtl, who was an athlete throughout high school and college, had hip surgery and was scheduled for an X-ray, she thought she had better check to see if she was pregnant before submitting to the test.

“We got the shock of our lives when the pregnancy test came out positive,” Fiechtl recounted. “I had had a miscarriage when Isabel was 8 months old, but we had not talked about more children.”

Robin and Dan met while they were in college at the University of Central Oklahoma and knew they would be married after their first date. Dan, who is from Kansas, works in sales for Weyerauser, and Robin, a native of Midwest City, Okla., has a degree in nutrition and dietetics. However, she got pregnant about a year after they were married in 1998 and has been a stay-at-home mom.

Shortly after she discovered she was pregnant for the third time, she started bleeding. Doctors could not find any fetal tones and told her she miscarried. But when she went back for an ultrasound the next week, she discovered she was carrying a four-week-old fetus.

Because she continued to have bleeding, doctors did a scope and then said the baby looked fine. More problems led to tests of Fiechtl’s gall bladder and colon. The problems seemed to be with her instead of the baby. She was hospitalized 10 times during the pregnancy and eventually had gall bladder surgery.

“I was scared because I was taking so many medications,” Fiechtl said. “Doctors assured me none of them would cause birth defects, but I spent a lot of time doing research to make sure. After all, it was my baby we were talking about, not theirs.”

At 12 weeks, Fiechtl went into labor, and doctors discovered a blood clot in the uterus the same size as the baby.

“They told me if the clot broke loose, I could bleed to death in 10 minutes and would lose the baby,” she said. “That’s when they started suggesting we abort the baby.”

Fiechtl, a member of Country Estates Baptist Church in Midwest City, said she told doctors abortion was not an option, that the pregnancy was in God’s hands.

“Sometimes I got so mad, I wanted to throw things at them,” Fiechtl admitted. She said that even her family and church members suggested she might want to think about ending the pregnancy.

“They did it out of love because they were concerned about me,” Fiechtl said. “I even got a letter from a woman in my church who said I needed to be a more responsible mother to the child I already had.”

She said in October things really began to get bad, with bleeding about every other day, and in November, when they found out she was carrying a girl, Fiechtl’s water broke and she lost about half of the amniotic fluid. The baby was deprived of oxygen for four days, and an ultrasound showed no brain function.

“I was told the baby’s brain looked like mashed potatoes,” Fiechtl said. “This was the lowest point of the pregnancy. I got on my knees and gave everything to God, telling Him I was willing to accept whatever was going to happen.”

Fiechtl said she and Dan decided she would go into labor, deliver the baby and say goodbye to her.

“I was not willing to allow someone to suck my baby out of my body in pieces,” she said. “I was going to deliver her and have a funeral.”

She said she realized how loving God is to let her hold her baby and then take her into His arms.

“We planned on an early delivery, planned for the worst and talked about how we would do a funeral,” Fiechtl said. “We were distraught but content with whatever God was allowing to happen.”

During a January check-up, doctors said the blood clot was growing with the baby and it needed to come out. But in February, there was no sign of the clot.

“There was no medical explanation for the clot being gone,” Fiechtl said. “It dissolved on its own.”

Doctors at the time said the baby was growing on track and there was some brain activity.

Fiechtl again went into labor at the end of February. It was stopped, but the amniotic fluid was half of what it should be.

Fiechtl was scheduled to have labor induced on April 9. But on April 7, she woke up her husband and told him she thought she was in labor. When they got to the hospital, she was told she had a bladder infection and was experiencing spasms.

“I told them I thought I knew the difference between labor contractions and bladder spasms, but they sent me home,” Fiechtl said.

By the time they reached their house, she said the contractions were really strong, so they rushed back to the hospital, where Delaneigh was born later that day.

“We didn’t know what we would face,” Fiechtl said. “I had already mourned her loss, knowing I was going to deliver her and she was going to die. I, along with the medical professionals, didn’t think she could survive all my surgeries, medications and being deprived of oxygen.

“What a miracle when a perfect little baby was laid on my stomach.”


NPR story on Texas sodomy ruling demonstrates clash of worldviews

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A radical clash of worldviews rang clear in a news story on the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision striking down a Texas sodomy law that aired Sunday on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the ruling damages the institution of family and sets a judicial precedent that could usher in even more radical laws such as the legalization of gay marriages.

“This is a very, very damaging decision, not only to the institution of the family and to the moral fabric of our nation, but to the judicial precedent,” Mohler said. “We can only imagine what could follow from the logic of this decision.”

Reporter Allison Aubrey interviewed leaders from two other religious faiths, both of whom viewed the ruling positively.

While Mohler asserted that homosexuality is a sin according to Scripture, Rabbi Lewis Barth, dean of The Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, Calif., said adherents to reformed Judaism view such biblical passages as outdated, reflecting values of 2,500 years ago. Reformed Judaism embraces homosexuals just as they are, he said.

“We know in this case that between 12 and 15 percent of every human society is gay or lesbian,” Barth said. “Once one knows that, then those people ought to be welcomed into our society because that’s who they are.”

William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston, Mass., said homophobia—not homosexuality—is a sin. He hailed the court’s decision as an example of American democracy despite the fact it overturns a law put in place by legislators who were elected by the voters of Texas.

“For us, homosexuality is not the sin, it’s homophobia, which oppresses and harms persons,” Sinkford said.

“The court’s decision is not only a victory for bisexual, gay, and lesbian and transgender people, it’s really a victory for all Americans. As I said, it is an example for me of the best of American democracy, where we are affirming the inherent worth and dignity of all citizens.”

Mohler said the most loving action for Christians toward all people, including homosexuals, is to proclaim the biblical truth of God’s redeeming grace toward sinners.

“What we need to do is have the honest compassion to tell people the truth redemptively,” Mohler said. “Unfortunately, these days, that’s just written off as politically incorrect. But a minister of the Gospel, a Christian pastor, has to be far more concerned with being biblically correct than politically correct.”

To hear the story via RealAudio, click on:


Paige Patterson elected as president of Southwestern

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--Former Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson was elected the eighth president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, June 24.

Trustees voted unanimously in public session to extend a call to Patterson, who recently completed 10 years of service as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He becomes the second Southern Baptist statesman to serve as president of two SBC seminaries.

A native Texan, Patterson, 60, is a third generation Southern Baptist preacher. His father, T.A. Patterson, once served as the executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., chairman of the Council of Seminary Presidents, praised the selection.

“The election of Paige Patterson as president of Southwestern Seminary is one of the great moments in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “Dr. Patterson is one of our greatest leaders, and the Martin Luther in the reformation of our convention and the recovery of biblical inerrancy and authority.”

Patterson is the “obvious man” to take Southwestern Seminary into “its next golden era of theological education,” Mohler said. “He is Texan to the bone, courage in every inch, passion in every breath, vision in every thought, and driven by the Gospel in every dimension.”

In a press release issued by Southeastern Seminary, Patterson said it was the “clear call of God” that was taking him to Southwestern Seminary, a place that he added he loves “profoundly.”

“Our departure comes not as result of dissatisfaction of any kind,” he said. “To the contrary, a president has never enjoyed such support and counsel from a governing board, such camaraderie and stimulation from a faculty and staff, such encouragement from a board of visitors, or such love from students.”

Patterson himself was ordained at First Baptist Church Beaumont, Texas, at age 16. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and a Th.M. and Th.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

After serving as pastor to churches in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, Patterson became president of the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies, now Criswell College in Dallas. Under his leadership, the center grew from an unaccredited Bible institute into an accredited college offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees. He left Criswell College for Southeastern Seminary in October 1992.

Patterson was president of the SBC from 1998-2000. Texas Monthly magazine described him as a “modern prophet” who would soon become “one of the most important theologians in American Protestantism.” The Raleigh News and Observer included Patterson in its list of the top 100 people who helped shape North Carolina in 1999.

The article said that Patterson was a “conservative revolutionary” and “a tireless advocate of evangelism” who reshaped “what had been a moderate biblical seminary into one of the most conservative theological schools in the country.” The article also said that Patterson was committed to “the reliability of Scripture.”

Patterson’s previous posts and influence among Southern Baptists prove that he has a track record for success in theological education and church life, according to Denny Autrey, a Southwestern Seminary trustee and chairman of the seminary’s presidential search committee. He said that the committee was “unified” in its desire to call Patterson for his gifts in pastoral ministry and scholarship.

“We received numerous letters of recommendation, but more for him than any other candidate,” Autrey said. “We had two options. We could have taken the top two or three candidates and held interviews and invited them back for subsequent interviews or we could have called the number one candidate. Our committee chose to look at all the resumes, but we agreed upon Patterson as the first candidate to discuss.”

The search committee and Patterson first met for five-and-a-half hours, after which the search committee wished to proceed with the interview process. Patterson said that he would like to pray about the opportunity and, after several weeks of prayer, he also agreed to move ahead with further meetings.

Autrey said that Patterson well fits the qualifications for the presidency set forth by the faculty, staff, administration and students of Southwestern in questionnaires provided by the search committee. The new president, he said, must be able to gain the trust of faculty, staff and students; shape and lead the seminary over the next 10 years; exercise oversight in all matters; listen and communicate effectively internally and externally; and cultivate donors and raise endowment support.

He also said that the new president should display in his character personal maturity and family values, a personal call to seminary education and proven leadership as an administrator in the field of higher education. The president should also demonstrate openness and acceptance of all people and identify with the heritage of Southwestern. Patterson met all of the qualifications, Autrey said.

Retiring Southwestern Seminary President Kenneth S. Hemphill said that he supported the decision of trustees concerning the future of the seminary.

“Dr. Patterson has been used by God to build a great seminary at Southeastern,” Hemphill said.

Under Patterson’s leadership, Southeastern Seminary grew from 500 students to nearly 2,300. He initiated the “Scholarship on Fire!” capital fundraising plan, which will provide for a new library, campus center and other renovations. He also oversaw more than $18 million in campus construction and renovation and pioneered church planting relationships between Southeastern and the New Hampshire Baptist Association and the North American Mission Board.

Patterson also developed a respected faculty at the North Carolina seminary, Hemphill said.

“If you look at the excellent faculty he has assembled and the growth and enthusiastic student body that have been drawn to Southeastern, you will discover an eloquent testimony to his credentials to lead Southwestern. His passion for missions and his great heart for the world will suit him well to lead the greatest mission-training institution in the world,” Hemphill said.

Southern Seminary’s Mohler said that Patterson “will take Texas by storm” and “win the hearts of Texas Baptists to the great cause of Gospel and truth as represented by their beloved Southwestern Seminary.”

Mohler said that Southern Baptists “will greet this news with great excitement and joy.” He added that “we will be praying for Southeastern Seminary as they await their new leader. This we know: God will provide a leader to build on Dr. Patterson’s legacy at that great school.”

Hemphill announced his retirement from Southwestern April 8 in order to serve as national strategist for the SBC’s Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative. He said that he and his wife, Paula, were grateful for the nine years of service God gave them at Southwestern. He also said that he and his wife “stand ready to assist Paige and Dorothy in any way possible.”

“I urge the faculty, students, alumni and friends of the seminary to join me in praying for and supporting Paige and Dorothy as they come to Southwestern. No institution of higher learning has greater kingdom impact than Southwestern,” Hemphill said.

Copyright (c) 2001 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press


The proof of seminary health is its ministers, Mohler says

PHOENIX, Ariz.—The health of a seminary is most clearly seen in the kind of ministers it produces, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Wednesday at the annual Alumni Luncheon of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

A seminary may have letters of approval from academic and accrediting agencies, but if it does not produce ministers that preach the authentic Gospel to the glory of God, then they are nothing, Mohler told the assembly of some 410 people.

“You really find out what a seminary is when you look and listen to its graduates,” Mohler said.

“That’s when you find out [when you see] just one alumnus of this school who is faithful in teaching and preaching the Gospel, faithful in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth in obedience to the command of the Christ and fulfillment of the Great Commission. You (the alumnus) are our letters of commendation.”

Mohler recently marked the 10th anniversary of his election as president of Southern Seminary. Within the past decade, the school undergone a transformation from an institution moderate in its teaching and doctrine to one that is a leader within conservative evangelicalism.

Speaking on 2 Cor. 2 and 3, in which the apostle Paul called the churches his “letter of commendation,” Mohler said the proof of Southern Seminary’s profound change is in the ministers it has produced.

The seminary has also increased greatly in enrollment, facilities, faculty, and annual events. Both the turnaround and the growth is entirely the work of God, he said.“After 10 years as president of Southern Seminary, all I can say is, only God could do this,” he said.

“We are in Phoenix, Arizona, 1772 miles from Louisville and there are so many gathered in this room who have come because, in some way or another, your life has intersected with the mission of SBTS. And we have no letters of commendation, save you.”

Mohler said he takes Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 2:17 as a warning to theological seminaries to avoid producing mere peddlers of the Gospel.

There are many today who seek to merely make money from preaching pseudo-gospels of prosperity, self-esteem, and self-help, Mohler said, but the seminary that would glorify God must avoid peddling.

“It is a warning to me 10 years later, even as it was 10 years ago, that we must not be about the task of training, teaching, preparing peddlers of the Word of God,” Mohler said.

“Though we live in an age where peddling is not only popular in the secular sphere, it is also somewhat expected in many churches. The pandering, peddling preacher will always be popular until someone gets a sniff of the real Gospel. Then the falsehood is immediately made apparent by the fact that this preacher is putting off the wrong smell.”

The school that seeks to prepare ministers to preach the true Gospel does it with the confidence that the Holy Spirit will apply the Gospel and seeks no glory for the institution, he said. In turn, a minister who faithfully proclaims the genuine Gospel will be—in the words of the apostle Paul—an aroma of life to believers and an aroma of death to those who reject Christ, he said.

While a seminary prepares ministers in one sense, ultimately the Holy Spirit calls, forms, and prepares a minister, he said.

“Along with Paul [in 2 Cor. 2], we are not seeking to get anything out of this enterprise but the satisfaction of seeing the Word of God at work and seeing God glorified in the preaching of His Word,” Mohler said.

“There is certainly preparation we can and do offer. There is education we must and do impart. There is training that is our assignment, but in the end it is the Spirit of God that makes a minister, calls a minister, forms a minister, prepares a minister. The seminary cannot lead that minister in triumph, but God does. He promises always to do so.”

Mohler said the transformation at Southern Seminary is proof that God will honor the institution that stands upon the one true Gospel.

“The world said this couldn’t happen,” he said. “God has chosen the weak things of the world the shame the strong. God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. And God has chosen Southern Seminary to show that He will bless His Word and He will bless an institution that will pay the price to stand on the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

“We come together, not to celebrate an institution, but to give thanks to God and to share a vision of God’s glory in what He has allowed to take place through one institution and its work and its family and its story.”


Mohler: SBC seminaries remain faithful to Gospel while others are moving away

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention are moving in a direction opposite to most other theological institutions, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Tuesday at the SBC’s annual meeting.

Mohler, president of Southern Seminary and chairman of the SBC’s Council of Seminary Presidents, told convention messengers that Southern Baptist seminaries are standing faithfully upon the Gospel because the denomination’s churches have held the schools accountable.

Many seminaries within the mainline denominations have abdicated from teaching the genuine Gospel of Scripture, Mohler said. The result has been a dwindling number of persons entering the ministry and a decreased passion for the things of God, he said. But the opposite has occurred within SBC schools during recent years.

Said Mohler, “What has taken place in your seminaries as a counter-revolution in the world of theological education is due to the sovereignty of God and by His provision through churches that simply said, ‘We will not allow that to happen, we will hold our schools responsible, we will remind our schools to whom they belong, and of the charge we have given them.’

“Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that your six schools are proud to serve the churches of the SBC.”

SBC seminaries are not only accountable to local churches through the trustee boards they elect, but are also faithful to their respective confessions of faith as well as the Baptist Faith & Message, he said.

Mohler reminded listeners that every SBC seminary professor is required to sign that school’s respective confession of faith. By doing so, the professor pledges to teach in accordance with—and not contrary to—that confession.

While the seminaries seek to build a sound doctrinal foundation beneath their students, they also teach them the practical aspects of ministry, he said. The sound teaching of God’s inspired Word in the seminaries gives Southern Baptist churches a bright future, he said.

“We are about the task of teaching real-life ministers of the Gospel,” he said.

“Your seminaries are driven by evangelism. [They] are driven by an understanding that it is our responsibility to stand on the faith once for all delivered to the saints and to make certain that we take the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

“If you were to look at your six seminaries and you were to line up all the theological students in the United States of America studying in accreditation institutions, you would realize that Southern Baptists have a future that is not evident in many other churches.”

A brief question and answer session followed the seminary reports. One messenger asked Mohler about doctrines that are taught at Southern Seminary. In his concluding remarks, Mohler pointed out that such theological dialogue within the SBC is evidence of a healthy denomination.

“Even in the course of this report we have discussed some doctrine and some theology,” Mohler said. “Let us see that as a sign of denominational health.

“Dying denominations don’t care. Living denominations love the Gospel because [they] love the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us learn the Gospel, study the Gospel, be grounded in the Gospel, and brothers and sisters, let us take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”


World impact must start with discipleship at home, Akin says

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Winning the world to Christ starts with men discipling their wives and children in the home, said Danny Akin, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in a sermon at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention Tuesday.

“A Christian man surrendered to the lordship of Christ will be a different man. He will be the leader of his family who knows, loves and obeys the Bible,” Akin said. “He will be man who loves his wife and blesses his children. He will be a man who believes that winning the world to Christ starts in the home.”

Akin made these remarks during a “Kingdom Challenge” at the annual convention. Kingdom Challenges were short sermons during which leaders exhorted messengers on the theme of God’s Kingdom.

Preaching from Ephesians 5:25-6:4, Akin highlighted two commands for godly men in the context of their families.

First, husbands must love their wives.

“God is not asking. God is not suggesting. God commands a husband, ‘You love your wife,’” Akin said. “This is to be the consistent and constant activity of your life.”

Love for one’s wife should not be primarily a matter of emotional attachment, he said. Rather, it should model Christ’s willful sacrifice when He gave His life for the church.

“I recognize that in this passage there is an emotional aspect to the love that Paul talks about, but primarily Paul has in mind the volitional component of love—that love which is a choice, a decision, an act of your will. It’s not, ‘I love her if she’s lovely.’ It’s not, ‘I love her because she does certain things.’ But rather, I choose to love her even during those times when she is not lovely,” he said.

A husband’s love for his wife, Akin added, should also encourage her to become more like Christ.

“You are to sanctify your wife, setting her apart that she might become holy and that she might become pure and that she might grow to be more like Christ,” he said. “I want to say to you this afternoon, gentlemen, if there’s anyone that you disciple in your life, you ought to begin with your wife and then with your children.

“If there is anyone who is impacted by your life to become more like Christ, it will be your wife and your kids.”

Men should take several specific steps to ensure that they love their wives as the Scriptures command, Akin said. These steps include avoiding material in the media with sexual content and never being alone with a woman other than one’s wife.

Second, fathers must bless their children. For a father to bless his children, he must teach them to obey God, Akin said.

“We should help our children understand that our expectation for them is obedience, not disobedience,” he said. “Obey your parents. How? In the Lord, unto the Lord. Why? Because this is right.”

A father’s blessing to his children must also include encouragement to be godly, Akin said. Part of a man’s unique leadership responsibility in the home includes encouraging and shepherding his children, he said.

“Gentlemen, it is again a reminder that you and I are called to the leadership assignment in the home,” he said. “And gentlemen, every single one of us in this auditorium today will someday stand before God, and we will give an account for how well we shepherded, how well we pastored our flock at home.”

Children are so attentive to their fathers, Akin added, that a father’s every word and action can be an encouragement in his child’s Christian walk.

Focusing on the Kingdom of God necessitates a man focusing on living a godly life with his family, Akin said. A man committed to loving his wife and blessing his children will take an important step toward impacting the world for Christ.

“Gentlemen, being a man of God does indeed mean that when it comes to winning the world for Christ, I’m going to make sure I start where I need to start,” he said. “I’m going to start with my home.”


Mohler: Scripture mandates evangelism “to the Jew first”

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Despite the controversial nature of Jewish evangelism, Scripture rings clear that Christians are under a mandate to proclaim the Gospel to Jewish persons, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told a group of Messianic Jews Monday.

While the notion of Jewish people being saved by faith in Christ is a notion contemporary society finds scandalous, the issue of preaching the Gospel to the Jews was not controversial during biblical times said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The critical question in the debate is whether Scripture is seen as the absolute standard of truth and authority, he said while addressing the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship.

Drawing on Rom. 1:16 and several passages in Acts, Mohler said that Jewish evangelism is not only commanded but is a priority because the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation for the Jew first and then the Greek.”

“In the book of Acts and in the apostolic age and in the opening chapter of Romans, you see there is no question about the necessity of Jewish evangelism,” Mohler said. “Not only that but there is even a priority that is indicated in the text.”

If the authority of God’s Word is rejected with regards to Jewish Evangelism, it also no longer binding on issues such as homosexuality, Mohler said. In fact, Jewish Evangelism, homosexuality, and the authority of Scripture are the three “trip wires” facing the evangelical church, he said.

This is particularly true because the first two hinge upon acceptance or rejection of the third—the authority of Scripture.

“The bottom-line question is this: Will we obey or disobey the Word of God?” he said.

The foundation of Jewish evangelism is the claim of Jesus Christ to be the Messiah in fulfillment of Israel’s expectation and the Old Testament prophets.

“It is clear from the biblical text, in the Gospels that Jesus is claiming to be none other than the Messiah, the promised one of Israel,” he said.

“(Christ’s messiahship was) established by Himself and authenticated by His words and His deeds. It is centered in His substitutionary death and was vindicated by His Father in the resurrection.”

Evangelicals have failed the Jews by failing to faithfully proclaim the Gospel to them, Mohler said. Part of the problem is a related failure by Christians to understand what is fully meant by the name “Christ,” he said. The name is a title and an absolute claim to be the Messiah, Mohler pointed out.

The current debate over Jewish evangelism is framed by a postmodern rejection of absolute truth and also a false understanding of what it means to be a Jew, said Mohler, who has debated the issue numerous times on national radio and television.

Once, a person who claimed to be a Jew was establishing himself as an adherent to Judaism. Today, “Jewishness” is seen merely as an ethnic designation and evangelism of Jews is viewed as aggressive imperialism or even ‘ethnic genocide.’

“Judaism has been turned into a folkway, a way of life, an ethnic identity and it is now considered impossible in a postmodern society to address Jewish people theologically,” he said.

Secularists now base their distaste for Jewish evangelism on political correctness and emotional arguments, not on claims of truth, Mohler said. Still, the Scriptures are clear in places such as Acts 2 that the Gospel is for Jews as well as all persons. In Acts 2, Peter preached to scores of Jews and many were saved through faith in Christ.

Today, even some segments of the church reject Jewish evangelism because of a false interpretation of Scripture that argues for two covenants: one for Jews and another for other persons. This is merely a fanciful interpretational device to try and skirt the issue, Mohler said.

Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism teaches the two-covenant view and Pope John Paul II has declared that all monotheists—including Muslims, Christians and all monotheistic religions—who are sincere about their faith are saved, Mohler said.

“Sincerity is now seen as the entire ground of salvation,” Mohler said.

The Christian tradition is also beset with a legacy anti-semitism, Mohler said. By faithfully proclaiming the Gospel to Jews, Christianity can overcome this ignoble aspect of its history, he said.

One action Christians must avoid is a decision not to preach the Gospel to Jews aimed at overcoming anti-semitism, he said. Scripture promises that Jews will respond to the Gospel and that there will be a great ingathering of Jews into the Christian faith in the future, Mohler said.

“The great remarkable, magnificent conversion of Israel to the Gospel is going to be that inexplicable sign in history that the world cannot possibly explain other than by the sovereignty of God,” he said.

Mohler illustrated Jewish evangelism by comparing it to a medical doctor. A person with a potentially deadly tumor would want a doctor who would give them a truthful diagnosis, not one who would, in an effort to avoid offending them, tell them that all is well.

In the same way, Christians must tell unsaved Jews and all non-Christians the truth of the eternal danger they face and steer them to salvation in Christ. Because of this, proclaiming the Gospel is a genuine display of Christian love, he said.

“The act of Christian truth-telling, telling the truth of the Gospel to an unbeliever, Jew or Gentile, is the ultimate act of Christian love,” he said. “Evangelism is not driven by imperialism. It is not driven by nationalistic objectives.”

“It is not driven by materialistic concerns, but is the love of one sinner saved by grace to another sinner that is compelled by a greater love and that is the love of that sinner for his Lord. We love our Lord and thus we obey His commandments.”


New book explores lives, legacies of Southern Baptist Convention presidents

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--As the story goes, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary founding President B.H. Carroll was dying and wanted to give his successor, L.R. Scarborough, one last charge.

So a few days before his death in 1914, he called Scarborough to his bedside and told him that if “heresy ever comes” to the seminary, “take it to the faculty.” If the faculty fail to take action, he added, then “take it” to the trustees. If the trustees don’t listen, then go to the convention.

If no one at the convention listens, he concluded, then “take it to the great common people of our churches. You will not fail to get a hearing then.”

Such stories are at the core of “The Sacred Trust,” a new book by brothers Emir and Ergun Caner that recounts the life of each of the Southern Baptist Convention’s 52 presidents. It is the first such book in more than a generation, according to its publisher, Broadman & Holman, the trade books division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Emir Caner is assistant professor of church history and Anabaptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Ergun Caner is assistant professor of theology and church history at Criswell College in Dallas, although he will be moving to Liberty University this fall.

The 238-page book includes a bio on each man who has wielded the gavel at the annual meeting. The book is more than a collection of facts: It is a compilation of interesting stories and events that molded their lives.

The first president, William B. Johnson (elected in 1845-46, 1849), shook the hand of U.S. President George Washington as a boy. The second president, Robert Howell (1851, 1853, 1855, 1857) battled J.R. Graves over the issue of Landmarkism.

As a pastor of First Baptist in Houston, K. Owen White (1963) fought for the inclusion of blacks in his church. As pastor of a church in Fort Pierce, Fla., Adrian Rogers (1979, 1986-87) and his wife lost their third child to crib death on Mother’s Day.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., wrote the book’s foreword.

“The president of the Southern Baptist Convention has no office in a denominational headquarters, receives no salary from his position, is given no staff for assistance, and has few unilateral powers,” Mohler noted. “And yet the SBC presidency is one of the most recognized and influential offices of leadership in the Christian world. Therein lies an enigma and an incredible story.”

The presidents appoint members to influential committees, preside over annual conventions and serve as spokesmen to the world, Mohler pointed out. The varied stories of the 52 presidents “help us to understand the development of the Convention’s self-understanding and program as well as its presidency.”

The Caners note that the historical presidential gavel, handed down from year to year and used at each meeting, is a reminder of the presidents’ “shared history, heritage, and legacy.” The gavel, made from wood from the Holy Land, was a gift from Southern Seminary professor John A. Broadus to the convention in 1872. The handle is made of “balsam wood grown near the River Jordan, and its head is made of olive wood from the Mount of Olives.”

The book tells how various presidents have stood firm in defending Christian and Baptist principles.

Richard Fuller (1859, 1861) used his pulpit at Seventh Baptist Church in Baltimore to argue against infant baptism. James P. Boyce (1872-79, 1888), who was baptized by Fuller, helped spark a revival on his campus as a college student, then later stood firm on biblical inerrancy as president of Southern Seminary.

The book also describes the various political and theological squabbles the presidents have encountered through the decades.

E.Y. Mullins (1921-23) served as chairman of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message committee that addressed the controversy over modernism and evolution. Herschel Hobbs (1961-62) helped write the 1963 BF&M over concerns of liberalism within the seminaries. Rogers served as chairman of the 2000 BF&M committee that clarified a handful of Baptist beliefs and addressed various social issues.

Stories from the 1980s and 1990s -- the height of the Conservative Resurgence -- are included, such as Bailey Smith (1980-81) winning as an “unknown” candidate in Los Angeles, Charles Stanley (1984-85) withholding his name from nomination until hours before the vote and Morris H. Chapman (1990-91) defeating Daniel Vestal (the current-day coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) by the largest margin of victory for a first-term nominee in 11 years.

In the preface the Caners say the book is “an investigation” of the “heartbeats and the passions” of the presidents’ lives.

“These were men who dared to believe that the task of world evangelism was not too large a task, too costly a labor, or too steep a climb,” they write. “They dared to believe that we were equal to the task to which God called us, in his power alone. They have dared to inspire us to seek the face of God.”