Paige Patterson has written an online post extolling the virtues of independent Baptists and praising them for “keeping the main thing the main thing.”
That “main thing,” the former Southern Baptist Convention seminary president said, is evangelism.
Patterson’s May 3 post on his personal website tells of him attending an anniversary celebration for evangelist Tim Lee. That event was held at Southfork Ranch north of Dallas — famous for its role in the 1980s TV series “Dallas” — and featured two icons of the religio-political right: Sen. Ted Cruz and Lt. Col. Oliver North.
Lee was raised Southern Baptist but today is associated with several independent Baptist causes. He chairs the board of trustees at Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell as a flagship school of independent Baptists.
Patterson, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary — both SBC schools — said he did not want to imply that independent Baptists “have not had their share of difficulties and failures.”
“The most important things in independent Baptist thinking were undaunted love for Christ, unmitigated loyalty to the Bible and universal love for the conversion of the lost.”
But, he added, “Anyone present at that salubrious and edifying occasion emerged knowing that the most important things in independent Baptist thinking were undaunted love for Christ, unmitigated loyalty to the Bible and universal love for the conversion of the lost.”
Patterson, co-architect of the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC, asked: “When was the last time you attended any Southern Baptist gathering and left with that impression? Was there a moment you can remember in Southern Baptist life when about every third line was a heartfelt, often tear-stained cry to God to save the lost? Amid our disagreements and political struggles, how long since a non-evangelistic celebration saw three people saved as it happened when evangelist Lee preached a brief gospel message and extended an invitation at the conclusion? How many Southern Baptists even know what an invitation is anymore? Or is the situation worse? May I have the temerity to inquire how many Southern Baptists are able to articulate what we mean when we say ‘the gospel’?”
Patterson continued with praise for Lee, who lost both legs while serving in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and since then has traveled the world preaching evangelistic messages.
It’s not that “a love and concern for the lost is nowhere harbored in Southern Baptist life,” Patterson wrote. “Though a significant number of our churches have left to affiliate with the independent Baptists who now are tending to keep the main thing the main thing, there remain millions of Southern Baptists who long to see revival of hearts, renewal of invitations, and the sight of lost people again weeping their way to Christ.”
Patterson urged those who are so evangelistic minded to show up in New Orleans this June for the SBC annual meeting and “vote to return to a program of winning the lost.” He did not specify what particular program he had in mind, but SBC presidential challenger Mike Stone — a Georgia pastor supported by the most conservative wing of the SBC — has said if elected he would launch a national evangelistic campaign.
“Will we learn from evangelist Lee and our independent Brethren, or will we follow the Methodists into destruction?” Patterson wrote. “In my years of antiquity, I plead one final time: Southern Baptists, come together and cast your vote for the salvation of lost men and women, forgiving one another for every slight and focusing on the main thing.”