SBC churches must recover lost jewels of believers’ baptism, regenerate church membership, Patterson says

Communications Staff — October 3, 2007

The greatest theological error in Southern Baptist churches today is a lack of emphasis on the importance of regenerate church membership, Paige Patterson said Sept. 26 at a luncheon at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Patterson said a lack of discernment concerning valid candidates for baptism and a weak understanding of the nature of believers’ baptism have caused this error.

“Somewhere along the line, the concept of believers’ baptism has been lost,” he said. “I do believe that Baptists have become the worst of the infant baptizers today. You look at how many people we are baptizing under age 5 today and you see that we don’t understand that until someone has had a regenerating experience with the Holy Spirit changing his life he is not an appropriate candidate for baptism.

“You also must have some method of church discipline. It (baptism) all has to do with a regenerate church membership. Make no mistake about it; the uniqueness of Baptist perspective is not baptism by immersion. The uniqueness of the Baptist perspective is the baptism of believers only. The biggest problem that we have today in our Baptist churches is an actual loss in the understanding of the believer’s church.”

Patterson was on campus as the featured speaker for the annual E.Y. Mullins Lecture Series. During the luncheon, Patterson fielded questions pertaining to Southern Baptist life and preaching. Concerning the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, Patterson said the effects of postmodernism on the churches of the convention concerns him.

“I have a concern that postmodern thinking has leaked full-blown into culture and is now affecting our churches in an incredible fashion,” he said. “I [particularly] despair about that from the viewpoint of educational programs in our churches. We have lost church training, study course books, Bible study and we are virtually losing Sunday school for the sake of small groups.

“So what we are going to have is a whole generation coming up in our churches who are totally unfamiliar with the biblical story and who do not have a biblical worldview. And we will have a whole generation of people who claim to believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, but in fact are oblivious to what Scripture actually says.”

On the flip side, Patterson said the abundance of students that he sees in seminaries and colleges across the country who are passionate about the work of God gives him hope for the future.

“When I walked into Alumni Memorial Chapel (at Southern Seminary) yesterday and I looked out at the congregation, my heart sang,” he said. “I can tell in the look of students’ eyes that you have the bit in the mouth to do something for God. I can tell that you are sold out to Him. What I find in this generation of students is that their afterburners are lit. It is not anything for them to think about taking the Gospel to people who otherwise would not hear. I am grateful for the way in which you (students) are willing to address the problems of the day.”

Answering the question of how a pastor should balance building rapport with his congregation with the need to accurately preach the Word, Patterson encouraged young pastors stepping into churches to not go in and immediately start making changes.

“For the first two years, as a general rule, you don’t need to do anything other than love the people, get to know people, pray for the people and preach the truth,” he said. “After two to four years, you will be the leader. Once they fall in love with biblical preaching, they will always be intolerant of any other kinds of preaching.”

He also told young pastors that if a church rejects them, it should be because of the Gospel and not their methodology or attitude.

“When you deliver a sermon, and people don’t like it make sure that people hate the content of your delivery and not the method in which you delivered it,” he said. “Make sure that the offense is in the Gospel and not in the method of your delivery.”

Patterson promised pastors that if they would do two things, they would be well on their way to avoiding burnout and moral failure.

“First, a man must keep sacred his time for a personal walk with God. That is critical,” he said. “You just can’t bare your soul in the presence of God in the morning and have that wear off real quickly. It is likely to stay with you in the pulpit and in whatever you are doing in a day.

“Second, when I am in the doldrums and throwing myself a pity party, I go and witness to somebody on a regular basis. If I am regularly witnessing to people and if I keep that personal walk with God, then it protects me in the purity of my life and it assures that the power of my life is coming from God and is not being manufactured by me.”

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