FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Ministers attempting to fulfill the Great Commission may face opposition in their ministry, but it may come from within their own congregations, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson said during the Fort Worth seminary’s fall convocation ceremony Aug. 18.
“The problem I’m talking about is not the lost world. I’m talking about your churches, your deacons, your Sunday school teachers,” Patterson said.
The opposition is rooted in the failure of many to grasp the teachings of the Great Commission in Matthew 28, he said. Many churches had followed a modern trend of separating evangelism and discipleship, which he said is “not biblical.” He said that evangelism is fundamental to making disciples.
Many church members have given up sharing the gospel because they assume they do not have “the gift of evangelism.”
“There is nowhere in the text any indication of evangelism being a gift. It is a command for every Christian,” Patterson said. “It does not matter what your calling is, whether it is pastoral ministry, counseling, missionary, education or youth ministry. That’s just how you do the business of leading folks to faith in Jesus Christ. If you want to please God, you must do it.”
Patterson said fulfilling the Great Commission is what makes great churches. “What makes a great church?” Patterson asked. “It is not numbers. A great church is marked by its obedience to Christ.”
Patterson also addressed the issue of baptism in the modern church. The mandate to baptize is dependent upon Christ’s call to make disciples, he said. However, he said he has noticed within many churches an unbalanced attitude toward baptism.
“Baptism,” he said, “is always either over-emphasized or under-emphasized. Those who overemphasize it ascribe to baptism some sort of grace impartation.” At the other extreme, Patterson said, baptism is often trivialized and “tacked on” to the end of a church service. That practice fails to place baptism within the life of a body of believers.
Patterson then defined the biblical view of full-immersion, believer’s baptism, placing it within a biblical and historical perspective.
“Baptism is the initiatory rite of the church,” he said. “Baptism is the act in which a person identifies himself with Christ the Head of the church, and Christ’s body, the church itself.”
Patterson refuted the modern tendency to perform baptism outside the local church, describing that as akin to identification with a “bodiless head.” He said that the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper should not be used in social events, such as weddings.
“What happens when those kinds of things become prominent is that you begin to cheapen the ordinances,” he said. Patterson called the audience to hold a serious and balanced view of baptism instead.
He said that baptism represents a three-fold testimony. It bears witness to the past reality of what Jesus Christ did on the cross. It witnesses to the present circumstances of the life of a new believer. Finally, it looks forward in time to a future in heaven.
“When you are baptized, and the minister lifts you up out of the water, you are publicly announcing to all who watch that you are no longer going to live like a pagan,” he said. “Don’t go into the waters of baptism unless you fully intend, when you arise, to live the confession of faith you have made in that baptism.”
Patterson’s sermon came after the seminary welcomed 15 newly elected faculty members to the Fort Worth campus, and witnessed their signing of the seminary’s book of confessional heritage. By signing the book, faculty members indicate symbolically their agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
Signing it affirmed a unity of faith and purpose among the faculty, said Craig Blaising, executive vice president and provost.
“The educational mission of Southwestern Seminary originates in the Great Commission,” Blaising said.