Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, compared the church today to a housebound elderly woman who decided to give money instead of presents at Christmas. She wrote a message in each card, affirming her love and including a note: "Please buy your own present this year." She discovered later, to her horror, she had forgotten to put checks in the envelopes.
"It's a funny story, but it has a deep spiritual application," said Page, who was a BGR trustee in 2006 when the Baptist relief and development organization was founded. "I believe that's exactly what we've been doing to our world. We have been saying to our world, 'We love you, but we're going to ask you to find your own way. We're not going to live the life before you, we're not going to do what God told us to do so that you will see the Gospel, hear the Gospel and believe the Gospel.'"
The Oct. 27-29 sessions drew about 250 people to the church for training that would prepare them to serve in overseas disaster relief and community development projects -- opportunities to match proclamations of God's love with demonstrations of Christ's compassion.
Preaching from the Luke 7 account of Jesus bringing a widow's dead son back to life, Page challenged the audience to follow Jesus' example -- in compassion bringing God's life-giving power to people in desperate pain.
"I don't want to tell our world anymore, 'Find your own way.' I don't want to be a part of proclamation without practical action," Page said in his Oct. 27 message. "I don't want to be telling people to believe anymore, without using the behavior of showing Christ-like power that we have at our fingertips.... Let's stop talking about it and start doing it."
Page's challenge followed a presentation by Scott Holste, another BGR trustee, who briefly traced the history of Southern Baptist missions to show that human needs ministries have gone hand-in-hand with Gospel proclamation since the SBC's founding in 1845.
Holste cited a 1981 comment by Southern Baptist missions leader Winston Crawley: "The foreign missions program of Southern Baptists has never been polarized between witness and ministry. Missionaries have displayed a holistic concern for the persons among whom they have served. I have heard Dr. Cauthen -- one of our former presidents -- state many times how appropriate it is for missionaries to go into the field with a Bible in one hand and a loaf of bread in the other."
"One of the great tragedies in evangelicalism was the unfortunate and unnecessary divorce, in a sense, that occurred between the proclamation of the Gospel and the demonstration of the Gospel...," Holste said. "Today you have many organizations that are focused almost exclusively on the proclamation of the Gospel, as if the demonstration of the Gospel has no part whatsoever. And we have a multitude of evangelical organizations out there promoting demonstration of the Gospel -- meeting human needs -- but doing so in a way that the proclamation of the Gospel appears to have no part at all.
"I don't understand it, because it isn't the biblical model at all," Holste said. "Just looking at the life of Jesus, you see this integration of proclamation and demonstration in His own life and ministry.... A concern for the body and a concern for the soul have been together in Southern Baptist life and practice since the beginning."
Drew Cline, creative director for the Last Letter justice ministry and former lead singer for NewSong, led the assembly in worship.
In a Q&A conversation with BGR Executive Director Jeff Palmer, Joel Cuellar, pastor of evangelism and missions for Tokyo Baptist Church, talked about that congregation's response to Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Cuellar expressed appreciation for the way Southern Baptist disaster relief specialists had come alongside the congregation, providing training and demonstrating a servant spirit in hard chores like shoveling mud out of homes and businesses. Through the experience of demonstrating Christ's love, as well as sharing the Gospel, church members had come to a "high-level awareness" that Jesus works through His people in disaster response, Cuellar said.
Through the remainder of the weekend, conference participants received training in a wide range of human needs strategies, from helping refugees, to providing clean water, to assisting widows and orphans.
Mark Kelly is senior writer and assistant editor for Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at www.gobgr.org. Drew Cline's website is at www.drewcline.com.
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