Billed as "the largest church building campaign in modern history," the project aesthetically complements its surroundings in an area of downtown where new multi-million dollar theaters, museums and parks dot the landscape.
David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., whose relationship with the church dates back to his days as a Dallas Theological Seminary student, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, known for his bold evangelicalism, headlined the list of dignitaries attending the first in a series of April services marking the church's new facilities.
"The temptation will be to take a deep breath and to say 'We finally did it,'" Jeremiah told a packed audience in the new 3,000-seat, state-of-the-art worship center with a 150-foot-wide IMAX-quality screen spanning the stage.
Jeremiah's selection to preach the dedication was a historic fit. W.A. Criswell, legendary pastor of First Baptist Dallas, went to San Diego years ago to preach dedication services for Jeremiah at Shadow Mountain Community Church.
Jeremiah, a Southern Baptist with an international broadcast ministry called "Turning Point," told of being captivated by Criswell and First Baptist Dallas while he was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. In recent years, Jeremiah and First Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress have become friends, with Jeremiah encouraging Jeffress to expand his "Pathway to Victory" media ministry, Jeremiah said.
It was announced during the service to applause that "Pathway to Victory" began in late March with broadcasts into mainland China with a potential audience of 1 billion people.
To illustrate his sermon, Jeremiah turned to a Vincent van Gogh painting called "The Church at Auvers" that depicts a church building without doors to go in and out of and which sits in its own shadow, neither reflecting nor emanating any light.
Like the church in the painting, the danger for the modern church is that it would become a "lifeless relic that the people bypass to avoid its dark shadow," Jeremiah said.
But with diligence toward the purpose of the church ("the glory of God"), the program of the church (reaching out to those on the outside), and the priority of the church ("the Great Commission"), First Baptist Dallas can become "thousands of points of light illuminating the darkness," Jeremiah said.
Through 40 years of ministry and eight building projects, "I've come to believe that all of the benefits the nuclear family accrues from having a place to call home" also apply to churches. But much work awaits on the outside, he reminded.
"God has not just put this church in this community so it can be a beautiful, a monumental, place for people to visit. This is not just a place where people should come into the church, but remember, the doors are open both ways. The church must go out of these doors, into the community and touch the lives of the people who are needy and are needing what Jesus Christ alone can bring," Jeremiah said.
Perry began his six-minute address to the church by saying he was wowed by the facilities as a "beacon" where "our Savior and our light can truly be seen."
Noting his own depravity and his need for a savior, Perry said his Austin pastor often says church is a "hospital for sinners." In the same manner, the mission of the church is not to condemn people "but to point people to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We as fellow sinners will never condemn someone to salvation, but God can use us to show them grace and love them to it."
Perry also noted, "God is the same yesterday, today and forever ... and so are His truths."
The First Baptist expansion includes a glass sky bridge connecting the worship center to the five-story Horner Family Center and parking garage.
An outdoor cross-tower and fountain -- officially announced during the dedication service as the Jeffress Fountain Plaza -- includes a baptismal pool and is surrounded by three-fourths of an acre of community space for pedestrians. The cross towers 68 feet with multiple fountainheads that can be synced to orchestral music.
Also dedicated were the Jennifer, James and Geneva Donald Preschool and Children's Suite and the Donna and Hollis Sullivan Media Center -- which will broadcast services and serve as home to the "Pathway to Victory" ministry.
Among the dedication service dignitaries were Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and two former First Baptist Dallas pastors, O.S. Hawkins, who offered a dedication prayer, and Joel Gregory, who read Scripture.
Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, was scheduled to fill the pulpit on April 14, followed by an April 21 luncheon featuring Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, online at www.TexanOnline.net. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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