Twenty-five years into a movement aimed at restoring conservative doctrines, Southern Baptists continue to drift along year after year reporting a little over 400,000 baptisms, and the vast majority of those occur in a relatively small percentage of the churches, “conservative resurgence” co-founder Paige Patterson said Sunday.
“The other day I received a telephone call from a liberal press, and they said, ‘You said during the start of the conservative movement in the convention that you were doing this in order to see an upturn in missions and evangelism,'” Patterson said at the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference in Indianapolis. “What do you think about it now, because there’s been no upturn?”
“Let me tell you they were half right,” said Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. “I would rather be a Bible-believing man with a hope for revival than a liberal with no hope for anything.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, if we had not had a conservative movement in this convention, our baptisms would be way short of 400,000 now,” Patterson said. “They’d look exactly like they do in a dozen other mainline denominations that have long since failed to mean anything at all to the work of evangelism and worldwide missions.”
But Patterson said the reporter was “partly correct” and the situation was really “worse than he knew.”
“We have baptized mostly our own,” he said, and many for a second time. “That’s fine if they’re just getting saved. I’m not opposed to that,” he said, but rebaptisms also must be factored into baptism statistics.
What’s more, “Many of us are guilty of the infant baptism we used to criticize everybody else for,” Patterson said. “We’re baptizing more and more [who are] younger and younger. You know why, because we no longer really believe in the exclusivity of Christ for salvation.”
“How on earth can we fail to baptize 600,000, 800,000, a million people a year?” Patterson asked. “We don’t do it because we do not care like we ought to care.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.