June 23, 1999

Ralph Smith rises to
occasion as
SBC preacher
___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___ATLANTA--Four years ago, Ralph Smith wondered if he ever would stand to preach again. On June 16, he walked to the podium in Atlanta's Georgia Dome and delivered the convention sermon for the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
___Smith, who for 36 years was pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, has been suffering with Guillian-Barre syndrome, a debilitating muscular disease that forced him to take early retirement.
___"You can't imagine what a joy it is to be standing, especially to be standing here today,"
Smith said as began the sermon.
___"It's great to be a Christian, but it's even greater to be a Southern Baptist Christian," he added.
___In his sermon, Smith said his journey through illness and recovery has taught him about the sufficiency of God's grace and the invincibility of the church, the latter point being the topic of his message.
___Drawing his text from Matthew 16, he outlined three reasons why the church is invincible: because of the transformed nature of its membership, its dynamic relationship to Christ and the unique spirit in which it does its work.
___"The church takes sinners and teaches them the way to become saints," Smith said. "It takes children of wrath and makes them children of God.
___This is possible, he said, because Jesus is both Christ and Son of God. "Jesus is God's anointed Son come to deliver us from our sins."
___This deliverance transforms people, and these transformed people are the evidence of the invincible church, Smith said.
___But the church also is invincible because of its dynamic relationship to Christ, he continued. The church, he said, is built upon Christ, built by Christ and successful through Christ.
___This has profound impact for how the church should act, he insisted. "If Christ builds the church, we must not, we cannot, reject those Christ has chosen and placed in his church.
___"We are called to respect, love, accept and honor one another. ... Together, we are the body of Christ. Every member is a vital part of Christ's body, the church."
___Smith urged Baptists not to make mountains out of mole hills, but to build up the entire body of Christ.
___With this supernatural power from Christ, the church should march forward to success, he urged. "Our theme song is 'Onward, Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War.' The best days of Christ's church are before us. We must get our eyes off our tail lights and onto our headlights."
___Smith predicted that "the biggest churches have yet to be built" and "the greatest victories have yet to be won."
___While making this march to success, the church must remember to get its orders from heaven, he added. "The church does not tell God what to do. God is commander-in-chief, and he has told us what to do in his holy inspired word. Anytime you or I do something that conflicts with the teachings of the Bible, we need to change and conform to God's word."
___The danger for the church lies with extremes on both sides, Smith said, noting that in New Testament times the Jewish Pharisees "believed too much" and added to God's word while the Sadducees "believed too little" and subtracted from God's word.
___"Let us resolve to do neither," he said. "Just accept God's word and try to live by and teach its eternal truths. Let us not be guilty of substituting our interpretation of the Bible for the Bible."
___Following God's instructions will lead the church to evangelism and missions, Smith declared. "Evangelism is the essential if we are to be Christ's church doing his work."
___This spirit of evangelism opens the gospel to all people, he said. "We do not want to stop the invitation until the last lost person has come to our loving Lord. That is Christ's church."
___Finally, Smith said, the church is invincible because of the unique spirit in which it does its work, a spirit demonstrated by Jesus when he called for those who would follow him to deny self and take up a cross.
___"A cross is not a decoration on top of a church," he explained. "It is not a beautiful piece of jewelry around one's neck. It is not taking care of an aged parent or even some physical disability. Your cross is an absolute 'no' to self--not my will--and an absolute 'yes' to God."
___Taking up a cross and following Jesus really isn't as risky as it may sound, Smith said. "When we follow the best person we know, there is the possibility that individual will fail to lead in the right way. Following Jesus poses no such risk. He is not only our Savior, not only the founder and foundation stone of the church, but also our perfect example."
___The message of Jesus and his invincible church is good news for a world accustomed to bad news, Smith concluded.
___"Let's not be saying, 'Look what the world has come to.' Instead, let us proclaim, 'Look who has come to the world."

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