As First Baptist Dallas celebrates its 150th anniversary, senior pastor Robert Jeffress’ focus is on carrying the church’s traditions forward.
His sermon Sunday traced the congregation’s growth from three men and eight women in 1868 to a thriving community of 13,000 with a $135 million campus in downtown Dallas.
Jeffress, a regular contributor to Fox News who has drawn criticism for some of his politically charged remarks, focused on three aspects of sustaining First Baptist’s success: commitment to the church, spreading the Gospel and grounding itself in the Bible.
He said the word “evangelical” has been co-opted to define a group of people “who vote a certain way.”
But Jeffress said that though those who “take the Bible seriously” vote similarly on abortion, traditional marriage and religious liberty, what ultimately defines evangelicals is their commitment to sharing the Gospel.
Emphasizing the church’s view of the salvation of Christ, he singled out the Rev. Laura Mayo of Houston’s Covenant Church for criticism over a column she published in the Houston Chronicle in May.
In it, she called Jeffress’ view of redemption “exclusionary” and suggested Christians should be more concerned with the present than the afterlife.
Jeffress read from the final paragraphs of Mayo’s article: “The hell we are living now where children are shot in their schools, where families are separated from each other at the border, where people must choose between their medicine and eating … this hell needs salvation and I am convinced that faith in Christ calls us to be part of it.”
Jeffress’ response: “The hell some people are experiencing right now is only a foretaste of the very real hell and eternal hell that awaits everyone who refuses to receive God’s gift of forgiveness.”
Sunday was a chance for Jeffress, who became pastor in 2007, to lay out First Baptist’s next two-year mission. The “Generation Now” effort, which will begin in September, will include fundraising to add two more levels to the church’s three-floor family center.
Congregants sang “Happy Birthday to You” to close the service as balloons were released in the sanctuary, then gathered in the lobby to reflect on the church’s importance in their lives.
The closing prayer, which echoed the words of founding church member Laura Williams, especially resonated with Tara LeCroy, who has been a member since her birth in 1963.
With God’s help, Jeffress said, First Baptist Dallas will continue to be “a light for a lost world.”