HOUSTON (BP) — Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention June 11-12 re-elected Fred Luter, the body’s first African American president, to another one-year term and heard him deliver a rousing challenge to Southern Baptists to unite and pray for revival.
The call for cooperation and revival was delivered by other leaders, including Executive Committee President Frank Page, and from members of a Calvinism advisory committee who spoke in the exhibit hall the day prior to the convention.
“Could it be,” Luter asked during a special Tuesday evening service focused on revival, “that the reason that lost friend, that lost relative, that lost co-worker, that lost neighbor, that lost classmate, have not yet turned from darkness to light is because they don’t see us as the body of Christ getting along? Friend, how is it that we say we love God, whom we’ve never seen, yet don’t speak to our brother and sister that we see every day?”
Messengers also passed 12 resolutions that covered a variety of issues, including one that expressed “our continued opposition to and disappointment in” the Boy Scouts’ decision to allow homosexual members. The resolution affirmed the right of churches to determine their affiliation with the Scouts.
Another resolution that garnered significant attention addressed mental health, calling on Southern Baptists to fight the “stigmatization and prejudice” of those with mental health concerns and to “love and minister to” them. It passed in light of the suicidal death of Rick Warren’s youngest son and the publication of a new book by Page about the suicide of his daughter Melissa.
Luter was elected unopposed, getting a standing ovation from the messengers when Registration Secretary Jim Wells cast the ceremonial ballot for the convention.
The overwhelming majority of the 5,100 registered messengers came to a special revival-focused Tuesday night service — the annual meeting hadn’t had night sessions the previous two years — where Charles Billingsley of Thomas Road Baptist Church (Lynchburg, Va.) led congregational worship in music for more than 45 minutes, likely a record in recent SBC history. Luter delivered his presidential sermon.
For revival to fall on the SBC, Luter said in his message from John 13:34-35, Southern Baptists must have a love for the Scripture, the Savior and the saints (fellow Christians). Luter gave the most attention to the final point — the need for Southern Baptists to love one another.
The roadblock to a revival, Luter said, may be that the lost world does not see Christians loving one another with unconditional love.
Southern Baptists “will never see revival in the world until we first see revival in the church,” Luter said. It must begin with pastors and leaders, he added.
“… Those saints who love contemporary music, do you really love them? Those saints who love traditional music, do you really love them? Those saints who love praise songs, do you really love them? Those saints who are Calvinist, do you really love them? Those saints who are not Calvinist, do you really love them? Those saints who love just a King James Version of the Bible … do you love them? Those saints who love the Holman Christian Standard Bible, do you love them? Those saints whose churches … have Baptist in their name, do you love them? Those churches that don’t have Baptist in their name, do you love them?
“The question of the hour my brothers and my sisters, [is] do we really love the saints of God,” Luter said. “Do you love the saints of God enough to work together to impact lostness in America? Jesus says we should love each other like He loved us, and He loved us so much that he died for us”
On Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon — before the meeting was gaveled to a close — Luter led messengers in saying, in unison multiple times, “Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me.”
During his report, Page mentioned one barrier to unity — the debate over Calvinism — that led him to form a 19-member advisory committee. It issued its report in late May.
“I am not naïve,” Page said of the differences over Calvinism. “I know there will continue to be problems and difficulties but I am convinced that if we will talk to each other together we will see a unity that will allow us to win more men, women, boys and girls to Christ than ever before.”
The Great Commission, and not Calvinism, should be the focus, Page said.
The report by the Calvinism team — not an official convention committee — urged Southern Baptists to “grant one another liberty” on the issue and “stand together” for the Great Commission.
“We affirm that, from the very beginning of our denominational life, Calvinists and non-Calvinists have cooperated together,” the report said. “We affirm that these differences should not threaten our eager cooperation in Great Commission ministries.”
The day prior to the convention, members of the committee on Calvinism discussed their report during an exhibit hall panel discussion. Committee member Tammi Ledbetter noted that the report’s goals can be accomplished only if individual Southern Baptists take the report to heart.
“It’s really up to all of you as to what happens with this,” said Ledbetter, a homemaker and member of Inglewood Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas. “We can talk it to death, and I think we probably have. What matters is what you do with your life in the way you relate to other people. And every time you have a conversation about this document or you have a conversation about a fellow believer … how you handle yourself will make the whole difference.”
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and a committee member, agreed.
“So much of this comes back to what Tammi said — our own personal attitudes and dispositions,” Akin said, adding that Southern Baptists need to be “men and women of honesty and integrity.”
“If we will pursue those types of agendas in the days ahead, I believe we can come together for the very purpose on which we fought the conservative resurgence — that is, standing on an inerrant Bible to get the Gospel to every person on the planet,” Akin added.
The Boy Scouts resolution — overwhelmingly approved — said the Scouts’ decision to allow gay-identifying youth is “viewed by many homosexual activists as merely the first step in a process that will fundamentally change the BSA,” putting “the Scouts at odds with a consistent biblical worldview on matters of human sexuality.” It further said the decision “has the potential to complicate basic understandings of male friendships, needlessly politicize human sexuality, and heighten sexual tensions within the Boy Scouts.”
Churches that choose to sever ties with the Boy Scouts should not abandon their ministry to boys, the resolution stated, but should consider expanding their Royal Ambassadors ministry, “a distinctively Southern Baptist missions organization to develop godly young men.” It urged churches and families that remain in the Boy Scouts “to seek to impact as many boys as possible with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ, to work toward the reversal of this new membership policy, and to advocate against any future change in leadership and membership policy that normalizes sexual conduct opposed to the biblical standard.”
The resolution on mental health, also overwhelmingly approved, identified such mental health issues as autism disorders, intellectual disability, mental health conditions like schizophrenia, clinical depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders and diseases of the aged including dementia and Alzheimer’s. The resolution expressed support for “the wise use of medical interventions” and supported research and treatment “when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview.”
“We call on all Southern Baptists and our churches to look for and create opportunities to love and minister to, and develop methods and resources to care for, those who struggle with mental health concerns and their families,” the resolution said.
The subject of mental health was further spotlighted when Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., made a motion that called on SBC entities to work cooperatively to create and identify resources available to individuals and churches that minister to those who suffer from mental health challenges. The motion was referred to the Executive Committee and other entities.
Floyd cited statistics that 58 million Americans and 450 million persons worldwide suffer from mental disorders and 1 million die from suicide annually. He said churches and communities are filled with people who need Southern Baptists to minister to them and their families.
“It’s time for the SBC to be on the front lines of mental health challenges,” he said.
During the LifeWay presentation, entity President Thom Rainer encouraged messengers to read Page’s new book, titled “Melissa,” which he called “one of the most powerful books I’ve have ever read.”
Rainer noted it is unusual for him to promote a book during his report.
“Many of us in vocational ministry want to act like our homes have no problems; Frank Page takes down the façade and lets us see a real family with real struggles,” Rainer said.
Messengers also passed a resolution calling on churches to protect children from sexual abuse and to pray for abuse victims.
In other matters:
— Crossover the annual evangelical outreach held in the annual meeting’s host city resulted in 582 reported professions of faith in Christ. The outreach is held on the weekend prior to the convention.
— International Mission Board President Tom Elliff delivered the entity’s report, telling messengers they are living in a “time of the greatest lostness in the history of the world.”
“Are we going to back down?” he asked.
Southern Baptists are making progress in penetrating that lostness, but far more needs to be done, he said. In 2012, he said, there were 337,385 professions of faith in Christ and 24,073 new church plants in other countries through the work of IMB missionaries. But more than half the world has yet to hear the Gospel.
The world has 3,041 unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPG), and a total of 1,837 SBC churches and entities are committed to reach an UUPG through the Embrace initiative. In 2012 alone, 133 people groups were newly engaged by Southern Baptists.
The IMB could do so much more if it had the funding, Elliff said. IMB’s 2013 budget is $323 million, but IMB received far less than that in 2012 — $96 million through the Cooperative Program and $149 million through the Lottie Moon offering.
“It’s time to put our money where our mouth is,” Elliff said.
Via Skype, messengers heard from an IMB worker who plants churches in southern Asia. Because he serves in a closed country, his face was darkened. He said God’s call on him was clear and that he gets lonely at times, but “God’s word actively sustains me.”
— North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell delivered the entity’s report, saying that 1,084 new churches were planted in North America last year. The goal, Ezell said, is to plant churches in cities and in areas where Southern Baptists have less of a presence. He cited statistics: Mississippi has one SBC church for every 1,385 people, Texas has one for every 3,351, New Jersey one for every 78,000, and Canada one for every 115,000. Missiologists, he said, say one evangelical church is needed for every 1,000 to 2,000 people.
“We must go” to the cities, Ezell said, adding that 80 percent of the population lives in and around cities. NAMB has highlighted 32 cities it calls “Send Cities,” Ezell said, and a NAMB missionary — the “Send City coordinator” — resides in each one. The coordinator’s job is to recruit church planters to that city. Additionally, Ezell said, there is a “Church Planting Catalyst” for every 1 million people in North America. The goal is to plant four churches among each 1 million people. The biblical model, he said, is churches planting churches — “healthy, evangelistic churches.”
“We need churches that plant churches that plant churches,” he said.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Diana Chandler, BP staff writer; Barbara Denman, director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention; and Erin Roach, assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).