NEW ORLEANS – Ahead of his likely election as the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Pastor Fred Luter got the predominantly white denomination excited – about the Gospel.
The New Orleans pastor delivered an electrifying message Monday and brought thousands to their feet in enthusiastic applause throughout the last session of the SBC Pastors Conference. His message was simple: the Gospel can change lives.
"What is it going to take to change our lives? ... What is going to take to change our mindset? What is it going to take to change our society, ... our culture, our community and our world? Well, let me ask you a question; the question of the hour is Southern Baptists, what did it take to change you?" he posed at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
"I have no doubt in my mind ... that if change, real change is going to happen in our lives and in our communities and in our world, it must start with the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."
Luter is the pastor of Franklin Ave. Baptist Church, which draws about 5,000 people, and he is set to make history on Tuesday at SBC's Annual Meeting when he is expected to be voted president.
Many in the denomination – which was founded after splitting with northern Baptists over the right to own slaves – are ready for their first black president.
"I can't wait to cast my vote for Pastor Fred Luter," said Dr. Grant Ethridge, senior pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Hampton, Va. "We're going to be in good shape as he leads our denomination."
But before the big day, Luter stepped out on the stage to remind pastors of the power of the Gospel.
"The Word of God is the only thing that I know that can penetrate years of sin and save a lost soul," he stressed. "That's powerful."
"You haven't always been saved ... you haven't always been a Christian," he said. "I believe somewhere along the line you heard the Gospel and when you heard the Gospel, you believed the Gospel and before you knew it ... you were born again!"
"In other words, your life was transformed by the power of the Gospel!"
And just as the Gospel changed them, it can change those in this generation, Luter exclaimed.
"I'm convinced my brothers and my sisters that the Gospel can save a gang banger, the Gospel can save a crack addict, the Gospel can save a child abuser, the Gospel can change ... an unfaithful spouse, the Gospel can change you and the Gospel can change me! How do I know it? Because ladies and gentleman I wasn't always a preacher in a pulpit!
"At one time I was ... going to hell and enjoying the ride. But one day I heard the Gospel!" he said to loud applause.
Luter, who currently serves as SBC's first vice president, is convinced that the Word of God is the "only hope for a miracle today."
We are living in the last days, he noted. Yet some are looking to Washington, the economy or the schools for lasting change.
"Think about it .... if the Word of God changed you and changed me, why can't the Word of God change our culture? Why can't the Word of God change our communities? Why can't the Word of God change our world?"
Ending the night on a sobering yet hopeful note, Luter pointed to a grim reality and rallied believers around the unchanging Gospel.
"There are a lot of things in this life ... that I'm ashamed of.
- I'm ashamed of the number of babies that are being killed through abortion every year in America;
- I'm ashamed of the racism that still persists in our society;
- I'm ashamed that our elected government officials cannot put aside their personal agendas for the betterment of our cities, our states and our nation;
- I'm ashamed that brothers and sisters in the body of Christ can't put aside their petty differences for the cause of Christ. Maybe if the world saw us getting along, ... then maybe we can be an example;
- I'm ashamed of the number of preachers who don't practice what they preach;
- I'm ashamed of the high divorce rate among Christian couples in America;
- I'm ashamed of our drive-by shootings;
- I'm ashamed of our child pornography
"Yes ... there are a lot of things ... that I'm ashamed of," he said.
"I'm so glad to proclaim that in spite of all the things I am ashamed about … I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!"