HOUSTON – In an impassioned sermon during his first opportunity to address the Southern Baptist Convention after being re-elected as president for a second term, Fred Luter, Jr. said the time for debating and arguing over theological differences among church members could be used instead to reach out to non-believers.
"Because of our love for the Scripture we've had some differences of opinion, but the problem is that while we are arguing about these topics, lost men, women, boys, and girls are dying and going to hell every single day," said Luter on the first night of the denomination's 2013 annual meeting.
"While we are arguing about these topics and debating about these topics, America is going to hell every day," he continued. "Time is running out. We do not have time for debate. We do not have time for arguing. The world needs to know that Jesus saves … for the sake of those who are lost."
More than 4,400 pastors, church leaders, and lay people, are registered for the two-day event held at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, and ending Wednesday. The SBC meeting was prefaced by a SBC pastors' conference on Sunday and Monday.
Luter stated in a letter to attendees before the event that he wanted Tuesday night's session to be an old-fashioned revival service. "No business, other than doing business with God! No reports, no resolutions, no announcements, just dynamic music led by the gifted and talented Charles Billingsley, followed by the president's sermon."
Luter said that the U.S., churches and the SBC are in a spiritual critical time.
"The reason this time is critical is because the spiritual pulse of our nation is at its all-time low," he said. "The time is critical because the spiritual heartbeat of our society is at an all-time low. As a matter of fact, our country is in critical condition."
He said that one does not have to be a biblical scholar, or know Bible prophecy, to know that the world is suffering tremendous tragedy.
After describing a long list of societal maladies such as increased violence, rampant sexual abuse of children, the growing disrespect of adults and those in authority, and abortion, he pointed to Bible verses that paralleled culture today.
"Listen to what Paul said in describing the times he is living in. Paul said in 2 Timothy, Chapter 3, 'But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unwise, unloving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.'
He then exclaimed, "My brothers and my sisters, what an accurate picture of our culture of today. What an accurate picture of our country. What an accurate picture of our communities. What an accurate picture of our cities. The Apostle Paul's prophecy to Timothy is unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, a reality today … what a tragic picture of our society today."
Luter said what concerns him most is the question of where do churches fit into the picture.
He asked, "What difference is the church making in this darkness? What difference is the church making in this lostness? What difference is the church making in these perilous times?"
He told the audience to notice that he is not asking about what churches of other denominations are doing about the ills of society.
"The fact of the matter is I cannot speak for any of those churches. I cannot speak for any of those denominations," Luter said. "However, I just happen to be the president of the largest protestant denomination in this world… in this country… I just happen to be the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, so I can't speak for those other denominations, but I can speak for this convention … the question I am asking of all SBC members is what difference are we making with this lostness, what difference is the Southern Baptist Convention making in this darkness?"
He expressed concern about statistics compiled from churches belonging to SBC for the association's Annual Church Profile for last year that show declining numbers in several key areas, including membership, average attendance, baptisms and total monetary giving.
"According to the statistics we are not making much of a difference at all … We need all of us together to change what's happening in America, to change what's happening in our society," he said.
"My prayer tonight is that 'Lord revive us that we may be one.' My heart's desire is that we will cry out together…"
On the Web: http://www.sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc13/