Archives For Fred Luter

Our differences are theological and generational—and growing.

Wittenberg Doors

Nailing his 95 theses to it on October 31, 1517, disgruntled monk Martin Luther made the church door at Wittenberg a famous 16th-century landmark, and a modern-day tourist attraction.

Five hundred years after Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation with his publicly posted list of grievances against Catholic church leaders and practices, to say the movement made a lasting impact on Christians of all stripes is a gross understatement.

Southern Baptists have certainly been shaped by the doctrines of the Reformation, but the question of just how Reformed we are has created a growing divide in the denomination. As Christians worldwide celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, Southern Baptists continue to wrestle with how deeply we will be people of the Reformation in the next hundred years or two.

In his 2017 book on the Reformation, Alec Ryrie wrote that “like all great revolutions, it had created a new world.” And, like all revolutions, the Reformation has come with its own set of growing pains. Over 500 years, believers and non-believers have struggled with the tenets of the Reformers, leading to the formation of many Christian denominations, and differing strains even within those groups.

Baptists have roots in the Reformation, but often hold with varying degrees of conviction to the five points of doctrine most closely associated with Reformed theology, or Calvinism.

In the past decade, the debate over theology in the Southern Baptist Convention has found a new home: Blogs have given voice to proponents of Calvinism, and also to those who consider their soteriological views to be more traditionally Southern Baptist. The two streams hold separate meetings and conferences, but also gather annually at the Southern Baptist Convention, and have pledged to focus on the primary issues of evangelism and the Great Commission, rather than letting secondary issues divide them.

But exactly what that looks like is unclear, as is how the theological debate in the Convention will ultimately affect Southern Baptist churches. With baptisms trending downward, the questions of why and how and when we do evangelism, and what we say when we do it, have never felt more important.

As Alabama pastor Eric Hankins told the Illinois Baptist, “The controversy (over Reformed theology in the SBC) isn’t driven by pragmatic issues of working together. It’s driven by the growing realization that the two soteriological systems are incompatible.

“Should I want to share the gospel [along] with someone who thinks I have a deficient view of the nature of conversion? We’re going to have to articulate very specifically why we want to continue to work together when we believe very different things, or one side is going to have to make some adjustments in its doctrine.”

Judging from the proliferation of passionate theological arguments shared over the past decade, that’s unlikely.

Diagnosing the divides
“I am not a Calvinist,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines wrote in an e-mail exchange earlier this year. Yet Gaines, pastor of a Tennessee megachurch, leads a denomination that most admit is increasingly Calvinistic in its leadership, if not in its pews.

“Without question, Calvinism is increasing in the SBC. How will that affect the SBC in the years to come? I don’t know,” Gaines said in the e-mail interview with Kyle Gulledge, editor of the blog SBC Today.

“I am not a Calvinist. I believe God loves everybody the same, Jesus died for everybody the same, and that anyone can be saved….If someone hears the gospel and is not saved, it is because they chose to reject Christ, not because God chose not elect them to salvation,” Gaines said.

“Many Calvinists would have a problem with what I just said. Yet, I am convinced that what I just said represents the prevailing theological beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptist laypeople.”

Gaines’ words are echoed in the principles that bond Connect316, a group of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders who organized in 2013 around what they called a “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding of salvation theology. At the recent Connect316 meeting in Phoenix, Hankins pointed to the influence of Calvinism in the SBC over the past 25 years, noting, “It’s clear that traditionalists, even though we are the theological majority in the SBC, are the minority in terms of leadership and influence in the convention.”

Much of that influence emanates from SBC seminaries, including arguably the most influential Southern Baptist Calvinist, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Many credit him with facilitating the rise of Calvinism in the denomination. And two of his former staff at Southern are now leading SBC seminaries as well, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern, and Midwestern President Jason Allen.

Together, three of the six SBC seminaries have schooled a generation of pastors in the Reformed perspective. The question is whether any of the remaining three will shift their theological slant when new leadership takes office.

In 2006, Mohler sat down with another seminary president to publicly discuss the growing theological divide in the SBC. Paige Patterson, 74, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a non-Calvinist, was Mohler’s foil in two standing-room only sessions during the Pastors’ Conference in Greensboro,

Baptist Press’ reporting on the conversation between Mohler and Patterson emphasizes both men’s congeniality toward one another, despite their clear theological differences. “This is a conversation among close friends,” Mohler said. Each warned those who would agree with them against vilifying the other side.

“I would caution my non-Calvinist brethren against the conclusion that the doctrine of Calvin automatically means that a person will not and cannot be evangelistic,” Patterson said. “…One of the commands that the Lord gives is to take the gospel to the ends of earth. No Calvinist worthy of his stripe would thereby disobey a command of God.”

Mohler urged Calvinists to remember their first priority. “It is not healthy to have a person who will drive across the state to debate Calvinism but won’t even drive across the street to share the gospel.”

The seminary presidents pointed in 2006 to the key area of impact for today’s theological debate: evangelism.

Multiple views

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines (left) and other SBC leaders addressed several denominational issues, including theological differences, during a panel discussion at June’s annual meeting in Phoenix. With Gaines, panelists are (left to right) Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, ERLC President Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Texas pastor Matt Chandler, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Executive Director Kevin Smith, and moderator Jedediah Coppenger.

Competing views on salvation
The level of debate intensified in the years leading up to 2012. Just before the 2012 SBC annual meeting, a group of Southern Baptists released “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Primarily authored by Hankins, the document lays out “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding on salvation, and calls out some “New Calvinists” for trying to establish their position as “the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.”

In its 10 articles, the statement addresses points of doctrine affirmed by traditionalists, and others they reject. For instance, on the election to salvation, the traditionalist statement says, “We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are his by repentance and faith.

“We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.”

Mohler, responding to the statement, said it was time for the two sides to come together and talk. “May God save us from dividing into tribes, even as we gladly and eagerly talk with one another about the doctrines we cherish, and especially when we discuss the doctrines on which we may disagree.”

The traditionalist statement set the stage for a potentially contentious annual meeting in New Orleans, the very year that the Convention was set to take an historic step.

Trying to find common ground
“Calvin’s been around 500 years, and we have to debate this now?” SBC President Fred Luter winningly joked about the SBC theological debate on a visit to Illinois in 2013, nearly a year after he was elected the denomination’s first African American president. “Why do you guys want to do this on my watch?”

Luter’s good-natured handling of the debate surrounding theology was mostly mirrored at the New Orleans convention, as speakers from the podium urged unity despite differences. Messengers approved a resolution on the “sinner’s prayer,” affirming it as a biblical expression of repentance and faith. And that fall, SBC Executive Committee

President Frank Page appointed a Calvinism study committee to come to a consensus—of sorts—as to how Baptists could work together despite theological differences.

Prior to the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston in 2013, the Calvinism study committee released its report. In it, the group, which included Calvinists and non-Calvinists, wrote about what principles ought to govern theological conversation within the SBC, and detailed specific points of doctrine.

The report also included specific suggestions for Baptists operating within the theological tension, like how candidates for ministry positions (and the search committees interviewing them) ought to be “fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine.”

Mohler and Hankins had a public conversation about their experience on the study committee in the fall of 2013, modeling for seminarians at Mohler’s institution how to have a dialogue about areas of disagreement. When the conversation turned to evangelism, Mohler used the example of John Wesley and George Whitefield—leaders who had different soteriological views, but who shared the gospel the same way, he said.

“I think we can mislead not only others but ourselves in thinking that we have to have an absolutely common unified soteriology in order to tell people about Jesus because, if so, Southern Baptists would have had to stop doing common missions a very long time ago,” Mohler said.

Their conversation also touched on some of the more personal fallouts of the debate, with Hankins confessing that he as a traditionalist had been made to feel like his soteriology was deficient, or that he was dangerous.

Mohler countered that because they disagree, he does indeed find Hankins’ soteriological views deficient (to laughter from the audience), but not deficient enough to disallow missional cooperation.

“I would not want to be in cooperation with someone who’s soteriology I felt was deficient in a way that harmed the gospel and made common evangelism and missions impossible….If I felt that your soteriology was deficient in any way such as that, this isn’t the kind of conversation we’d be having.”

Castle at Wittenberg

Inside the castle at Wittenberg on a Reformation tour (right), Southern Seminary President Al Mohler preaches in the chapel where Luther regularly spoke.

Igniting evangelistic fire in both camps
The 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas could be the next time the theology debate is poised to make an impact on Southern Baptist life. Gaines will complete his second and final one-year term as president, and could nominate North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear for the office. Gaines mentioned that prospect in 2016, after Greear withdrew his candidacy to prevent a second run-off election between the two.

At the 2017 annual meeting in Phoenix, Gaines confirmed the account, but declined to speak further because he and Greear haven’t discussed it since, according to the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.

Prior to the 2016 convention, Gaines and Greear were viewed as representative of different parts of the SBC: Gaines, then 58, is by his own admission “not a Calvinist.” Greear, then 43, represents a generation that has increasingly embraced Reformed theology. Before Gaines’ election in St. Louis, The Christian Post online newspaper said in a headline, “SBC votes today on whether Millennial Reformed theology represents the future.”

In the end, unity and a cooperative spirit won out. The candidates met, each seeking a way to avoid division, and both volunteered to step aside before Greear ultimately convinced Gaines to accept his concession.

In 2018, should Greear be nominated and elected, he would be the first of his generation of Reformed thinkers to hold the office of SBC president. He also would have the responsibility that all SBC presidents hold to name the Committee on Committees, which names the Committee on Nominations, which nominates trustees for SBC boards. Gaines recently outlined that process, in answer to a question by SBC Today about how everyday Southern Baptists can have a voice in SBC life.

“If ‘the grass-roots, mom-and-pop Southern Baptist members’ want their voice to be heard, they need to elect SBC presidents that will appoint SBC Committee on Committee members who will appoint people who share their convictions,” Gaines said. “They should attend every SBC annual meeting and vote for the SBC president who will best represent their views.”

Gaines has made prayer and evangelism the markers of his presidency. At the June annual meeting in Phoenix, he encouraged all Southern Baptists to focus on evangelism, “regardless of their doctrinal convictions on the matter,” Baptist Press reported.

“Our world is going straight to hell and we need to be one in telling people about Jesus and not letting these secondary things divide us,” Gaines said during a panel discussion hosted by Baptist21, a network of younger Baptist leaders.

He has appointed a soul-winning task force to reverse the trend of declining baptisms and to renew evangelism in the denomination. Greear is part of the team.

“The main thing we can do to go forward is to focus on winning people to Jesus Christ,” Gaines said in Phoenix.

“If you’re a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist, you don’t know who’s lost and who’s saved. I would just say if you’re going to be a Calvinist be a Spurgeon Calvinist, and let’s go out and tell people about Jesus Christ. The bottom line is this: we’re supposed to ask people to repent and believe in the gospel.”

– By Meredith Flynn with reporting by Baptist Press

Steve GainesIt seems a fair question, especially following the loquacious and public presidency of Ronnie Floyd. Steve Gaines, by comparison, is almost invisible. This is not a criticism of Gaines, that he would have a different style as Southern Baptist Convention president. That is to be expected. Each president makes his own way and leads from his own strengths. But Gaines’s style, working in a less public way that his immediate predecessors, leaves us wondering: What is Steve Gaines doing?

And we find ourselves hoping that he’s focusing on issues that we just haven’t heard about yet.

Floyd wrote. Floyd spoke. A lot. Almost every week Floyd published on his blog and in Baptist Press his thoughts on righting the denomination and meeting the culture conflict head on. He quickly assumed a statesman position for his two years in office, urging support for missions and the Cooperative Program. We in the local Baptist news media came to rely on his thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis of current events.

Gaines, on the other hand, has spoken for publication rarely. He offered a few comments in the election season and after the January inauguration, mostly encouraging Southern Baptists to pray for the Trump Administration. And in February he addressed Baptist newspaper editors and state convention executive directors in Los Angeles. Gaines spoke on Trump’s election, appointments, and early actions as president. And he urged prayer for revival in America. Gaines has themed the 2017 SBC Annual Meeting “Pray: For Such a Time as This,” following Floyd and his predecessor, Fred Luter, in bringing Southern Baptists to our knees for spiritual awakening.

But it’s his comment on the complaints about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and its president Russell Moore that, we hope, gives a glimpse at Gaines’s work behind the curtain.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” Gaines said in Los Angeles. His comment came almost simultaneously with the announcement by Dallas-area pastor Jack Graham that his megachurch, Prestonwood Baptist, would be holding in escrow its $1-million offering through the Cooperative Program. Graham expressed concerns about the direction of the SBC and the ERLC, in particular, after an election cycle marked by anti-Trump tweets, Moore’s ongoing concern for refugees, and the “friend of the court” support of a freedom of religion case, in which both the ERLC and the International Mission Board (IMB) opposed onerous government regulations placed on a New Jersey mosque.

Southern Baptists do not need another era of suspicion, doubt, and sometime demagoguery. Our mission cause is too important to withhold funding over ancillary anxieties. The reconciliation that Gaines spoke about requires behind-the-scenes diplomacy and skillful mediation. That’s what we might hope Gaines is doing, even if we never hear about it publicly.

-Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist

61222word_cloud

We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

SBC candidates: Unity matters

What the U.S. presidential election may have lacked in civility, the 2016 election for Southern Baptist Convention President more than made up for in grace. When a close vote forced a run-off between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear, the election seemed poised to divide Baptists over matters of theology and generation.

Instead, the candidates talked the night before the third vote was to be taken, and one bowed out, urging his supporters to vote for his opponent.

“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us,” North Carolina pastor Greear posted in support of Tennessee pastor Gaines. “It’s time to look at what unites us.”

On paper, this decade’s SBC presidents are a diverse bunch, not united by much in terms of their backgrounds and interests:

  • Atlanta-area pastor Bryant Wright (2010-2012), who recently spoke out in favor of ministering to refugees
  • Dynamic New Orleans preacher Fred Luter (2012-2014), elected as the SBC’s first ever African American president
  • Ronnie Floyd (2014-2016), pastor of a multi-site church in Arkansas and a prolific blogger who led the denomination toward a laser-like focus on prayer
  • And Gaines, elected in 2016, who has espoused traditional Baptist theology and his own intense focus on evangelism.

What does unite them is a logical progression in the things they have called Baptists toward: For Wright, it was a return to Great Commission principles. Luter’s presidency was marked by impassioned pleas for spiritual awakening and revival. And Floyd called Southern Baptists to their knees—for themselves, their churches, the denomination, the nation, and the world.

Gaines announced he will continue the emphasis on prayer at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix. It may be a sign that the desire for unity, despite differences in age, theological perspective, and communication style, is actually, in Greear’s words, “what unites us.”

A new missions paradigm

After a season in which budget shortfalls and personnel cuts seemed to limit the future potential for Baptist missions engagement around the world, International Mission Board President David Platt continued to preach a message to the contrary.

“Limitless” is the word Platt has used to describe the mission force needed to take the gospel to places without it. To achieve that goal, he has said, the SBC has to think differently about missions and missionaries than we have in the past.

“Let me be crystal clear: the IMB is still going to send full-time, fully-funded career missionaries just like we’ve always sent,” Platt said during his report at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “They are the priceless, precious, critical core of our mission force.”

But the IMB’s emerging strategy is to put around those missionaries a “limitless” force of students, retirees, and professionals—people who, to borrow Platt’s words, are willing to leverage their jobs and lives so that more might hear and respond to the gospel.

The newly redesigned IMB website reflects the strategy, with buttons for people in a variety of categories to search for opportunities overseas. There are needs for business consultants, healthcare professionals, construction engineers, and more. The IMB also offers training resources for churches to equip and mobilize members for missions, both short-term and longer.

Global mission “is not just for a select few people in the church, but for multitudes of Spirit-filled men and women across the church,” Platt said in St. Louis.

A year ago, when hundreds of IMB missionaries moved back home, the chances of getting the gospel to some of the world’s darkest places seemed dimmer. Now, with a strategy focused on everyday people like the ones who sparked a gospel fire in the New Testament, the opportunities seem endless. Or, limitless.

If I had a hammer

We’ll hear it a lot in the new year. On Halloween night in 1517, disgruntled priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 complaints on the church door in Wittenberg and started an ecclesial revolution. We’re likely to hear about it from all corners, including events at our seminaries, panels at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, and bus tours of Germany. And we may have a few serious discussions about the theological direction of the SBC. Look for Reformation@500 in the pages of the Illinois Baptist throughout 2017.

Read Cloudy with a chance of surprises, pt. 1

pastors_conference_2016As IBSA messengers, committee members, and officers ready for the IBSA Annual Meeting, preparation is busily underway for another meeting that takes place just prior to it. The IBSA Pastors’ Conference begins Tuesday, November 1, at 1 p.m. at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in Broadview, the site of the Annual Meeting. It finishes Wednesday morning, November 2, before noon and the start of the Annual Meeting later that afternoon.

The Pastors’ Conference is a time for pastors to recharge by listening to inspiring preaching, to learn from their peers, and to renew old friendships as well as start new ones. The president of this year’s conference is David Sutton, pastor of Bread of Life Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago. Other officers are Brian Smith, vice president, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Granite City, and Bob Stillwell, treasurer, pastor of First Baptist Church, Paxton.

The theme for this year’s meeting is “CROSSROADS: Our pathway to reconciliation,” taken from 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.

Conference speakers include H.B. Charles, Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Scott Nichols, pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream, Ill.; and Jonathan Peters, pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, Ill.

Learn more about the Pastors’ Conference

Breakout sessions to cross cultures
Conference speakers will also lead eight breakout sessions, including:

IBSA staff members and former International Mission Board missionaries Dwayne Doyle and Mike Young will teach “On Mission in Another Culture,” offering basic principles to increase effectiveness while sharing Christ in another culture.

In his session, “Coming Together at the Crossroads,” Fred Luter will discuss the need for racial reconciliation and share practical ways pastors can lead their congregations toward biblical reconciliation.

“Crossing Cultures and Building Partnerships,” led by IBSA’s Dale Davenport, will help pastors learn how they can establish a partnership with an IBSA church in a different culture. Pastors can begin to form such partnerships at the conference.

IBSA’s Mark Emerson will lead “Develop Fresh Evangelism Strategy for Today’s Changing Culture.” Participants will learn how to develop an overall evangelism strategy for their churches using practical evangelism tools.

Vision tours of ministry opportunities
In addition to the breakout sessions, attenders can take a “Vision Tour” of ministry opportunities in Chicagoland on Tuesday from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The tour includes dinner. Choose from Northside, Southside, Westside, or suburban routes.

A fifth tour on Thursday, starting at noon, will offer a “Chicago sampling.” Lunch is included.

Register for the tours online at IBSAannualmeeting.org. Look under the “Vision Tours” tab at the top of the homepage.

Food and fellowship
A meal will be served Tuesday evening, so attenders can stay on the Broadview campus and not lose their parking spaces. Chicago’s famous Giordano’s will cater deep-dish pizza for $10 per person. Seating is limited. Tickets may be purchased at IBSAannualmeeting.org. Look under the “Quick Links” tab for “meal tickets.”


Pastors’ Conference Speaker Bios

H.B. Charles, Jr. is the lead pastor and preacher at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida. He has served there since the fall of 2008 and is responsible for the areas of preaching-teaching, vision casting, and leadership development. Prior to his call to Shiloh Church, H.B. led Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles for almost 18 years, succeeding his late father. Pastor Charles regularly speaks at churches, conferences, and conventions around the country, and has authored or been a contributing author of several books.

Fred Luter has served as senior pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans since 1986. Luter received his Doctor of Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and was elected the Southern Baptist Convention’s first African American President on June 19, 2012—holding the position for two years until June of 2014. In 2015, Dr. Luter was named national African American ambassador for the North American Mission Board. His role includes involving more African American churches in the SBC and in church planting.

Scott Nichols is senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream, Illinois—a congregation he planted almost 15 years ago in October of 2001. Nichols holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Southwest Baptist University, a Master of Arts in ministry from Moody Bible Institute Graduate School, and is also currently working towards his Doctor of Ministry degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His loves in ministry include preaching, leadership development, and evangelism. Nichols says his joy will be to finish strong and honor God with all he is and does in life.

Jonathan Peters has served as the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Columbia, Illinois, since 1998. A native of Chicago, Jonathan came to Christ as a student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and then went on to graduate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth Texas. Peters recently led his church in a multi-million dollar relocation project.

David Crosby

David Crosby

New Orleans pastor David Crosby is the third candidate to be named as a nominee for Southern Baptist Convention president. On March 24, former SBC President Fred Luter announced he will nominate Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church, to the post during the SBC Annual Meeting in St. Louis.

“I have watched David the last 10 years here in New Orleans as he has taken the leadership of all the churches and pastors of our city in helping to rebuild New Orleans, which everybody knows was totally destroyed [in 2005] in Hurricane Katrina,” Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, told Baptist Press.

Crosby joins previously announced candidates — J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.

In contrast to Greear and Gaines, Crosby has lead his church to a higher percentage in Cooperative Program giving. According to Luter, during the 20 years Crosby has pastored First Baptist, the congregation has given between 7-15% of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. Annual Church Profile reports show First Baptist’s total missions giving to be at least 22% of its undesignated receipts annually over the past five years.

Greear’s church gives 2.4% of undesignated receipts to CP, while Gaines’ gives approximately 4.6% of undesignated receipts to CP.

First Baptist has averaged 658 people in Sunday morning worship services and 24 baptisms between 2011 and 2015. The Summit’s baptisms increased from 19 in 2002, when Greear arrived, to 928 in 2014. Bellevue has averaged 481 baptisms annually during Gaines’ tenure.

Crosby is married and has three children and eight grandchildren. He earned a master of divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of philosophy from Baylor University.

March 2 Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., announced he will nominate Greear, and March 9 Johnny Hunt, former SBC president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., said he will nominate Gaines.

The 2016 Southern Baptist Convention will take place June 14-15 in St. Louis, MO. Current SBC President Ronnie Floyd is finishing his second term in the post. Floyd is pastor of Cross Church, Northwest Arkansas.

Fred_Luter_revivalCOMMENTARY | Eric Reed

I’ve never been prouder – of Fred Luter or of the Southern Baptist Convention – than when, on the second day of the annual meeting in Baltimore, they suspended the agenda and spent most of an hour in prayer.

Will this be Bro. Fred’s lasting contribution to the SBC, I thought to myself, that he was willing to lay aside the fixed orders of business, to call us all to our knees, and to take our deep needs to the Lord?

Two years earlier, I sat on a bench in the cavernous lobby of the New Orleans Convention Center talking with a pastor-friend of mine. He’s African American. I seemed more excited by Luter’s election that day than he did. I posed a question about the new president’s lasting impact.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” was his response. “Will this be a one-time thing, or has the Convention really changed? Is there room for me in leadership?”

That has been the response of several people I’ve asked since then, even Luter himself. Many people, especially African American pastors, said they wanted to see what happened after Luter’s term. Would he really be able to increase the ethnic diversity on SBC boards and in leadership? Would there be a lasting place at the table for black, Hispanic, and Asian leaders?

Under Luter’s direction, the committees responsible for manning those boards have attempted to broaden representation. In fact, messengers at the Phoenix convention in 2011 had ordered the start of such a concentrated effort even before Luter’s election as the SBC’s first African American president.

It was good to see several African American pastors on the platform in 2014: Southern Seminary Professor Kevin Smith spoke for the Resolutions Committee. Chicago’s very own Marvin Parker of Broadview Missionary Baptist Church served with the Committee on Order of Business and Michael Allen of Uptown Baptist Church was elected “back-up preacher” for the 2015 annual meeting.

But it took a messenger from the floor to confirm what those watching the live video stream had noticed. There was not a lot cultural diversity on the worship platform. The messenger moved that the music teams next year be more diverse, because, he noted, while the choirs and bands were almost all white, the Convention isn’t anymore – and heaven won’t be either.

I saw a similar message in the official photograph of the incoming SBC officers: five middle-aged white guys in dark suits. Except for one goatee, that photograph could have been snapped in 1974.

Or 1954.

We missed an opportunity to extend Bro. Fred’s impact. Korean-American pastor Daniel Kim ran for president, and his showing as a late-entry against winner Ronnie Floyd was respectable. But both first and second vice-presidents ran unopposed. Why? Because no one else stepped up.

Fred Luter’s lasting impact may not be that he radically altered the composition of committees or platform personnel. Instead, he demonstrated the door is open and there’s room at the table. And he was willing to take the risk.

As a pastor in New Orleans, Luter suffered jeers for his embrace of the historically white denomination. And before he agreed to run for SBC president in 2012, one advisor warned, “Look at the racial make-up of the Convention, Fred. You might lose.”

But he won. In a big way. Unopposed. Twice. To cheers and tears and shouts of joy from a whole lot of people glad that a new day had arrived for Southern Baptists.

Successor Floyd called him “the most beloved president” in recent SBC history. Luter traveled widely and preached in churches of all sizes and ethnicities. He embodied the new spirit of the SBC, and he did it with characteristic joy and grace. For all that, he is deservedly and deeply appreciated.

But, for me, Fred Luter’s lasting impact is that he was willing to step up.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Baltimore | The Southern Baptist Convention’s 2014 annual meeting ended this afternoon as Fred Luter handed off the gavel to new President Ronnie Floyd. The pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said, “Boom!” as the gavel met the podium to officially close the meeting. And Luter threw his arms in the air with a big grin.

Check back later for more images from the Convention and Pastors’ Conference, and our list of takeaways from this week in Baltimore. Thank you always for following the news with us!

Gavel_1Gavel_2Gavel_3