PLEASANT GARDEN, N.C. (BP) -- Speaking to a group of mostly African-American pastors and church leaders, Fred Luter recently voiced both encouragement and concerns regarding a few issues Southern Baptists face today.
Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), spoke at a breakfast that preceded the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina's 2013 State Evangelism Conference at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, N.C.
The first African-American to be elected as SBC president, Luter talked about everything from Calvinism to pastors standing up against societal pressures on issues such as gay marriage. He also encouraged them to join the 1 percent Challenge that encourages all Southern Baptist churches to consider a 1 percent-of-budget increase in Cooperative Program giving.
"I've been a part of [the Southern Baptist] convention for 26 years," Luter said. "This is not a perfect convention, but ... I would put this convention up to any in the world."
"We're number one when it comes to evangelism. We're number one when it comes to discipleship, number one when it comes to disaster relief."
Luter recalled how the SBC's Disaster Relief ministry reached out to Franklin Avenue Baptist Church and New Orleans residents left in wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"This [convention] has a passion for reaching people," Luter said.
"I promise you this convention, bar none, is one that believes in doing the Master's will. And that's why I'm proud to be a part of this convention."
The debate over Calvinism and what some refer to as "traditional Baptist" views on salvation, he added, is becoming more of a distraction in Southern Baptist life.
"We have a major, major issue with Calvinism," Luter said. "That issue can possibly, if we don't deal with it in a Christian manner, split this convention. Every city I go to, when I [meet] with pastors, [they] will ask what's going to happen with the Calvinism issue."
SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page formed a special advisory team last year to address the Calvinism debate. The advisory team is expected to report on the issue during the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in June.
"There's going to be a proclamation given out that hopefully will satisfy everybody," Luter said. "We've got to look at this thing as spiritual warfare. ... It's an issue that has to be dealt with, and unless we deal with it in a Christian-like manner, I really believe the enemy can come and divide us."
Pastors and church leaders need to take more of a stand, he said, against the pressures of today's politically correct culture.
"We've got preachers [who] are compromising the Scriptures," Luter said. "We need pastors and preachers in this convention who are going to stand on the Word of God."
Luter mentioned an interview he participated in the day after being elected as SBC president. During the interview a journalist asked him about his view of same-sex marriage and whether or not he agreed with President Obama's stance on the issue.
"On this issue I'm totally against the president," he said. "Folks, we're either going to be people of the Book or not. There's just some things in Scripture that we cannot compromise on."
"We've got to preach it, we've got to live it, and we've got to stand on it."
Another way that Southern Baptists can stand together, Luter said, is through supporting the Cooperative Program, which he described as "the engine that runs our convention."
"That's what helps students in our seminaries," he said. "That's what helps NAMB (North American Mission Board) do what they are doing in Alpharetta. That's what helps start churches, helps plant churches. That's what helps IMB (International Mission Board) to put more missionaries [overseas]. ... That's how we cooperate to do ministry."
Luter urged fellow pastors to consider increasing their CP giving by 1 percent. It's worth the investment, he said.
"We can plant more churches," he said. "We can grow more churches, and we can impact the Kingdom of God."
Luter shared his "frustration" toward pastors who have received training or financial support from Southern Baptists, but they fail to give anything back to the Cooperative Program.
"The [SBC has] given you funds from our local churches," he said. "The state convention has given you funds that are helping you pay salaries ... and you don't give back? That's wrong.
"If the state convention [or] a local church is helping you, then as a man of God, you need to have the same conviction to give to support CP because that's how you got started," Luter added. "To whom much is given, much is required."
In regards to church planting, Luter said now is the time to get involved.
"There is no better time in the history of this convention for church planters than right now," he said. "Kevin Ezell, over at NAMB, he has taken on church planting as his numero uno assignment. Kevin's passion is church planting. He just has a conviction that if we're going to reach America, we need to plant churches to do that."
Luter added that providing help for existing churches is also important.
"I told [Ezell] 'I support you in planting churches and starting churches, but we cannot turn our backs on the churches that are already here that are struggling,'" he said.
"We have a lot of churches that are struggling. They are living from week to week. We cannot totally put our efforts on church planting and not help those churches that are hurting. But, there is no better time than now if you're a church planter."
Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org
), newsjournal of the North Carolina State Baptist Convention, where this story first appeared.