Fred Luter challenged Southern Baptists to follow Jesus and be known for evangelism, discipleship, and concern for the lost, in his presidential address to the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville.
Using the familiar question, “What would Jesus do?” Luter stood on Matthew 9:35-38 and drew wisdom from the biblical accounts of Jesus’ interactions with Zacchaeus, blind Bartimaeus, the woman at the well, and the woman caught in adultery, emphasizing concern for the lost, compassion, and prayer.
“If the question was asked, WWJD, what would Jesus do about this generation, about this society, about our nation, my answer would certainly be, Jesus would be concerned about them,” Luter, SBC president and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, preached during the EC’s February 18 plenary session. If Jesus would be concerned “about the unchurched, we also must be concerned.
“We must be concerned about their hurts, concerned about their struggles, concerned about their addictions, concerned about their pain, concerned about their decisions. We must be concerned about their eternal destination.
“From this day forward, the Southern Baptist theme should be, ‘If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or a song, if I can show someone that they’re traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain,’” Luter said, quoting the spiritual popularized by Mahalia Jackson.
God has challenged the church to act, not the government, Luter said.
“Church, listen to the challenge of Jesus and notice the challenge is not to the government—it’s not [gonna] happen. The challenge is not to the president—it’s not [gonna] happen. The challenge is not to the governors, or the mayors, or the police chiefs—it’s not gonna happen.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge from Jesus is to the church. It’s to us, to the body of Christ, to the followers of Jesus,” Luter said.
“The text says, Jesus said to His disciples, not to the Republicans [but] to the disciples; not to the Democrats [but] to His disciples. Not those riding the donkey [but] to His disciples. Not those riding an elephant [but] to His disciples. Not those who are pro-Obama [but] to His disciples. Not those who are anti-Obama—Jesus challenged His disciples,” Luter said. “He challenges His children. He challenges His sons and His daughters. He challenges the church!”
Luter called on Southern Baptists to accept Jesus’ challenge and follow His many examples.
“Let’s accept the challenge of Jesus. Let’s accept the challenge of our CEO,” Luter said, referencing SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page. “Let’s accept the challenge of our president, myself.
“Let’s accept the challenge of the Southern Baptist Convention, that we will continue to be a Convention that’s known for the Great Commission and for the Great Commandment; that we will continue to be a Convention that’s known for evangelism, that’s known for discipleship, that’s known for our concern for the lost,” he said.
“Let’s accept the challenge by showing America that we care for them. Let’s accept the challenge by showing our states that we care for them. Let’s accept the challenge by showing our world that we care for them.”
Luter emphasized the phrase in Matthew 9:36 (KJV) that Jesus was moved with compassion, noting the Lord’s humanity.
“Don’t read that too fast—notice the human side of Jesus. Notice the humanity of Jesus. Yes, He was divine because He was fully God, but He was also human because He was fully man,” Luter said.
“When Jesus saw the people, the Bible [says] He didn’t look down on them. He saw their predicament . . . and was moved with compassion,” Luter said. “In like manner Southern Baptists . . . if we’re going to reach this generation, if we’re going to really care about this generation, we must, we must, we must have compassion for them.”
Luter described the current generation as lost, weary, scattered, and without a shepherd. Society has no values, no morals, no spiritual convictions, and no conscience, he said, challenging Christians to remember God’s grace.
“Those of you who are still amazed by God’s amazing grace in your own life, not in somebody else’s life; those of you [who] know where you came from; those of you who know how lost you were; those of you who know that if the Lord had not have come into your life, where you would be right now; those of you who are still amazed by God’s amazing grace in your own life,” Luter said, “we must show compassion for this generation.”
Luter challenged Southern Baptists to be creative, cooperative, committed, and willing to do as Jesus did.
“What about you Southern Baptists? Can the Lord count on you to be a laborer, to be a worker in His harvest? Can the Lord count on us as Southern Baptists to step up to the plate and make an impact in our world, in our society, in our country?” he asked. “What will it take to reach our generation? I believe we’ve got to do just what Jesus did.
“He was concerned enough to go. He was compassionate enough to help. And He sent out a challenge for more laborers,” Luter said.
“The question of the hour is, ‘Can the Lord count on each and every one of us, in each of our states, each of our associations, each of our churches, each of our ministries to do the work that He’s called us to do to make a difference in our community, in our city, and in our world?’”
Diana Chandler, staff writer for Baptist Press, is a member of First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee.