Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd called for pastoral leadership in the natio’'s largest Protestant denomination to seize a “Bonhoeffer moment” by refusing to be silent in the face of persecution, to hold on to the Word of God, take heart and be encouraged.
“The lostness has never been greater in our dangerous and hopeless world,” Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said in his president’s message to the SBC annual meeting June 16 in Columbus, Ohio.
“Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to rise up and lead.”
Punctuated by frequent applause from nearly 7,000 messengers and guests, Floyd’s message, titled "Now Is the Time to Lead," began with broadcast clips showing that "the alarm clock is going off in our nation and across the world."
“I believe if the 59 presidents who have preceded me could speak to us in this hour … they would declare to us that we are living right now in our most defining hour as Southern Baptists.” Citing Romans 13:11 to declare it a “kairos” moment, Floyd described a season “fixed by a sovereign God as a true moment of destiny.”
From Islamic militants’ savagery and the horrors of human trafficking to the void of religious liberty that wrongly imprisons believers like Saeed Abedini in Iran, Floyd appealed for Christians to heed the warning of the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Quoting from The Cost of Discipleship, Floyd said the opponent of the Nazi movement was right in saying, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
With 153 million orphans worldwide, a seventh of the world living in extreme poverty, 750 million lacking clean water, continuing natural disasters and the global economy hanging in the balance, Floyd said the world not only is dangerous but living without hope.
Racism, abortion & marriage
He called on Christ-followers to decry all racism and prejudice as well as callousness over the estimated 57 million babies killed since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on abortion.
Photo by Matt Miller
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd gives the president's address June 16 during the opening session of the SBC annual meeting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.
He underscored Southern Baptists' belief that God created all people for His glory, “that humanity’s bearing of God’s image is not contingent upon one’s skin color.” Abortion, meanwhile, remains “a glaring desecration of the unborn child's purpose and value,” he said, urging vigilance on behalf of all human life and dignity from the womb to the tomb.
“Now we await the outcome of the next possible Supreme Court ruling that could alter our nation’s belief and practice on traditional and biblical marriage, but also our historic commitment to religious liberty for all people,” Floyd said, calling it a watershed moment potentially fueling “the already sweeping wildfire of the sexual revolution” beyond “anyone’s control locally, statewide, nationally and globally.”
He appealed to Southern Baptists to love all people “even if they are struggling with same-sex attraction or adultery or anything else,” aware that "we are all sinners in need of the Lord’s help and grace.”
Since neither the Supreme Court nor the culture is the final authority, Floyd insisted that he and thousands of pastors in the nation refuse to officiate any same-sex unions. Advocating freedom of religion, Floyd said Christians in America must stand for that priority, knowing it promotes the common good of the nation and the world.
Instead of advancing as leaders, Floyd said many churches are sleeping or fighting, affected by indifference or internal debate.
The fellowship of the Southern Baptist family is challenged by a mindset that believes “combat against one another is some valiant, spiritualized effort,” Floyd said. “We need to be careful not to chase after secondary matters that end up in the weeds of suspicion, skepticism, criticism and cynicism about one another,” he said, calling on leaders to refuse such carnal actions by operating relationally from Matthew 18.
Instead of shrinking back in timidity and fearfulness, Floyd appealed for leadership that “believes and stands” on the promises of God’s Word, pointing to the Lord’s words in Revelation 3:7-8 that “I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.”
“When other denominations and leaders are beginning to relax their message to be more politically correct, will we rise up in faithfulness to believe and stand on His Word and for Jesus' name?” Floyd asked. “There is not one government, one Supreme Court, one court case, one editorial, one commentator, one liberal, one conservative, one world leader, one politician, one radical group, one demon or one of anything that can shut the doors Jesus Himself has opened for us.”
Not only is Jesus the door to salvation, Floyd reminded, but He is the overseer of all doors.
“Stop seeing all the trends and events as obstacles for us and the gospel,” he insisted. “These are things that God will turn into open doors for the gospel.”
Throughout his message Floyd drew from the legacy of such Southern Baptist heroes as W.A. Criswell, Billy Graham, Adrian Rogers and E.Y. Mullins to make his case for leadership to take a stand based on “God's infallible, inerrant, authoritative and final Word in all things,” believing Jesus Christ to be the only way to salvation through repentance from sin and faith in Him alone.
Thirty years to the week since Criswell delivered his epic message “Whether We Live or Die,” Floyd referenced the late Dallas pastor’s conviction based on the Word of God that, “No battle was ever won by retreat or submission or surrender.”
Historically, two motivations have prompted Southern Baptists to go to battle, Floyd recounted – the propagation of the gospel to the world and a perpetual commitment to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. He recalled that in 1922 when dealing with encroaching modernity, SBC President E.Y. Mullins opened his address to the convention by saying, “Southern Baptists have come to one of our supreme hours in history.”
Quoting Graham’s 1979 message to Southern Baptists in Houston that “God is not calling us tonight to a playground or a sports arena – He is calling us to a battleground,” Floyd pointed to a strategy for leadership based on the missionary mandate to reach the world for Christ and make disciples of all the nations. It was the “common cause” at the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention 170 years ago, he said, adding, “It will be the only thing that keeps us together.”
Era of desperation
Responding to President Barack Obama’s comment that there is “a sense possibly that the world is spinning so fast and nobody is able to control it,” Floyd said he senses a desperation and admission that Americans cannot fix themselves.
Underscoring the focus on prayer for spiritual awakening at the upcoming evening session of the SBC annual meeting, Floyd reiterated a theme he has been declaring most of his adult life – since his own conversion as a teenager in Texas in 1972 when baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention peaked at 445,725.
“In that same year, we saw 137,667 12- to 17-year olds baptized, almost double what we reach today," Floyd said. Recalling the Jesus Movement era that mobilized teenagers, college students and young adults in America, he described God's awakening of “the fearful preacher, the dead church, the lifeless state convention and even the complex Southern Baptist Convention” as “our greatest hope today.”
While rejoicing that the SBC is gaining ground in the number of churches, Floyd lamented that Southern Baptist churches reported evangelistic outreach so low that they returned collectively to the level of baptisms 67 years ago when the U.S. population was 144 million in contrast to the 321 million Americans today.
“Most of our churches may have the doctrine right, but we are in an intensive care unit on a spiritual respirator regarding the lack of evangelism,” Floyd declared. “We may have a reputation for being alive, but we are dead if our evangelism is dead.”
The call for a simultaneous prioritization of evangelism and spiritual awakening requires great risk, Floyd acknowledged, calling on Southern Baptists to rise up and pray, give, believe, live and go like never before.
“The doors are wide open now and we must go, church by church, but also together,” he said, reiterating, “We need each other.”
Extending an olive branch to Southern Baptists “who are not with us,” Floyd asked them to come home. “There are [non-SBC] churches right now in America that already align with us doctrinally, missiologically and cooperatively that are considering joining us in advancing the gospel. … They need us and we need you to join us in advancing the gospel.”
A year of traveling on behalf of Southern Baptists to visit with pastors, church planters, state convention leaders and students who are among the 18,000 future pastors, missionaries and scholars, Floyd said he had heard their stories, prayed with them and offered encouragement.
“I saw the resolve on their faces to finish the task, from those living in the Middle East all the way to Cuba,” Floyd said. “I saw their burden so great, they would weep. Many of them are serving in countries where they would lose their lives if they were ever discovered sharing the gospel.”
Floyd concluded by stating, “The need is great, the hour is late and we must advance the gospel together to every ethnicity in the world.
“I appeal to you, that if anything in our churches, Southern Baptist Convention entities, state conventions and associations is not accelerating the Great Commission locally, nationally and internationally, we need to rid ourselves of it now. The urgency is upon us.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Reed Ledbetter writes for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)