Floyd calls for Southern Baptists to lead the way “whatever the cost, whatever the risk”

COLUMBUS, Ohio—“Whatever the cost, whatever the risk,” Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd called for pastoral leadership in the largest Protestant denomination to seize a “Bonhoeffer moment” by refusing to be silent in the face of persecution, hold onto the Word of God, take heart and be encouraged.

“The lostness has never been greater in our dangerous and hopeless world,” said Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas. “Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to rise up and lead.”

Punctuated by frequent applause from an enthusiastic audience of more than 6,000 messengers and guests, Floyd’s message, entitled “Now Is the Time to Lead,” began with broadcast clips depicting his point 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 on June 16, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio, they would declare to us that we are living right now in our most defining hour as Southern Baptists.” Citing Rom. 13:11 to declare it a “kairos” moment, Floyd described a season “fixed by a sovereign God as a true moment of destiny.”

From the savagery of an ISIS advance that perpetuates an ever-growing human trafficking industry and threats to religious liberty that wrongly imprison believers like Saeed Abedini, 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 Nazis 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 remaining 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 is not only dangerous but living without hope.

He called upon Christ-followers to decry all racism and prejudice and any contentment or callousness over the estimated 57 million babies killed since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on abortion.

Later in his message he reminded Southern Baptists of their belief that God created all people for his glory, adding, “We stand believing that humanity’s bearing of God’s image is not contingent upon one’s skin color.” Furthermore, “Abortion is a glaring desecration of the unborn child’s purpose and value,” he insisted, urging continued 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 not only our nation’s belief and practice on traditional and biblical marriage, but also our historic commitment to religious liberty for all people,” calling it a watershed moment potentially adding more fuel to “the already sweeping wildfire of the sexual revolution and move it beyond anyone’s control locally, statewide, nationally and globally.”

Floyd appealed for 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.”

Because of the belief that “marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime,” Floyd said Southern Baptists could not agree more with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s remark that the definition of traditional marriage had endured for millennia and thus it is difficult for the court to say, “’Oh, well, we know better.’”

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 or same-sex marriage ceremonies.

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 in local churches are sleeping or fighting, challenged 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,” he 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,” calling on leaders to refuse such carnal actions by operating relationally from Matthew 18.

Instead of shrinking back in timidity and fearfulness, paralyzed by uncertainty, Floyd appealed for leadership that “believes and stands” on the promises of God’s Word. He relied on Revelation 3:7-8 for his text, quoting: “Write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia, ‘the Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens says: I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.”

Floyd applied comparisons from the Philadelphia church to the state of Southern Baptist churches today—“perceived by the culture as weak and limited,” yet unwilling to deny the name of Christ. “Marked by obedience,” he said those early believers endured steadfastly just as pastors must today despite the size of their church or town and increasingly hostile environments.

“When other denominations and leaders are beginning to relax their message to be more politically correct,” Floyd said, “will we rise up in faithfulness to believe and stand on his Word and for Jesus’ name?” Southern Baptists must avoid the temptation to “caress or cuddle with our culture and simultaneously believe and stand on God’s Word and for Jesus’ name,” he said.

The biblically based insight that “our strength is limited without the power of God,” translates to an appreciation for the open doors that even Hell cannot close, Floyd stated.

“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 Southern Baptist heroes Adrian Rogers, Billy Graham, W.A. Criswell, James Baker Cauthen 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—only coming through repentance from sin and faith in Christ alone.

Thirty years to the week since Criswell delivered his epic message “Whether We Live or Die,” Floyd referenced the Dallas pastor’s conviction based on a dedication to the infallible Word of God, quoting, “’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 Billy Graham’s 1979 message to Southern Baptists gathered in Houston that “God is not calling us tonight to a playground or a sports arena—he is calling us to a battleground,” Floyd used the early morning presidential message to offer a strategy for leadership that refuses to hit the snooze button.

He remembered the missionary mandate to reach the world for Christ and make disciples of all the nations as the “common cause” from the birth of the denomination 170 years ago, adding, “It will be the only thing that keeps us together.”

Responding to President Barack Obama’s concern 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. 

Floyd praised the focus on prayer for spiritual awakening at the first evening session, calling a revived church and genuine spiritual awakening the only hope for America.

His appeal for a third spiritual awakening reiterated a theme that Floyd 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 reported. Recalling the Jesus Movement era that mobilized teenagers, college students and young adults in America, he described the awakening by God 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 the 51,094 churches and congregations 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 hollered. “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 conceded, 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. We need them. 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 established 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 sought to offer 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.”

Raising his voice, Floyd concluded, “Southern Baptists, this is not a fairy tale. The need is great, the hour is late and we must advance the gospel together to every ethnicity in the world. Whatever the cost, whatever the risk, this worldwide mission thrust must be our priority,” he demanded, returning to his earlier quotation of Cauthen, Foreign Mission Board president from 1953 to 1979.

“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.”

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