WASHINGTON (BP) -- Pastors must exercise watch care over the people in their churches and preach all of God's counsel if they are to fulfill their responsibilities at a time of crisis in the United States, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land told church leaders in the country's capital.
Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, urged about 580 participants to address policy issues May 23 at the Watchmen on the Wall pastors briefing. Later in the day, Family Research Council, which sponsors the briefing, gave its annual Watchman Award to Land for his leadership on moral and cultural issues.
After receiving the award, Land said, "If America perishes, she'll die from self-inflicted wounds. We face a far greater peril from our own immorality than we ever faced from the Japanese navy or the German air force or the Soviet missile command or the al-Qaeda terrorist network."
Referring to the call in 2 Chronicles 7:14 for God's people to repent and pray, Land said, "Whether we have a future worth having doesn't depend on what the lost people do. It depends on what God's people do. And that's going to depend on the pastors. That's why God gave them shepherds."
In addressing pastors earlier in the day, he referred to the message to Christians in Hebrews 13:17 that pastors "watch for your souls."
"Who watches for their souls? We do," Land told pastors in the audience. "If we're pastors, we have watch care; we have the responsibility as under shepherds of the Lord Jesus Christ for the watch care of their souls.
"We're going to give an account as pastors, as men of God, for our watch care of the souls that have been entrusted to us."
Land cited the apostle Paul's reminder in Acts 20 to the elders in Ephesus that he had "not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God."
The goal of all pastors should be "that we can say I am innocent of the blood of all men, because I have not hesitated or shirked from preaching the whole counsel of God," he said.
Part of God's counsel is in Jesus' explanation to His disciples in Matthew 5 that they are "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world," Land said.
"[T]here's no way that we can be obedient to the command to be salt and light and withdraw from the world and go into a holding pattern until it's time to go up and be with Jesus," he told the audience. "Salt has to touch that which it's going to preserve. It has to come into contact with it. As Jesus said, 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.' You've got to be close enough to the world they can see the light and then feel the heat."
Land referred to some of the reflections Martin Luther King Jr. made regarding the early church in the 1963 "Letter From Birmingham Jail."
"In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society," Land read from King's letter, which pointed out that the early Christians "brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests."
Land said, "What we need in the pulpit today are thermostats, not thermometers. The temperature in your church is set by you. That's why you have to give account to the Lord Jesus for your watch care.
"The early church faced greater odds than we do, and yet they won," Land added. "We can win but not with a slumbering church ... not with Christian leaders who are thermometers and not thermostats."
In explaining the Watchman Award before presenting it to Land, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the pro-family organization looks across the country for "watchmen on the wall," those pastors providing courageous leadership. The yearly award, Perkins said, seeks "to bestow special recognition on" some "for the sacrifices and the work and the leadership" they provide to these pastors.
Land is "not only an eloquent but a brilliant spokesman for faith, family and freedom," Perkins said prior to giving the award for the 10th annual briefing.
He is a model of "a man that others can follow," said Perkins, who expressed gratitude to God for Land's "faithful stand for the truth" as well as his marriage of nearly 42 years to his wife Rebekah and his investment in his three adult children.
Land has been in vocational ministry for 50 years, nearly the last 25 as head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm. He announced last year his retirement, which will become effective June 1 when he becomes the president emeritus of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. On July 1, he will begin his responsibilities as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C.
Russell Moore, who was elected by trustees in March, will begin his responsibilities as the ERLC's president June 1.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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