February 2017

Singing ‘Down on My Knees,’ Gaines exhorts SBC to pray

February 22 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

In Nashville all of 24 hours while his wife Donna was home in Memphis, Southern Baptist Convention President (SBC) Steve Gaines had already spoken with her four times, he said, because he loves her and simply loves to hear her voice.

Photo by Morris Abernathy
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines encouraged prayer and evangelism in his sermon at the SBC Executive Committee meeting Feb. 20-21 in Nashville.

The conversations with his wife served as an analogy to encourage Southern Baptists to talk with God and tell others about our Savior, the theme of his sermon on the first evening of the SBC Executive Committee meeting in Nashville Feb. 20-21.
“If you love somebody you talk with them; you don’t just talk to them, you listen to them, with them,” he said. “And if you love someone, you talk about them. What I just said is really at the heart of what we ought to be about in the Southern Baptist Convention, prayer and evangelism.
“It’s a love issue, it’s not just a discipline issue,” said Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. “I don’t have to discipline myself to love my wife. I love my wife, and because I love my wife, I talk with her and I talk about her.”
Gaines used the example of the early church in Acts 4 to present prayer as key to the work of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ for evangelism, unity, power, miracles and a host of blessings essential to Kingdom building. He addressed the Executive Committee, its officers and staff, various entity leaders and a host of denominational servants in attendance.
“What good is a prayerless preacher? What good is a prayerless church? What good is a prayerless missionary? What good is a prayerless denominational worker?” Gaines asked. “What good is a prayerless seminary? What good is a prayerless theologian or a prayerless professor? What good is a prayerless conservative, because if you love somebody, you talk with them. If you don’t talk with them, you really don’t love them.”
In a message bathed in scripture, spoken lyrics and such songs as “Teach Me to Pray” and “Down On My Knees,” Gaines presented the benefits of prayer found in the text.

Power to overcome persecution

Prayer allows God’s people to overcome persecution through faith and grace, Gaines said, using the example in Acts 3 of Peter and John, who on their way to the temple to pray, healed a lame beggar and preached the resurrection of Jesus to those amazed at the miracle. Imprisoned and questioned by the city’s rulers about his sermon, Peter persevered, answering with yet another sermon.

Prayer brings unity

Gaines encouraged the SBC to pray in one accord and to exhibit one mind, heart and soul, as did Peter and John in Acts 4:23.
“Unity will not come via social media. Twitter can’t produce unity, prayer can,” Gaines said. “Unity won’t occur with divisive discourse; prayer can bring unity.”
He encouraged humility and affirmation of central beliefs even if disagreement exists on subsidiary points. “We must lay down our personal agendas, and one thing that will help us to do that is to cry out to God together in prayer.”

Prayer brings dependence on scripture

Gaines encouraged the SBC to depend on the Word of God, referencing Acts 4:23-30, which included passages from Nehemiah 9, Psalm 2 and Psalm 146; and Jesus’ prayer on the cross, which quoted Psalm 22:1 and Psalm 31:5.
“They understood that the Word of God will lead to the will of God,” Gaines said, “and when we pray the will of God, 1 John says, God hears us and we know that we have what we requested.”

Prayer brings confidence in God

Confidence in God is not condescending and conceited, Gaines said, but is Spirit-filled.
“They knew that they were being held by the sovereign hands of almighty God,” Gaines said of Peter and John. “They knew it. It gave them a boldness.”

Prayer offers strategic petitions

Prayer must not only be specific, Gaines said, but must also be strategic. The strategic request for boldness in Acts 4:29 was granted in Act. 4:31, he observed.

Prayer ushers in miracles

“When they prayed, God performed a miracle,” Gaines said. “Now He doesn’t always do this, but I think He liked that prayer meeting.”
Miracles are not confined to a specific historical age, but are confined to a specific God, Gaines said. “There’s never been a day of miracles; there’s always a God of miracles.”

Prayer leads to evangelism

After praying, Peter and John spoke the Word with great power and testified to the resurrection of Jesus.
“When you pray, when you talk with someone, after awhile, you’re going to talk about them,” he said. “When you talk to God in prayer, you’ll share the gospel.”

Other benefits of prayer

Prayer also allows Christians and congregations to experience bountiful grace, become exceptionally generous and produce gifted leaders, Gaines said.
“God gave us His son. Jesus gave us His life. The Holy Ghost gave us His power and He gave us spiritual gifts,” Gaines said. “You’re never more like God than when you’re giving.”
God has everything the church needs, Gaines said, and it is accessible through prayer.
“Do you want the SBC to look like the Book of Acts, or will we settle for less? Dare we operate in God’s power instead of our power?” Gaines asked. “Do you want to see the world turned upside down? Are you tired of seeing what man can do?”
If ready to see what God can do, Gaines encouraged Southern Baptists, turn your eyes on Jesus.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

2/22/2017 10:30:26 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Baptists must be ‘correct,’ Page says of stewardship

February 22 2017 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

The use of God’s resources – stewardship – will gain a strengthened emphasis in Southern Baptist life, Frank S. Page said in addressing the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee in Nashville.

Photo by Morris Abernathy
Frank S. Page, addressing the SBC Executive Committee, calls stewardship “a key to all we do” in Southern Baptist missions and ministry.

“If we do not get the issue of stewardship correct, the work to which God is calling us will simply not be done in a way that would honor Him and glorify Him as He would wish,” Page, president of the Executive Committee (EC), said during the opening session of the EC’s Feb. 20-21 meeting.
“The factors that impact stewardship at various levels can sideline us, can marginalize us into a group of ministries which are hardly making a difference.”
Stewardship, Page said, is “a key to all we do.”
Southern Baptists have much to be thankful for, he said, in God’s provision of finances for missions and ministries nationally and internationally since the creation of the Cooperative Program (CP) in 1925.
Over the span of 90-plus years, Southern Baptists have given nearly $4.81 billion for missions through the Cooperative Program, including:

  • nearly $3.27 billion for the International Mission Board and its predecessor, the Foreign Mission Board.
  • more than $1.39 billion for the North American Mission Board and its predecessor, the Home Mission Board.

Additionally, nearly $1.46 billion in Cooperative Program funding has supported the SBC’s six seminaries and other theological education initiatives.
The overall total, Page said, reaches beyond $6.2 billion in support of these and other Southern Baptist Convention causes through the years.
“To be good stewards we have to thank God for that which has happened in the past,” Page said. “These are impressive numbers.
“But there is yet much to be done,” he said, at a time when “there are many currents that seem to push us to the side and push us apart.”
“Sometimes those currents and forces and factors may be theological in nature, sometimes they are ecclesiological, but usually they are methodological in nature. Sometimes those factors are personality-driven, issue-driven, cultural in nature. … [I]t seems now that rope of trust is so painfully thin and frayed....”
Yet, Southern Baptists are “blessed with a tremendous unity,” Page said, in their resolve to hold Scripture “as the inerrant Word of God” and to share a common commitment “to the task of our Lord Jesus Christ. … The cause that we are committed to is bigger than our differences.”
Page said three areas of stewardship will draw repeated emphasis:

Personal stewardship

“We need to have a massive effort of biblical stewardship education in our churches” to help individuals and families understand that “[t]he need for personal stewardship cannot be overestimated.”
In 2003, church members gave an average of 2.48 percent of their income to their church, Page said, while the most recent statistics show a decline to 2.16 percent. Also, 70 percent of households gave to charitable causes in 2003, declining to 65 percent in 2015.
“God help us,” Page said. “Is it any wonder why we don’t have all we need” for reaching the world for Christ?
SBC entities and state Baptist conventions will be working together “to push as hard as we can to get into the local churches [stewardship resources] that will be both heightened in their energy and in their emphasis,” Page said.
“When I was saved as a boy,” he recounted, “I was part of a non-Christian home, but I learned as a little boy the power of tithing unto the Lord. I’ve seen what it has done in my life.”

Church stewardship

Churches are “under a great pressure to fund a number of initiatives,” Page acknowledged, yet noting, “We say to young church planters, we say to young pastors, we say to old pastors, Study it [the Cooperative Program], and we believe at the end of the day you’ll find it to be the most efficient, effective way to do missions and ministries.”
Sadly, Southern Baptist churches in overall missions giving, including the Cooperative Program, gave 11.3 percent of the tithes and offerings they received to missions in 2006 compared to 10.44 percent in 2015, Page said.
“Our churches need a wakeup call regarding their own stewardship,” Page said. “Overall mission giving is not in a state of ascendency but in a state of descendency. We ought not be going down in mission giving, we ought to be going up.”
One positive note, Page said, is that the North American Mission Board is actively promoting Cooperative Program support among its church planters across the country.
“We’re excited to see some great things happening, especially among the youngest of our churches and our pastors,” Page said. “We talk about [the Cooperative Program] with every ethnic group, with every age group, we talk about it wherever we go.”

SBC stewardship

The SBC, as well as state conventions, “must continue to find ways to be diligent and effective and efficient in the stewardship of the dollars God has given us,” Page said.
Toward that end, he noted a change that is being proposed for the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget for the Executive Committee to go to zero for any yearly SBC budget overages and for the funds to be provided to the International Mission Board “to see the nations come to Christ.”
The Executive Committee’s percentage of the CP budget already has been twice pared to 2.99 percent from 3.4 percent in 2011, with the funds also provided to the IMB, and the overage percentage likewise had been pared to 2.4 percent.
“We want to constantly look for ways we can do more to reach the lost for Christ,” Page said, in voicing a resolve never to be a bureaucrat.
“I wake up every day and say, ‘God, don’t let me ever be a bureaucrat that cares more about the institution than he does the vision of the institution. … And God, let the cause always be the cause of Christ, not the cause of the Baptist denomination.’”
A bureaucrat, Page said, cares more about “perpetuating the institution or the denomination rather than fulfilling the Great Commission,” more about “the external rather than on the eternal,” on “buildings and programs when we ought to be focusing on the sending capacity of our churches,” and more about “placating of the status quota rather than to challenge the complacency of our lives, our churches, our entities.”
“May that never happen,” Page said, “to me or us. Ever.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/22/2017 10:30:11 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Illinois pro-lifers fight publicly-funded abortions bill

February 22 2017 by Meredith Flynn, Baptist Press

Pro-life advocates in Illinois are urging lawmakers to oppose legislation that would allow the use of public money to fund abortions.
Illinois House Bill 40 (HB 40), currently awaiting a vote by the state’s House of Representatives, would strike from state law a provision that says Illinois’ medical assistance program cannot pay for abortions. The bill also would allow state workers’ health insurance plans to include coverage for abortions.
Illinois Right to Life is one of the pro-life organizations that opposes HB 40. Its director, Emily Troscinski, said the measure is “the most extreme abortion-expanding bill” she’s seen in her tenure at the organization.
“What it does is it provides free abortions for those on Medicaid for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy,” Troscinski said. Currently, state Medicaid funds cover “medically necessary” abortions or those in cases of rape, incest or a pregnancy that endangers the mother’s life.
The cost of HB40, if passed, could be huge in terms of lives lost, Troscinski said. “It’s unlimited, so our estimates are showing this could increase the number of abortions by 12,000 abortions a year.” That’s how many abortions were provided under Medicaid in 1978, the last time the law allowed such coverage in Illinois. Currently, Medicaid covers 108 abortions a year, Troscinski said.
The bill was first proposed in March 2015 but failed to pass in the General Assembly. It was reintroduced in 2016 following Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President, with a new provision that would allow Illinois to continue to perform abortions should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.
“We want to affirm that Illinois is a state where abortion will be safe and accessible,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), told the Associated Press in November. “There has never been such a threat to a woman’s right to choose as there is under (Donald) Trump.”
Troscinski said the provision is one way the bill’s sponsors are appealing to their fellow legislators. “That’s how they’re getting a lot of representatives to sign on it to, is by saying, ‘We have to keep abortion legal in Illinois.’”
Another troubling aspect of HB 40 for the pro-life community is that it removes language from the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975 that identifies the unborn child as “a human being from the time of conception” and therefore “entitled to the right to life from conception” under state law.
“We have to ask ourselves what kind of cultural narrative this is creating in Illinois,” Troscinski said, noting that unborn children are considered human beings in homicide laws. But now some are arguing that personhood application doesn’t extend to cases of abortion.
The provision is an issue for Rep. Sheri Jesiel (R-Winthrop Harbor), who told Springfield’s State Journal-Register newspaper, “I take great exception to the section that removes the personhood of a baby.” Jesiel is on the House Human Services Committee, which approved HB 40 on Feb. 8 by a vote of 7 to 5.
Jesiel also pointed to another problem that pro-life advocates have argued about HB 40 – that lawmakers ought to be focusing more on fixing the state’s budget crisis. “I can understand exceptions for the health of the mother, those kinds of things, life happens,” Jesiel said. “But expanding it (abortion) without any restrictions is financially a very big problem. Let’s focus on the things that are of critical nature right now.”
In addition to protecting abortion in Illinois, removing personhood of the unborn and altering Medicaid and state workers’ health insurance coverage, HB 40 also would:

  • Remove language that currently prohibits Illinois’ Department of Human Services from making grants to organizations that use such grants “to refer or counsel for, or perform, abortions.”
  • Removes a measure that prohibits physicians who have been found guilty of “performing an abortion procedure in a willful and wanton manner upon a woman who was not pregnant at the time such abortion procedure was performed” from providing medical assistance to people eligible under Illinois’ Public Aid Code.

The Illinois General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday, Feb. 22. Illinois Right to Life and other pro-life organizations are urging citizens to take action now, Troscinski said. “We are urging every Illinoisan to call their state representative and urge them to no on this extreme bill.”

Pregnancy centers file suit against Illinois governor

In other life-related Illinois news, 18 pregnancy resource centers are seeking an injunction against a law they say interferes with their ability to fulfill their mission of promoting alternatives to abortion.
Senate Bill 1564, adopted last year and effective Jan. 1, 2017, amended the Health Care Right of Conscience Act to require health care facilities to adopt protocols that are “designed to ensure that conscience-based objections do not cause impairment of patients’ health and that explain how conscience-based objections will be addressed in a timely manner to facilitate patient health care services.”
The result is that pregnancy centers and pro-life doctors are required to talk about abortion as a legal treatment option, to discuss the “benefits” of abortion, and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers, said Attorney Thomas Olp of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society.
“What’s particularly pernicious about this law is that here in Illinois, they put the requirement to talk about abortion in the very statute that originally gave pregnancy centers and pro-life doctors the permission not to talk about abortion,” Olp said.
Because of the law, some pregnancy centers have been forced to change how they operate, he added. “Some of them have decided not to do sonograms because that’s a medical procedure that clearly is covered by the new law.”
In addition to the 18 centers who filed the lawsuit on Feb. 9, the Thomas More Society also is representing two others who filed suit this month. Olp said they hope to have a hearing and decision on the injunction within a month; a favorable result would stay the law pending final resolution of the lawsuit.
More information about the lawsuit is available at thomasmoresociety.org/illinois-pregnancy-resource-centers-sue-governor-for-first-amendment-violations/. For updates on HB 40, which would allow publicly-funded abortions in Illinois, go to illinoisrighttolife.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Meredith Flynn is a writer in Springfield, Ill. This story first appeared on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission website erlc.com.)

2/22/2017 10:27:20 AM by Meredith Flynn, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Benedict Option’: Build communities of resistance

February 22 2017 by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS

With secular culture increasingly marginalizing the Christian faith, believers should leave behind political battles and embrace the communal life exemplified by St. Benedict of Nursia, author Rod Dreher said in the Gheens Lectures, Feb. 7-8 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

SBTS photo
Rod Dreher, senior editor of ‘The American Conservative’ and author of ‘The Benedict Option,’ lectures during the SBTS Gheens Lectures, Feb. 7-8.

Although Christianity continues to spread in Asia and the global south, it is rapidly losing its influence in the public square in the West, said Dreher, senior editor of the American Conservative and author of The Benedict Option, a book to be released March 14 that formed the basis of his lectures.
“Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to stop fighting the flood?” Dreher asked. “That is, to quit piling up sandbags in a doomed effort to hold back the rising waters, and instead to build an ark in which to shelter until the water recedes and we can put our feet on dry land again. Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast and eventually overcome the cultural forces sweeping Christianity away in the West.
“If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training – just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to the people.”
Dreher suggested 21st-century Christians follow the example of St. Benedict of Nursia, who retreated from the corruption of Rome to build monastic communities committed to order, holiness and simplicity. Having grown up in the shadow of Rome’s former glory, Benedict lived as a hermit for three years before committing himself to developing monasteries in sixth-century Italy. He also wrote a short book to guide monks and nuns, The Rule of Saint Benedict, calling for lives characterized by prayer, work, community and hospitality.
Dreher said he does not mean a type of Christianity that would “head for the hills and build a bunker,” since even the monks were engaged in the secular communities around them.
“Why does Benedict’s example give us hope today? Because it reveals what a small cohort of believers who respond creatively to the challenges of their own time and place can accomplish by channeling the grace that flows through them from their radical openness to God, and embodying that grace in a distinct – and distinctly countercultural – way of life,” Dreher said.
Christians should not continue as if they live in “normal times,” Dreher said, nor can they look to political figures for hope. Instead, believers should form and feed communities of faith, helping them grow into resilient bastions of an ancient kind of Christianity.
“One way or the other, all of us Christians today have to go back to our common roots and recover the sacramental ontology [or nature] of the early church,” he said.
This strategy does not restrict evangelism, he said, as the church is still responsible for making disciples, baptizing and teaching. Dreher, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, said the evangelical tradition offers a unique sense of mission that can flourish in the Benedict Option. But he said the popular style of evangelism must change if Christians are going to be effective at fulfilling the Great Commission.
“We happen to live in a time and a place in which argumentation – that is, rational disputation – is not the most effective way to preach the gospel,” Dreher said. “This is not to say that we shouldn’t be prepared to give reasoned arguments for why we believe what we believe. It is to say, however, that people whose way of thinking is determined by emotivism ... are not likely to be persuaded by propositions and syllogisms.
“We need to expand our idea of what evangelism is. We need to learn not only to tell people what life in Christ is about but also to show them. To do that, we need to do a much better job of embodying our faith. Praying the sinner’s prayer is only a beginning of the Christian life, not its end. If the only thing we have to share with the world is a pot of message, we will fail.”
One of the enemies of Christianity is the notion that there is no objective divine order or logos to creation – a distinctly modern idea that buttresses Western culture, Dreher said. Drawing on sociologist Christian Smith’s concept of Moral Therapeutic Deism, Dreher argued that even religious people in the West fashion a god who “looks a lot like themselves.” Believers can counter this view by living ordered, disciplined and godward lives in community, he said.
“Everything about the traditional Benedictine way of life testifies to the truth of the older conception: that there is a Logos, Jesus Christ, and that everything we do in our daily lives must be ordered to Him,” Dreher said. “The monks are a living sign of contradiction to the modern age. We have to be that too.”
Audio and video of the Gheens Lectures at Southern Seminary will be available online at equip.sbts.edu.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith is a writer for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

2/22/2017 10:24:38 AM by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS | with 0 comments

25 church buildings in Sudan feared to be demolished

February 22 2017 by Morning Star News, Sudan correspondent

State officials in Sudan plan to demolish at least 25 church buildings in the Khartoum area, according to Christian leaders.

Wikipedia map
Bahri (North) Khartoum in relation to Nile and capital area.

A letter from the Executive Corporation for the Protection of Government Lands, Environment, Roads and Demolition of Irregularities of Khartoum State reveals the names and locations of 25 church buildings marked for demolition, most of them in the Sharq al Neel (East Nile area) locality of Khartoum North. The government reportedly claimed the churches were built on land zoned for other uses, but Christian leaders said it is part of wider crack-down on Christianity.
The Rev. Yahia Abdelrahim Nalu, moderator of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church’s Sudan Evangelical Synod, told Morning Star News the subsequent order was part of a systematic attack on churches by the Islamist government.
“This is not an isolated act but should be taken with wider perspective,” he said.
The order targets a wide range of denominations, from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal.
The Sudan Council of Churches denounced the order at a Feb. 11 press conference, calling on the government to reconsider the decision or provide alternative sites for the churches. The Rev. Mubarak Hamad, chairman of the Sudan Council of Churches, said at the conference in Khartoum that mosques located in the same area were spared from the demolition order.
Hamad said the order, issued in June of 2016, was aimed at 27 church buildings. The order included a Presbyterian Church of Sudan in Jebel Aulia, and one belonging to the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Soba al Aradi, both south of Khartoum.  
The order by Mohamad el Sheikh Mohamad, general manager of the land department in the Ministry of Physical Planning, urged that it be implemented immediately.
“I am hereby issuing the order of demolition of the churches that are attached to residential areas and public playgrounds in neighborhoods of East Nile locality,” Mohamad wrote in a cover letter dated June 20, 2016 to the Executive Corporation.
Among the 25 church buildings listed are three located on public playgrounds; the rest are located in residential areas, according to the order.
Last Sept. 29, officials from Khartoum state’s Ministry of Planning and Urban Development notified leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan that they had 72 hours to vacate their property.
The church building was one of five that officials at that time said were slated for demolition to make way for investor development.
“We were surprised as a church at such a move,” a member of the church told Morning Star News at that time. “The church building has been there since 1991. We are still worshiping there but fearful of the demolition any time.”
The church, whose Sunday attendance ranges from 80 to 150 people, declined to vacate as they had no alternative site for worship, he said. The letter from state officials asserted the land on which the church building was situated was designated as private property for gardens.
Three Sudanese Church of Christ congregations, along with one belonging to the Episcopal Church of Sudan, also received demolition notices on Sept. 29.
Sudan since 2012 has bulldozed church buildings and harassed and expelled foreign Christians, usually on the claim that the buildings belonged to South Sudanese. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.  
The government’s decision to issue no new church building licenses came after South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of Sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
After bulldozing a Lutheran Church of Sudan building on Oct. 21, 2015, authorities in the Karari area of Omdurman demolished an SCOC building on Oct. 27, 2015 without prior warning, church leaders said. Local authorities said the SCOC building was on government land, a claim church leaders adamantly denied.
Karari officials in Omdurman, across the Nile River from Khartoum, reportedly authorized the demolition of the church building claiming it was built on government land allocated for a field. In the demolishing of the LCS church on Oct. 21, the local authorities said it was built on land allocated for business, though a mosque stands nearby.
Ethnic Nuba have long suffered discrimination from the Arab population and authorities of Sudan. The Nuba people have longstanding complaints against Khartoum including neglect, persecution and forced conversions to Islam in a 1990s jihad.
Sudan fought a civil war with the south Sudanese from 1983 to 2005. And in June 2011, shortly before the secession of South Sudan the following month, the government began fighting a rebel group in the Nuba Mountains that has its roots in South Sudan.
Sudanese authorities on Feb. 17, 2014 demolished another SCOC church building in Omdurman without prior notice. Bulldozers accompanied by local police and personnel from of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) destroyed the worship building in the Ombada area of Omdurman, sources said.
On Aug. 24, 2014, NISS agents padlocked the building of the 500-member Sudan Pentecostal Church in Khartoum, which housed the Khartoum Christian Center.
Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2016 report.
Sudan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morning Star News is a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide.)

2/22/2017 10:21:21 AM by Morning Star News, Sudan correspondent | with 0 comments

Church response to domestic violence focus of study

February 21 2017 by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends

When it comes to domestic violence, Protestant pastors want to be helpful but often don’t know where to start, a new study shows.

LifeWay graphic

Most say their church would be a safe haven for victims of domestic violence. But many don’t know if anyone in their church has been a victim of domestic violence. And only half say they have a plan in place to help if a victim comes forward, according to a new report on churches and domestic abuse from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, conducted Aug. 22–Sept. 16, is based on a phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said churches want to help victims of domestic violence but aren’t always effective at doing so.
“Many pastors aren’t aware if domestic violence is happening in their congregation,” McConnell said. “And even if they are aware, they often don’t know how to help.”

Churches see themselves as safe haven

LifeWay Research found most pastors (87 percent) strongly agree with the statement, “a person experiencing domestic violence would find our church to be a safe haven.” Eleven percent somewhat agree. One percent are not sure.
Most pastors (89 percent) also agree their church regularly communicates that domestic violence is not OK – with more than half (56 percent) who strongly agree.
Yet nearly half of pastors (47 percent) say they don’t know if anyone in their church has been a victim of domestic violence in the last three years. A third (37 percent) say a church member has been a victim of domestic violence. Fifteen percent say no one has experienced domestic violence.
Church size plays a role in whether pastors know of a domestic violence victim. Pastors at bigger churches, those with more than 250 attenders, are most likely (65 percent) to know of a victim of domestic violence in their church. Pastors at smaller churches, those with fewer than 50 attenders, are least likely to know of a victim (20 percent). Pastors in the West (45 percent) and Midwest (42 percent) are more likely to know of a victim than those in the South (33 percent).

LifeWay graphic

McConnell suspects there are more victims of domestic violence in churches than pastors realize. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a quarter of American women (24.3 percent) and 1 in 7 men (13.8 percent) have “experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.” Given those numbers, there are likely victims of violence even in a small church, McConnell said.
“Statistics on sinful activities consistently show that church attendees act better but are not without sin.” he said. “It is naïve to assume a church could remain immune to domestic violence.“
This lack of experience or awareness might explain why many churches don’t have a plan to assist victims of domestic violence, McConnell said.
Only about half of churches (52 percent) have a plan to assist victims of domestic abuse. Forty-five percent have no plan. Two percent of pastors aren’t aware of a plan.
Most churches with 250 or more people have a plan (73 percent). So do many Methodist (63 percent) and Pentecostal (66 percent) churches. Fewer Baptist (52 percent), Presbyterian/Reformed (45 percent), Holiness (45 percent), Lutheran (44 percent) or Church of Christ (41 percent) churches have one.
Among the resources churches offer to victims:

  • Three-quarters (76 percent) have a referral list for professional counselors.
  • Two-thirds (64 percent) have finances to assist victims.
  • Sixty-one percent can provide victims a safe place to stay.
  • About half (53 percent) have a referral list for legal help.
  • Half (49 percent) have someone in the church who has experienced domestic violence victims can talk to.

Churches also offer other assistance like referrals to shelters or state agencies, pastoral care and support groups.
The kind of help offered to domestic violence victims can vary by denomination.
Baptists (66 percent) and churches with more than 250 attenders (68 percent) are more likely to offer victims a safe place to stay. Lutherans (55 percent) and Methodists (54 percent), as well as churches with fewer than 50 attenders (55 percent), are less likely.
Baptist (71 percent), Presbyterian/Reformed (67 percent) and Church of Christ (67 percent) churches are more likely to have financial resources to help victims of domestic violence than Methodist (53 percent) or Lutheran (49 percent) churches.
Bigger churches are most likely to be able to connect a victim with someone who has experienced abuse (65 percent). Pentecostals (61 percent) are more likely than Presbyterian/Reformed (43 percent), Methodist (42 percent) and Lutheran (35 percent) pastors to be able to connect a victim with someone else who has been through a similar experience.

Divorce leads to skepticism

The issue of divorce is one roadblock for churches that want to help victims of domestic abuse.

LifeWay graphic

If a church member files for divorce and cites domestic violence as a cause, pastors often respond with skepticism. Fifty-nine percent believe divorce may be the best option. Few say couples should not divorce (3 percent) in cases of domestic violence. About half (56 percent) say they’d believe domestic violence was really present. Sixty percent say they’d investigate the claims of domestic violence. Only 1 percent of pastors would doubt such violence took place. The study showed 43 percent of pastors are unwilling to say whether or not they believe abuse took place.
Lutheran (70 percent), Methodist (63 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (62 percent) are most likely to believe domestic violence took place if a church member files for divorce and cites domestic violence as a cause. Baptist (49 percent) and Pentecostal (40 percent) pastors are less likely.
Baptist (70 percent), Pentecostal (70 percent) and Holiness (76 percent) pastors are more likely to investigate claims of domestic violence. Lutherans (52 percent), Presbyterian/Reformed (47 percent) and Methodists (39 percent) are less likely.

Domestic violence still complicated for churches

A previous LifeWay study found domestic violence is rarely discussed in Protestant church settings. In that study, 4 in 10 pastors said they rarely or never addressed the issue. Another 22 percent discuss the issue once a year.
Julie Owens, a North Carolina-based consultant who has designed domestic violence prevention programs for churches and the Department of Justice, said churches want to be safe havens for victims. But there’s no way for a victim to know a church is a safe place if the pastor never discusses the issues.
She also fears churches often do more harm than good in cases of domestic abuse. Launching an investigation into claims of abuse, for example, can put a victim at risk, she said. If a pastor talks to an alleged abuser, the abuser will often deny the claims and then retaliate against the victim of domestic violence.
And abusers often know how to manipulate pastors, she said. Abusers will ask for forgiveness and say they want to reconcile with their spouses – and that’s what pastors want to hear, she said.
“It can be a lot easier to believe the abuser than to help a victim,” she said. “Helping a victim is a lot harder.”
Ensuring a victim’s safety has to come first, she said. That often means connecting victims to outside resources like counselors, shelters and law enforcement. Pastors and churches, she said, aren’t always equipped to deal with the complicated needs of domestic violence victims.
“Churches underestimate the spiritual, psychological and emotional damage done by domestic abuse,” she said.
Ignoring the issue in public settings can undermine a church’s efforts to help domestic violence victims, McConnell said.
“You can have great resources in place to help victims – but if no one knows they exist, those resources won’t do any good,” he said.
Methodology: The study was sponsored by radio host and speaker Autumn Miles, who partnered with LifeWay Research on the study. The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted August 22–Sept. 16, 2016. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
LifeWay Research, based in Nashville, is an evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer of Facts & Trends magazine.)

2/21/2017 12:45:39 PM by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

Missouri governor to fight St. Louis abortion ‘sanctuary’

February 21 2017 by Missouri Pathway & BP staff

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has pledged to lead a fight to repeal a bill passed by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen essentially making St. Louis a “sanctuary city” for abortion, with critics contending it threatens the religious freedom of citizens and institutions opposing it.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens

Known as Board Bill 203, it places pregnancy and reproductive health – including the decision to abort a child – alongside already protected classes such as race, gender, religion and disability in St. Louis’ anti-discrimination ordinance.
According to LifeNews.com, Missouri Right to Life has warned that Board Bill 203 could force landlords to rent property to abortion providers or abortion advocacy groups and to punish employers, including religious organizations, who refuse to hire someone who publicly supports abortion.
“BB 203 attempts to force churches and others to be complicit in the profound evil of abortion,” LifeNews.com reported Missouri Right to Life as contending.
Greitens, who said he wants Missouri to be a leader in protecting the lives of the unborn, shared his commitment to fight the St. Louis measure in a phone call with Don Hinkle, editor of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s newsjournal The Pathway and public policy adviser for the state’s Baptists.
“We must protect people of faith and we must protect the unborn,” Greitens said, according to a Pathway report Feb. 16. “We must win this and I am proud to lead the fight on this issue.”
Greitens, a Republican who was elected as governor in November, did not say what steps he is prepared to take, but The Pathway noted proposed legislation reportedly is being drafted in the General Assembly to nullify or overturn Board Bill 203, which was adopted by the Board of Aldermen 17-10 on Feb. 10.
Hinkle said Board Bill 203 is “an evil law that must be overturned and I promised the governor that Missouri Southern Baptists will assist him in fighting this vile action that makes St. Louis a city of death and targets the least among us – the unborn.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted the bill’s sponsor, Megan Green, who represents the 15th Ward, as saying that employers “can have their own beliefs” but they “shouldn’t be able to impose those beliefs on people or fire someone because of those beliefs.”
Catholic archbishop Robert Carlson described Board Bill 203’s passage as “a terrible moment for a city with such proud history,” the Post-Dispatch reported. The city’s laws, Carlson said, “now actively protect and promote the killing of unborn children.”
At a Jan. 18 hearing on the bill, Thomas Buckley, general counsel to the archdiocese, said the archdiocese “will not and cannot comply with this,” warning, “We will go straight to federal court.”
Noah Oldham, an elder at August Gate Church and North American Mission Board SEND City Coordinator for St. Louis, attended the Jan. 18 hearing to testify against the bill but time expired before he could speak. He then spoke individually with various members of the Board of Aldermen, urging them to defend life.
“Are we going to be a sanctuary for all people,” Oldham said in recapping his comments in a Pathway interview, “regardless of what they believe – but also regardless of their power? Roe v. Wade, 44 years ago, legislated that personhood was based on power: If you don’t have the ability to live on your own outside the womb, then you don’t have the right to be called a person. That’s discrimination. St. Louis needs to be a city that’s a sanctuary for all people, even the unborn.”
Oldham said he reminded city officials of their “mutual common ground – that is, to serve the people of this city who have needs.”
“And I believe,” he said, “that there is nobody in greater need than women in crisis pregnancies and their unborn children. And I believe that if we would work together – the city officials, the local church … and all the other pro-life (organizations and) crisis pregnancy centers around St. Louis – we could truly care for these mothers, we could keep their consciences clean, we could allow them to give life, we could be a sanctuary city for all … and we could also respect the religious liberty of Christians.”
Oldham told The Pathway that, in the current political landscape, “there really is an open door for fighting abortion in this country” – that is, if pro-lifers take advantage of the opportunity.
“I believe God, in scripture, calls us to have a voice for the voiceless and to speak up for those who are oppressed,” he said. “And I believe there is nobody in this world more vulnerable than the unborn child.”
According to the Post-Dispatch, similar legislation has been passed by the District of Columbia, Boston and the state of Delaware.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from reporting by The Pathway, mbcpathway.com, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this report.)

2/21/2017 12:45:16 PM by Missouri Pathway & BP staff | with 0 comments

Leadworship Workshop coming to N.C. this spring

February 21 2017 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

The ministry of acclaimed worship artist Paul Baloche has impacted millions of people around the world, including Kenny Lamm, senior consultant for worship and music with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).

Paul Baloche

“When God began transforming my heart for worship and gave me a passion for leading His people in worship, Paul Baloche’s training videos were a huge inspiration to me,” said Lamm, who has served with the state convention for more than six years after more than 20 years as a worship leader in the local church. “Much of my ministry has been greatly influenced by Paul Baloche.”
Now others in North Carolina can receive hands-on music and ministry training from Baloche and his team of talented musicians thanks to an upcoming workshop this spring.
Lamm has worked to bring Baloche – who has written well known worship songs such as “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” “Your Name,” “Hosanna” and “Above All” – to the state for one of his Leadworship workshops, which is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, March 31-April 1 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
The event kicks off with a worship night on Friday evening followed by a full day of training and breakout sessions on Saturday. The workshop is geared toward pastors, worship leaders, musicians and audio technicians. Registration for the event is $69 per person, or $59 per person for groups of four or more. More information and registration are available at LeadworshipNC.org.
Baloche and his team of musicians have led similar workshops around the world for the past 20 years. The Leadworship Workshop is designed so every member of a church’s worship and music ministry can benefit and go deeper into biblical and practical application.
Lamm said the conference would be a great supplement to those who have participated in one of the worship training events he conducts.
“Thousands of North Carolina Baptists have gone through our Worship Leader Boot Camp events, which help set the biblical and missional foundations of worship,” Lamm said. “We cover so much during those weekends that we are not able to go into the practical band specifics,” like focus on particular instruments, “that this conference will cover. This will be a great next step for many of our people.”
Attendees at the Leadworship Workshop will receive training and equipping through general sessions and a host of breakout sessions designed to address every aspect of the worship service and preparation.

Through the breakout sessions, attendees will receive personal interaction with each presenter in a small-group environment. Sessions will cover topics related to specific musical instruments, vocals, songwriting, worship leadership, audio mixing and more.
Lamm said he is grateful that Baloche is bringing this workshop to North Carolina and hopes that many pastors and church leaders will take advantage of this opportunity to learn from an award-winning musician whose worship songs have resonated with so many people.
“There is no one that I would rather have come to speak into the worship lives of our people than Paul Baloche,” Lamm said. “I am thankful for the passion that Paul and his team of world-class musicians have to encourage and equip the local church through workshops such as this one.
“The inspiration and renewal that we will gain through this time of worship and training will be unmatched and powerful for all who attend.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – The Leadworship Workshop is scheduled for March 31-April 1 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. A complete schedule and registration information are available online at LeadworshipNC.org.)

2/21/2017 12:44:50 PM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Memorial Church launches Christian school

February 21 2017 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Memorial Baptist Church in Norwood broke ground Feb. 1 for its newly formed Christian school. Norwood town officials joined church members and Tillery Christian Academy’s (TCA) board of directors for the event that board chairman Tom Gray called a “milestone.”

Contributed photo
At right, board members from the newly formed Tillery Christian Academy (TCA) gather with Memorial Baptist Church staff and members and Norwood town officials to break ground on facilities for TCA. Modular units will be used until a permanent facility is built. Classes start in August. Memorial Pastor Josh Phillips said the school is one way his church can support developing a biblical worldview in their community and beyond.

Addressing the gathering, Gray talked about the school’s vision and the obstacles they had to overcome in the past 18 months. One obstacle was the failure of the church’s current facilities to meet codes for educational instruction. Adjacent to the church’s facilities, modular units are under construction to provide temporary classrooms and offices until a permanent facility is built.
Gray thanked the area residents and church members for continued support for the school that will open its doors debt free in August.
He said the school’s purpose is to “glorify God through providing education with a biblical worldview to children for ages to come.”
Josh Phillips, Memorial’s pastor, read from Ezra 3:10-11 where God’s people celebrated the laying of the temple’s foundation. Nathan Fox, the first pastor of Memorial, concluded with a prayer of thanksgiving and led the gathering in singing “God Bless America.”
Phillips told the Biblical Recorder the vision for the school began 18 months ago. Gray was concerned that children in the community and across the country were not developing a Christian worldview through the public school system. They discussed some alternatives for Christian education and gathered information from other churches that had successful Christian schools.
“The more we prayed independently, it was unique how God was putting our spirits together in the need,” Phillips said. At the same time, it was announced that the local elementary school may close.
“We were blessed that the elementary school did not close, but that did not change our vision for Christian education. Unfortunately, our teachers and administrators, within the public schools are handcuffed. When it comes to a biblical worldview, they just can’t do much. They can’t teach the Bible in public classrooms, but we believe we should do that,” said Phillips.
Gray and Phillips observed that churches have about two to three hours each week to teach children, while public schools have 30 to 35 hours to teach them.
“It doesn’t take long to see that [education] is stacked against us,” Phillips said. “So, what can we do to invest in these students so that when they graduate from high school ... they can have a biblical worldview? Whether they become attorneys, doctors, teachers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, – no matter what they are – they need to come out of their education with a biblical worldview.”
There are two small Christian schools in the area according to Phillips. “We’re in southern tip of Stanly County, close to Anson and Montgomery counties. There are very few Christian schools in these counties.”
TCA’s board hired Beverly McIntire as the headmistress of TCA. She has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction with a specialty in literacy from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and 35 years of teaching experience from preschool children to college students.
“We’re not against our public schools,” Phillips added. “That’s not our ambition, our goal or our motive. What we want to do as a church is to ask, ‘How can we better equip boys and girls to develop that biblical worldview?’ Unfortunately, our local schools can’t do it anymore because of the restrictions that are placed upon them.
“I’m very excited about this opportunity for our church,” said Phillips. “First, we believe the Bible, and we believe in a biblical worldview. Now we have the opportunity to be an extension of that with a ministry in the community where we live. ... My most exciting part about this is seeing the potential this has for our future – five, 10 or 15 years down the road as these students graduate and get plugged into society and function in their everyday life based on the biblical education they received at Tillery Christian Academy.
TCA plans to open in the fall with kindergarten through third grade, adding additional grades each year. For more information, visit the school’s website tillerychristianacademy.wordpress.com.

2/21/2017 12:44:23 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

‘Jane Roe’ of Roe v. Wade died as ‘friend of life’

February 21 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Roe v. Wade abortion rights plaintiff Norma McCorvey is being remembered for her Christian conversion and pro-life advocacy. She died Feb. 18 at age 69 in a Katy, Texas, assisted living facility of heart failure, the New York Times reported.

YouTube Screen capture
Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff “Jane Roe” in the “Roe v. Wade” abortion case, in an undated Reuters interview on her pro-life advocacy.

The mother of three is believed to have never had an abortion herself, the New York Times said upon her death, as she carried to term the pregnancy that was the subject of the court case culminating in Roe v. Wade in 1973. But an estimated 58 million or more children have been aborted in the U.S. since the landmark abortion rights ruling, according to the National Right to Life Committee.
McCorvey professed a Christian conversion in 1995 and became increasingly vocal in her defense of unborn children, petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 to overturn Roe v. Wade because she believed abortion was harmful to women.
Noted Southern Baptist author and biblical scholar Dorothy Patterson thanked God for McCorvey’s conversion and defense of life.
“What we should remember most is that finding Christ turned her from a path of death to everlasting life for herself, and caused her to become a friend of life,” Patterson, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor of theology, told Baptist Press (BP). “She spent her last years in arduous pro-life activities trying very hard to undo and redo the earlier decision she had made.
“The conclusion of her life reminds me of that phrase from a popular song, ‘Only what’s done for Christ will last.’” Patterson said. “The tragedy [of Roe v. Wade] led to a legacy of life for Norma McCorvey.”
When the legal battle began in McCorvey’s defense in 1970, she was a 22-year-old divorced expectant mother of two children, one of whom had been placed in adoption and the other being cared for by McCorvey’s mother. McCorvey was five months pregnant and unable to obtain an abortion when she was referred to attorneys who filed her case against Dade County (Texas) District Attorney Henry Wade.
“Norma McCorvey began her life with a series of tragedies and heartbreaks,” Patterson told BP. “As the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, she did carry the burden of being used as a tool to cause the death of millions of babies in the womb. Yet, this overwhelming tragedy drove her into the arms of a loving Savior.”
McCorvey was baptized in a Dallas swimming pool in August 1995 by Flip Benham, who led Operation Rescue Dallas and had shared the gospel with McCorvey as she worked in a Dallas pro-abortion office. She began advocating for life as early as January of 1996, when at the National Memorial Service for the Preborn and Their Mothers and Fathers, she publicly sought forgiveness for her legacy of abortion.
“Jane Roe is dead, but if she were here, she would ask your forgiveness,” Baptist Press attributed to McCorvey in a Jan. 26, 1996 article about the service. McCorvey participated in that year’s March for Life in Washington, and two years later converted to Catholicism.
In her first autobiography I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice, in 1994, she wrote of her life as an alcoholic lesbian who had become suicidal after the birth of her third child. She revealed as false the previous claim that her last pregnancy was the result of a gang rape, but wrote that she had been raped repeatedly in her early teens by a male relative and married an abusive man at age 16, whom she divorced. At the time of the 1973 court decision, she lived quietly in Dallas with a lesbian partner, according to her Feb. 19 obituary in The Guardian.
In her second autobiography, Won by Love in 1997, McCorvey detailed her Christian conversion.
Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church (Wesleyan) in San Diego, was present at McCorvey’s first church service after her 1995 baptism, when she visited Metroplex Chapel (Church of the Nazarene) in Euless, Texas. Garlow recalled the experience in a Feb. 18 article in Charisma Magazine. She had been afraid to enter the church, Garlow wrote, for fear of how Christians might treat someone considered the face of abortion rights.
“I introduced her at the end of the service, telling the congregation that ‘Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade had come to Christ and had experienced forgiveness for her sins,’” Garlow wrote. “I explained that she was present in the auditorium. I asked her to stand. She did. The crowd erupted in an extended standing ovation. McCorvey was shocked. She did not expect that.”
Garlow remembers McCorvey for her Christianity and pro-life work.
“During the first half of her life,” Garlow wrote, “she was on the wrong side of history. But that changed when she repented of her sins. She joined ‘the right side of history.’ But more importantly, she now enjoys the right side of eternity.”
McCorvey was born Norma Nelson in Simmesport, La., and is survived by at least one daughter, Melissa, the child of her marriage to Elwood “Woody” McCorvey, the Guardian reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

2/21/2017 12:42:43 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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