January 2017

Music & worship draw focus of Baptist theologians

January 6 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A biblical argument for congregational singing, insights for planning worship and a case for multigenerational worship services are among the music-related topics being discussed by Southern Baptist theologians.

Baptist Press file photo
Biblical worship was the focus of papers by at least five Southern Baptist scholars at the most recent meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Such topics were featured in at least eight presentations on biblical worship at the most recent meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). At least five of those presentations were given by scholars affiliated with Southern Baptist-related institutions.
In all, the fall meeting in San Antonio, Texas, featured approximately 600 presentations, including some 175 by scholars with ties to Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and colleges that partner with Baptist state conventions.

Congregational singing

Jonathan Welch, pastor of worship development at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., presented a “theological case for congregational singing,” arguing scripture demonstrates at least 10 functions of corporate singing among God’s people.
“Those entrusted with song selection” in churches should “choose songs that facilitate the full breadth of theological functionality represented by the ten points in this paper,” Welch, a doctor of philosophy student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a paper he presented at the Nov. 15-17 meeting.
Among the scriptural functions of congregational singing noted by Welch:

  • It praises God.
  • It expresses worship “in particular cultural forms associated with” the singers.
  • It “can connect present worshipers with the historical past.”
  • It “orient[s] the people of God toward an eternity of worship in Christ.”
  • It allows believers to proclaim God’s Word to one another.
  • It “is an expression of unity and solidarity in the ... body of Christ.”
  • It teaches doctrine.
  • It expresses and influences emotions.
  • It can “be an evangelistic witness.”
  • It is a type of prayer.

“The gospel of grace frees the Christ-follower from the works-righteousness of singing to please God,” Welch wrote, “but Christians who abstain from singing practically disavow the ten theological functions of congregational song.”

Freedom & order in worship

David Toledo, assistant professor of music ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, drew insights for planning and conducting worship services from 1 Corinthians 14. That passage, he argued, “provides the rationale and scriptural basis for the balance of form and freedom that is cherished by those in [the] Free Church tradition” of Southern Baptists.
Among Toledo’s insights, he argued for “the radical participatory nature”of corporate worship,” noting Paul’s teaching that “each one” in the congregation has a spiritual gift to be exercised in corporate gatherings.
Rather than focusing worship services exclusively on “obviously gifted leadership” through a concert-like setting, Toledo wrote in a paper he presented, “congregations must recover the appreciation of the giftedness of the entire assembly.”
Toledo drew on Paul’s teaching about the use of tongues in worship – though he did not advocate speaking in tongues – to offer insight on corporate prayer. Such prayer should be characterized by “Spirit-led expression” and “tempered by an understanding that the other members of the congregation must be able to offer their affirmation and endorsement of the spoken prayer.”
He argued freedom in worship should be balanced by “a fierce commitment to the supremacy of the Word of God in all matters of practice and theology.”

Isaac Watts & the Trinity?

Scott Aniol, assistant professor of church music at Southwestern, argued the hymn writer Isaac Watts expressed his views on the Trinity “in questionable ways” at times in sermons and writings despite his legacy of hymns with strong Trinitarian lyrics.
Watts, an 18th-century English minister who has been called “the father of English hymnody,” wrote “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” among other hymns.
“Charges [that Watts] was less than orthodox in his doctrine of the Trinity” stem largely from works he published in the mid-1720s, Aniol wrote in a paper he presented. Though Watts seemed to affirm orthodox Trinitarian doctrine earlier and later, he argued between 1724 and 1727 that Jesus possesses “two distinct persons” – God and man. Traditional Christian doctrine asserts Christ possesses one indivisible person and two natures.
Watts also said he could not reconcile “both the literal deity and literal personality of the Trinity,” Aniol wrote, and that Christ may be due “mediate or subordinate forms of worship.”
By the end of his life in 1748, “it does appear that Watts reverse[d] some of his more questionable views from earlier works” though he continued to argue “belief in a particular explanation of the Trinity is not necessary for salvation,” Aniol wrote.
In the end, “whether or not he rejected [traditional] Trinitarianism” in some works is far less significant than “his lasting impact,” Aniol wrote. “Many of his hymns are strongly Trinitarian” and “have inarguably had a more lasting influence upon Christians and their worship than his treatises.”

Multigenerational worship

Robert Pendergraft, assistant professor of church music at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, argued the work of developmental psychologist Erik Erikson suggests all generations within a church would benefit from attending corporate worship together.
“Age segregation in worship stunts maturation and growth of the congregants by not embracing the needs of those at varying developmental stages,” Pendergraft wrote in a paper he presented. “This is not just a critique of those that separate children from the service, but also is directed toward any generational marketing, be it toward children, youth, young adults or senior adults.”
Pendergraft’s paper traced the eight life stages proposed by Erickson – a 20th-century psychologist who drew from “Judeo-Christian monotheism” – and argued aspects of corporate worship benefit individuals at each stage. For example:

  • “The presence of children with their parents in worship allows the infant to develop ... trust [in parents] ... and allows the congregation to be constantly reminded of” its need to trust God “in the same manner.”
  • Intergenerational worship allows children “to begin mimicking the actions of those in the congregation.”
  • In corporate worship, “mature believers” can “walk alongside” adolescents “who are searching for a place of acceptance and point them toward the right defining source of their identity, the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ.”
  • “Older adults” can observe “a new generation of worshippers” and “realize they have left a legacy for the future.”

Pendergraft, who told Baptist Press “logistical considerations” of intergenerational worship “were beyond the scope of the paper,” concluded, “All congregants should have parts of the service in which they can cognitively and physically participate.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/6/2017 8:55:12 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Congress majority Christian, but less Protestant

January 6 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Congress has remained majority Christian and Protestant for as long as the Pew Research Center has been tracking data, but the number of Protestants has declined by nearly 20 percentage points.
Since Pew began tracking religion in 1961 during the 87th Congress, the body has declined from 95 percent to 91 percent Christian. Protestants, while still maintaining a majority, have declined from 75 percent in 1961 to 56 percent today, Pew announced.
Of the 485 Christians in the 535-member Congress, 299 are Protestant, according to Pew’s analysis of the 115th Congress sworn in Jan. 3. In 1961, Protestants numbered 401.
“Like the nation as a whole, Congress has become much less Protestant over time,” Pew wrote in its report, “Faith on the Hill: The religious composition of the 115th Congress.” But the percentage of Protestants in Congress still outpaces the 48 percent of Protestant adults in the U.S., Pew said in its report drawn from CQ Roll Call data.
“The group that is most notably underrepresented is the religiously unaffiliated,” Pew wrote in its press release announcing the data. “This group – also known as religious ‘nones’ – now accounts for 23 percent of the general public but just 0.2 percent of Congress.“
The 72 Baptist Congressional members comprise 13.5 percent of the body, trailing the 15 percent of U.S. adults that are Baptist, as well as the 14.8 percent of Baptists in the 114th Congress of 2015-2016.
Catholics comprise 31.4 percent of the body (168), compared to the 21 percent of Catholic adults in the nation. Other religious groups in Congress are Jewish members at 5.6 percent (30), Mormon at 2.4 percent (13), and other religions affiliations less prevalent in the U.S., including Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Orthodox Christian, Unitarian Universalists and others. About 2 percent of members, a total of 10, did not specify a faith.

Religion by party

Christians comprise the majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, Pew said, with 99 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats identifying as Christian. While 67 percent of Republicans are Protestant and 27 percent are Catholic, Democrats represent more diversity in religion, Pew said.
Most non-Christian members of Congress are Jewish Democrats, who comprise nearly 12 percent of the party’s Congressional members. Among the 242 Democrats, 42 percent are Protestant, 37 percent are Catholic, with the remaining 21 percent composed of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist and religiously unidentified members. Of the 293 Republicans in Congress, the two non-Christians are Jewish.

Previous composition

The religious composition of the 115th Congress is largely unchanged from the previously convened body, as only 62 new members joined 473 incumbents. Among newly elected members, half are Protestant and roughly a third a Catholic. The 13 percent of new members who are non-Christian is double the share of non-Christian incumbents, Pew said.
The newest body has six fewer Christians (485) than the 114th Congress (491), Pew said; seven fewer Protestants, 299 compared to 306; and seven fewer Baptists, 72 compared to 79.
The full report is available at pewforum.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

1/6/2017 8:54:41 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Whitworth elected Pennsylvania/South Jersey executive

January 6 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Barry Whitworth, a longtime church planter and state convention staff member, has been elected executive director of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey by a unanimous vote of the convention’s Executive Committee.

Barry Whitworth

Whitworth succeeds David Waltz, who retired after 23 years of leading the two-state convention, which has rebranded itself the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey (BRN). Whitworth will assume his new role Feb. 1.
“I am both honored and humbled to have this opportunity to be the executive director,” Whitworth said in a video posted online by the BRN Dec. 10, the day following his election. “My passion is the local church – to assist and encourage the churches” in “reaching the lost [and] discipling the saved.”
Whitworth added he wants to help Pennsylvania/South Jersey Baptists “decrease lostness,” “push back darkness” and “have an impact in our generation for such a time as this.”
Since 2012, Whitworth has served the BRN as the North American Mission Board’s lead church planting catalyst for Pennsylvania/South Jersey and Send City missionary for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
In all, Whitworth’s tenure on the BRN staff dates back to 2004. He has served as the network’s multiplying churches team leader since 2009, during which time the total number of churches cooperating with the convention has increased approximately 25 percent, according to the BRN.
Whitworth has planted churches and served on church staffs in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.
Interim executive director Stanley Smith, who will retire March 1, said in a news release he is “so excited to see Barry move into this role, and excited for our churches and what Barry and [his wife] Beth will bring in terms of vision and leadership and heart and passion.”
Whitworth has served in volunteer leadership capacities for Baptist associations in Maryland and New York and with the Baptist Conventions of Maryland/Delaware and New York.
A candidate for a doctor of ministry degree at Trinity Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Ind., Whitworth holds a master of arts from Bethany Theological Seminary in Dothan, Ala.; a bachelor of ministry from Covington Bible College in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.; and an associate of divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
Prior to his call to ministry, Whitworth worked 13 years as a maintenance mechanic and supervisor for the United States Postal Service.
He and Beth have two children and six grandchildren.
Waltz, who retired March 31, 2016, led the BRN to become “a model and resource to other state conventions” by implementing “a regional structure to help streamline and decentralize convention staff,” according to a resolution of appreciation adopted last February by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.
During Waltz’s tenure, the BRN “witnessed a 35 percent increase in the number of churches giving through the Cooperative Program, the unified budget process that funds the gospel causes of the state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention, with nearly 80 percent of the BRN’s churches giving regularly through the Cooperative Program over the past decade,” the resolution stated.
The BRN also grew “in diversity so that more than one-half (52 percent) of the convention’s cooperating congregations are predominantly minority populations,” according to the resolution. Over the final 15 years of Waltz’s service, 2,667 baptisms were recorded annually on average in the network’s nearly 400 cooperating congregations.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/6/2017 8:54:03 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Former atheist shares how she became a pastor’s wife

January 5 2017 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector

Pardon Tiffany Bowen for laughing when the following question was posed to her and a room full of other ministers’ wives: “Did you think you would ever marry a minister?”
During The Good Cup event for ministers’ wives, held during the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in November, the question served as a reminder to her of God’s apparent sense of humor.

Photo by Corinne Williams
Jason and Tiffany Bowen of Trenton attended the Summit in Sevierville with their children, from left, Evangeline, Charlotte Jean, and Samuel.

At the time she met her future husband Jason Bowen, now pastor of First Baptist Church, Trenton, Tiffany was a self-professed “atheist, feminist bartender.”
Tiffany was working her way through the University of Tennessee in Knoxville when she met Jason, then a self-described “lukewarm” Christian who was working at the same restaurant. He asked her out three times before she agreed to date him and it was only going to be for one hour, she recalled.
That one hour date lasted much longer and the next day she told her stepmother that she had met her future husband. “I had never met someone so transparent and genuine,” Tiffany recalled.
Not long after they began dating, Tiffany met Jason’s mother, Charlotte Bowen, a Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary nurse who had to travel to Knoxville with a pastor who had been injured in an accident.
“When I met with her face to face I was overwhelmed with how she was not like anyone I had ever met,” Tiffany said. “She had no judgment in her heart. She was not OK with me being an atheist, but the love she showed to me was no different than had I been a Christian.”
The two women developed a relationship that continued after Charlotte Bowen returned to Africa. Via e-mail, Tiffany kept asking questions and Charlotte would answer them honestly, she recalled.
Tiffany noted that her future mother-in-law explained that “Jesus was alive and that was what made her different because she had a real, personal relationship with Him every day.”
Though she was an atheist, Tiffany had Christian friends and had even attended church despite being raised in a home where going to church was discouraged. She knew the Christian language.
“I may have heard the same words from other people, but I never understood that Jesus was alive until I met someone like [her mother-in-law]. He was obviously alive in her.”
Tiffany began to read the Bible “and my heart started to change,” she recalled. She was sitting in the parking lot of a Knoxville business talking with Jason when God suddenly revealed to her that He was real and alive and that He “would be the Lord of my life for the rest of my life.”
Tiffany said she looked over at Jason and said, “Jesus is the Son of God” and then told him, “I think I just got saved.”
Later, the couple was married in Africa while visiting Jason’s mother. They returned to his hometown of Jonesboro, Ark., to live after their wedding and began attending Central Baptist Church where Tiffany was baptized. She recalled that they were discipled well by the church.
After attending the church for about a year Jason was asked to do pulpit supply at an inner city church. He was asked to come back and he did – for about two years. “After the first year I felt God was asking me to pray for my husband because he was going to surrender to His call to be a pastor,” Tiffany said.
She added that she believes God was giving her a “heads up” so she could also pray for herself. “I was not pastor’s wife material,” she laughed.
Sixteen years later (which have included seminary training for Jason and other pastorates) she admitted, “I’m still not but I pray every day that He uses me anyway.”
Tiffany noted that the willingness of both her and her husband to be transparent about their past has helped their ministry in the churches where they have served. They openly tell their congregation that “God uses us because of His great grace, not because of our perfection....
“I don’t hesitate to share my testimony so people will understand God’s grace and forgiveness of my sins wasn’t because I had forgivable sins. It was because His grace is sufficient to cover the sins of someone who denied Him for 21 years of her life and tried to convince others to deny Him as well.”
Tiffany said she fully understands what the apostle Paul said when he referred to himself as the “chief of all sinners.” And like Paul she knows she had a “Damascus Road” experience. Tiffany remains grateful that Jason never gave up on her after she turned him down for a date twice before.
“He saw what was in my heart, not what I wanted people to see,” she said.
Tiffany is more than willing to share her story anywhere, anytime. “If it brings God glory, then I’m an open book,” she noted.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, baptistandreflector.org, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

1/5/2017 10:22:50 PM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments

Baptist missionary fighting Russia anti-evangelism law

January 5 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A longtime Baptist missionary convicted under Russia’s anti-evangelism law has returned briefly to his Illinois home as lawyers appeal his conviction and challenge the law’s constitutionality.

Ruth and Donald Ossewaarde

Donald Ossewaarde was compelled to end his ministry months ago after his arrest under the July 2016 law. He hopes other Baptists might find ways to continue to minister in Russia as his attorneys defend religious freedom in the nation more than 25 years after the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
“There’s different ways we could continue the ministry and that is going to depend on how the court rules,” said Ossewaarde, who established his ministry in Russia in 2002. “We’re hoping the court overturns all of the charges, which could mean we could go back to the same type of house church services that we were doing.
“If they rule in such a way that meeting in a private house is no longer going to be a legal option,” he said, “then these other missionaries have experience with setting up registered organizations.”
Ossewaarde’s attorneys anticipate a court date as early as March or April, making his case the first appeal of a conviction under the Yarovaya Law (named for bill coauthor Irina Yarovaya) to reach the nation’s Supreme Court in Moscow. In a separate case, his attorneys are appealing the law’s constitutionality before Russia’s Constitutional Court, a separate legal body, but have not yet filed that case, Ossewaarde told Baptist Press (BP) Jan. 4 from his Illinois home.
The Independent Baptist missionary expressed joy at the opportunity to see his wife, children, grandchildren and members of his home congregation, Faith Baptist Church in Bourbonnais, Ill. “This has been a great blessing all the way around,” he said. His wife Ruth returned to the U.S. for safety after Ossewaarde’s August 2016 arrest.
Ossewaarde was charged Aug. 14, 2016 under the new religion law for holding religious services in his home, advertising services on bulletin boards in nearby neighborhoods, and failing to give authorities written notification when he began his religious activities. He was fined 40,000 rubles, about $600. The conviction was upheld Sept. 30 on appeal, but Ossewaarde continues to fight the conviction.
Russia’s crackdown on religious liberty is occurring as the world marked on Christmas the 25th anniversary of the fall of the USSR. Ossewaarde, speaking from his personal evangelistic experiences there, said an initial thirst for the gospel that emerged after USSR’s collapse has subsided.
“The hunger for spiritual things has drastically changed in the last 25 years,” Ossewaarde told BP. “My first visit to the former Soviet Union was in 1994 when I went to Belarus. In those days people were just thirsty for the Word of God.
“We would bring ... a truckload of Bibles into a park in the center of town and people would just mob you. Hundreds and even thousands of people would just surround us begging, ‘Please, please give me a Bible. I want to know what God has to say.’ And it was ... a fantastic time,” he said. “We thought that was the way it was going to continue to be. Within five or seven years, everybody who wanted a Bible had gotten one, and the curiosity factor seemed to be satisfied. And then people seemed to be more interested in more secular things of Western life.” The causes of the loss of interest in the Bible are open to interpretation, Ossewaarde said.
He plans to return to Russia in the middle of January to continue efforts to sell his apartment there and make other preparations to leave permanently, while his wife remains in the U.S. for safety.
Before his current visit to Illinois, police visited his apartment around Thanksgiving while he was inside. But he refused to open the door on the advice of his attorneys. In Russia, residents are not required to open their door for police, Ossewaarde said.
“Whether that was something they did as a form of intimidation, whether they were going to question me about my trial, I really don’t know,” he said. Later that same day, when Ossewaarde was not home, someone poured glue on his doorknobs and stuck clay in his keyhole and elsewhere on the door. While he has no proof of the perpetrators of the vandalism, Ossewaarde suspects it was done by the police instead of common hoodlums.
“The lawyer told me that they’re playing psychological games with me to try to intimidate me, to frighten me,” Ossewaarde said of the police. “I will say that it did bother me at the time, but nothing has happened since then. I don’t feel nearly as bothered by it as I did at the time.”
Ossewaarde’s attorneys believe they have strong arguments in both his appeal and the constitutional challenge to the law, he said.
“We don’t believe that the law as it was written should have been applied to us. If the Supreme Court reaches an impartial decision, we expect the Supreme Court will overturn the decision,” Ossewaarde said. “We strongly believe that the law as written does violate the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, and so ... if there’s an impartial decision in the Constitutional Court, they will overturn that part of the law that’s being used against missionaries.”
The new law defines illegal evangelism as activity by an authorized representative of an officially registered religious organization who uses media to publicly spread the organization’s doctrine to non-members to convince them to join the group, Ossewaarde said. But he and his wife worked on the mission field with financial support from churches across the U.S. and did not represent an official religious organization, he said.
Ossewaarde was arrested with five other ministers of various faiths and denominations within a month of the law’s passage. They were levied fines varying from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles, with only one man, a Hare Krishna, acquitted.
In the five months after the law’s passage, 29 people were prosecuted on related charges, with 15 cases ending in convictions and fines, Forum 18 reported Dec. 20.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

1/5/2017 10:24:26 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

National CP .04% above last year's 1st quarter

January 5 2017 by Baptist Press staff

Year-to-date contributions through the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) portion of the Cooperative Program are .04 percent ahead of the same time frame at the end of 2015 and 3.11 percent under the SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget projection for the year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Frank S. Page.

The $45,782,192.42 received by the Executive Committee from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget represents 96.89 percent of the $47,250,000.00 year-to-date budgeted amount to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America. The total is $20,159.89, or 0.04 percent, above last year's first quarter total of $45,762,032.53.
The year-to-date total represents money received by the Executive Committee or postmarked by the close of the last business day of December and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2016-17 SBC Cooperative Program (CP) Allocation Budget.
Designated giving of $10,885,792.56 for the same year-to-date period is 0.81 percent, or $88,673.62, below gifts of $10,974,466.18 received at this point last year. This amount includes only those designated gifts received by the Executive Committee and does not reflect contributions made directly to SBC entities.
Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief and other special gifts.
December's CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $15,582,638.17. Designated gifts received last month amounted to $3,947,191.49.
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists' channel of giving through which a local church is able to contribute to the ministries of its state convention and to the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention with a single contribution to its state convention.
State conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Cooperative Program to support work in their respective states and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention's annual budget.
The SBC allocation budget is distributed as follows: 50.41 percent to support almost 3,700 overseas personnel with the International Mission Board, 22.79 percent to help fuel North American evangelism and church planting through the North American Mission Board, 22.16 percent to help underwrite low-cost ministerial preparation and theological education through six SBC seminaries, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget and Executive Committee and 1.65 percent to promote biblical morality and religious freedom through the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee.
CP allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at cpmissions.net/CPReports.


1/5/2017 10:16:54 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

‘What we do for God’ most important, pastor says

January 5 2017 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

The global missions vision of East Shore Baptist Church radiates outward from Lower Paxton Township in Harrisburg, Pa., with sights set as far as Central Europe’s Czech Republic for 2017.

Submitted photo
Just hours before conducting this young man’s wedding ceremony on Long Beach Island off the coast of New Jersey, Pastor Brian Harrison of East Shore Baptist Church in Harrisburg, Pa., baptized him.

The missions ripple effect starts with the church’s local community and stretches outward past the capital area region of the Pennsylvania/South Jersey Multiplying Church Planting Center Network, to Lebanon, Pa.; Kingston, Jamaica; and the Dominican Republic, with hopes of possibly ministering in the Czech Republic this year, pastor Brian Harrison told Baptist Press (BP).
The church where about 175 people worship Sunday mornings allocates nearly 22 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions, including 14 percent for the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program (CP) that funds outreach nationally and globally.
“We were giving 13 percent, but when we heard [International Mission Board President] David Platt say they were having to pull missionaries off the field, we became very concerned,” Harrison said. “We said, ‘We can’t fix this but we can give a half percent more.’” The following year East Shore Baptist added another half-percent to CP giving, bringing the total percentage to 14.
“I believe in the Cooperative Program,” Harrison said. “I served five years as president of the executive board of our state convention and as a result became acutely aware of the work of Southern Baptists around the world.”
Harrison also knew of the missions work of non-Southern Baptists who didn’t have the support system the Southern Baptist Convention provides its missionaries.
“There simply is no other mission organization better poised to meet the gospel needs of our country and the world than the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and the Cooperative Program,” said Harrison, who has pastored East Shore Baptist 14 years.
Missions education starts early at East Shore Baptist. “Our children from preschool through sixth grade are in missions study,” Harrison said, including both Girls in Action and Royal Ambassador programs Wednesday nights. Sunday morning Bible Study for all ages, and weekly home fellowship groups also routinely reference Southern Baptist global ministries.

Submitted photo
East Shore Baptist Church in Harrisburg, Pa., spent $20,000 in materials and countless hours of labor to remodel their church plant, Transcend Church, also in Harrisburg. The plant formally moved to full church status at Christmas 2016.

While the CP expands the reach of East Shore Baptist members, there still is much to be done, starting with the region around the church, the pastor said.
“We are not keeping pace with the growth of our community,” Harrison said. “We have too many people here not being reached with the gospel. We are facing an increasingly ambivalent culture towards Christ.
“Church matters because Christ matters, and Christ matters because some day we really are going to face eternity,” Harrison said. “We believe Christ offers hope, hope for today and hope for eternity.”
Harrison, his wife Jean, and several others from East Shore Baptist serve as hospital chaplains, bringing hope to people dealing with illness or other challenges. Longtime member Tom, himself a cancer survivor, ministers to people during their hours-long chemotherapy treatments. Other members serve as truck stop chaplains, prison chaplains and even minister to the “back-track” workers at the Penn National Race Course horse racing track in nearby Grantville. Also, the church mentors through Kids Hope USA in a local elementary school.
“We have a significant number of men and women very interested in serving Christ,” Harrison said, noting the significant number of men actively engaged in the life and missions of the church. “Unintentionally to intentionally, these men are engaged in ministry. They’re great guys and they’re serving as examples to other members, as well as their own families.”
The continually-growing number of men actively involved with the ministries of East Shore Baptist were drawn to the church “by doing life together,” the pastor said. “We’re intentionally just engaging our men, challenging them and growing them, talking with them over lunch, walking and running with them, and more.”
The men of the church have an unofficial “East Shore Moving Company,” allowing men to build relationships with other members and recent arrivals while helping them move. East Shore Baptist men also caught on to something women in the church were doing.
“Each day, men and women in the church grow their faith with ‘SOAPing,’” Harrison said. Small groups of three-to-five men (or women) write a scripture (S), an observation (O), a personal application (A), and a short prayer (P) and e-mail it to others in the group.
“It has been encouraging to see the number of men and women who have gotten to know one another better,” he said, “and sharpen one another with mutual accountability.”
Church members annually attend Word of Life conferences in upstate New York for Bible study and fellowship. In a ministry that started about six years ago, East Shore Baptist men have built relationships with residents of a nearby halfway house for released felons, leading a weekly Bible study there and giving men rides to Sunday services.
Church planting is a major area of interest for East Shore Baptist. Transcend Church, a plant in Harrisburg, recently moved from mission to church status. And the mother church has set its sights on Lebanon, Pa., about an hour east for the next plant.
“Planting churches is, I believe, one of the most effective ways of reaching people with the gospel,” Harrison said. “We try to identify areas in need of a church plant – areas underserved with a gospel witness – and help train up and nurture a church planter, and help resource them.”
Internationally, East Shore Baptist recently completed a multi-year missions partnership in Kingston, Jamaica. When the mission they partnered with completed its work of planting a church there, they began searching for where God would have them serve next. Right now that appears to be the Dominican Republic and the Czech Republic.
The Dominican Republic in particular offers a trip affordable to entire families.
“Too many mission trips are so expensive that the affordability bar is too high for many to go. We also wanted to provide challenging opportunities for entire families to go and do missions together,” he said. “If missions are to have a future, we need to expose our children not just to cool stories and pictures; we want them to see what missions looks like up close and personal. We believe God led us to a great opportunity and [are] determined to take advantage of it.”
East Shore Baptist plans to send between 20 and 30 people next summer to serve at a youth camp in the Dominican Republic in partnership with the international Word of Life Ministries. In addition, an exploratory trip to connect with International Mission Board personnel in the Czech Republic is being planned for the fall to engage the congregation in missions.
The church offers two leadership training classes twice a year to refocus members’ attention on God’s greater Kingdom work, and is intentional in teaching biblical truth.
“We’re dealing with a very busy culture,” Harrison said. “We compete every week with sports, hobbies and things of that nature. This week it’s deer-hunting season; a lot are out with that. I get that, but at times I see too much that distracts us from what is most important – what we do for God.
“I cannot imagine that with my dying breath I would be wishing for one more deer, one more fish, one better bargain, or one more game to attend,” Harrison said. “What have I done that makes an eternal difference? That’s where it is at.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

1/5/2017 10:16:05 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Southern storyteller recounts African venture

January 5 2017 by Sue Sprenkle, Baptist Press

It was the gift that keeps on giving. A kind uncle encouraged a sensitive 17-year-old boy to write about life in a journal, suggesting the best place to start might be “the good, the bad and the in-between.”

Photo by JoAnna Bradbury, IMB
One of Curt Iles’ most vivid memories in Africa was when four translators shared God’s Word in Arabic, Murle, Madi and English at Nimbule Baptist Church in South Sudan.

Forty-plus years, 12 books and more than 1,200 blog posts later, Curt Iles still keeps a journal – the beginning point of a writing career that’s taken him to Africa and back.
“I still have the note from that uncle encouraging me to write,” Iles says. “I’m from a culture of storytellers. It’s part of the Deep South. It’s part of my own family.
“As a child, I loved hearing the old folks tell stories,” he recalls. “I guess it’s my turn.”
The former Baptist camp director, principal and schoolteacher mostly writes about life in rural Louisiana, stemming from a calling he senses to have influence and impact on the world around him. This is the reason he originally wanted to write a book and have it printed – it can go where he may never go, like the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
“One day a guy called to talk about a story in Deep Roots. He had just gotten out of state prison where he read my book. He promised God that when he got out, he’d call and thank me,” Iles says. “I have no idea how one of my books ended up in Angola but that’s where God knew someone needed it.”
While his stories and characters aren’t always overtly Christian, biblical foundations are in every aspect of what he does. So much so that when God called Iles and his wife DeDe to the international mission field as volunteers, he was ready to do anything that might spread the gospel.

Photo by JoAnna Bradbury, IMB
Curt Iles, who spent three years in Africa as a volunteer with the International Mission Board, shares the idea of Bible storying with a refugee leader in South Sudan.

But it didn’t take long for Iles to see that God planned for him to keep writing – even in the midst of war, famine and disease in central Africa. He spent three years researching people groups in South Sudan, Chad and northern Uganda. His job was to not only record numbers for future Christian workers to have a starting point of basic knowledge of the area and beliefs but to tell the stories of people he met along the way.
David Crane, retired International Mission Board missionary who was one of Iles’ supervisors, was looking to add someone to his team. This person needed the “driving skills of a NASCAR racer” and “the research skills of Edison and the literary skills of Shakespeare.”
“You see, I wanted someone who could do more than just crunch numbers and pull together GPS waypoints into a Google earth map,” Crane wrote in the forward of Trampled Grass, Iles’ newest book recounting his time in Africa. “I prayed to recruit someone who could turn his research into passionate stories that would impact readers to pray for and become actively engaged in the story that God Himself composed in the lives of the precious people of Africa. Jesus answered that prayer and led me to Curt.”
The stories Iles gathered as a researcher and church planter are told in Trampled Grass through his eyes as a newcomer to the African continent and someone experiencing God’s mercies in a whole new way.

One of the most powerful stories for Iles is when he attended a church at a refugee camp in four languages. He called it a “southern gospel quartet.” Translating God’s Word into four different heart languages struck a chord with Iles that day.
“Nothing connects with a person quite like truth in their heart language,” he wrote. “It’s like the book of Acts. Chapter 2.”
Curt and DeDe also spent time helping drill wells in South Sudan and in refugee camps scattered across northern Uganda. With each borehole, clean water not only reached a segment of people but also carried the gospel. Iles says every place they drilled a well a church was planted, and he prays each day for the believers there to grow and thrive.
“This book is unapologetically about missions and the gospel,” Iles says. “Person after person in central Africa asked us not to forget them. They wanted me to tell their story.
“I saw writing this book as a way to remember … to tell their story … the good, the bad and the in-between.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sue Sprenkle is a writer based in Kansas. To see work from Curt Iles, go to creekbank.net.)

1/5/2017 10:15:12 AM by Sue Sprenkle, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Platt to students: ‘Risk your life in faith’

January 4 2017 by Myriah Snyder, Western Recorder

As 2016 came to close, more than 2,000 college students and campus leaders were challenged by Southern Baptists and other Christian speakers to give their lives to the cause of missions during the Cross 2016 missions event.

Photo provided by Cross conference, Facebook
More than 2000 students and campus leaders gathered for the Cross conference at the Indianapolis Convention Center on Dec. 27-30.

The purpose of the Dec. 27-30 conference at the Indianapolis Convention Center was “to mobilize students in the cause of frontier missions for the glory of Jesus Christ,” according to the event website and various speakers throughout the gathering.
“Don’t retreat in fear! Risk your life in faith,” David Platt, an event speaker, urged students.
“You are either a sender or a goer when it comes to the people who have not been reached with the gospel,” Platt, president of the International Mission Board, told the crowd. “We either go to them, or we give our lives to send and support those who are called by God to go to them.”
Conference sponsors included the International Mission Board (IMB), The Master’s Seminary, Crossway and The Gospel Coalition. Worship was led by Matt Boswell, and the conference kicked off with a concert from Trip Lee, Christian rapper and pastor at Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, Ga.
Drawing from Numbers 13 and the story of the 12 spies, Platt presented “the anatomy of retreat in fear” and the “anatomy of risk in faith.”
Referring to the 10 spies who did not believe God’s promises, Platt said, “They disregarded the goodness of God. They doubted the greatness of God. They disobeyed the Word of God. And they disqualified themselves from the blessings of God.”
“He’s powerful; what He’s chosen to do throughout history is to put His people in places where they can’t do things on their own, and God is faithful to provide for their needs according to His power,” Platt said.

Photo provided by Cross conference, Facebook
“Don’t retreat in fear! Risk your life in faith,” David Platt, president of the International Mission Board, urged students during the Cross conference.

He contrasted the actions of the 10 disobedient spies with that of Joshua, Caleb and the “anatomy of risk in faith.”
“They believed the goodness of God. They trusted the greatness of God. They obeyed the Word of God. And they would experience the blessings of God,” he said.
“If you can trust Him to save you from your sin for all eternity, then surely you can trust Him to lead you in your life on this earth, and not just to lead you but to satisfy you every step of the way,” Platt said.
He asked the crowd, “Do we realize the opportunities that lie before us?”
“Although God is still calling people to full-time missionary work,” he said, “God is calling multitudes of people not to leave their jobs but to leverage their jobs for the spread of His gospel and glory throughout the world.”
“We have the good news of the God who has conquered death,” he said. “Don’t you want to give your life to making that news known?”

‘Go, Send, or Disobey’

“The question is not if you are called, the question is where and how,” J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Photo provided by Cross conference, Facebook
Matt Boswell leads worship for the Dec. 27-30 Cross conference in Indianapolis.

In his message on the topic of “Go, Send, or Disobey,” Greear noted, “To follow Jesus, whatever you do, do it well for the glory of God and then do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.”
Greear recognized that although many in the room would be called as full-time missionaries or in other areas of full-time ministry, not everyone under the sound of his voice would be. “The point is that all of us have a role,” he said.
Drawing from Acts 7-8 and the life of Stephen, Greear shared “four convictions that shaped Stephen’s life that should also shape yours.”
Those four convictions are: “God intends to use me. The Holy Spirit fills me. I owe the gospel to others. And Jesus is worth it.”
“There is one that is worthy of your life, and as awesome as your parents are and as exciting as your career is and as dear as your dreams might be to your heart, Jesus is worth it all!” Greear said.
“At some point, following Jesus is going to take you 180 degrees opposite of the direction you want to go. At that moment, you’ve got to decide who’s worthy.”
Among speakers for the week were Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church, Washington, D.C., Zane Pratt, vice president for global training with the IMB and Afshin Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. Their messages, along with the others who spoke throughout the week, laid out many of the foundations of the faith, and focused on discipleship and the call to go out.
The Cross conference began in 2013 and continued with a simulcast in 2015. For more information or to hear sessions, visit crossforthenations.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Myriah Snyder is a newswriter for the Western Recorder, westernrecorder.org, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

1/4/2017 8:31:08 AM by Myriah Snyder, Western Recorder | with 0 comments

Supreme Court examines death penalty for the disabled

January 4 2017 by Mary Reichard, WORLD News Service

Bobby James Moore got the death penalty for a murder he committed in 1980 at a Houston supermarket. But 36 years later, he apparently has a new argument: He is intellectually disabled and cannot be executed under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The Supreme Court heard his case at the end of November.  

Associated Press, Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Bobby James Moore

Moore was 21 when he and some friends decided to rob Birdsall Super Market. His job was to stand guard with a shotgun. Things did not go as planned. Almost immediately after two clerks in the courtesy booth learned they were being robbed, one of them screamed.
Moore pointed his shotgun at the second clerk, a 72-year-old man named James McCarble, and shot him in the head. McCarble died instantly.
Police caught up with Moore 10 days later at his grandmother’s house in Louisiana, where he confessed to the crime.
In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled executing the mentally disabled violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. But the court left it up to the states to determine mental ability within certain parameters.
During oral arguments in November, lawyer Clifford Sloan cast Texas as an oddball state that uses something other than current clinical standards to diagnose intellectual disability – a 1992 definition along with other factors thought up by judges, not scientists.
The Texas appeals court said Moore had abilities that showed he was not so intellectually disabled as to be exempt from capital punishment. Both sides agreed Moore had a terrible childhood. He dropped out of school in ninth grade. His father beat him. He was kicked out of the house at 14. He had four felony convictions by age 17.
“At the age of 13, Mr. Moore did not understand the days of the week, the months of the year, the seasons, how to tell time, the principle that subtraction is the opposite of addition, standard units of measurement. And there are numerous other deficits like that that are undisputed,” Sloan said.
Justice Stephen Breyer had his doubts about whether the Supreme Court could establish a consistent standard for judging mental ability.
Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller argued the state’s criteria for intellectual disability is consistent with Supreme Court precedent as well as clinical standards. He also noted the legal finding of intellectual disability is different from a medical diagnosis.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a concern of her own about letting states set their own standards: “Isn’t making it discretionary a huge problem in this area, because if you let one trial court judge apply it and another one doesn’t have to apply them, then you’re opening the door to inconsistent results depending upon who is sitting on the trial court bench, something that we try to prevent from happening in capital cases.”
The current justices are divided on the much more basic question of whether the death penalty is constitutional at all, for anyone. Breyer is a frequent critic of capital punishment, as is Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
In 2014, the court struck down Florida’s law that said if an inmate’s IQ is over 70, evidence of other intellectual disability need not be considered.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mary Reichard writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

1/4/2017 8:29:51 AM by Mary Reichard, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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