July 2014

Bethel Baptist thinks big with small congregation

July 29 2014 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Organized in 1806, Bethel Baptist Church in Hertford is one of the oldest churches in North Carolina. With an average worship attendance around 100, its size matches the majority of Southern Baptist churches. (See editorial – Each church is unique)
Characteristic of worship services in many Baptist churches, every Sunday Pastor Tracy Smith gives the greeting, leads the congregational music, directs the choir, makes the announcements and preaches the sermon. That is a small portion of his full load of pastoral responsibilities.
However, unlike many churches, Bethel is intentional about reaching their rural community.
Sunday, July 13 was a day of celebration and groundbreaking for a new multi-ministry building that will broaden the church’s outreach. It is their first building project since a fellowship hall was built in 1977.
“This is big for a church our size,” Smith said. “I’m excited about this building. But I’m not nearly as excited about this building as I am about the hundreds of people who will come to know Jesus Christ as a result of it. ... I want to see the baptismal waters stay stirred.”


BR photo by K. Allan Blume
Pastor Tracy Smith, far left, speaks to the attendees for the groundbreaking of Bethel Baptist Church’s multi-ministry building in Hertford.


He became the church’s pastor in February. In his Groundbreaking Day sermon from Joshua 1:1-9, Smith told the congregation they should expect to see great things happening that will change the face of the church and the community.
“Great things are happening now,” he said. “But I guarantee you as we follow God, there’s going to be greater things to come. ... I’m excited about what God is going to be doing five, 10, 15 and 20 years down the road.”
Smith told the biblical story of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness after God delivered them from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. “We must avoid the mistakes the children of Israel made,” he warned. “God’s best would only be attained by listening to the voice of God.”
Smith said the Hebrew people were only an 11-day journey from the land of promise. But because of their disobedience, it took 40 years. Ten spies who investigated the Promised Land said the cost was too risky, and it should not be attempted.
“But two spies said it is the promise of God, and the people should take the land,” he said. “They did not listen to the voice of God, but listened to the voice of 10 opinions. The Israelites missed the Promised Land for 40 years because they saw the opposition and not the opportunity.”
Listing the many ways Bethel church has been blessed, Smith said, “We can’t be blessing hogs. Because He is blessing us, we need to be a blessing outside these walls. The overflow of our blessings should pour out to the community at large. ... We have to honor God’s Word and share God’s Word.”
“I see this building as another tool in our toolbox of opportunities to serve God and to reach the lost people in our community,” said Jonathan Nixon, chairman of the building committee. “I think it’s going to be another way to do that, especially to our younger people. It will give us a calling card to meet their physical needs and then meet their spiritual needs. You know Christ did that. And I think this might be a great opportunity for us to do that.”
Charles Ward, a trustee of Bethel church was born in the community and has been an active member for about 70 years. A respected senior leader in the community, he supports the vision for a new building.
“I’m 100 percent behind this project. Our youth committee is really working hard,” Ward said.
“Without the youth committee, we would not need this building. The reason we need this new building is because of the youth. They want to come here.”
Ward said, “I’ve seen churches with hardly any young people involved, and we’ve seen the time when we didn’t have too many involved here.” He said today the youth in the Bethel community go to church.
“And, the Good Lord sent us Tracy Smith, our preacher,” Ward added. “I see God’s hand in sending him here. All my life I’ve been trying to get people to do more work, but [pastor Tracy] is the only guy I’ve ever asked to slow down.”
Garry Mickey, Bethel’s pastor for 11 years until his retirement in August 2013, attended the celebration.
“This is exciting,” he said. “But this was the church’s project and something they had the vision for. It is a wonderful feeling as the retired pastor to see this finally happen.”
Ray Bass, chairman of the deacons, has been involved with the project since the planning committee was named more than four years ago. “We’ve been doing a lot of meeting, and a lot of praying and a lot of work. The church has been backing us and giving us good support. May God use this new facility to reach the lost in our community,” Bass said. The congregation set a goal of having $275,000 in hand before beginning construction of the $660,000 building. On March 3 the fund topped $276,000. Site work begins immediately with completion scheduled for late February 2015. Bethel church has a significant history.
Martin Ross, the church’s founding pastor, was instrumental in establishing the Chowan Baptist Association in 1805 and is credited with a significant role in the organization of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in 1830. Livingston Johnson’s 1908 book, History of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, begins the first chapter with these words, “The Baptist State Convention was conceived in the consecrated brain of Martin Ross. In the minutes of the Chowan Association, held in May, 1809, Elder Martin Ross submitted a motion, ‘embracing an inquiry as to the propriety of establishing a meeting of general correspondence, to be comprised of the neighboring associations.’”
Pastor Smith is committed to Ross’ mission-focused vision. He commented on Bethel’s history saying, “The churches that have been established from this congregation are not because this congregation had a split. There’s a Hertford Baptist Church and there’s an Edenton Baptist church that were birthed from this church because this church was following God. That excites me because that tells me that in the future there’s going to be other churches that will be birthed from this church, because we are following the Lord.”

Related Stories:

Each church is unique
Largest Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina

7/29/2014 10:23:38 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Caraway offers new camps, focuses on disciple-making

July 29 2014 by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications

At the B.W. Jackson outdoor chapel on the grounds of Camp Caraway, there is a plaque in honor of Jackson reminding people of the purpose of Camp Caraway – to introduce children to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 1999, when the chapel was named after Jackson, more than 6,000 boys received Christ as their Lord and Savior at Camp Caraway. Fifteen years later, that number is now closer to 10,000, says Mark Moore, Caraway’s summer camp director.
“That’s why we exist. Every camper who comes to Camp Caraway is going to receive truth from God’s Word and they are going to receive opportunities to respond to God’s Word,” Moore said.

Camp Caraway first opened in 1963 and until last year it was exclusively a camp for boys.
Through its Camp Caraway for Boys, a weeklong camp offered during four weeks throughout the summer for boys 9-17 years old, campers are introduced to Christ through a variety of means, including daily Bible studies with a camp pastor and through interactions with missionaries and counselors.
The camps also include numerous activities including team building games, swimming in the lake or pool, zip line and paintball. “We use fun, first of all, to share the love of Jesus, to develop healthy relationships, to share the importance of missions and to create lasting, teachable moments,” Moore said. 
Last year Caraway expanded its summer camp experience by offering its first ever co-ed children’s camp, Camp Caraway for Children. The weeklong Christian children’s camp is for boys and girls who have completed grades 1-6.
The camp was offered for one week last year, but this year Caraway offered it for two weeks to accommodate a growing interest in the children’s camp.
“Our numbers for children’s camp has nearly doubled this year,” Moore said. “We are excited about what God is doing through Camp Caraway as we explore ways to reach as many children as possible for Christ.”
To that end, Caraway introduced two additional first-time camps this summer: a father-daughter and mother-son mini camp. Moore said the purpose of the two-day camps is similar to the weeklong boys and co-ed camps, but with the added emphasis of helping parents learn how to be disciple-makers in the home.
“The connection between family and faith development is important,” Moore said. “The purpose of these camps is to create intentional time for parents to be together with their children to do fun things with them that lead to spiritual growth.”
Moore said many parents in today’s world are burdened by hectic schedules that leave little room for true rest and discipleship moments with their children. “We want parents to feel welcome here, to find rest here and to focus on their relationship with their child and their relationship with God while they are here,” he said. “We also want parents to be reminded that these are the most important relationships they’ll ever have and that God has entrusted them with the responsibility of raising their children to be godly adults.”
The new camp experience, Moore said, is also designed to instill disciple-making in the children, too.
“We are intentional in challenging and encouraging both children and parents to follow Christ and be godly people who make disciples,” he said. “Like church, camp is a ministry that, when used properly, fuels discipleship at home.”
In addition to the four weeklong boy’s camps, two weeklong children’s camp, and the father-daughter and mother-son mini camps, Caraway is hosting four father-son mini camps in 2014.
Going forward, Moore said the camps for boys would continue to be a central focus of Caraway’s summer camp experience. “We love boy’s camps, and we will continue boy’s camp so long as God allows us to do it,” he said. “But our new camps are important, too, because they are an avenue that we can use to reach more people for Christ than we have ever done before.”
Visit www.baptistsonmission.org/camps/camp-caraway or contact Mark Moore at mmoore@campcaraway.org.  Mothers and sons enjoy one of the activities during a mini-camp at Caraway Conference Center.

7/29/2014 10:13:19 AM by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

House churches in China report on rapid growth

July 29 2014 by Caroline Anderson, IMB/Baptist Press

Liu Qiang* remembers 12 years ago bicycling past churches in the countryside. Believers there in China met behind boarded up doors and windows.

“Obviously they are doing something bad if they are having to close up everything,” Liu recalls thinking as a teenager.

After Liu became a Christian he learned why churches met in secrecy. He now is a house church pastor.

Times have changed, Liu said. There’s a chalkboard in front of his home where his house church meets – an open invitation to their neighbors to worship Jesus.

Freedoms, at least in some areas of the nation, have grown.

Zhao Jun,* a pastor and church planter, says the house church is still persecuted in many areas of China, but some provinces have a little more breathing room.

Zhao said the faithfulness of Christians under persecution has touched government officials. It’s a good testimony, Zhao believes, for the government to see the church’s perseverance.

Persecution led – and is still leading – to church growth.

“We went through a test during the Cultural Revolution and now there is rapid growth,” Zhao said.

During the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976, Zhao says, Christians in China believed in secret and their access to Bibles was limited. Zho’s father died during the Cultural Revolution.

Thirty years ago, Liu says, believers had to be careful about bringing out a Bible in public. Christians in this province now buy Bibles in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church’s bookstore.


IMB photo by Hugh Johnson.
Times for the church in China have changed, pastor Liu Qiang* said. There’s a chalkboard in front of his home where his house church meets, inviting their neighbors to worship Jehovah.

The TSPM of Protestant churches began in 1951. These churches are registered with the government. The “three self’s” are self-governance, self-support, self-propagation. Churches not registered with the government were considered illegal.

Registered churches are not allowed to question the Communist party.

Historically, house churches have not partnered or interacted with TSPM churches. In some areas of the country, this has changed.

The restrictions of a China that was isolated and withdrawn from global interaction are changing. Technology and global interaction is forging a means for more openness to ideas from outside.

Technology is revolutionizing the church in China. Smart phones allow easier access to the gospel as believers share the Good News using their smart phones. Phones allow the gospel to travel further and faster.

“Now, we have computers and phones and many ways to look at His Word,” Liu said.

Smart phones in China have become an unstoppable entity. People flow in and out of subway cars every minute of every hour in China’s megacities. For nearly every person standing in a subway car, there is a smart phone out, in hand and in use.

Liu says he spends time every day, as part of his pastoral ministry, sending encouragement, advice and Bible verses via his phone to Christians and seekers.

Mass migration

In the 21st century, house churches in one megacity are increasingly bolder in their witness.

There is a megacity known as the Asian “New York.” Men and women from all over the nation come to work in factories in this city. Most of the people who Christian workers meet here come from other provinces.

House church believers in this Chinese megacity are actively engaging anyone who will listen in conversation. During the Christmas season alone, 500 people became believers through one group’s witness.

Alexander Kirkpatrick,* a Christian worker in East Asia, lives in a city where men and women move for work. He believes this provides an unprecedented opportunity for the gospel to be heard.

“When people are outside of their comfort zones, they are open to new things,” Kirkpatrick said. “There is more openness because people are in transition.”

Six people from a minority group from another province recently became believers in this megacity and are taking their faith back to their villages.

“[That’s] getting the gospel to places even Chinese don’t go, because the minorities are segregated culturally,” Kirkpatrick said.

Believers in the city are sharing fervently. “We have to,” pastor Yang Min* said, because in this city, people come and go when better work with better wages presents itself.

These men and women have no loyalty to the factory. If another factory offers better wages, they move. House churches ebb and flow with the waves of workers.

“We share the gospel quickly, because we don’t know how long they’ll be here,” Yang said.

With these migratory patterns, these new believers take the seed of the gospel with them as they go.

Faith in factories

Some house churches meet in apartments in gated communities. Others meet in traditional Chinese neighborhoods. Others meet in rented buildings. But house churches in some areas of the country meet on factory floors and break rooms.

Pastor Liu spends parts of his week in a factory, chatting with workers on the assembly line, asking them about their beliefs. On a weekend evening, the men and women who’ve become believers through Liu’s witness meet in the break room above the factory’s main floor.

The pastor weaves modern-day examples into his message and discusses problems like giving and accepting bribes – an issue faced by Chinese believers in the business place.

The church has held baptisms in blow-up swimming pools on the floors of factories. Ten factory workers were recently baptized.

Marriage and family

Marriage and family issues also bring ministry opportunities for pastors in China.

Pastor Zhao’s message at a wedding is clear about marriage and its sanctity. He speaks out against divorce – a growing problem among Chinese believers – and talks about the long-term commitment marriage embodies.

Zhao talks about the couple’s loyalty belonging to God first and then to each other. Loyalty to parents is important, but loyalty to each other is more important, he says.

Sexual purity is another growing issue, Zhao said, among young adults.

Parker Findley,* a worker in East Asia, emphasizes the importance of marriage and family training for church health. Findley’s pastor from the United States recently hosted marriage and family training for Zhao’s network.

Zhao writes discipleship materials for the small groups who are a part of his network.

Zhao came to the city as a bivocational church planter. His job was installing windows in the city’s buildings to provide for his family.

There are now 40 house churches in his network.

Thankful for theological education

As the house church in China matures, the need and applicability of theological education grows.

Churches in China continue to deal with the false teachings of cults. Pastors say cults make getting a solid theological education even more important.

There are more opportunities to study theology now, Sun Ming* said. Sun is a theological education teacher.

Before, these opportunities didn’t exist in China. “The society has become more free and open,” Sun said.

Zhou Li,* a believer from a neighboring city, recently attended a New Testament overview class. She attended in order to help the young believers in her church to know the Bible more deeply.

Church on mission

The Chinese church is sending its own workers to countries Westerners are unable to enter. The Back to Jerusalem movement is a commitment by the Chinese church to take the gospel to unreached areas. Li Pang Wei,* a pastor of a house church network, says he’s traveled to Israel seven times.

And Western workers continue to be involved in the work in East Asia. In many areas on the country’s eastern seaboard, these Christian workers are training, equipping and standing alongside Chinese Christians as they reach their nation and the world for Christ.

Findley has built a strong relationship of trust with pastors Liu, Sun and Zhao. He said he’s come alongside them to provide encouragement, to troubleshoot and provide church planting training.

They pray the house church in China will no longer be a minority, but will in the near future be a majority population.

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson is an IMB writer living in Southeast Asia.)

7/29/2014 9:52:38 AM by Caroline Anderson, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Osborne church prays and fasts for spiritual awakening

July 28 2014 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Steve Griffith, senior pastor of Osborne Baptist Church in Eden since 1992, received a phone call last October that launched a movement of prayer and fasting in the church.
The call came from Terry Daniel, a 17-year church member and local family physician, who described his concern for the spiritual growth of men in the church and the need for spiritual awakening in the nation.
Daniel and a small group of men had been praying and fasting every Monday for several years.
He said they focused on “our own relationship with the Lord, our lives, our family, our work and the country.”
He sensed that God was up to something greater.
“About mid-year last year as I was studying and praying, the Holy Spirit laid on my heart a burden for our country,” Daniel said. “In looking at the country I started thinking how we are really no different from most governments in the world – power, politics, money and those type of things seems to rule everything.”
He said the Holy Spirit impressed on him the need for many in this country to fast and seek God.


Terry Daniel is a 17-year church member and a local family physician.

“So we prayed about it, and around early October I called Pastor Steve,” Daniel said. “I told him what the Lord had laid on my heart and he got the same burden.”
The movement first targeted the men in the church.
Griffith said, “I want to challenge the men in the church to fast and pray for spiritual awakening the first three days of every month for the entire year of 2014.”
Along with church leaders, they developed a schedule to call the men to prayer and fasting on the first Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each month.
“We didn’t know what to expect from that,” Griffith said. “The first month I challenged our men to come back on Sunday night. We don’t have a Sunday night service, but about 400 men came. The number who actually show up each month has dwindled down quite a bit, but a lot of men are staying with it.”
Griffith emphasized that the movement did not begin with his initiative. “It all really started with Dr. Daniel and his passion for this,” he said.
“We’re praying for spiritual awakening in our own hearts, in our family, in our church and in our nation.”
Daniel said, “We have a burden to see revival and to see people get saved, to see people get right with the Lord, to see our families improved and to see our country change in a positive way and see people get saved and the Lord being magnified. That’s really how it came about.”
Although the number of men involved has fallen, those participating are not discouraged. Daniel said, “I know there are some other guys fasting. A group of us meet weekly and there’s probably a dozen of us studying the disciplines of the Christian faith.”
Many of the men admitted they had never fasted before and are amazed to see how God is working in their lives. “They talk about a closer relationship with the Lord and with their families,” Daniel said. “Another nice thing is that the physical health of many of them is improving. God’s dealing with issues of eating, obesity and many other things.”
For the month of July, Griffith challenged the ladies to join the men. The Sunday evening service grew to around two-hundred men and women. Now many of the church’s women are fasting and praying. 
The dates are set to finish out the year, but Griffith and Daniel want to go into next year and beyond.
“I really believe scripture is clear that revival only comes when Christians sacrifice to deal with sin, be right with Him, have our hearts broken and living holy lives, while talking to people who don’t know Jesus,” Daniel added.


Steve Griffith has served as senior pastor of Osborne Baptist Church in Eden since 1992.

“When you look back through history and study prayer and fasting, there are a number of Christians, including John Wesley, that fasted two days a week,” he said. “Actually, Wesley would not even sit on ordination council for any Methodist minister unless he agreed to fast each week.”
Bill Moody is a laymen who has participated in the monthly prayer and fasting journey.
“I’ve been a Christian since I was nine years old. I’m 67 now. I haven’t always lived for the Lord. I was backslidden for a while when I was in the service.”
But Moody has grown spiritually. He said “I don’t think it’s changed my prayer life, it’s the same. It just puts more emphasis on the nation and the leadership.” 
Every day Moody has the same routine. “I get up, read my Bible and pray every day,” he said.
“That hasn’t changed. Other men in our group have said the same thing. But what it does is it focuses your emphasis on what it should be – the leadership of the church, the community and the country. Every time a hunger pain comes up it prompts me to say a prayer.”
Ronnie Bullins, adult discipleship director for the church, said, “We want to challenge other people and encourage them to come together in corporate fasting and prayer, praying for our individual hearts, our families, our church and our nation. The issues of the nation are a symptom of its people.”
Ultimately Bullins is praying for nationwide revival that begins in individual Christians and the restoration of the biblical family unit.
He said. “I think the burden here in the local body is to start with us, and to examine ourselves, and repent of what we need to repent of, and encourage each other and help each other along.”
Osborne’s worship pastor, Jason Wilson, is committed to expanding the spiritual vitality of men.
“When Jesus began His ministry, He fasted 40 days and nights,” he said. “When I got started in ministry nobody told me to do it, I was just compelled to fast. I said, ‘God I don’t want this to be about me. I want this to be about what You want me to do – surrender.’ Fasting has a way of bringing all of that into perspective.”
Daniel wants believers to understand the purpose of fasting.
“Fasting is certainly not an end in itself. It is a means to draw us closer to the Lord and to add humility to our lives. Fasting is certainly one of the disciplines that over the decades has fallen out of favor in Christianity, because it is a very difficult thing. But it’s one of the greatest things that I have ever done for my physical, spiritual and emotional health.”
He admits that corporate fasting is rare. The sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel describes prayer and fasting as primarily a private matter. “But I think there are times for corporate fasting,” Daniel emphasized.
“This is just something the Lord has laid on our hearts, and we would love to see it spread to churches all over the country, where there are men who are willing to sacrifice and improve their relationship with the Lord, their marriages, their communities, and more than anything, see our country turn back to the Lord.”
Church leaders are concerned about the condition of the nation. “We are in deep, deep trouble,” Daniel stressed. “We are imploding and it’s going to continue down this course no matter who we elect unless there is a turning to the Lord by His people.
“There will never be massive amounts of people getting saved until the Lord’s people get right.”
Daniel wants the end result to honor God, not the church or the leaders.
“I would just love to see people say ‘It’s amazing what the Lord has done in changing people’s hearts, and He didn’t exercise human power, and we didn’t have to spend loads of money. It was just the Holy Spirit moving people’s hearts and breaking their hearts.’ If that occurs, wow! It will just bless my heart. If it doesn’t spread across the country, I know it has still helped me and a lot of other guys, and that’s a great accomplishment.”

(Learn more about Osborne Baptist Church at http://osbornebaptist.com/)


7/28/2014 12:27:19 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Rubio: Economic & moral well-being could cut poverty

July 28 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Economic health for Americans depends at least in part on moral and social strength, Sen. Marco Rubio said at a symposium cosponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity.

Rubio, a Republican from Florida, addressed the relationship between societal values and the welfare of the United States in a speech Wednesday (July 23) at Catholic University of America in the nation’s capital. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) cosponsored the event with Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.

“We will never improve our people’s economic well-being without also improving their moral and social well-being,” Rubio told a packed room of about 150 people.

“A strong America is not possible without strong Americans – a people formed by the values necessary for success, the values of education and hard work, strong marriages and empowered parents,” Rubio said at the close of his speech. “These are the values that made us the greatest nation ever, and these are the values that will lead us to a future even better than our past.”

Political leaders have an important role in providing answers on education, economics and the family but “we alone can’t do this,” Rubio said. “There is no magic five-point plan for restoring marriage. There’s no innovative program that will instill the value of education and hard work. There’s no law we can pass to make men better fathers and husbands.”


Photo by Matt Hawkins
Sen. Marco Rubio speaks on values and American well-being at a symposium in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Catholic University of America.

The ultimate responsibility for the nation’s social well-being “rests on us as a people,” Rubio said. “What we do as parents and neighbors and members of a church, a charity or community will often have a greater impact on our nation’s future than what we do as voters or even as a senator.”

During his nearly 30-minute speech, Rubio, 43, addressed not only the importance of education, a good job and marriage, but also how the country should deal with such divisive moral issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Rubio explained his support for marriage as a union only of a man and a woman while calling for respect from both sides in the same-sex marriage debate.

“Those who support same-sex marriage have a right to lobby their state legislatures to change their state laws,” he said. “But Americans, like myself, who support keeping the traditional definition of marriage also have a right to work to keep traditional definitions of marriage in our laws without seeing them overturned by a judge.”

Rubio spoke of the “growing intolerance on this issue – intolerance towards those who continue to support traditional marriage.”

“This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy,” he said.

“Supporting the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay; it is pro-traditional marriage. And if support for traditional marriage is bigotry, then Barack Obama was a bigot until just before the 2012 election.”

Regarding abortion, the pro-life senator described it as a difficult issue but said, “An unborn child should be welcomed in life and protected in law. And it seems to me a decent, humane society will take tangible steps to help women with unwanted pregnancies even as that society defends an unborn child’s right to live.”

He pointed to what he described as a “success sequence” that is now deteriorating in the United States.

“In America, if you get an education, find a good job and wait until marriage to have children, your chances of achieving economic security and professional fulfillment are incredibly high,” Rubio said. “In fact, if everyone in America lived lives that went in this order, in the order I’ve just outlined, some estimates are that the poverty rate would be cut by an estimated 70 percent.”

The economic cost of “this erosion in the success sequence is staggering,” he said, citing data that demonstrate the negative economic impact of a lack of a two-parent home and of education.

While healthy families “are the primary and most effective teachers” of the values that are critical to success, neighbors, volunteers and members of religious groups also play an important role in social and moral health, the father of four said.

Government leaders cannot ignore the breakdown of social values, and they should adopt reforms that “remove impediments to education, to work, marriage and two-parent homes,” said Rubio, who cited policies he has proposed to alleviate such problems. One of those is doubling the tax threshold for joint filers to remedy the penalty for married couples.

In a panel discussion after Rubio’s address, ERLC President Russell D. Moore pointed to the significance of churches in society.

“I think we need strong civil society, and part of strong civil society means strong churches,” Moore said. While he agrees “the nuclear family is pivotal,” he said it alone “is not the answer to any of our problems.”

In addition to the input of extended families, “we also need strong churches in which a child grows up recognizing, ‘I am part of this family. I also am part of this larger community, and it is a community that is outward focused toward the rest of the world,’” he said.

Asked whether government has a role in societal values, panelist Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, said, “Absolutely, there is a government role, but the farther away we get from individuals and families the less productive it is.”

Richard Reeves, policy director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, said the increasing divide in American society by economic status challenges Rubio’s hopes. Though racial segregation has decreased slightly, “economic segregation in the U.S. has gone up quite sharply,” he said. “So we are now more likely to live in homogenous communities,” thereby limiting the ability of economically stable people to help the poor.

He appreciated Rubio’s “tone as much as his content,” especially on controversial issues such as same-sex marriage, said Reeves, who supports homosexual marriage. He said the trend toward same-sex marriage is so strong he believes “whoever is running for the GOP nomination in 2020 will be in favor of same-sex marriage.”

Moore said the momentary opinion of the popular and political culture is not a trustworthy judge on the future of marriage and the family. “I think we need to look at this with the longer view in mind,” he said in response to Reeves. “And the question comes down to: ‘What is marriage and what is family? And is there anything to marriage and family that’s beyond simply the will of the persons involved or the culture in which it is appearing at the moment?’ And I think there is.”

Other panelists with Moore, Nance and Reeves were Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, and Ann Patrick Conrad, associate professor of social work at Catholic University of America.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

7/28/2014 12:18:24 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Chapter on alignment most helpful in People of God

July 28 2014 by Micheal Pardue, Book Review

The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples by Trevor Joy and Spence Shelton
(B&H, May 2014)

If you are numbered among those who believe that the church in the United States has problems, you have probably spent at least some time contemplating the root of those problems. We might trace it to theological impurities brought about by the abandonment of orthodox Christianity in many realms of Christendom. Others may claim that we simply live in the most secular age of history and therefore the task of pointing people toward our Savior is harder than ever. Still another group may say we have left our old-time religion and replaced it with contemporary notions that look better than the unregenerate world around us.
These and countless others can be offered up as the reason for the decline of growth and the lack of influence the church has in our context. However, they are not the root cause. They are merely symptoms of a nearly systemic problem found in the vast majority of our churches: we have ignored the Great Commission’s call to make disciples.


The People of God provides us with an encouraging and practical call to take seriously the way God has ordained for people to come into a relationship with Him and grow in their knowledge of His Kingdom. The authors build on the premise that human beings have been created for community, both with God and with one another. The church has been created by Christ to be a community and the growth of Christ’s followers through the disciple-making process is done within this context. For Joy and Shelton this is an intentional, theologically-driven process.
These authors explore the distinctives of a gospel community while also presenting us with the common hindrances to that same biblical community. Within any context of discipleship, the gospel must be at the forefront.
For me, the most helpful chapter in the book is the authors’ discussion of alignment. The book calls for churches to align together their teaching/preaching/discipleship/small group activities. While this is not new or revolutionary, it is a seemingly radical idea.
For most churches, there is very little connection between the focus of the sermon and the teaching that takes place during Sunday School. Small groups are not connected to the spiritual emphasis of the worship service. Children have lessons that are completely different from their parents.
There is no alignment of the things that are taught. This method of conducting the teaching ministry of the church provides very little opportunity for depth and growth. However, when discipleship is intentional and the ideas of the worship gathering are reinforced in Sunday School or small groups the people in our churches have a chance to understand more deeply the things of God.
When we are intentional about aligning our sermon, Bible studies, small group lessons and discipleship efforts, we will find that the mission and vision of the church will be constantly reinforced and remain abundantly clear to those who participate in the life of the community of faith. 
I was thoroughly impressed by the relevance of this book for churches of all sizes. While both authors serve on staff among the largest churches in the country, their ideas are relevant and useful for my church that is small and in a rural context. We are all aware that this is often not the case with books produced in mega churches.
Because these concepts are so biblically-based, they are functional within a myriad of church contexts.
Many of us stand concerned about the state of the church and the work of the Kingdom. We are weary from trying to make things work the way we want and convincing people they need to do better. The heart of our problem is often a lack of discipleship. It is not a “cure-all” secret formula. It is, however, Christ’s pattern for growing His church and expanding His Kingdom.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Micheal Pardue is pastor of First Baptist Icard, Connelly Springs.) 

7/28/2014 12:13:20 PM by Micheal Pardue, Book Review | with 0 comments

Diversity itself is theological, professor says

July 28 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

Since August 2013, the Kingdom Diversity initiative at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) addresses two issues: raising the voice of diverse cultures and of women on its campus.
Bruce Ashford, provost of SEBTS, said, “At the cabinet level, we began to discuss how we in the seminary community could best reflect God’s love for His world and best minister to our given context.
“In order to do so, we need for our seminary community to reflect the future kingdom, which will be composed of worshippers from every tribe, tongue, people and nation … To be able to minister to multiple cultures and ethnicities in the United States that God has sent us, we need to have stakeholders from those cultures and ethnicities – such as non-Anglo faculty members – who speak into the life of our seminary helping to shape our curriculum, our courses and our campus environment.”
Toward that end, Southeastern hired Walter Strickland, special advisor to the president for diversity, Edgar Aponte, director of Hispanic leadership development, and two female faculty members, Denise O’Donoghue, assistant professor of ministry to women and Adrianne Miles, assistant professor of English and linguistics.


SEBTS photo
Walter Strickland works as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s special adviser to the president for diversity.


Strickland said SEBTS is trying to equip “each faculty member to apply the content of their discipline to contexts beyond their own, as well as draw upon the cultural experiences in the classroom to enhance the ‘reach’ of the course content.”
This will be done through faculty development workshops and curriculum reform. SEBTS believes its faculty will assist students to better serve people who do not share the same ethnic and cultural background.
The school has added “Black Theology” (January 2014), “Hermeneutics in Spanish” (January 2014), “Reaching Hispanics Around the Globe” (January 2014), “Ministry in an Urban Context” (Summer 2014); and expects to add “Multi-Cultural Church” (Spring 2015) to its course content.
Southeastern wants to raise historically underrepresented voices on campus by working to be comprised of 20 percent culturally diverse faculty, staff and students. Currently, 26 percent of the students are women and the seminary is seeking to increase that number to at least 35 percent by 2022.
Outside of the school’s parameters, SEBTS’s goal is to build and strengthen partnerships with diverse churches, church networks and educational institutions.
This means being a servant to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches as a resource to help foster diversity within the church and the broader denominational environment.
“Diversity itself is theological … In the doctrine of creation, God created … multiplicity – a profusion of variety – so theologically, there is value in diversity. Period,” Ashford said. “The unity-in-diversity we see in the Trinity is reflected in the unity-in-diversity we see in creation.”
Recently, SEBTS awarded 23 individuals with Kingdom Diversity scholarships, a fund established to honor president, Daniel Akin. These gifts range from nine full-time, 13 part-time and one $1,000 partial scholarship. Seven scholarships were awarded on the doctoral level, 10 on the master’s level and six on the collegiate level.
“On average, students of color tend to be more financially in need and Southeastern seeks to help relieve the financial burden of ministry preparation,” Strickland said. “These scholarships are another way to demonstrate that the recipients are valued on Southeastern’s campus.”
The individuals receiving these scholarships come from Central America, Korea and the Dominican Republic. They represent a variety of cultures such as African-American, Asian and Hispanic.
Eight of the scholarships were awarded to women and 15 to men. Two of the most sought after scholarships went to African-American and Hispanic women, one pursuing a doctor of education and the other a master of divinity.
In an article at ChristianityToday.com, Strickland said, “We are simply more comfortable [with] people who are like us. The challenges that thwart meaningful relationships between diverse believers are real, but by God’s grace and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God’s people are enabled to display His redemptive power by simultaneously embracing and transcending the differences that enrich the tapestry of the Kingdom.”

7/28/2014 12:03:26 PM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Meriam Ibrahim gains freedom from Sudan

July 25 2014 by Myriah Snyder, Baptist Press

Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman whose death sentence caused an international outcry, arrived safely in Italy this morning (July 24).

Ibrahim, also known as Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, was flown on an Italian government jet to Rome with her husband, Daniel Wani, and two young children, Martin and Maya.

Ibrahim was arrested in February and Sudanese judge Abaas Al Khalifa set Ibrahim's death sentence for "apostasy" (leaving Islam) May 15. However, in June, the ruling was overturned and she was released from prison only to be detained at the airport and denied permission to leave the country.

Upon arriving in Italy, the family met with the pope who "thanked her for her faith and courage, and she thanked him for his prayer and solidarity," according to a Vatican report.


Photo from ACLJ.org
Meriam Ibrahim and her two children are escorted off a plane by Italian personnel after landing in Rome.

Currently, Ibrahim and her children are in a government safe house in Italy until they secure proper travel documents to enter the United States. Their case was discussed today at the State Department press briefing in Washington.

Al-Sharief Ali, Ibrahim's attorney said, "The Italians had the greatest influence on Sudan and were able to secure her release." Lapo Pistelli, deputy foreign minister for Italy, negotiated Ibrahim's release and accompanied the family to Italy.

"Leveraging [Italy's] ties within the region," Ali said Pistelli negotiated in an amicable way. "This [friendliness] paid off in the end," he said.

"The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead," Al Khalifa told Ibrahim on May 15 after Islamist crowds shouted for the court to punish her. Al Khalifa had given her 15 days to recant upon announcing his original sentence April 30. Because she married a Christian, she was also sentenced to 100 lashes for apostasy.

She defended her religious beliefs by telling Al Khalifa in court, "I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim."

Ibrahim was born to a Sudanese Muslim father who disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old and an Ethiopian mother who was Ethiopian Orthodox. Though her mother reared her as a Christian, Islamic law asserts she is Muslim by birth because her father was Muslim.

She gave birth to her daughter Maya on May 27 in a Sudanese prison for women. Her not-yet-2-year-old son also remained with his mother in prison.

She was released from prison and her court rulings were stayed on June 23. However, when attempting to leave Khartoum for South Sudan the following day, she and her husband were detained for "falsified" travel documents.

Ibrahim was staying at the U.S. embassy for her safety and was unable to leave the country until Italian intervention.

Although her release was a major advancement in her case, Tina Ramirez, executive director of Hardwired, a worldwide religious freedom advocate, said, "Meriam faces an appeal to the original sentence of death for apostasy which is now with the Supreme Court" in Sudan. Ramirez continued, "She also faces additional charges for falsifying documents and a new case filed by her [larger Muslim] family but not yet reported to her lawyers seeking to annul her marriage."

Her lawyers continue to challenge her case.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council which had launched an online petition drive in Ibrahim's behalf, said in a news release, "Meriam's bold stand for Jesus Christ as she faced death is both an inspiration for Christians to be courageous, but also a reminder of the vigilance required to preserve and promote not just our First Freedom as Americans, but the basic human right of the freedom of religion. ...

"The ordeal of Meriam and her family underscores the need for the Obama administration to make the promotion of religious freedom a priority at the State Department rather than an afterthought," Perkins said. "The reality is that there are thousands of Meriams looking toward America, hoping they are not forgotten and that someone will speak out on their behalf."

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press intern Myriah Snyder.)

7/25/2014 12:17:37 PM by Myriah Snyder, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Golden Gate finalizes campus sale, ready to secure new site

July 25 2014 by Ben M. Skaug, GGBTS/Baptist Press

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has finalized the sale of its property near Mill Valley, Calif., setting aside funds both to purchase a new campus in Southern California and add $50 million to its endowment.

The sale agreement for Golden Gate’s Mill Valley property included a base price of $85 million, along with other terms financially advantageous to the seminary, including a favorable lease-back rate; the ability for the seminary to remain fully operational in the Mill Valley location for two years; and the seminary retaining revenue earned through rentals and other uses of the property during the lease-back period.

Jeff Iorg, Golden Gate’s president, praised the seminary’s board of trustees for their fiscal discipline in reserving significant proceeds from the sale for the seminary’s endowment.

“We are delighted this first phase of our relocation is complete,” Iorg said. “It took us 70 years to gather an endowment of $21 million. Increasing our endowment by another $50 million in such a short time is amazing.”


GGBTS photo
Golden Gate Seminary President Jeff Iorg signs documents for the $85 million sale of the San Francisco-area campus; next, the seminary will begin the process of relocating its main campus to Southern California.

Board chairman Steve Sheldon added, “The board is determined the property sale will dramatically improve our long-term financial health. By adding this much to our endowment, we are accomplishing that goal.”

The board also approved an allocation of resources for new facilities in Southern California, Iorg reported. “We are pleased with how circumstances are coming together related to our future campus in Southern California. Now that the sale has been finalized, we can conclude our agreements for the new campus and announce those in a few weeks. God is bringing this entire process together in ways we could have never imagined,” he said.

The seminary is finalizing plans for its new primary campus in Southern California and a new regional campus in the San Francisco Bay Area. “We appreciate the hard work so many are doing on this project,” Iorg said. “I am particularly grateful for our faculty and staff who are working hard to keep us fully operational during this transition.”

In commenting on the sale agreement, Iorg said, “There’s been much conjecture about the value of the Mill Valley property over the years. In reality, because of the development restrictions on the property, its value is less than some have speculated. We have tried for years to remove these entitlement restrictions, to no avail. We have watched with increased urgency as value has continued to erode because of these restrictions. This helps explain the necessity of our decision to sell the property.”

Iorg said the seminary had received “multiple offers for the property over the past two years. All of them were for less than the offer we ultimately accepted. An indispensable part of the agreement is the two-year lease-back. We had to build the relocation process around the needs of students,” he said. “We could not sell the land and close the campus abruptly. We had to have a sale and relocation process that preserved our institutional commitment to current students.”

Golden Gate trustee Stuart Smith, president of Stuart Smith and Company, said the sale process “has been one of the most complicated and difficult land deals I have witnessed in more than 20 years in the commercial real estate business. Our board has spent countless hours analyzing reports, considering options and trying to find a way forward. This agreement took more than a year to hammer out, but in the end it met our goals.”

Jim Williams, president of T. James Williams Accounting and a trustee whose term concluded in June, added, “We spent considerable time analyzing the financial details of this transaction. The value for the seminary is significant and will make a huge difference in our long-term financial health.”

Golden Gate’s relocation plan, as it relates to students, has received a positive review by the staff of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the seminary’s regional accrediting agency, who affirmed the transition plan for its thoroughness and focus on students.

Michael Martin, GGBTS vice president of academic affairs, said, “We have fulfilled every expectation of our regional accrediting agency and have kept faith with our students. Every student has a clear pathway to graduation, which we were committed to maintaining as part of the sale and relocation process.”

“Students and potential students are endorsing our new direction. Approved applications for fall enrollment are actually ahead of the same time frame last year,” Iorg said. “Given the breadth of our current transition, that is unexpected confirmation we are on the right track.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ben M. Skaug is vice president for institutional advancement for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.)

7/25/2014 12:00:34 PM by Ben M. Skaug, GGBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Religious beliefs form by age 6

July 25 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

As early as kindergarten, people have decided whether they believe God intervenes in the world or whether the universe is a closed system of natural causes, a new study by researchers at Boston University, Harvard and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology suggests.

Published in the July issue of Cognitive Science, the study by Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen and Paul Harris asked 5- and 6-year-olds to identify whether the protagonists in various stories rendered in several sentences were real people or fictional ones and then provide a reason for their classifications.

Some of the stories were adapted from the Bible and included miraculous events brought about through divine intervention – though several of the accounts got biblical details wrong. Other stories, labeled “fantastical,” were modifications of the same Bible stories with all references to divine intervention removed and the supernatural events presented as magic. A third group of stories, labeled “realistic,” modified the Bible stories further to exclude supernatural events and replace them with events that were “plausible due to human intervention.”


For example, the study included an adaptation of the biblical David and Goliath story, a fantastical version in which David kills Goliath with a magic stone and a realistic version in which David notices there is no armor protecting the giant’s head and attacks the vulnerable region.

Not surprisingly, children who attended church, parochial school or both identified the biblical protagonists as real more often than children who attended neither church nor parochial school. More unexpectedly, children receiving religious education at church or school also identified the fantastical protagonists as real more often than their secular counterparts. All the children tended to characterize realistic protagonists as real.

In a second facet of the experiment, researches tried to determine why children with Christian training were more likely to identify religious and fantastical stories as real. This time they presented a series of supernatural stories, changing all the characters’ names so that they were not recognizable as people in the Bible and including stories of some supernatural events not in scripture. Again religious children were more likely than secular children to classify characters from supernatural accounts as real – regardless of whether the supernatural events were described as magic or recounted without reference to magic or divinity. The secular children, researchers said, “systematically treated the characters as ‘pretend.’”

The study’s authors concluded that the divergent responses were not due to the religious children’s familiarity with Bible stories or their propensity to believe in magic. Rather, “religious children have a broader conception of what events can actually happen” because they are taught that divine interaction can “override ordinary causal regularities.” In other words, by age six children have already established a belief about whether God does or does not intervene in the world, and they interpret what they observe based on that belief.

Media reports of the study have tended to portray children with Christian training as ignorant or developmentally challenged. For example, the Huffington Post reported that “young children who are exposed to religion have a hard time differentiating between fact and fiction.” But a careful examination of the study suggests the opposite of what some media reports imply. In the rush to slam Christianity, it’s been overlooked that religious children correctly identified the true stories far more often than did secular children. After all, the “realistic” and “fantastical” stories were mere concoctions of the researchers’ imaginations, unlike the biblically-based stories, which were largely true though some changed the details of Bible stories and one was an apocryphal story about Jesus that contained elements similar to what is reported in the Gospels.

Of course, the religious children got some answers wrong too. They misidentified as true some fantastical stories. And they performed “at chance” when asked about stories that resembled biblical accounts, but with different names and events (like John parting a mountain rather Moses parting a sea). Still, the secular children misidentified the religious stories as false at a higher rate than the religious children misidentified the fantastical stories as true. In the end, the Christian worldview proved more effective at recognizing truth than the secular worldview.

Ironically, a secular study underscores the importance of Christian training for children. That training must begin at home and continue at church. As the Baptist Faith and Message says, “Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence,” and “an adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people” – even in kindergarten.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

7/25/2014 11:36:07 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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