June 2015

Baptists respond to Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage

June 26 2015 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Among early reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling to declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right in all 50 states are several by Southern Baptist leaders.
 
Following are statements by Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Church in northeast Arkansas; Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee; and Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the Executive Committee.
 

Ronnie Floyd

“I deeply believe in biblical and traditional marriage. The court has determined otherwise. Our number one concern at this point is that religious freedom is protected in every way, honoring our God-given conscience, and that we not be discriminated against for our biblical and traditional stand. This decision shows one thing: Our desperate need for the next Great Awakening and the hope of the gospel given to all persons. We must rise up like never before with great urgency, to forward the message of Jesus Christ to every person in America and across the world.”
 

Russell Moore

“I am a conscientious dissenter from this ruling handed down by the Court today, believing, along with millions of others, that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman and that it is improper for the Court to redefine an institution it did not invent in the first place.

 
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“I believe this action of finding some illusory Fourteenth Amendment right to same-sex marriage will have wide-ranging and perilous consequences for the stability of families and for freedom of religion. In the wake of this decision, we must ensure that the American principles of pluralism and religious liberty are maintained, as the religious convictions of millions of Americans necessarily cause us to hold a different, more ancient, view of marriage than the one the Court has imposed. Additionally, today’s decision reminds us of the importance of electing a president who knows how to appoint jurists rather than would-be legislators to the bench.
 
“Despite this ruling, the church of Jesus Christ will stand fast. We will not capitulate on this issue because we cannot. To minimize or ignore a Christian sexual ethic is to abandon the message Jesus handed down to us, and we have no authority to do this. At the same time, now is not the time for outrage or panic. Marriage is resilient. God created it to be so. Marriage in the minds of the public may change, but marriage as a reality created by God won’t change at all. The church must now articulate and embody a Christian vision of marriage and work to rebuild a culture of marriage.”
 

Frank S. Page

“Our hearts are saddened to hear of the Supreme Court’s decision to ignore the desire of the American people, to ignore legislative processes and most of all to ignore God’s clear and unambiguous Word.
 
“Much like the Old Testament times where ‘the people did what was right in their own eyes,’ we have entered into a time of deep spiritual darkness. If there was ever a time when we need believers to be salt and light, it is now. God help us all, but especially our children and grandchildren.”
 

Roger S. Oldham

“When courts legalize actions that contradict the commandments of God, the commitments and life choices of genuine Christ-followers will not change. It should not be surprising when they respectfully express their disagreement with the Court’s decisions, declaring their continued allegiance to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives as did the Apostle Peter when he said, ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).
 
“Our two dominant concerns about this Court’s decision are that personal religious liberty will be further eroded and that modern society will be increasingly confused about and led away from the enduring value of the natural family in God’s design and plan for humanity’s well-being. We hope and pray that, despite the Court’s flawed ruling today, it will continue to act in ways that will sustain the God-given and constitutionally-protected rights for citizens who disagree with the Court’s definition of marriage, especially when they exercise their religious values in the marketplace as well as in the church house.
 
“We believe that the natural family – a husband and wife, with children as granted by the Lord, whether through birth or adoption – reflects God’s design for humanity to flourish and prosper. We’re aware, of course, that families often fail to achieve this ideal. We thank God that He is never limited in His ability to create something beautiful out of human failings. However, we believe it is our spiritual responsibility to continue to uphold and abide by His standards for marriage and family life.
 
“The power of being fully and freely forgiven of our sins through Jesus Christ can neither be supplied nor suppressed by governmental action, judicial decree, or cultural pressure. The Christian faith will continue to shine brightly despite this dramatic shift in society. We remain committed to Jesus Christ and His Word as revealed in Holy Scripture. We will continue to point people to Jesus Christ, the focus of our Christian faith. Only through His atoning death and resurrection can we receive the gift of salvation from our sins in this life and the promise of eternal life in the life to come.”
 
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has compiled resources to help explain the ruling and what it means for Christians and churches, available at ERLC.com/SCOTUS.

6/26/2015 11:25:33 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



N.C. black Baptist church fire ruled arson

June 26 2015 by Baptist Press staff

A June 24 fire at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., has been ruled arson. Investigators are trying to determine whether the fire at the mainly African American congregation was also a hate crime.
 
No one was in the Southern Baptist church at the time of the 1 a.m. fire that took 14 fire engines and 75 firefighters more than an hour to get under control, the Charlotte Observer newspaper reported on the day of the fire. Two firefighters were treated for heat-related injuries, one onsite and the other as an outpatient at an area hospital.

 
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Senior pastor Mannix Kinsey of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., discusses with a reporter the June 24 arson that caused $250,000 in damages to the Southern Baptist church.

The fire occurred a week after white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine Christians during a Bible study and prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., where funerals began June 25.
 
Senior fire investigator David Williams told the Observer a hate crime had not been ruled out in the arson, but senior pastor Mannix Kinsey said he hopes the crime was not racially motivated. The African-American church shares its complex with two immigrant congregations, including a Nepalese church.
 
“We are still talking about this same issue and this is 2015,” the Observer quoted Kinsey as saying. “We all have to consider what else do we need to do to actually be able to work together.”
 
The three-alarm fire caused an estimated $250,000 in damages to one of the church’s education buildings, deemed an almost total loss, and its sanctuary complex, which sustained mostly smoke damage, Williams reported. The church campus has six facilities.
 
Whatever the motivation for the arson, Kinsey said, the church of about 100 members has already forgiven the perpetrator, who had not been identified.
 
“We’ve already forgiven them and we want to move forward,” Kinsey told WBTV News. “And we are hoping this is an opportunity for Christ to show Himself in their hearts.”
 
Nora Carter, executive pastor at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, said the congregation has been inundated with media requests and is planning ongoing meetings to determine its next steps.
 
“There’s nothing for me to report to you at this juncture,” she told Baptist Press.
 
The Metrolina Baptist Association, where the church holds membership, is assisting the congregation, association executive director Bob Lowman told Baptist Press. Lowman will meet with church leaders to determine their needs.
 
Already, the association has provided a temporary location for the church’s summer camp scheduled to begin next week, Lowman said.
 
The church began in 1951 as the predominantly white Commonwealth Baptist Church, the Observer reported, but shifted to a mostly black church as the neighborhood demographics changed. The church has worked for years to reach the ethnically diverse East Charlotte community, home to numerous refugee groups.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

6/26/2015 10:46:57 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Past church violence survivors offer hope, joy

June 26 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Al Meredith had just attended his mother’s funeral the day before a man with a gun and pipe bomb attacked a youth prayer event at Meredith’s pastorate in 1999, murdering seven and injuring seven others before taking his own life.
 
Meredith arrived at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, less than five minutes after the tragedy, already grieving from his mother Hazel Meredith’s funeral near Detroit, Mich.
 
“I was numb. I just went into action mode. The Holy Spirit just took over. I just did the next thing,” Meredith said, remembering hospital and morgue visits that filled the night, and press conferences that began the next morning. “That’s the way the Lord used me. He put me in an emotional state of numbness so that my emotions were kind of anesthetized and I was able to just deal with each situation and let the Spirit speak to me.”
 
Sixteen years later, when Meredith heard the news of the massacre of nine Christians at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., his memory of having shepherded his own congregation through a similar tragedy gave him an uncommon degree of compassion and understanding.
 
Meredith sees the Charleston tragedy as especially troubling because the church lost its pastor Clementa Pinckney in the attack. A 21-year-old white supremacist, Dylann Roof, visited the church June 17 for the first time, sitting an hour in a Bible study and prayer meeting before shooting nine members dead.
 
Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter,” Meredith told Baptist Press, referencing Zechariah 13:7. “In normal times if the shepherd is removed the sheep scatter. But these are anything but normal times for them.

 
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BP file photo by Jim Veneman
Members of the Wedgwood Baptist Church gather early in the morning to pray for Sunday services in 1999 over a spot where students had been killed on Sept. 15 of that year.

“And the body of Christ must pray for this congregation that God would provide leaders they can trust, who can preach their funerals for heaven’s sake – not to mention comfort grieving families, shocked church members, people who are afraid to walk into the building – and somehow give a sense of direction in holding people, and giving them hope in the darkness, and all the things that a shepherd is called upon to do in times of emergency.”
 
Meredith has left telephone and text messages at Emanuel AME offering assistance, and has tried to contact the church through friends in South Carolina.
 
If given the chance, “I’d tell them there’s hope. It may seem hopeless. Romans 15:13 – Now may the God of hope fill you with joy and peace through believing that you might abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit,” Meredith said. “I’d tell them how the Lord brought us through, the good that the Lord brought out of our tragic situation, how the Lord was able to use us, the miracles of affirmation in the aftermath of the tragedy.”
 
Funerals are set to begin June 25 for those killed at Emanuel AME, with President Obama delivering the eulogy at Pinckney’s June 26 funeral.
 
Meredith has helped other churches recover, including First Baptist Church of Maryville, Ill., where pastor Fred Winters was shot dead by a stranger in 2009 while preaching the morning sermon. Winters’ widow Cindy Winters had considered the church a sanctuary of safety, and knows the unique pain of losing a loved one to violence in such a setting.
 
“I have been praying for them [Emanuel AME]; actually last night I spent a significant amount of time praying for them,” Winters told Baptist Press June 24. “I just was thinking about them and I felt so overwhelmed with what they were dealing with. It honestly has been such a hard week because I just have felt so bad for them … and then it brings up all the memories that we went through, and I’ve thought so much about what they must be experiencing, and I just grieve. I grieve for them so.”
 
Winters ministers to those seeking to overcome personal tragedy through her Grace & Hope Ministries. She also wrote the book Reflections from the Pit in 2013. Winters said she will allow the Holy Spirit to guide her in offering to console and uplift the Emanuel AME congregation.
 
“I would love to contact them at some point. I pray that we’ll see that and be faithful to do what He desires in that situation,” Winters said. “Unfortunately loss and hurt is one of the things we can all relate to, and it transcends gender, and race, and socioeconomic class and things like that. Loss is one of the things in life that all of us will experience, one way or the other.
 
“It can be very, very unifying. And so I think it’s the one thing that can draw a lot of people together,” Winters said. “We’ve even seen it in our nation, how this loss [at Emanuel AME] has drawn a lot of people together.”
 
Winters also encouraged prayer for the Charleston survivors and the families of victims.
 
“Even if we’re not there, taking time to stop and to pause and to reflect on what happened and on the impact of how they must be feeling, and then to allow that to guide our prayers and our actions,” she said, “I think that that’s really important to do.”
 
Terry Sedlacek, who killed Winters’ husband, is confined to a mental health facility in Alton, Ill., and is deemed too mentally unstable to stand trial, but Winters publicly forgave him shortly after the crime.
 
Both Winters and Meredith said it’s unlikely the church will ever fully recover from the tragedy, but will likely be able to continue in ministry.
 
“I don’t know if you ever recover from something like that,” Winters said. “I think you learn how to get through it, but I don’t think you ever get over it this side of eternity. I know one day I will when I’m with Jesus. Obviously only by the grace of God am I able to get up each day and go forward, and find beauty and meaning … and find goodness in living. Just by being able to know that there is a God who is still able to be trusted when things don’t make sense, and just knowing that He’s with me, no matter what.”
 
Meredith, who is retiring in August after nearly 30 years in the pastorate at Wedgwood Baptist, said he still experiences waves of grief from the shooting and bombing at his church.
 
“There are times when a wave of grief hits you yes, 15, 16 years later,” Meredith said. “Yes, all of a sudden a song, or a smell, or something like this hits and all of a sudden the reruns in your mind come back, so you go through the grief process again.”
 
Meredith praises God for the forgiveness expressed by friends and families of victims in Charleston, where Roof is being held in solitary confinement.
 
“I appreciate that representatives from every family publicly told the killer, ‘I choose to forgive you. You need to repent, but I forgive you. And only Christ can do that,’” Meredith said. “The world does not understand that; every other great religion says seek revenge on those who harm your loved ones; God says love your enemies.
 
“Jesus says do good to those who despitefully use you. And their testimony rang true and I praise God for that.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

Related Stories:

S.C. massacre ‘demonic,’ Baptist pastor says
Christians in Washington respond to S.C. tragedy with prayer
Light shines from Charleston after massacre

6/26/2015 10:38:20 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Transgender ministry, gender roles discussed

June 26 2015 by Keith Collier, Southern Baptist TEXAN

The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW) hosted a breakfast panel discussion in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, which addressed issues surrounding biblical complementarianism, including gender roles in the church and how churches can effectively minister to individuals who identify as homosexual or transgender.
 
Daniel Akin, a CBMW council member and president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., opened the June 15 discussion by defining the term complementarianism as “a perspective that is grounded in scripture that understands that men and women equally bear the image of God and yet God in His wisdom has given us different assignments and different functions.”
 
CBMW President Owen Strachan noted the significance of the topic, saying, “We’re in this because fundamentally we have a complementarian gospel.” Citing Ephesians 5, where the apostle Paul describes gender roles in marriage as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church, Strachan said, “We have this gospel that we put on display in practical and tangible form.” He said men and women flourish best when they align themselves with God’s design, and the “competition between men and women” ceases in the gospel.
 
Questions from the audience zeroed in on the issues of transgenderism and biblical roles for women in the church.
 

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Photo by Adam Covington
Owen Strachan (left to right), president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW); Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Thomas White, president of Cedarville University in Ohio, were part of a panel titled “A conversation about marriage, gender and the future of ministry in a post-Christian age.”

Homosexuality and transgenderism

Thomas White, president of Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, pointed to Psalm 139 to say God does not make mistakes in creating individuals, so they do not get to choose their gender or sexual preference. At the same time, he said, Christians should treat the topic with grace and respect rather than find it something to joke about.
 
Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church in Humble, Texas, said a few transgendered people attend his church, which has brought the topic close to home. While the church has made its position on the matter clear to these individuals – who are not members of the church – Lino said the church works to give them “time and space to hear the gospel.”
 
“We have no reason to be alarmed or panicked about the rise of transgenderism and what that means for ministering to people. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution to all matters. … The solution, in my opinion, is we must return to teaching a fully explained, gospel-based explanation of complementarianism.”
 
Lino admitted the church has had to work through some practical concerns, such as not allowing a woman who self-identifies as a man to be involved in the church’s men’s ministry. At the same time, Lino said he has worked to help church members understand that homosexuality and transgenderism are violations of God’s design the same that pornography, pre-marital sex, adultery and heterosexual sins are.
 
“The mission of the church is not to ‘un-gay’ people,” Lino said. “The mission of the church is to win people to Jesus Christ. And the struggle with the unbelieving homosexuals in your church is not that they’re homosexuals; it’s that they’re unbelievers. And homosexuality is just one of a million expressions … of what unbelieving can look like. … Lead them to Christ, and He will redeem them in due time – given time and space to hear the gospel – and voluntarily submit themselves to it.”
 

Women’s roles in the church

When asked about the permissible roles for women in the church, all panelists agreed with the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 article on “The Church” that “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture.”
 
Jason Duesing, editor of the Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said CBMW has addressed the issue well in the past, and it’s something he would like to see emphasized more in the present, especially from female voices.
 
“There are many strong, evangelical, complementarian women that CBMW can benefit from and use and resource, and I don’t think we’ve done that as well as we could.”
 
Strachan said women can be teachers and leaders in the church, provided that they’re teaching and leading other women. At the same time, women should not view this as holding them back from ministry.
 
“We have the most stake in raising up women of God as complementarians,” Strachan said, adding CBMW is not sheepish or shy about women in ministry. “Not at all. Within biblical parameters, we want to unleash women for ministry.”
 
The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, according to its website, is a Christian organization that “proclaims the complementary differences between men and women who share equally in the image of God.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)

6/26/2015 10:31:42 AM by Keith Collier, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Islamic threat, religious liberty studied

June 26 2015 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay

Americans view Islam as a threat to their own nation’s religious liberty almost as strongly as they consider it a danger to religious freedom internationally, a new study shows.
 
Although most persecution occurs overseas, 39 percent of American adults say Islam threatens religious freedom in the U.S. – almost as many as the 40 percent who see Islam as a global threat, a survey by Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds.
 
“Most recent headlines regarding Islam don’t paint a picture of religious freedom – so we should not be surprised by the strong minority that consider Islam a threat to religious freedom,” Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said.
 
“However, it is worth noting less Americans see Islam as a threat to religious freedom than do not. What’s of particular interest to me is not people’s concern about international religious liberty – which I would expect – but that 40 percent of Americans see Islam as a threat to religious liberty in the United States.”

 

A slim majority, 52 percent, believes U.S. religious liberties are not at risk because of Islam.
 

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Religious liberty has been widely discussed recently, but social policy, not Islam, has been the focus of recent religious freedom disputes in the United States. Courts have weighed religious freedom arguments in deciding whether to permit same-sex marriage, allow businesses to turn away gay customers, and require employers to pay for birth control.
 
On a global scale, Americans are unsettled about the influence of Islam. While 47 percent think it doesn’t endanger religious freedom internationally, almost as many – 40 percent – believe it does and 13 percent are unsure.
 
Researchers asked 1,000 Americans about their views in a phone survey Sept. 19-28 of last year. Earlier that month, the Islamic militant group ISIS released videos of beheadings of two Americans, prompting President Obama to tell the public the extremist group also known as ISIL is not Islamic. But LifeWay Research found at the time that 48 percent disagreed with the president’s statement while 3 in 10 were unsure.
 

Religious restrictions on the rise

Global concern about religious freedom is widespread and data shows such concern to be warranted. For example, Pew Research shows more than three-fourths of the world’s people live in countries with high religious restrictions, up from about two-thirds in 2007.
 
In the United States, restrictions are moderate but increasing, according to Pew. Pew’s measurement of hostile acts involving religion in America climbed 63 percent from 2007 to 2013, and its accounting of government restrictions on religion nearly doubled.
 
Americans perceive the effects, according to previous LifeWay research. More than half of Americans and 70 percent of Protestant senior pastors say religious liberty is on the decline.
 
Women are particularly concerned about the potential impact of Islam, with 44 percent viewing it as a risk to American religious freedom, compared to 34 percent of men. A similar gender divide emerged in previously released LifeWay research about Sharia law, with more women than men worrying America could come under the Islamic legal and moral code that limits women’s rights.
 

Young adults, Hispanics see less threat

America’s young adults are much less likely than their parents and grandparents to perceive Islam as a threat to religious freedom. Less than a third of 18- to 44-year-olds hold that view (31 percent internationally, 30 percent in the U.S.), compared to nearly half of those 45 and older (49 percent internationally, 48 percent in the U.S.). Previously released research found young Americans are less worried than their elders about Sharia law and more likely to say Islam can create a peaceful society.
 
Hispanics also have less concern about Islam’s threat to religious liberty in the United States (31 percent) or abroad (29 percent). In contrast, whites are more likely to believe Islam is a danger to religious freedom internationally (44 percent) and in the United States (41 percent).
 
LifeWay Research found differences along geographic lines as well, with southerners more likely to view Islam as a risk to religious freedom than those in the West or Northeast.
 
Evangelical Christians are the most likely to perceive Islam as a threat. The majority of evangelicals see Islam as a danger to religious freedom both domestically (55 percent) and globally (53 percent).
 
In contrast, 31 percent of Catholics, 34 percent of people from non-Christian religions and 22 percent of the nonreligious see Islam as a threat to religious freedom in the United States. Internationally, Catholics perceive significantly greater risk at 38 percent, while the difference in opinion is slight for those from non-Christian religions (35 percent) and the nonreligious (23 percent). Protestants view U.S. and global risks equally at 48 percent.
 
Overall among Christians, 45 percent say Islam is a threat to religious liberty internationally and 43 percent say it is a threat to religious freedom in America.
 
“Most religious people desire that other people believe – even convert to – their religion, but how a religion’s followers treat those who choose another belief differs greatly,” Stetzer said. “A large minority of Americans are concerned with how the religion of Islam is treating people with different religious views.”
 
Methodology: The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 19-28, 2014. The calling utilized random digit dialing. Sixty percent of completes were among landlines and 40 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.4 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
 
Those labeled evangelicals consider themselves “a born again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian.” Those labeled Christian include those whose religious preference is Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or Nondenominational Christian.
 
Nonreligious are those whose religious preference is Atheist, Agnostic or No Preference.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is senior writer for Facts and Trends magazine.)

6/26/2015 10:25:14 AM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay | with 0 comments



Hunger ministry calls for action

June 26 2015 by Baptist Press staff/ERLC

Nearly 1 billion people are undernourished, and “chronic hunger is a debilitating problem for many around the world,” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
 
Southern Baptist leaders promoting Global Hunger Relief (GHR) called for churches to address the global hunger crisis in their first report to the SBC, June 17. The report by GHR, a cooperative Southern Baptist initiative, preceded the missionary sending service for the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB).
 
GHR also sponsored an exhibit calling attention to the hunger crisis in both North America and across the globe.
 
IMB President David Platt told messengers in a pre-recorded report, “Global Hunger Relief is a great means through which Southern Baptists can say, We’re not just about proclaiming the gospel. We’re also about demonstrating the love of Christ through these physical provisions and sustainable ways we can serve people, communities and villages, as we proclaim the gospel.”
 
NAMB President Kevin Ezell said, “This is another example of how we, as believers in Christ, can do more together than alone.”
 
The report was a result of a 2014 resolution approved by the convention to continue to draw attention to the global hunger crisis and to support the work of GHR, formerly known as the World Hunger Fund.
 
GHR is a partnership of the IMB, NAMB, ERLC, LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC Executive Committee, Baptist Global Response and Woman’s Missionary Union.
 
Global Hunger Relief follows the unique “dollar in, dollar out” practice of the former World Hunger Fund in which Southern Baptists are able to direct 100 percent of each donation to hunger causes. Through the cooperation of SBC entities, church gifts through the Cooperative Program provide the implementing infrastructure for hunger relief projects, with no deductions for promotional and administrative costs.
 
More information is available at globalhungerrelief.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story was submitted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)

6/26/2015 10:18:46 AM by Baptist Press staff/ERLC | with 0 comments



Legacy church planting revitalizes dying churches

June 25 2015 by Margaret Colson, NAMB

A dying and dysfunctional church robs God of glory, said John Mark Clifton, national legacy strategy leader for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), speaking during a panel discussion at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
 
Approximately 10-15 percent of Southern Baptist churches are at risk of dying. Every year, about 900 churches close and lock their doors for the last time, with as many as 70 percent of them situated in growing neighborhoods, Clifton said.
 
Through legacy church planting, Southern Baptists are working to reverse this trend by decreasing the death rate of existing churches and increasing the birth rate of new churches.
 
Joining Clifton in the June 15 panel discussion were Brad O’Brien, pastor of Redeemer City Church in Baltimore, and Mark Hallock, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Englewood, Colo. NAMB national collegiate strategist Brian Frye facilitated the discussion.

 
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Photo by Adam Covington
Brian Frye, left, collegiate evangelism strategist for the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, interviews a panel on replanting dying churches June 15 at the CP platform in the exhibit hall of the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Panelists included: left to right, Brad O’Brien, pastor of Redeemer City Church in Baltimore; Mark Hallock, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Englewood, Co. and Mark Clifton of the North American Mission Board.

In early 2013, O’Brien, along with a team of 25 people sensing a call to church planting, moved from Durham, N.C., to Baltimore. There, they began meeting in a building owned by a church with a rich history of witness and ministry, yet facing the crisis of an aging congregation with no pastor and limited financial resources.
 
“How could I work toward planting a healthy gospel-centered church in the building owned by a church that was dying?” O’Brien asked.
 
Within months, the two congregations – one facing decline and possible death and the other poised to launch – voted to “marry,” joining together to form Redeemer City Church.
 
“When God called me to give up my vision of the church plant for something greater, it was a call to walk by faith,” O’Brien said.
 
Today, Redeemer City Church, in a building where Southern Baptist missionary icon Annie Armstrong once taught, is a thriving multi-generational congregation with a hopeful future.
 
In 2009, more than 1,500 miles away, Hallock accepted the pastorate at Calvary, a once-strong congregation that had dwindled to fewer than 40 people facing a future that was “seriously in doubt,” Clifton said.
 
Jim Misloski, a director of missions for the Colorado Baptist General Convention and a member of Calvary, said that Hallock “loved the people and celebrated what God had done through them.” Then Hallock led them to “move forward” into God’s future.
 
Six years ago, the “remnant” church members were tired of just “doing church,” Misloski said, so they replanted their congregation with a new vision. Today, the church has grown to 700 members. Calvary, once close to death, started a church in a nearby community in 2013 and plans to start additional churches in 2015 and 2016.
 
“God’s not done with dying churches,” Hallock said. “He’s just getting started. God does His best work when things seem hopeless.”
 
O’Brien and Hallock are “representative of an entire new generation of church planters who are called not only to plant churches and reach a city but also to replant dying churches for God’s glory,” Clifton said.
 
“The pathway of legacy church planting will ensure a legacy of ministry and missions for a dying church well into future generations,” Clifton said.
 
The goal, he said, is not only to revitalize dying churches but also to lead those churches to plant other churches.
 
The Cooperative Program – Southern Baptists’ unified method of funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe – plays a major role in supporting the legacy strategy of replanting dying churches, Clifton said.
 
O’Brien noted, “It is immeasurable what the Cooperative Program has meant” to the revitalization of Redeemer City Church. “We are a testament to the fact that we can do more together than any of us can do alone.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Margaret Colson is a writer in Georgia. For more information about legacy church planting, go to namb.net/Legacy.)


Related Stories:

Church disbanding leads to two thriving churches
SBTS Press publishes ‘A Guide to Church Revitalization’
Redeeming your building

6/25/2015 11:36:47 AM by Margaret Colson, NAMB | with 0 comments



Verse-by-verse preaching has risks, pastors say

June 25 2015 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay

Preaching straight through the Bible has its risks, pastors acknowledged in a panel discussion held during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
 
Panelists urged a balance between verse-by-verse explanation and sermons on specific topics at a June 16 breakfast meeting sponsored by The Gospel Project, a curriculum series of LifeWay Christian Resources.
 
Many pastors believe tackling scripture verse by verse from the pulpit is the only acceptable approach, said moderator Ed Stetzer, general editor of The Gospel Project.
 
But that view may be different from the pews, the four panelists agreed. Continuity is broken if people don’t attend every service – and “I can guarantee you during football season you’re going to have people who are there every third Sunday,” said Chip Henderson, pastor at Pinelake Church in Jackson, Miss.
 
A lengthy series of sermons can leave newcomers “feeling like they’re catching the movie in the middle,” said H.B. Charles Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.

 
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NAMB photo by John Swain
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; H.B. Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. and Chip Henderson, senior pastor of Pinelake Church with multiple campuses across Mississippi, are interviewed by Ed Stetzer, vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources, regarding “Philosophies and Styles of Preaching” at a breakfast June 16 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Most important, Stetzer said, a demand for expository preaching may discourage pastors in developing countries who lack the academic training to analyze every verse.
 
“We live in a world that needs a lot more serious expository preaching,” Stetzer said. “But when we hold this out as a norm across all cultures and times – a biblical principle that must be done – we impose a foreign model that is not found in scripture.”
 
Pastors have the freedom to address their congregation’s needs, said J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., but if they stray too far from expository preaching, they risk emphasizing their own favorite issues rather than the whole message of God.
 
Another danger of topical preaching, the panelists said, is taking scripture out of context to support a point.
 
“Sometimes it feels like an illustration is driving the sermon and you just happened to bump into the text along the way,” Charles said.
 
Henderson, who often takes a topical approach to his sermons, pointed out much of the New Testament was written that way – as letters addressing specific needs of the church.
 
People don’t care whether a pastor methodically explains each verse of the Bible, he said. “I think what they care to know is, ‘Whenever I come here, I’m being fed the Word of God.”
 
The other panelists said they preach through books of the Bible in series of varying length. Greear’s typical series lasts eight weeks, although Acts took about a year. Charles said he is in no hurry to finish preaching through Ephesians, and Stetzer has spent three years to get midway through Matthew. “I told the people we’re halfway through, and they wept,” he said.
 
Still, the pastors acknowledged the verse-by-verse approach isn’t commanded in scripture and probably wasn’t practiced by the early church.
 
“There’s something in me that feels weird about taking a year to preach through a letter that would have originally taken about 20 minutes to read in its entirety,” Greear said.
 
The panelists noted they blend the verse-by-verse approach with flexibility that allows them to address special days and special needs. Charles departed from his series on Ephesians when he realized sticking to the schedule would have him preaching about sexual immorality on Mother’s Day. But when his predominantly black congregation was working toward a merger with a predominantly white one last year around the same time as a racially divisive police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., Charles stayed in Ephesians 2.
 
“I did not have to find a sound-bite text,” Charles said. “God the Holy Spirit, who knew where we would be before we got there, had the right word we needed at the right time.”
 
Pastors today can’t assume people understand Christian theology, Charles said. “The heart of it is you need to explain things. People need to become familiar with the content of the Bible.”
 
Deep familiarity with the Bible is a major goal of LifeWay’s Gospel Project, Stetzer said. The Gospel Project will hit a million users a week this fall with a curriculum that is chronologically aligned so people in all age groups study the same scripture at the same time.
 
Ultimately, Henderson said, what drives any message is the Spirit of God. “If He does that through a topical message, go for it. If He does it through verse-by-verse exposition, go for that.
 
“You want to be a shepherd who loves Jesus and then loves people toward Jesus. That will give life and vitality to your preaching.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is senior writer for LifeWay’s Facts & Trends magazine.)

6/25/2015 11:29:20 AM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay | with 0 comments



Former Atlanta fire chief still in ‘shock’ at firing

June 25 2015 by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN

Kelvin Cochran was living his boyhood dream. He had a good income. He was married, the proud father of three adult children, and a grandfather. And, the clincher, he was a fireman. But since being fired from his job as chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department in January, his dream has turned into a series of legal battles.
 
Cochran shared his story, and told of the faith that undergirds him through trials, at a Cooperative Program forum June 15 in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, hosted the discussion.
 
The alleged offense leading to Cochran’s dismissal was the publication of a 162-page book he wrote after researching the subject of “authentic manhood” and human bondage to sin for a men’s Bible study he facilitated in 2013. Particularly controversial was the book’s claim that homosexual behavior is immoral.
 
The city of Atlanta defended the firing, saying Cochran did not receive city approval before publishing the book. But Cochran’s attorneys argue the book’s claim about homosexuality is specifically what offended his superiors and cost him his job. In February, Cochran’s attorneys filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Mayor Kasim Reed.

 
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Photo by Adam Covington
Kelvin Cochran, former fire chief of Atlanta, was interviewed about his faith under fire June 15 at the Cooperative Program stage in the exhibit hall of the Greater Columbus Convention Center during the 2015 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Columbus, Ohio.

“When you’re dealing with challenges of the carnal nature with men, you have to talk about sex,” Cochran said. “So speaking in the book on biblical views on marriage between a man and a woman, and procreation and that sex outside of marriage is sin is, actually, what caused the controversy.”
 
Discussion of homosexuality comprised only one page of the book but apparently provoked Reed and city councilman Alex Wan, who is gay. They charged Cochran’s biblical views on sex created a discriminatory work environment. An investigation of the fire chief’s tenure produced no evidence of discrimination.
 
Comments made by Reed and Wan led Cochran’s attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to conclude their client was fired explicitly for his Christian convictions. According to an ADF press release, Wan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.”
 
Cochran told Adams, “I had no thought whatsoever that in the United States of America, me writing a book to express biblical truths about why God created man and sexuality ... would cost me my childhood-dream-come-true, fairy tale career.”
 
As a 5-year-old boy watching firefighters put out a blaze at a neighbor’s house, Cochran was inspired. He wanted to be a fireman. He also wanted to be a “family man.” And he didn’t want to be poor. The latter two ambitions grew from a determination to change his life. Abandoned by his father, Cochran watched his mother struggle in poverty to raise him and his five siblings.
 
In 1981 he was hired by his hometown fire department in Shreveport, La., and quickly advanced through the ranks, being tapped as chief after 18 years of service. He was recruited by Atlanta in 2008. He served only a year before being named U.S. fire administrator by President Obama.
 
After Reed became mayor, he persuaded Cochran to return to the Atlanta post in 2010. Two years later Cochran was named Fire Chief of the Year by Fire Chief magazine. Less than three years later Reed fired him.
 
Cochran’s difficulties led him to God’s Word and his faith in the truth it conveys. In the early 2000s, he studied the word “suffering” and that lesson resonates today. Cochran is confident that God prepares believers for suffering, blesses those who stay faithful in the midst of it and, in the end, glorifies Himself.
 
Support from his pastor, Craig Oliver of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, and the Georgia Baptist Convention has encouraged Cochran and rallied religious liberty advocates nationwide.
 
“I’m still in a state of shock and awe that in our beloved nation we have to choose between keeping our jobs and living out our faith,” Cochran said. “And when a believer is caught between the decision to keep your job or live out your faith, the right decision is always to live out your faith even if it costs you your job.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
 

Related Stories:

Supporters rally for fired Atlanta fire chief
Fire chief’s firing called ‘intolerance’
Atlanta fire chief fired over pro-family book

6/25/2015 11:18:32 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN | with 0 comments



Page receives Asian Advisory Council report

June 25 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Church planting among Asian groups, international missions to Asian peoples and increased Asian cooperation with the larger Southern Baptist family are among the prominent themes in the Asian Advisory Council report presented to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) President Frank S. Page June 15 in Columbus, Ohio.
 
In conjunction with receiving the report, Page named Asian Advisory Council chairman Paul Kim as the first-ever Asian American adviser to the EC.
 
“Most people do not know Asian American churches at all,” said Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass. “Southern Baptist Asian churches have always existed, but we have not had a [thoroughgoing] understanding” of how to partner with fellow Southern Baptists in missions and ministries. “We want to work together with the Executive Committee, Southern Baptist entities, seminaries [and] the convention. We want to help Southern Baptists be stronger.”

 
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Photo by Rebekah Rausch
Peter Yanes, ethnic church strategist at the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania (left to right) and Paul Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass. and chairman of the Asian Advisory Council, present Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, and Ken Weathersby, vice president of the SBC Executive Committee, with a final report from the council June 15.

Formed in 2013 to help Page and other SBC leaders understand the unique perspectives that Asian churches and church leaders bring to the convention, the Asian Advisory Council consists of 27 members representing eight ethnic fellowships. The council’s report provides information about each fellowship and makes recommendations regarding reaching and mobilizing each nationality represented.
 
The council is composed of Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian and Vietnamese Baptist leaders.
 
Asian Americans,” Page said, “have been a part of our convention for many decades. ... It is my hope that Asian Americans will now be at every level of SBC life and will become even more involved. They have been always a part, but I want them to be in the mainstream of SBC life.”
 
According to an executive summary of the Asian Advisory Council report provided to Baptist Press, there are 1,787 Asian congregations in the SBC, up 54.3 percent since 1998. Asian congregations baptize an average of 4.01 people per 100 church members – nearly double the SBC average of 2.69 baptisms per 100 church members.
 
The executive summary calls for increased church planting among Asian groups. Other recurring recommendations include sending Asian American Baptists as missionaries to their homelands with the International Mission Board and developing younger Asian American leaders.
 
Page will process the report in the coming weeks toward implementing its recommendations.
 
Ken Weathersby, EC vice president for convention advancement, expressed gratitude for the council’s report.
 
Kim and other council members have “done an excellent job in sharing the opportunities and needs of Asian American churches in North America,” Weathersby said. “They are on board with working cooperatively as Southern Baptists.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

6/25/2015 11:11:54 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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