June 2017

Gaines: Pray ‘fervently’ in light of Phoenix SBC

June 26 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Phoenix pledging to pray for matters ranging from evangelism to racial reconciliation, SBC President Steve Gaines has called Southern Baptists to intercede “more fervently and frequently than ever before.”

Photo by Matt Jones
Messengers on a crosswalk between two Phoenix Convention Center buildings overlooking downtown Phoenix are greeted by a poster bearing the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting theme “Pray For Such a Time is This.” The SBC annual meeting was held June 13-14 at the convention center.

Gathered around the theme “Pray! For such a time as this,” messengers to the June 13-14 annual meeting urged prayer or committed to ask God for specific requests in at least five separate resolutions. In addition, annual meeting attendees received specific prayer requests from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the International Mission Board (IMB).
Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., urged Baptists to follow through on their prayer commitments and honor the prayer requests. Leading up to the meeting, he had called for 21 days of prayer and fasting.
“The Lord blessed our SBC annual meeting in Phoenix in so many ways,” Gaines told Baptist Press in written comments. “I’m convinced He did because we prayed. Before each session, we gathered in small groups, joined our hearts and hands and prayed.
“We prayed for our nation. We prayed for future missionaries who are going to the nations to share the gospel. We prayed as important resolutions were crafted, discussed and adopted. Contrary to what some secular media outlets reported, our business was conducted in an orderly, Christ-like manner. I attribute that to God answering the prayers of His people,” Gaines said.
“As we face the future, I call upon all Southern Baptists to pray more fervently and frequently than ever before. Challenging days are ahead for Christians around the world. We must make prayer, evangelism and discipleship the priorities of our lives. We must jettison our selfish agendas and focus on Christ’s Great Commission,” he said.
Among prayer pledges made at the SBC annual meeting:

  • Messengers adopted a resolution “on prayer” which stated, “We commit to pray ... for the next twenty-one days, leading up to July 4th, for God to be merciful to Southern Baptists, empowering us anew with His Holy Spirit to be witnesses in our communities, states, nation and world.”
  • In a resolution “on the importance of moral leadership,” messengers committed “to pray for our nation’s leaders to be able to resist every temptation that would create a hindrance to the fulfillment of their calling in society.” The resolution additionally committed to pray “that God will help us and all our fellow citizens to embrace the biblical moral values that will honor our creation in God’s image and bring God’s blessing on our nation.”
  • A resolution “on the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy” stated that messengers “earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”
  • A resolution of appreciation for outgoing registration secretary Jim Wells “pledge[d] to intercede” for him and his wife Judy during what were expected to be his final days of life on earth. He died June 17 following a seven-year battle with cancer.
  • A resolution “on university ministry” “urged our fellow Southern Baptists to devote considerable prayer,” among other resources, to “evangelistic and discipleship endeavors” on college and university campuses.

During the NAMB presentation, board president Kevin Ezell asked Baptists to intercede for church planters using the website PrayForPlanters.com, which lets users sign up to receive via email a list of planters in a specific city or state or on university campuses.
The IMB’s presentation included distribution of cardstock discs with names of international missionaries printed on them as prayer prompts.
Maintaining a commitment to pray for matters raised at the annual meeting, Gaines said, will make a difference in the world.
“Things will be different in many positive ways if we will pray and ask God to go before us and help us to accomplish His will,” Gaines said. “I pray that all Southern Baptists will pray for such a time as this.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

6/26/2017 11:33:36 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Scripture in discipleship focus of LifeWay event

June 26 2017 by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources

A standing-room-only crowd gathered for a discussion about the essential role of Bible reading in the process of discipleship during the LifeWay Christian Resources breakfast held in conjunction with the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

Photo by Maggie Mae Everett
Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, speaks at a LifeWay breakfast June 13 prior to the first session of the two-day Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The event, titled “Discipleship Through the Word,” began with Christian music artists Keith and Kristyn Getty leading the audience in worship, including their classic modern hymn “In Christ Alone.”
More than 1,100 registered for the breakfast, where attendees received free resources including a copy of the new Christian Standard Bible (CSB) Study Bible.
LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer spoke of how engagement with scripture affects numerous aspects of church life. “The statistical reality is that those who are in God’s Word are more likely to give and be faithful with their finances,” he said.
Daily Bible reading also increases the likelihood for evangelism, Rainer said. “Our denomination doesn’t have an evangelism problem; we have an individual obedience problem,” he said. “It’s when I’m in the Word of God on a daily basis that I’m reminded I need to share the gospel on a regular basis.”
He shared a personal example of reading biblical commands for evangelism and then intentionally seeking out non-Christians through his normal routine of getting a haircut.
“I received a text this week from my son Jess, who is also my pastor,” Rainer said. “He said my hair stylist had attended our church, came under conviction of the Holy Spirit, received Christ and wants to be baptized.”
Rainer also talked about how the impact of scripture is felt in participation in small groups. “Someone who joins a group is five times more likely to be involved in your church five years later than someone who only attends worship services,” Rainer said.
“Why? Because what happens in groups is people hear the Word of God, study the Word of God and obey the Word of God.”
Daniel Im, director of church multiplication at LifeWay, asked attendees, “How do we know when someone is a mature Christian?”

Photo by Maggie Mae Everett
Daniel Im, director of church multiplication for LifeWay Christian Resources and leader of NewChurches.com, speaks about discipleship at the LifeWay breakfast June 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center prior to the opening session of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

According to the Transformational Discipleship study from LifeWay Research, Im said, eight attributes indicate when someone is maturing in Christ: Bible engagement, obeying God and denying self, serving God and others, sharing Christ, exercising faith, seeking God, building relationship and transparency.
“The more frequently an individual reads their Bible on a consistent basis, the more they would seize the attributes of discipleship in their life,” Im said. “The more you help the people in your church read their Bible, the more the eight attributes would be manifest in their lives.”
Michael Kelley, director of discipleship at LifeWay, offered attendees three principles to help churches encourage their members to read the Bible. He talked about the significance of a Bible-reading routine. He also stressed the value of studying the Bible in groups and constantly returning to simple obedience to scripture.
Trevin Wax, Bible and reference publisher at LifeWay, concluded the breakfast by describing the newly revised Christian Standard Bible translation and highlighting research that found the CSB achieves an optimal blend of readability and accuracy to the original text.
Church leaders were encouraged to stress the importance of Bible reading to their members.
“If I could change one thing about my time as a pastor,” Rainer said, “I would exhort every person in my church to be in the Word of God every day.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

6/26/2017 11:28:11 AM by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Religious liberty law in Mississippi upheld on appeal

June 26 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A law allowing Mississippians to refuse a variety of business transactions violating their religious beliefs was allowed to take effect by a federal appeals court June 22, but the court did not address the law’s constitutionality.
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned an injunction that had barred the law’s enforcement, the court said, because the plaintiffs had no legal standing to oppose the measure. The court also acknowledged that other cases might be filed that would warrant a ruling on the law’s constitutionality.
In the cases at hand, (Rims) Barber v. Bryant (Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant) and Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, plaintiffs challenged the legality of the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, referred to as HB 1523. The law allows citizens to stand on religious beliefs in refusing to perform business transactions related to such issues as gay marriage and transgenderism.
“The exercise of judicial power, which can so profoundly affect the lives, liberty and property of those to whom it extends, is ... restricted to litigants who can show ‘injury in fact’ resulting from the action which they seek to have the court adjudicate,” the three-judge panel said in its decision. “The plaintiffs have not shown an injury-in-fact caused by HB 1523 that would empower the district court or this court to rule on its constitutionality.
“We do not foreclose the possibility that a future plaintiff may be able to show clear injury-in-fact that satisfies the ‘irreducible constitutional minimum of standing’ ... but the federal courts must withhold judgment unless and until that plaintiff comes forward.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to the ruling with a promise to pursue other cases against the religious liberty law.
“We are ready to move forward with our case filed on behalf of ACLU members Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, who are planning to marry in Mississippi in the near future,” Jennifer Riley Collins, executive director of ACLU of Mississippi, said in a June 22 press release. “That case was put on hold until the court of appeals ruled. We will continue to proceed on behalf of Nykolas and Stephen to protect them, and other same-sex couples from this harmful and discriminatory law.
Bryant’s co-counsel in the cases, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), still applauded the court’s ruling.
“Good laws like Mississippi’s protect freedom and harm no one,” ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said in a June 22 press release. “The court did the right thing in finding that those who have challenged this law haven’t been harmed and, therefore, can’t try to take the law down.
“The sole purpose of this law is to ensure that Mississippians don’t live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union,” Theriot said. “Those who filed suit have not and will not be harmed, but want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on others by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination that has already occurred in states without protective laws like this one.”
Mississippi passed the law after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.
The state law covers a host of situations that might compromise one’s religious conscience. Among its provisions, the Mississippi law:

  • Forbids state government from taking “any discriminatory action” against an individual who declines on religious grounds to provide photography, floral arrangements or other wedding services for a same-sex marriage ceremony.
  • Bars the state from discriminating against any person who establishes, on religious grounds, “sex-specific standards or policies” concerning access to restrooms or locker rooms.
  • Permits any person authorized to license or perform marriages to seek recusal from same-sex weddings on religious grounds. At the same time, the bill requires state representatives “to ensure that the performance or solemnization of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.”
  • Prohibits state government discrimination against adoption agencies that decline, based on religious convictions, to allow same-sex couples to adopt.
  • Bans the state from discriminating against religious organizations that decline to solemnize same-sex marriages or make employment decisions based on religious beliefs concerning marriage.

The law was originally scheduled to take effect July 1, 2016.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

6/26/2017 11:27:28 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Spurgeon collection launched online

June 26 2017 by T. Patrick Hudson, MBTS

A website expected to hold the largest digitized collection on the internet of writings by famed British pastor Charles H. Spurgeon is now available.

MBTS Photo
Midwestern Seminary remodeled its former chapel into the Spurgeon Library, which consolidated and showcased the collection appropriately. The library was dedicated in October 2015.

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in partnership with B&H Academic, launched the website on June 21.
Also known as “The Spurgeon Archive,” Midwestern Seminary’s original Spurgeon Center website has been combined with spurgeon.org, which was founded and donated by Phil Johnson, the executive director of “Grace to You.” The Spurgeon site will consist of accessible sermons, writings, links and a number of other Spurgeon-related documents. The site invites readers to check back weekly for additional sermons and other resources.
“We view this website as a resource available to the local church that makes visible the life, legacy and library of Charles Spurgeon,” Midwestern President Jason Allen said. “Our ultimate goal is to make Spurgeon’s works accessible to the world in a way that has never been done before. This site does just that.”
In addition to facsimiles of sermons that visitors can search through, the site will also feature a regularly scheduled blog by Spurgeon Library curator Christian George. There are also links highlighting Spurgeon’s Daily Meditations, where guests can access his morning and evening readings for each day of the year, as well as Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalms, The Treasury of David, the Sword and Trowel magazine and artifacts from the library.
“The heartbeat of this website is to make Jesus Christ shine through Spurgeon,” George said. “We are uploading a treasure chest of sermons, commentaries, Puritan writings and preaching helps designed to encourage pastors and edify the church. My prayer is that God will use the same books that shaped Spurgeon to shape new generations of Christians throughout the world.”
George, who is in the process of publishing the 12-volume Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon series, noted that there are plans to add a discussion/interactive element to the site, which he hopes will bring scholars together.
“Spurgeon scholarship is a growing field,” George said. “There’s so much we are still learning. Our desire is to create a hub for pastors, doctoral students, Spurgeon enthusiasts and anyone interested in contributing to the field. Collaboration will be key to constructing a three-dimensional portrait of the pastor.”
Midwestern Seminary purchased C.H. Spurgeon’s personal library from William Jewel College in 2006. The collection consists of more than 6,000 books, and hundreds of artifacts, letters and assorted materials.
In 2014, Midwestern established the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, which includes the Spurgeon Scholars initiative that offers a limited number of scholarships to exceptional, full-time residential students called to pastoral ministry. Additionally, each fall semester the Center hosts The Spurgeon Lectures. Notable evangelical leaders such as John MacArthur, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Mark Dever and Alistair Begg have delivered the lectures.
A $2.5 million gift from Bill and Connie Jenkins of Paoli, Ind., enabled Midwestern to remodel its former chapel into the Spurgeon Library, which consolidated and showcased the collection appropriately. The library was dedicated in October 2015.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – T. Patrick Hudson is executive assistant to the president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

6/26/2017 11:23:27 AM by T. Patrick Hudson, MBTS | with 0 comments

Study spotlights Hispanic Christians’ views on Israel

June 26 2017 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

Hispanic Christians – evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Catholics – are more likely to say the nation of Israel has the right to exist than the average American, a new study released June 22 shows.

They worry about the fate of Christians in the Palestinian territories and sympathize with both Palestinians and Israelis.
But the Bible, most say, has little to do with how they see Israel.
Those are among the findings of an online survey of self-identified Hispanic Christians and their views on Israel from LifeWay Research. The research firm conducted the survey Jan. 11-23.
The response was mixed, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. Few Hispanic Christians have a negative view of Israel, he said. But many have no opinion.
“Overall, Israel isn’t a major concern for many Hispanic Christians,” McConnell said.

More supportive than Americans in general

Hispanic Christians are generally supportive of Israel, according to LifeWay Research’s survey.
Half (50 percent) say the modern state of Israel, which was founded on May 14, 1948, has the right to exist. Only 15 percent disagree. About a third (35 percent) aren’t sure.
For comparison, a 2015 LifeWay Research study found Americans much more skeptical about Israel. Forty-two percent agreed when asked if they support Israel’s statehood. Thirty-five percent disagreed, while 23 percent were not sure.
The 2017 survey found only a quarter of Hispanic Christians in the U.S. have a negative view of Israel (26 percent). Forty-five percent have a positive view. Twenty-eight percent aren’t sure.
About a third (34 percent) think the U.S. is doing enough to help Israel. Fewer say the U.S. does too much (19 percent) or too little (18 percent) to help Israel. Twenty-nine percent are not sure.
Hispanic Christians seem reluctant to take sides in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians. Two-thirds (66 percent) sympathize with the hardships faced by both Israelis and Palestinians. A quarter (27 percent) sympathize more with Israelis. Seven percent sympathize more with Palestinians.
Most Hispanic Christians also worry about the welfare of Christians in parts of the Holy Land. Three-quarters (72 percent) say they are concerned about the safety of Christians in territories governed by the Palestinian authority. Ten percent disagree, while 18 percent are not sure.

Role of religion complicated

Faith plays a role in how Hispanic Christians see Israel. But they often disagree how the two are related.
Forty percent say the modern nation of Israel is “a fulfillment of God’s covenant with the Jewish people.” Twenty-one percent disagree. Thirty-nine percent are not sure.
And more Hispanic Christians cite the media (34 percent) than the Bible (16 percent) when asked what most shapes their views on Israel.
Among Hispanic Christians who support Israel’s right to exist, few cite the Bible (7 percent) or Bible prophecy (11 percent) as the reason for doing so. Instead, 55 percent say Israel has a right to exist because every nation has a right to exist.
Researchers found that self-identified Hispanic evangelicals are by far the most ardent supporters of Israel:

  • 59 percent have a positive view of Israel.
  • 58 percent say Israel has a right to exist.
  • 83 percent are concerned about the safety of Christians in areas under control of the Palestinian authority.
  • 35 percent say the U.S. does not do enough to help Israel.
  • 49 percent sympathize with the hardships Israelis face.
  • 54 percent say the Bible shapes their views on Israel.
  • 15 percent cite the Bible as the main reason they support Israel’s statehood.
  • 28 percent support Israel because of its role in biblical prophecy.

Support among Hispanic evangelicals differs slightly from American evangelicals in general. American evangelicals overall were less likely to say they support Israel’s right to exist as a state (50 percent) but more likely to make a connection between their faith and their views on Israel. About 7 in 10 (69 percent) American evangelicals said the modern nation of Israel was formed as a result of biblical prophecy. And 73 percent of American evangelicals said events in Israel are part of the prophecies in the Book of Revelation.
Tony Suarez, executive vice president of National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), says Hispanics – and especially Hispanic Christians – will play an important role in shaping American policy toward Israel in the future. So understanding their views on Israel is essential.
“Their support for Israel should not be taken for granted,” Suarez said.

Disconnect with the Jewish community

As part of the survey, sponsored by NHCLC and the Philos Project, LifeWay Research also looked at several other issues, including views of Hispanic Christians on politics, foreign policy, the media and the Jewish community.
They found about a third (33 percent) are more likely to vote for a candidate who had pro-Israel views. More than half (53 percent) say a politician’s views on Israel doesn’t affect their vote. Fourteen percent are less likely to vote for a candidate who has pro-Israel views.
On foreign policy, Hispanic Christians are ambivalent about the role the U.S. plays in solving the world’s problems. Forty percent say the U.S. does too much. A third (32 percent) say the U.S. does the right amount. Fifteen percent say the U.S. does too little. Fourteen percent are not sure.
Television (85 percent) is the most popular news source for Hispanic Christians, followed by social media (55 percent), websites (47 percent) and radio (37 percent). Less than a third (29 percent) rely on print newspapers or magazines.
Researchers found a disconnect between many Hispanic Christians and the Jewish community. Just over a third (36 percent) say they have Jewish friends. Half (49 percent) have no Jewish friends. Fifteen percent are not sure.
A significant number of Hispanic Christians hold somewhat anti-Semitic views, McConnell said. Forty-two percent say Jewish Americans have too much influence in American society. About a third (31 percent) disagree. A quarter (27 percent) are not sure.
That’s a troubling finding, McConnell said.
“There appears to be at least some resentment among Hispanic Christians,” he said. “It’s clear there’s a disconnect between this group of Hispanic Christians and Jewish Americans.”
Jesse Rojo, Hispanic Affairs Director for the Philos Project, agrees.
His organization has been sponsoring trips to bring Hispanic Christian leaders to Israel to connect with Jewish leaders in that country. They’ve also worked to connect Hispanic leaders and Jewish leaders in the United States.
“There should be more efforts on the local level to build bridges between these two communities,” Rojo said. “There is a lot more work to be done.”
Methodology: The online survey of Americans was conducted Jan. 11–23, 2017. The project was sponsored by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the Philos Project. Targeted sample was obtained from national online panels. This sample was screened to only include self-identified Latino/Hispanic adults who indicate a religious preference of Catholic or Protestant/Non-denominational. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, education, Catholic/Protestant, country of origin and generation immigrated to more accurately reflect the Hispanic Christian population using statistics published by Pew Research and the Census Bureau. The completed sample is 1,038 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 4.1 percent including weight effects. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

6/26/2017 11:12:58 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

ERLC helps lead call for justice reform

June 23 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has joined with Prison Fellowship and other organizations in an appeal to Christians to work for a “fair and redemptive” justice system in the world’s leading incarcerating country.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) partnered with Prison Fellowship, the country’s largest outreach to prisoners, and two other evangelical groups to produce the Justice Declaration, which was unveiled June 20 at a Washington, D.C., news conference.

Photo by Brady Weller
ERLC President Russell Moore comments on the Justice Declaration during its unveiling at a June 20 news conference in Washington, D.C.

In its appeal, the statement urges followers of Jesus to support “proportional punishment,” care for victims of crime, minister to the families of prisoners, preach the gospel and disciple incarcerated men and women.
The motivation for creating the Justice Declaration and an accompanying white paper is “our nation’s crisis of over-criminalization,” Prison Fellowship President James Ackerman said at the news conference.
“Our country’s overreliance on incarceration fails to make us safer or to restore people and communities who have been harmed,” Ackerman noted.
The United States has only five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population, Ackerman said. Nearly 2.2 million people are behind bars, and 2.7 million children have a parent who is in prison, he told reporters. About 65 million people have a criminal conviction.
“I think most of us in American life can agree – our criminal justice system doesn’t work the way it is supposed to,” ERLC President Russell Moore said at the news conference. “We should fix it, and as evangelical Christians, we should be among the first to say so.”
In addition to Moore, other Southern Baptist leaders among the nearly 100 original signers are James Merritt, Atlanta-area pastor and former SBC president; Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University; Trillia Newbell, the ERLC’s director of community outreach; college presidents; and seminary and college professors.
C. Ben Mitchell, provost and professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., served as the project writer for the declaration and white paper.
In addition to the ERLC and Prison Fellowship, the other partners in the initiative are the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
A new Barna public opinion survey commissioned by Prison Fellowship showed 87 percent of Americans – and an even higher rate of practicing Christians – agree the main goal of the justice system should be restoration for the victim, the community and the person who commits the crime. Yet, the poll also showed 53 percent of practicing Christians affirmed this statement: “It’s important to make an example out of someone for certain crimes, even if it means giving them a more severe punishment than their crime deserves.”
Too many Christians fail to recognize “disproportionate punishment” is inconsistent with the church’s values, Ackerman told reporters.
Moore said at the news conference, “Our criminal justice system does not exist to vent. Our criminal justice system exists in order to restrain evil and in order to rehabilitate and to reform those who have committed crimes.”
NAE President Leith Anderson said, “The time has come to fix our criminal justice system. And the reason is there is too much injustice in America’s criminal justice system.”
Anderson cited prison overcrowding and racial inequities in the prison population among evidences of the problem.
Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., said the declaration has struck an “important nerve” regarding race relations.
“In this hour of racial tension, the most important step of healing that we could take at this point is to deal with the fact that there is an increasing, permanent underclass that is coming out of black and Hispanic people being incarcerated and their lives being, in a sense, marked off” the list of achievers in the society, he told reporters. “I believe this is the most important civil rights step that we will take in our lifetimes.”
Among its calls, the declaration urges Christians to:

  • Seek to prevent crime by nourishing “seedbeds of virtue,” including families, churches and other sources of “moral formation;”

  • Minister to survivors of crimes and assure their protection;

  • Support “proportional punishment,” including “alternatives to incarceration, that protects public safety, fosters accountability and provides opportunities to make amends;”

  • Welcome back into churches and communities those who “have paid their debt to society” and provide opportunities for them to achieve their potential.

The white paper – “Responding to Crime and Incarceration: A Call to the Church” – addresses the causes of “over-criminalization” and offers faith-based solutions.
At the 2013 SBC meeting, messengers approved a resolution expressing “support of legislative policies that seek to reduce high incarceration rates without jeopardizing public safety” and affirmed that “probation and parole may serve as a wise, just, and effective alternative to prolonged incarceration for certain nonviolent offenders.”
The resolution urged federal, state and local criminal justice agencies to “increase cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention and other like-minded organizations who seek to reach offenders with the life-transformational gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The ERLC endorsed in 2015 a bill designed to reduce the prison population and increase public safety by calling for the Department of Justice to expand programs to reduce recidivism – which is the relapse into criminal activity by ex-prisoners that results in re-arrest, reconviction or re-imprisonment typically within three years after their release – by partnering with faith-based and other non-profit organizations.
The sponsors of the Justice Declaration have invited Christians to endorse the document at justicedeclaration.org.

6/23/2017 11:37:03 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Prayer, evangelism highlight SBC 2017 recap video

June 23 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Prayer and soul-winning evangelism are highlighted in a brief video recapping the spiritual emphases of the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
Impassioned pleas with outstretched hands and heads bowed before God, high praise, brief interviews and video captions of Southern Baptist leaders and members comprise the video capturing the June 13-14 meeting and its preliminary events in Phoenix and surrounding suburbs.
The SBC’s growing diversity in leadership is captured in African American and Hispanic pastors and officers.
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines includes the video, produced by the communications team at Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., at Bellevue.org.
“We need to embrace all the methods we can to bring the best minds together to try to do what we can do to improve in the area of personal soul winning and preaching evangelistically,” Gaines said in the video. “Jesus Christ is all about salvation; we must minister to others.”
Former SBC President Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., exhorts Christians to have a burden for the salvation of the lost.
“You can never win people to the Lord, unless somehow you develop deep down in your heart, a genuine real life burden and compassion that they come to know the Lord,” Hunt said in a soundbite from his June 13 afternoon sermon in the meeting hall.
Southern Baptist Chaplain Doug Carver emphasizes the importance of prayer.
“We have a rapidly changing culture and society, and for such a time as this, we as believers in Christ Jesus and as Southern Baptists, need to be about the business of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth,” said Carver, executive director of chaplaincy at the North American Mission Board. “There are so many hungry and hurting people wanting to hear the Good News of Jesus, and this is our time.”
The two-and-a-half-minute video, shown below, is also available for viewing and download at sbc.net through mid-July, or at sbcannualmeeting.net.

2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting Highlights from TalkCP on Vimeo.

6/23/2017 11:31:50 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

B21 panel calls for unity amid differences

June 23 2017 by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS

Christian unity should transcend differences on Calvinism, politics and race for the advancement of the gospel, panelists told more than 800 attendees June 13 at the ninth annual Baptist21 luncheon during the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) meeting in Phoenix.
“Our world is going straight to hell and we need to be one in telling people about Jesus and not letting these secondary things divide us,” said SBC President Steve Gaines, senior pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Photo by Matt Miller
A panel discusses pressing issues in the Southern Baptist Convention, church and evangelicalism at a Baptist21 lunch June 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center between the morning and afternoon sessions of the SBC annual meeting. Panelists included SBC President Steve Gaines, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Daniel Akin, Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Matt Chandler, Kevin Smith and Jedidiah Coppenger.

Responding to moderator Jedidiah Coppenger on the debate over Calvinism in the denomination, Gaines said Baptists should focus on soul-winning evangelism regardless of their doctrinal convictions on the matter. He said Baptists are better evangelizing together rather than fighting over secondary doctrines. Gaines also encouraged Calvinist-leaning pastors to allow unbelievers to respond during evangelistic presentations and church services because confessing the name of Jesus is necessary to be saved.
“The main thing we can do to go forward is to focus on winning people to Jesus Christ,” Gaines said. “If you’re a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist you don’t know who’s lost and who’s saved. I would just say if you’re going to be a Calvinist be a Spurgeon Calvinist, and let’s go out and tell people about Jesus Christ. The bottom line is this: we’re supposed to ask people to repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Politics an ‘unnecessary division’

Reflecting on the 2016 presidential election, panelists said believers have followed the culture by placing too much emphasis on politics at the expense of Christian fellowship. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the social media age allows people to shape their identities around political affiliations. Southern Baptists must respond by clearly defining the gospel and calling people to Christian community that rises above partisan divisions.
“A lot of our neighbors who don’t believe what we believe assume Christianity is really just a political agenda and Jesus is an ornament on top of that,” Moore said. “One of the great gifts that we can give to America right now as we proclaim the gospel is to say, ‘His kingdom is not of this world,’ which means that politics really isn’t the most important thing about your life.”
Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said white Southern Baptists should be aware of how their political engagement affects minorities in the SBC. He said shifting political moods shouldn’t interfere with “John 17 unity,” which is the means for the Spirit’s work in revival and renewal.
“There’s nothing about Caesar or politics or social or economic issues that is worth me jeopardizing my fellowship with the most distant Southern Baptist brother that I barely know,” Smith said.
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Denton, Texas, said pastors don’t need to be experts on political issues and shouldn’t let their opinions interfere with ministry.
“I think politics is really important, but I think the gospel is more important,” Greear said. “I might be wrong about the helpfulness or unhelpfulness of universal healthcare, but I am not wrong about the gospel. And I refuse to let my public opinions on the former keep people from hearing me on the latter because ... I am not tying the authority of our pulpit to something that the Bible does not draw a direct line between.”
Chandler, who is also president of the Acts 29 church planting network, said pastors often feel pressured to understand complex political issues but should focus on preaching the gospel and use the ERLC as a resource.

Racial unity requires ‘intentionality’

Diversifying SBC congregations and denominational life requires intentionality in relationships and hiring practices before experiencing true integration, panelists said in response to Coppenger’s question about racial reconciliation.
Greear and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin said the SBC will only improve on race relations when they intentionally hire ethnic minorities and allow them to lead at the local and national levels. But Greear cautioned attendees against thinking the process in the local church is easy, and said “we don’t want to host multicultural events, we want to live multicultural lives.”
Smith, who has pastored both majority black and multiethnic congregations, said churches need to reach across socioeconomic barriers, which adds another layer to racial division. He urged white leaders to be vocal in expressing their concern for racial reconciliation, and that “silent friends discourage fellowship” in times of adversity.
“In a culture that obviously has a history of racism it is hurtful to fellowship when we see few brothers that are willing to pay the cost of friendship,” Smith said, commending leaders like ERLC’s Moore who he said spent social capital on advocating for minorities.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed to the growth of ethnic minority-led congregations in the denomination as a sign of hope and progress, and attributed the SBC’s primary diversity problem to the denomination’s history. Mohler recently contributed a chapter to the new B&H Academic title, “Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Mohler said the need to listen to minorities in the SBC to bring about further reconciliation “humbles me more than anything else.”
“Our legacy goes back to 1845 in terms of the greatest obstacle we face is with what historically is the largest minority group in the United States, African-Americans. This is the great burden we carry, it’s the great scandal and stain we can never remove,” Mohler said, referring to the SBC’s founding as a split from Northern Baptists over the issue of slavery.
“We are even now the most racially, ethnically, linguistically diverse denomination in the United States, and far more diverse than the liberal denominations that are given to an ideology of diversity rather than a theology of diversity,” he said. “But that can’t earn us any space to escape the great problem we have.”

Unity ahead of Dallas 2018

During the panel, Gaines and Greear recounted the SBC presidential election of 2016, when Greear conceded to Gaines prior to a third runoff vote. Both said they were ready to concede but Akin’s counsel led Greear to persist that Gaines should accept the presidency.
“Both of us came into that with an attitude of ‘Let’s wash each other’s feet and let’s think about what’s best for the convention,’” Greear said. “Brothers and sisters, we have a gospel that is too beautiful and a mission that is too urgent to let anything really step in the way.”
Akin corroborated the account and said he had never seen such “authentic humility” in how Gaines and Greear handled the situation. Akin said he would “love to see” Gaines nominate Greear for SBC president in Dallas for the 2018 annual meeting, a possibility he said Gaines mentioned during their meeting in 2016.
Gaines confirmed Akin’s account of the discussion, but declined to comment further because he had not spoken to Greear about the nomination since last summer, the Biblical Recorder reported June 21.
Most importantly, Akin noted, Gaines and Greer modeled unity for the SBC despite differences.
“They modeled for our people how we can come together generationally and theologically and move forward in what God has called us to do and that is to get the gospel to every tribe, tongue, people and nation,” Akin said. “What unites us is so much bigger than these small things where we have differences.”
Video of the B21 panel will be available soon on baptist21.com. B21 focuses on addressing issues relevant to Southern Baptists in the 21st century.

6/23/2017 11:04:24 AM by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS | with 0 comments

SBCAL group to study DOM title change, efficiency

June 23 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A 12-member study group is expected to recommend in 2018 a new title, credentialing process and expectations of effectiveness for Southern Baptist directors of missions (DOMs).
The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL) appointed the group at its conference held June 11-12 in advance of the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Phoenix. The team is charged with submitting a report at the SBCAL 2018 meeting in Dallas.

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Robby Gallaty, second from left, pastor of Longhollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., speaks with associational leaders before he addresses the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders during the first day of the group’s two-day meeting June 11 in Phoenix.

The changes are needed as the SBCAL works to better serve missional leadership needs across the SBC, SBCAL Executive Director Ray Gentry told Baptist Press.
“We feel like it’s time for a new name for the new century and the new demands upon us and the new opportunities before us,” Gentry said. “In addition, a profile of associational effectiveness with competencies ... is even a bigger enchilada than the title.
“There really is no commonly accepted job description for a DOM,” he said, “and so we want to come up with a profile with competencies for search committees and for purposes of coaching and helping new DOMs. We feel like that’s going to be very, very important and very helpful to raise the credibility, and the profile and the effectiveness of DOMs.”
The SBCAL has never had a process of credentialing for DOMs, Gentry said, pointing out the common practice of business associations in particular to have credentialing processes. A cross-section of respected Southern Baptist leaders named to the study team is intended to encourage widespread use and approval of any recommendations the SBCAL adopts from the study group, Gentry said.
“We have a cross-section to help us to really be attentive to all of the different demands and priorities that need to be addressed in 2017 and in the coming days,” Gentry said. “Whenever this team reports, we wanted them to have the respect of whoever in Southern Baptist life will read the report. If we don’t have buy-in from megachurch pastors, from state conventions and SBC entity heads, then it will be for naught.”
Rick Wheeler, the lead missional strategist from the Jacksonville Baptist Association of the Florida Baptist Convention, will lead the team on which Gentry will also serve.
Joining them are members Mike Carlisle, executive director, San Diego (Calif.) Southern Baptist Association; Paul Chitwood, executive director, Kentucky Baptist Convention; Josh Ellis, associate director, Union Baptist Association, Houston; Dale Fisher, executive director, Caldwell Baptist Association, Lenoir, N.C.; Steve Holt, state DOM, Tennessee Baptist Association; Jason Lowe, DOM, Pike Association of Southern Baptists, Pikeville, Ky.; Mark Millman, church planter strategist/DOM, Southern Wisconsin Baptist Association; Roger “Sing” Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations, SBC Executive Committee, Nashville; Ted Traylor, senior pastor, Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla.; and Port Wilburn, executive DOM, San Francisco (Calif.) Peninsula Baptist Association.

Other business

In other business during the meeting at the Westin Phoenix Downtown hotel, the SBCAL amended its constitution to allow non-Southern Baptist but like-minded missional leaders to join as non-voting members, approved a 2017-2018 budget of $62,000, appointed regional leadership team coordinators, and approved a 2017-2018 executive team of officers, and denominational and associational members.
In addition to Gentry, officers are chairman Tim Pruitt, associational missionary, Gila Valley Baptist Association, Arizona Southern Baptist Convention; vice chairman David Stokes, DOM, Central Kentucky Network of Baptists, Kentucky Baptist Convention; recording secretary Philip Price, executive director, Jackson County Baptist Association, Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, and nominating chairman Preston Collins, executive DOM, Union Baptist Association, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
Newly appointed associational members are Mitch Martin, executive DOM, Mid-South Baptist Association, Memphis, Tenn.; Sean McMahon, executive director, Florida Baptist Association, Tallahassee, Fla.; Robby Smith, DOM, Catawba River Baptist Association, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and Mark Snowden, director of missional leadership, Cincinnati (Ohio) Area Baptist Association. They join returning associational members Ronny Carroll, Bob Dean, Mike Pennington, Pruitt, Stokes, Deryl Lackey, Vince Smith and Terry Stockman.
Denominational members are Steve Bass, representing the North American Mission Board; Kristy Carr, Woman’s Missionary Union; Mark Dance, LifeWay Christian Resources; Tim Head, GuideStone; Oldham, SBC Executive Committee, and Terry Sharp, International Mission Board.
Regional leadership team coordinators, designed to correlate with NAMB’s ministry regions in the U.S., are Keith Lawrence, Northeast, DOM, Maine Baptist Association; Millman, Midwest; Bobby Braswell, Southeast, associational missionary, Middle Baptist Association, Georgia Baptist Mission Board; Charles Cruce, Southwest, DOM/treasurer, Tulsa (Okla.) Metro Baptist Network; and Lackey, West, DOM, Inland Empire Baptist Association, Ontario, Calif.

Spiritual enrichment

Worship, roundtable discussions, workshops, a banquet, a ministry fair and networking rounded out the two-day event.
Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist church in Hendersonville, Tenn., preached the June 11 morning sermon. Former SBC president Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., was the banquet speaker.
Gallaty’s message from Matthew 28:19-20 urged the group to help churches in their associations be more focused on discipleship than any other function of church life. “Could it be,” Gallaty said, speaking about the steady decline of the Southern Baptist Convention, “that for many years we have taught people to share their faith, but not to share their life?”
At the banquet, Hunt spoke from the book of Titus, saying the letter is all about leadership. Hunt said research shows there are around 400 leaders whose stories are told in the Bible. Of that 400, only 80 “finished well,” he said. He listed as common markers of success humility, intimacy with God, obedience, faith and an ability to receive counsel.

6/23/2017 10:59:09 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

9Marks panels discuss church, SBC

June 23 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press & Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

Pastors and entity leaders discussed church unity in a divisive age and the statistical decline of the denomination during two 9Marks conversations held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Phoenix.
9Marks, a church health ministry based in Washington, D.C., sponsored the late-evening panel discussions in partnership with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission June 12 and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary June 13.
In the June 12 session, 9Marks and ERLC leaders provided guidance on addressing differences within churches and the culture regarding secondary issues.

Photo by Jeremy Scott
Mark Dever, left, leads a panel discussion for 9Marks after the evening session of the June 13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center. Panelists included (left to right): R. Albert Mohler Jr., H.B. Charles, and Daniel Akin.

Mark Dever warned pastors that Satan “is going to continue to put increasing pressure on our churches to fall out with each other over different answers to debatable questions.” Dever – the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington and president of 9Marks – distinguished such essentials as the deity of Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture from “debatable” issues.
“[W]e just need to understand Satan is going to exploit these new conversations to cause people to feel very confident and self-righteous on one side or the other in what are debatable matters,” he told the audience. “And it’s a different thing debating the rightness or wrongness of their position and whether or not the whole church has to affirm that position. “
Dever urged pastors “to be vigilant watchers over that freedom and liberty of Christians in your local church to disagree with each other calmly and kindly and with respect.”
Looking back at what was a “very difficult election” for his church, Dever said one of the things he learned in 2016 is “as confused as I may be over some things, I know we are to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. And that means I need to listen and inculcate listening and be empathetic to people who are disagreeing with me on important but secondary issues. And I need to teach the people how to not divide over those issues, and that’s very delicate, difficult work, but it’s work that I think as a pastor it’s good work for me to do.”
ERLC President Russell Moore expressed his concern about the way “politics has become a religion in American society.”
Americans are seeking to identify with “my people,” he said. “And that means my people are right, and the other people are completely wrong and are to be opposed with the sort of zeal that comes with a heresy trial and the sort of longing for community that God has given to us for a church and for a kingdom.”
In this climate, Moore said, “one of the most counter-cultural things the church has to give to the rest of the world is to say, ‘Politics isn’t as important as you think it is. Your motives, your conscience, your integrity, those things are more important than you think they are.’”
Dever and Moore, along with ERLC Executive Vice President Phillip Bethancourt, also responded to a series of questions posed by moderator Jonathan Leeman, 9Marks editorial director, on hypothetical cases of church discipline and membership, as well as such issues as transgenderism and pornography.
On June 13, Dever moderated a panel that assessed the state of the SBC and commented on the deliberations during the annual meeting regarding a resolution on “alt-right white supremacy.” Panel members were Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin; Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.; H.B. Charles, newly elected president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference and pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; and Leeman.
Multiple issues have come into play in the decline in baptisms and church membership in the SBC, Mohler said.
“It’s not just [one thing],” he told the audience. “It’s everything.”
Mohler noted the change in how Christianity is viewed in the United States.
“We should expect it’s going to get harder and people aren’t going to be joining our churches in order to be cool, because by joining our churches they’re going to be looked at as uncool,” Mohler said. “That’s going to change the statistics.”
The session came immediately after messengers approved a motion to permit the Resolutions Committee to return the next day with a resolution on “alt-right white supremacy,” even though its report was completed earlier June 13. The committee’s request came after some messengers sought to bring such a proposal to the floor and the failure to do so earlier had generated criticism on social media. The messengers approved in a nearly unanimous vote June 14 the resolution denouncing “alt-right white supremacy.”
Dever asked Charles how the issue affected him and other African American Christians.
“How these moments are interpreted make big statements,” said Charles, who said he would be in a position to have conversations surrounding this topic when he returned home.
Akin said fellow Christians are to humble themselves and seek forgiveness.
“We don’t have any problem humbling ourselves, acknowledging that we made a mistake, asking forgiveness and trying to move forward and do the right thing,” Akin said.
Mohler saw God’s provision in the situation and was thankful the SBC still had time to make a clear statement on the issue.
“Thank goodness the Resolutions Committee brought its report on Tuesday and not Wednesday at 2:45, which would be no case to recover,” Mohler said.
The underlying motive for doing the right thing is not because of publicity but conscience, Akin said.
“We don’t do the right thing because of the media,” he noted. “We do the right thing because it’s the right thing.”
Akin pointed to the importance of staying for the full length of the convention to vote on important matters such as the “alt-right” resolution.
“I would say to all of us coming to the convention: Be there when it begins; stay until it ends,” Akin said, “because you never know that something like what took place tonight will arise and your presence and your vote is desperately needed.”

6/23/2017 10:51:44 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press & Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 0 comments

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