June 2018

Vacation Bible School: What stirs churches to do it?

July 27 2018 by Melita Thomas, LifeWay Christian Resources

Vacation Bible School (VBS) is synonymous with summer in many churches – perhaps because it’s been around in one form or another since 1898.

LifeWay photo
Vacation Bible School can be fun for kids and adults, but most importantly, it has the opportunity to impact lives for eternity.

Under its current moniker among Southern Baptists, VBS has been an evangelistic strategy since the 1920s. In kid’s ministry – which is often marked by trendy short-lived fads – VBS is a proven program with real staying power.
Here are three reasons churches turn to VBS year after year.

VBS is an effective evangelism strategy

Based on Annual Church Profile (ACP) data, VBS is used by more than 25,000 Southern Baptist churches each year to reach more than 2.5 million people. Last year, these SBC churches reported more than 70,000 professions of faith as a direct result of VBS. Talk about impact!
If VBS were to suddenly disappear from these churches, what evangelistic strategy would take its place? VBS isn’t just about games, crafts and snacks. Its primary purpose is leading people to experience the life-transforming power of the Gospel.

God calls people to vocational ministry through VBS

Many pastors, staff members and missionaries cite a VBS experience as the first time they personally felt God’s call to vocational ministry. In this sense, VBS can become a training ground for the next generation of church leaders.
Additionally, the missions component of VBS exposes children to the work of missionaries serving around the world. As kids learn about, pray for and participate in missions, God just might be preparing them to one day say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me!”

VBS gives churches more time with kids and parents

A traditional VBS structure involves three hours of church engagement a day for five days in a row. That type of interaction provides opportunities for evangelism, discipleship and relationship-building that could otherwise take months to accomplish based on typical church attendance patterns.
And when follow-up is made a priority, the relationships don’t end once VBS is over. VBS is the perfect opportunity for a church to connect with children and families who might not otherwise attend.
VBS is a fun and non-threatening way for kids to get exposure to the church. VBS gives kids an opportunity to develop a sense of ownership (my room, my teacher, my friends) that makes them want to return. Hosting a VBS celebration or family night at the end of VBS also allows parents within the church to make connections with parents outside the church.
Although VBS is flexible, dependable and fun, most importantly it has the opportunity to impact lives for eternity as kids, teens and adults come to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. That alone makes VBS worth it!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Melita Thomas is VBS ministry specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/27/2018 12:47:17 PM by Melita Thomas, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Kennedy’s departure opens 2nd seat for Trump to fill

June 29 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement effective July 31, ending 30 years of service that began with his 1988 confirmation in the Ronald Reagan administration.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement effective July 31. The Reagan appointee's seat will be the second filled by President Donald Trump.

Kennedy’s resignation opens a second seat for President Donald Trump to fill. In 2017, Congress amended rules to allow confirmation of justices by a simple majority vote, enabling the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore noted the gravity of the upcoming appointment.
“This vacancy on our nation’s highest court is a critical one,” Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press. “As Justice Anthony Kennedy leaves the bench, he leaves what I see to be a mixed legacy. On the one hand, he was an important voice on high-profile cases involving religious liberty and free speech. But at the same time, he persistently denied justice to unborn children and authored the disastrous Obergefell decision.
“I’m praying that the next associate justice will be fully committed to life, family, religious liberty, and human dignity,” Moore said.
Trump announced he would nominate a replacement from a standing list of 25 possibilities, presumably the list he published in November 2017.
Kennedy, the court’s longest serving member, was considered a moderate voice. He supported same-sex marriage on one hand while protecting religious liberties on the other.
“It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy said in a statement at the close of the court’s term, indicating a desire to spend more time with his family. Kennedy turns 82 in July and was the oldest justice behind 85-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Jerry Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters, joined many in noting the importance of Kennedy’s replacement.
“This week’s 5-4 decisions are a vivid reminder that we must have Supreme Court justices who honor the values of life and liberty at the very core of our Republic,” Johnson said in a press release. “Free speech and religious liberty hang in the balance, and those values would have suffered dearly if Justice Gorsuch had not been on the bench. I urge President Trump to nominate a Constitution-honoring individual in the mold of Justice Scalia once again, and for the Senate to confirm him or her quickly.”
Michael Farris, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, expressed appreciation for Kennedy’s service while noting his varying opinions.
“He deeply disappointed many Americans with his constitutional jurisprudence favoring abortion and same-sex marriage,” Farris said in a statement shortly after Kennedy’s announcement. “But we also praise Justice Kennedy’s insight and forceful celebration of First Amendment freedoms, his sensitivity to the danger of authoritarian government, and his refreshing desire to preserve and teach the necessity of freedom of speech to future generations.”
During the most recent Supreme Court term, Kennedy wrote the majority 7-2 opinion in favor of Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips, who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/29/2018 9:51:02 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Insider Movements’ in Muslim missions critiqued

June 29 2018 by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS

A new book edited by two Islamic studies seminary professors explores the weaknesses of the popular “Insider Movements” in Muslim missiology.

“Muslim Conversions to Christ: A Critique of Insider Movements in Islamic Contexts,” which released last week, is a multi-author academic response to “Insider Movements,” a missiological approach that argues Muslims can confess Jesus as Lord and remain Muslim, according to Islamic studies professor Ayman S. Ibrahim, an editor of the book. He is Bill and Connie Jenkins Professor of Islamic Studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). Ant Greenham, an associate professor of missions and Islamic studies, is a co-editor of the book.
In contrast to Insider Movements, which often argues that missionaries shouldn’t push Muslims to openly confess Christianity, the book argues that Christianity and Islam are mutually exclusive religions.
“What Insider Movements’ proponents do with Scripture – specifically by overlooking it – is more problematic than what they say about it,” Ibrahim said in an interview. “Insider Movements proponents allow experiences to dictate theological understanding, elevating them to become prescriptive instead of descriptive.”
Two of the main proponents of Insider Movements, Harley Talman and Kevin Higgins, are both American missiologists and contribute two chapters to Muslim Conversions to Christ – one exploring how the Insider converts view the Quran and use it after their conversion to Christianity and another defending the Insider Movements ideology from the text of the New Testament. The rest of the book – written by international scholars and practitioners – is a series of responses to Insider Movements arguments, as represented by Talman and Higgins’s basic claims.
Ibrahim first began seriously studying the Insider Movements phenomenon in 2015 after hearing from a concerned Christian friend who had been reading some the movement’s literature. As Ibrahim explored the movement, he noted it suffers from a limited, Western perspective and features no voices from people living in Muslim contexts.
Although the arguments voiced by proponents of Insider Movements are varied, they ultimately have five main features, according to Ibrahim:

  • Muhammed is a prophet in a biblical sense;
  • Muslims can be born-again Christians without denying their identity as Muslims;
  • The Quran is still useful as Scripture;
  • Biblical language that is problematic in an Islamic context should be altered;
  • The true Christian church is invisible and need not be physically distinct from a mosque or some other Muslim community.

Not all Insider Movements proponents would affirm each of these, Ibrahim noted, but affirming any one of them still compromises biblical and theological orthodoxy and has a deleterious effect on the mission of the gospel, he said in an interview.
“We cannot view Insider Movements as a monolithic entity,” Ibrahim said. “The proponents are different from each other and treat things differently. One scholar may say that Muhammad was a prophet in a biblical sense, but another scholar may disagree. This book is intended to interact with those arguments and demonstrate how dangerous these arguments are for the sake of the gospel.”
The book is divided into three parts. First, Brent Neely writes a long essay on the person of Muhammad, critiquing what he calls “revisionist” interpretations of the founder of Islam. Neely, who is working toward a doctorate from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., ministers to refugees in Europe and served with his wife in the Middle East for nearly 20 years.
Part two features 15 lengthy essays from academics addressing a broad range of biblical, theological, historical and missiological issues relating to Insider Movements.
In part three, a wide variety of contributors – including missionaries and practitioners – write 16 short articles from the perspective of people serving on the field in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Many of the contributors are Christian believers from Muslim backgrounds, Muslim scholars or missiologists living in the Middle East. The book features the writing and research of Christian scholars from all six continents, representing not only ethnic diversity but also a great deal of personal and academic experience interacting with Muslims. This experience, Ibrahim said, is crucial to their evaluation of Insider Movements.
“Muslims are coming to Christ in millions. The Insider Movements’ approach to Islam – claiming the prophethood of Muhammad and the validity of the Quran for converts – hardly constitutes the only Christian option,” Ibrahim said. “Instead of relying on western arguments, as Insider Movements’ proponents do, we brought in one volume the voices of Christians from Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, including believers from a Muslim background. All strongly warn against the claims of Insiders.”
The new book, available on Peter Lang Inc. or Amazon for $114.95, also features an essay by Ibrahim and an introduction by SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr., along with contributions from Southern Seminary professors Timothy K. Beougher and George H. Martin.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/29/2018 9:46:44 AM by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS | with 1 comments

Debate begins on next high court nominee

June 29 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The retirement announcement of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy quickly ushered in guessing games on whom President Donald Trump would next nominate to the Supreme Court and how long Roe v. Wade and other rulings would survive.
Kennedy, long the high court’s swing vote on controversial decisions, told Trump in a letter June 27 after the final opinions of the term were announced that his retirement as an associate justice would take effect July 31. He served 30 years on the court after his nomination by President Reagan and his Senate confirmation.
Trump commended Kennedy for his service and said a search for the next justice “will begin immediately.” His nominee will come from a list of 25 names the White House released last November, he told reporters June 27.
The Senate will vote to confirm the nominee this fall, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said from the floor June 28. Democrats and liberal advocacy organizations have already signaled they will fight any nominee from Trump’s list.
While defenders of abortion rights and other causes predicted doom will ensue if another Trump nominee like Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, some evangelical and conservative leaders expressed hope for a type of justice who might be forthcoming without predicting who it would be.
“The present vacancy comes at a critical moment, as Christians increasingly find themselves having to defend the most basic of American freedoms in courts of law,” said Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“President Trump has an opportunity to nominate a jurist who sees his or her job as an opportunity to interpret the Constitution as it is, not as one wants it to be,” Walker told Baptist Press in written comments. “Our country needs a judge on the Supreme Court, not someone who discovers illusory rights in it.”
Michael Farris, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written statement his organization looks forward to a nominee “who will uphold the First Amendment and the original public meaning of the Constitution.”
Trump’s list – which has six women and three minorities among its 25 potential nominees – “includes the best and brightest of our federal and state judges,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel to the Judicial Crisis Network, in a post for National Review. “They all have judicial records of listening to the arguments of both sides in the courtroom, delivering well-reasoned decisions, and fairly applying the law with a scrupulous adherence to the Constitution.”
Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center and a close observer of the nomination process, predicted Trump would name a nominee before the end of July. A Senate confirmation vote could take place by mid-September so a new justice would be on the court when it opens its next term Oct. 1, Whelan wrote at National Review.
The Senate – which changed its rules before approval of Gorsuch in 2017 – requires only a majority vote to confirm a nominee to the Supreme Court. Republicans hold a 51-49 majority, with Vice President Mike Pence the tie-breaking vote if needed. Without any Democratic votes, they could confirm the nominee as long as they lose no more than one of their own party members.
ERLC President Russell Moore and Farris both acknowledged Kennedy’s legacy is a mixed one. He provided important votes and sometimes opinions in defense of freedom of religion and speech, but he also offered critical support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
Advocates for abortion rights especially expressed despair about another nomination from Trump and confirmation by the Senate.
“Abortion will be illegal in twenty states in 18 months,” tweeted CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin shortly after Kennedy’s retirement was announced.
Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the retirement was “devastating news.”
“The stakes of the coming nomination fight are extraordinary,” she said in a written statement. “The future of reproductive rights is on the line.”
Confirmation of a fifth conservative to the high court does not assure reversal of the 1973 Roe decision that legalized abortion throughout the country. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is the only current member of the Supreme Court who has called for overturning Roe in a written opinion. The other conservatives are Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Gorsuch.
If Roe is reversed, abortion would not be outlawed nationally. The question of abortion’s legality would return to the states, which had jurisdiction before the high court invalidated all abortion restrictions in its 1973 ruling.
In the case of a reversal, the right to abortion would be “at the highest risk of loss” in 23 states, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Abortion rights would appear to be secure in 19 states, the center reported earlier this year.
Trump’s list of possible nominees with their current places of service are:

  • Amy Coney Barrett, U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals;
  • Keith Blackwell, Georgia Supreme Court;
  • Charles Canady, Florida Supreme Court;
  • Steven Colloton, Eighth Circuit Court;
  • Allison Eid, 10th Circuit Court;
  • Britt Grant, Georgia Supreme Court;
  • Raymond Gruender, Eighth Circuit Court;
  • Thomas Hardiman, Third Circuit Court;
  • Brett Kavanaugh, District of Columbia Circuit Court;
  • Raymond Kethledge, Sixth Circuit Court;
  • Joan Larsen, Sixth Circuit Court;
  • Mike Lee, U.S. Senate from Utah;
  • Thomas Lee, Utah Supreme Court;
  • Edward Mansfield, Iowa Supreme Court;
  • Federico Moreno, U.S. District Court, Florida;
  • Kevin Newsom, 11th Circuit Court;
  • William Pryor, 11th Circuit Court;
  • Margaret Ryan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces;
  • David Stras, Eighth Circuit Court;
  • Diane Sykes, Seventh Circuit Court;
  • Amul Thapar, Sixth Circuit Court;
  • Timothy Tymkovich, 10th Circuit Court;
  • Robert Young, Michigan Supreme Court, retired;
  • Don Willett, Texas Supreme Court; and
  • Patrick Wyrick, Oklahoma Supreme Court.

 Women on the list are Barrett, Eid, Grant, Larsen, Ryan and Sykes. Minorities among the 25 names, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported, are Thapar, South Asian American; Moreno, Hispanic American; and Young, African American.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/29/2018 9:41:34 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Churches looking ‘more like their neighborhoods’

June 29 2018 by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends

More American churches are multiracial, but still less so than the neighborhoods surrounding them, a new study shows.
A Baylor University study, released June 20, found the percentage of multiracial congregations in the United States has nearly doubled.
From 1998 to 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, multiracial churches grew from 6 percent to 12 percent of all U.S. congregations, according to the report. Multiracial congregations are places of worship in which less than 80 percent of the congregants are of the same race or ethnicity.
About 1 in 5 American congregants attend a multiracial congregation, climbing to 18 percent in 2012 from 13 percent in 1998. Catholic churches are the most likely to be multiracial, with about 1 in 4. But Protestant churches are growing more so.
The percentage of multiracial Protestant churches tripled from 1998 to 2012 – 4 percent to 12 percent, the study showed.
This matches a LifeWay Research survey, released in March, that found a similar trend of more Protestant pastors saying their church is racially diverse.
“Churches are looking more like their neighborhoods racially and ethnically, but they still lag behind,” said Kevin Dougherty, associate professor of sociology at Baylor and lead author of the study.
“The average congregation was eight times less diverse racially than its neighborhood in 1998 and four times less diverse in 2012.”
Despite this gap, a 2015 LifeWay Research survey found 67 percent of Protestant churchgoers said their church is doing enough to be ethnically diverse and only 37 percent of white churchgoers said their church needs to become more ethnically diverse.
But monoethnic churches are declining. One-third of churches were composed entirely of one race in 2012. That’s down from nearly half of U.S. churches in 1998.
Minority leadership of multiracial churches has increased, but the majority are still led by white pastors. Seventy-percent of multiracial congregations have a white lead pastor, but those with a black minister have risen to 17 percent in 2012 from 5 percent in 1998.
Black Americans are now the most likely group to worship with whites. In the typical multiracial church in 1998, 22 percent of the members were Latinos and 16 percent were black. By 2012, black members rose to nearly a quarter, while Latinos fell to 13 percent.
The demographic reality is that America is becoming more diverse.
Less than 48 percent of public school students in 2018 will be white, according to projections from the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s down from nearly 55 percent in 2008.
Generation Z, those born since 1998, is the most ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history.
Baylor University is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/29/2018 9:36:53 AM by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

Court ruling to help Christian teachers, supporters say

June 29 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Christians and other teachers in public schools, as well as the school-choice movement, stand to benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision June 27 that public-sector unions may not require fees from nonmembers, supporters of the ruling say.
In a 5-4 opinion, the high court ruled against such mandates by government and public-sector unions and overturned a 41-year-old Supreme Court decision in the process. The justices decided such a requirement on workers who refuse to join the union is a violation of free-speech protections in the First Amendment.
“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees,” Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s opinion.
A union procedure that automatically deducts fees from a nonmember’s wages “violates the First Amendment and cannot continue,” he said. “Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
The ruling offers important implications for Christians and other teachers with faith convictions, according to the Christian Educators Association International (CEAI).
“For years many teachers, including me, have been legally required to financially support unions as a condition of their employment, knowing that their money was going to Planned Parenthood or similar causes – no more,” said David Schmus, CEAI’s executive director and a former California public school teacher, in a written statement.
Teachers’ unions are likely to lose both members and money as a result of the opinion, and their ability to oppose school-choice initiatives will probably decline, according to an analysis published by National Public Radio (NPR).
“The unions have long pushed back against any sort of school choice efforts, even charter schools,” Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation told NPR. “Unions are going to have fewer dollars to push back against long-overdue education reforms. They’ll have to make some tough decisions.”
The ruling is a huge victory for the “individual rights of teachers” and a loss for unions that want to “garnish their wages to fund activities they disagree with,” said Burke, director of Heritage’s Center for Education Policy.
Union leaders, meanwhile, sharply criticized the high court’s decision.
“Today’s radical decision by the Supreme Court is a blatant slap in the face for educators, nurses, firefighters, police officers and all public servants who make our communities strong and safe,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, which describes itself as the country’s “largest professional employee organization.”
In the majority opinion, Alito said a 1977 Supreme Court opinion – Abood v. Detroit Board of Education – that permitted public-sector unions to collect what are known as “agency fees” from nonmembers should no longer be followed. “Agency fees” are a portion of the union’s full dues that are to support activities related to collective-bargaining costs but not those for political or ideological enterprises, according to the court’s decision.
“[V]ery strong reasons” existed in the current case for overturning the high court’s precedent, he wrote. “Fundamental free speech rights are at stake. Abood was poorly reasoned. It has led to practical problems and abuse. It is inconsistent with other First Amendment cases and has been undermined by more recent decisions.”
In the case before the Supreme Court, the “agency fees” amounted to 78 percent of the full union dues, Alito wrote. With these fees, nonmembers were required to pay for such activities as “[l]obbying,” “advertising,” “litigation” and other “services,” he said.
“We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern,” Alito wrote in a 49-page opinion.
“It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment,” he said. “Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.”
Joining Alito in the court’s decision were Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. Kennedy announced his retirement in a letter to President Trump today, it was reported after release of the opinion.
Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent, saying there “are no special justifications for reversing Abood” and the ruling “will have large-scale consequences.”
“[Abood] has proved workable,” she wrote. “And it is deeply entrenched, in both the law and the real world. More than 20 States have statutory schemes built on [Abood].”
A federal judge and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago both deferred to the Abood precedent in dismissing the complaint against Illinois.
The Supreme Court appeared on the verge of overturning Abood in 2016 when a case out of California that involved CEAI and 10 California teachers reached the justices. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia passed away during the term, however, and the court deadlocked in a 4-4 decision, thereby affirming a lower-court opinion in favor of the California Teachers Association.
“Justice delayed was not justice denied for our teachers, who are now free to direct their hard-earned pay according to the dictates of conscience,” Schmus said.
The high court’s June 27 opinion came in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/29/2018 9:33:12 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Kelley: ‘Fuel the Fire’ to spark baptism conversation

June 28 2018 by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS

Baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have been in decline for 16 years. To change that, Chuck Kelley hopes to start a conversation.

“The Southern Baptist Convention is facing the greatest evangelism crisis in its history, with an unprecedented gap between the number of churches and the number of baptisms those churches record,” said Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS).
A new book by Kelley, Fuel the Fire: Lessons from the History of Southern Baptist Evangelism, published by B&H Academic, examines the causes behind the longest running decline in baptisms in SBC history and what can be done to reverse it.
“Southern Baptist churches are not reaching their communities with the gospel,” he said in an interview, “nor are they reaching the children of the congregation.”
Fuel the Fire is not filled with “data charts and footnotes,” Kelley notes in the introduction. Rather, it’s a book written for every Baptist that he hopes will stimulate research and start a conversation. The book is part of the Treasury of Baptist Theology series.
“The puzzle to be solved is the future, but perhaps some clues on how to solve that puzzle can be found in understanding our past,” Kelley writes.
The book maps out the history of Southern Baptist evangelism from a defining moment in 1904 when a Georgia pastor made a motion from the convention floor and sparked what Kelley calls “The Great SBC Evangelism War.” The motion called for direct denominational involvement in evangelism and revivalism and sparked a two-year debate over the role of the local church versus the role of the denomination.
“For many of the messengers, the real issue was a matter of Baptist polity ... for evangelism is ultimately the responsibility of the local church,” Kelley writes, adding that the question became, “Why should the denomination get involved in doing what every local church should be doing on its own?”
The “turning point of the debate” came when B.H. Carroll, prior to his role as founder and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed the 1906 convention on the role of evangelists.
Kelley recounts that Carroll told convention messengers, “Brethren, give me evangelists. Deny not fins to things that must swim against the tide, nor wings to things that must fly against the wind.”
Resolution came with the formation of the Evangelism Department within the Home Mission Board, bringing convention resources to the aid of churches for evangelism.
With the founding of the department that year, Kelley writes, the SBC drew from a unique four-point paradigm of preaching that called for commitments; personal evangelism and planned outreach; Sunday School and small group Bible study; and revivalism. The method, Kelley adds, was “the genius of Southern Baptist evangelism.”
“Through the years the SBC developed an evangelistic paradigm in its churches that produced explosive growth and made the SBC the largest Protestant denomination in America,” Kelley told Baptist Press. “Fuel the Fire describes that remarkable paradigm and why it was so successful for so long.”
Change came as mega-shifts disrupted the nation’s culture, Kelley writes, and waning discipleship brought a dip in evangelism. He discovered alarming evidence of decline when Bill Day, NOBTS distinguished professor of evangelism, showed him a chart of two decades of SBC statistics.
“Clearly the SBC is a convention in decline,” Kelley said. “Clearly the severity of the decline in baptisms is ... something we have never seen before.”
Rekindling the fires of evangelism, Kelley writes, will require a focus on prayer, setting goals for evangelism, and helping members share testimonies and explain the gospel.
Telling others about Christ is something every believer, every Baptist can do, Kelley insists, citing 2 Timothy 4:5 to show that now is the time.
“The bottom line is simple. Get started. Do something. Get engaged yourself in sharing the gospel with the lost in your community, and help others learn to share the gospel with them,” Kelley writes in his conclusion. “There will never be a better time than now.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is assistant director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/28/2018 9:24:33 AM by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS | with 0 comments

Greear confronts SBC challenges in NPR interview

June 28 2018 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President J.D. Greear addressed topics ranging from the #MeToo crisis to politics and evangelicals in a recent interview with NPR, one of his first since taking the role.

BP file photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear addressed topics ranging from the #MeToo movement to politics and evangelicals in a recent interview with NPR, one of his first since taking the role.

In a June 25 interview with Rachel Martin of NPR’s Morning Edition, Greear said that even though evangelical Christians may appear to have a “restless conscience right now,” that restlessness has the potential to usher in healthy self-evaluation and repentance.
“It’s broken my heart what’s happened with Dr. Patterson and just the way that that’s happened,” he said when asked about what some have referred to as Southern Baptists’ #MeToo movement. Paige Patterson, who was fired May 30 from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), has been the flashpoint of that movement in recent weeks for the alleged mishandling of reported sexual assault in the past and comments he’s made about physical abuse and women’s appearance.
But Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said he believes the open conversation in the convention “has helped raise awareness that sometimes there’s been hesitancy to listen to the victim when you should have listened to the victim.”
Abuse is illegal and should never be handled internally, Greear said. If nothing else, he said he is grateful the situation “has helped raise the awareness of the conversation” of what to do when someone comes forward and says he or she has been a victim of abuse – especially when the alleged abuser is “someone else you know and love and trust.”
“There are wise ways to handle this,” Greear said.
During the interview, Martin also asked the SBC president what he thought about some evangelical Christians choosing to shed the identity of “evangelical” because of all the political meaning “baked into” that title in recent years.
“That’s certainly understandable, they can do that, but that’s not the path I have chosen,” Greear said. “What we need is not a change in label, what we need is a change of heart, a change in values.”
Evangelicals can take the criticism of outsiders and let it drive them to “say, ‘hey, here are some inconsistencies and we need to repent,’” Greear said. “Thank God ... that God doesn’t accept us based on how perfectly we’ve lived, He accepts us based on His grace.”
That’s the central message of evangelical Christianity, he said – that those who follow Christ repent of their imperfections, rely on grace and invite others to join them.
Evangelical Christians have much they can unite around – biblical values like helping the poor or caring for the vulnerable, he said. But when it comes to what the government’s role is in those things, “there’s certainly room for disagreement among Christians.”
“I think one of the things that there’s some concern over is have evangelical Christians taken their central message – which is supposed to be the gospel of Jesus Christ – and have they encumbered that with too much specificity about political positions for which there really is room for people of faith to disagree,” Greear said.
A number of Southern Baptists took to social media to express their convictions about that blurred line between faith and political viewpoints after Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the SBC’s annual meeting June 13. The day before, Marshal Ausberry of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., had brought a motion asking that the convention stop inviting elected officials to speak at the annual meeting. SBC messengers referred the motion to the convention’s Executive Committee (EC) for consideration and a report to the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
After Pence’s speech, Greear addressed the issue in a tweet: “I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention – but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”
Though Pence told messengers about his own faith journey as part of his speech, Greear told NPR that Southern Baptists’ identity shouldn’t be intertwined with the Republican Party.
“There are certain things on the Republican platform that Republicans have championed that evangelical Christians have identified [with],” he said. “However, we need to decouple the identity of the church from particular political platforms about which there can be disagreement.”
Also on the topic of faith and politics intertwined, Martin asked Greear how he felt about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ use of Bible verses to defend the zero-tolerance policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Greear responded that though he is grateful to hear of people attempting to interact with scripture, just because the Bible is quoted, it doesn’t mean the person is “giving the full context of it or representing the full biblical message.”
“I mean, yes, the Bible does teach the submission to authority,” he said, but he noted that he has also “tried to be clear with this immigration question that we recognize that there is a certain charitable nature in passing laws and upholding them.”
Separating families “in the name of enforcing an immigration policy seems like much too harsh a punishment” for anyone caught breaking that law, he said.
For the full interview, go to npr.org/2018/06/25/623114791/j-d-greear-elected-president-of-southern-baptist-convention.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton is a writer based in Birmingham, Ala. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/28/2018 9:19:18 AM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

High court affirms pregnancy centers’ speech rights

June 28 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a key free-speech victory for pro-life pregnancy centers June 26 by a 5-4 vote.

The high court reversed a lower court decision regarding a California law that, in part, essentially requires pregnancy care centers to promote abortion services. The justices ruled the pregnancy centers that challenged the measure would likely succeed in their assertion it violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and returned the case to a federal court for reconsideration in light of their opinion.
The two-part law in question – California’s 2015 Reproductive FACT Act – requires licensed pregnancy centers to post a notice for or otherwise inform clients in writing of the state’s free or low-cost access to abortion and other family planning services. The law also mandates unlicensed centers to provide a notice they are not licensed medically and do not have a licensed medical professional.
Free-speech and pro-life advocates applauded the high court’s decision.
“The court affirmed the freedom of speech, freedom of expression that the state can’t force pro-life organizations to participate in abortion,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “That’s a good ruling. It’s good for all Americans, wherever we stand on a variety of issues.
“More importantly, though, this decision ought to remind us of the crucial work of pregnancy resource centers all around the country, advocating for unborn children and also for their mothers, providing to mothers the means to care for their children and to move forward toward flourishing in their lives and in their families,” Moore said in a written statement.
Michael Farris, president of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said the California government “used its power to force pro-life pregnancy centers to provide free advertising for abortion. The Supreme Court said that the government can’t do that, and that it must respect pro-life beliefs.
“No one should be forced by the government to express a message that violates their convictions, especially on deeply divisive subjects such as abortion,” Farris, who argued for the pregnancy centers before the justices in March, said in a written release.
The FACT Act is part of an ongoing effort by abortion-rights advocates and their lawmaking allies in states and cities to limit the impact of pro-life centers that provide free services to pregnant women. Many of these centers provide ultrasound scans that demonstrate the humanity of the unborn child and often help women decide to give birth. The centers’ services also include medical consultations, baby clothing and diapers, job training, mentoring programs and prenatal and parenting classes.
The law requires licensed pregnancy centers to post a notice for clients that says, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].”
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said the notice requirements for both licensed and unlicensed centers fell short constitutionally.
The licensed center mandate “is a content-based regulation of speech,” Thomas wrote. “By compelling individuals to speak a particular message, such notices ‘alte[r] the content of [their] speech,’” he noted in quoting a previous high court opinion.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco – in upholding a federal judge’s decision not to grant an injunction blocking enforcement of the law in 2016 – said the licensed notice restricts “professional speech,” a category Thomas said the high court has not recognized.
“Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by ‘professionals,’” he wrote. “States cannot choose the protection that speech receives under the First Amendment, as that would give them a powerful tool to impose ‘invidious discrimination of disfavored subjects,’” Thomas said in quoting another of the court’s prior rulings.
California “cannot co-opt the licensed facilities to deliver its message for it,” he wrote.
The requirement for unlicensed centers “is unjustified and unduly burdensome,” Thomas said.
“The unlicensed notice imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from California’s informational interest,” he wrote. “It requires covered facilities to post California’s precise notice, no matter what the facilities say on site or in their advertisements.”
Joining Thomas in the majority were the court’s three other conservatives – Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – and its swing vote, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.
In a brief, concurring opinion, Kennedy sharply criticized the law, describing its “apparent viewpoint discrimination” as “a matter of serious constitutional concern.”
“Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions,” Kennedy wrote. “Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties.”
Associate Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent for the court’s liberal members.
Both sections of the law “are likely constitutional,” Breyer wrote.
The FACT Act “does not, on its face, distinguish between facilities that favor pro-life and those that favor pro-choice points of view,” he stated. “Nor is there any convincing evidence before us or in the courts below that discrimination was the purpose or the effect of the statute.”
Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor signed on to Breyer’s dissent.
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) – a nationwide network of nearly 1,500 pregnancy care centers – and two pro-life centers challenged California’s law. Nearly 150 of the pregnancy centers to which NIFLA provides legal counsel, education and training are in California.
NIFLA President Thomas Glessner said his organization is “very pleased” with the ruling and “for what it means for the many pro-life centers that serve and empower women in California and throughout the country.”
“The right of free speech protected in the First Amendment not only includes the right to speak, but also the right to not be compelled by government to speak a message with which one disagrees and which violates one’s conscience,” Glessner said in a written statement. “The court correctly found that the California law clearly offends this principle.”
Leading abortion rights advocates – including NARAL Pro-choice America and Planned Parenthood – decried the opinion. Both described pro-life pregnancy centers as “fake women’s health centers.”
“Today, the Supreme Court turned its back on women and condoned the deceptive tactics used by fake women’s health centers,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a written statement.
Under the law, pro-life centers would face fines of as much as $1,000 a day for defiance of its requirements. Other states with pro-choice legislatures and governors could follow California’s example. Illinois and Hawaii already have enacted similar laws.
Local governments also have placed speech requirements on pro-life pregnancy centers, mandating they post signs, for instance, that say they do not provide abortions or contraceptives or make referrals for the services. Courts have invalidated all or most of such mandates in Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Montgomery County, Md.; and New York City.
In January, the ERLC joined in a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the pregnancy centers. The brief contended the California law unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of viewpoint.
The case is NIFLA v. Becerra.
(EDITOR’S NOTE –Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/28/2018 9:14:50 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Study shows troubling picture of teens, mental health

June 28 2018 by Helen Gibson, Facts & Trends

Mental health struggles and thoughts of suicide may be more common than church leaders realize – even among some of the youngest members of a congregation.

Around 1 in 3 high school students (31.5 percent) say they’ve experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey recently released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.
Additionally, 17.2 percent say they’ve seriously considered attempting suicide, while 13.6 percent say they’ve made a suicide plan, 7.4 percent have attempted suicide, and 2.4 percent were injured in a suicide attempt.
In the light of recent high-profile suicides and because it’s easy for mental health struggles to remain hidden, church leaders may want to take note of the CDC’s latest findings.

10 years, no improvement

The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which has been conducted every other year since 1991, asks students from public and private high schools about their sexual behavior, substance abuse, violence victimization, and mental health. The most recent report, released earlier this month, shows data collected from 2007 to 2017.
When it comes to issues of mental health and suicide, researchers have seen concerning trends persist or get worse over the past 10 years.
The percentage of students who say they’ve experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness has increased by 3 points since 2007.
The percentage of students who’ve seriously considered attempting suicide has increased by 2.7 points, while the percentage of those who’ve made a suicide plan has increased by 2.3 points.
Meanwhile, the prevalence of suicide among members of the general public has increased quite significantly. Suicide claimed the lives of just under 45,000 Americans in 2016 – over 10,000 more Americans than it did in 2007 – according to additional CDC research.
Among those ages 10 to 34 years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death, according to CDC data compiled by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Mental health, suicide, and the church

Still, in 2017, LifeWay researchers found that suicide remained a “taboo” topic in many Protestant churches.
The survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors and 1,000 Protestant and nondenominational churchgoers found that while many want their churches to be a place families and individuals dealing with suicide can turn, a disconnect still exists.
Eight in 10 pastors agreed their church is equipped to assist someone threatening suicide. However, only 3 in 10 strongly agreed, meaning more than 2 in 3 pastors acknowledged they could be better equipped to deal with suicide.
The survey also found mixed responses from church members when it comes to questions surrounding suicide.
Some churchgoers said they’d seen different kinds of support from their church following a suicide. But 55 percent said people in their community were more likely to gossip about a suicide than help a victim’s family.
Additionally, even fewer churchgoers said their church leaders publicly address suicide or provide resources to help those in the midst of a mental health crisis.
This includes:

  • 24 percent of churchgoers who say their church has shared a testimony in the past year of someone who has struggled with mental illness or thoughts of suicide.
  • 22 percent who say the church has used sermons in the past year to discuss issues that increase the risk of suicide.
  • 13 percent who say their church has taught what the church believes about suicide.
  • 14 percent who say the church trained leaders to identify suicide risk factors.
  • 13 percent who say their church shared reminders about national resources for suicide prevention.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Helen Gibson, GIBSON@HelenGibson, is a freelance writer in Cadiz, Ky. This article first appeared on LifeWay’s Facts&Trends website, factsandtrends.net.)

6/28/2018 9:06:28 AM by Helen Gibson, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

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