November 2013

‘My Hope’ reaches into U.S. homes

November 7 2013 by Elaine Helms, Baptist Press

CHARLOTTE – My Hope America with Billy Graham is in full swing as the evangelist turns 95 today (Nov. 7) and Christians across the U.S. plan to share his newest message to America with friends, family and neighbors.

“My Hope has been used in many countries and hundreds of thousands of people have received Christ as Savior,” Billy Graham said. “I’ve been praying that we might have a spiritual awakening. But I think that becomes possible as individuals surrender their lives fresh and anew to Christ. And that’s the hope that we have.”

My Hope America with Billy Graham is a grass-roots evangelistic effort of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, anchored by the already released 30-minute films “Lose to Gain,” “Defining Moments,” and its Spanish version “Momentos Decisivos,” and the upcoming “The Cross,” which Graham will release on his birthday. All feature relevant testimonies and a clear gospel message.
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The outreach is designed for Christians to host in their homes neighbors and friends who have not accepted Christ, view a My Hope film with them and offer salvation. The strategy was inspired by the biblical account of the Apostle Matthew, recorded in Matthew 9:9-13 and Luke 5:27-31. When Jesus called Matthew to follow Him, Matthew threw a party and invited people to his home to meet Jesus.

My Hope began in 2002 to take the gospel into homes around the world through mass media and personal relationships. Ten years and 57 countries later, the outreach is spreading across North America and culminating this week.

As with previous Billy Graham crusades, this project is built on prayer. For over a year, church leaders across the nation have been meeting, praying and preparing to engage their churches in the project.

Christians in more than 28,000 churches across the U.S. and Canada have created a list of their friends, family and neighbors who need to know Jesus. They began praying by name for these individuals and sought opportunities to build relationships with them before inviting them into their homes for the presentation this month.

Those only hearing about the event this fall may not have had as much pre-invitation prayer time, but they are quickly planning community or church-wide events to encourage individuals to invite their unsaved friends, neighbors and families to hear the gospel. Many are including a fellowship meal.

Prison ministries are also participating through materials designed specifically for Christian inmates to invite their peers to view one of the programs.

“I’m so glad you have included us, the prisons, in My Hope,” a prison chaplain from Georgia said. “Many times we’re overlooked. Thank you for including us. The men are hungry for God.”

Pray for a revival in prisons and jails across the U.S. as inmates are exposed to the clear gospel message of My Hope, Graham encourages.

High school and college students, including groups from Liberty University, Evangel University and Moody Bible Institute, are hosting large My Hope viewings. Some are even using class time to prepare students to host individual viewings.

Pray also for a revival to break out among young people as Christian students are praying together and seeking God, organizers encourage.

Ministries for the homeless, city missions and day shelters are taking advantage of the opportunity to show a My Hope America program as well.

Through nationwide broadcasts Nov. 7-10, and tens of thousands of DVDs and downloaded programs, My Hope is designed for the message of redemption in Christ to be shared through the holidays and beyond.

My Hope’s goal is for Christians to make prayer for and outreach to the world around them an everyday part of their lives.

To check local My Hope listings, order a DVD or watch the program online, visit MyHopeWithBillyGraham.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – After serving as the Southern Baptist Convention prayer coordinator at the North American Mission Board from 2000 to 2010, Elaine Helms is now the prayer coordinator for My Hope America with Billy Graham and the director of ChurchPrayerMinistries.org. She is the author of Prayer 101, What Every Intercessor Needs to Know.)
 

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11/7/2013 3:00:00 PM by Elaine Helms, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Layman’s sensitivity yields community’s Billy Graham event

November 7 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NOCATEE, Fla. – Sensing a divine command during a hospital stay, a layman’s responsiveness has yielded a community-wide event for the My Hope America with Billy Graham evangelistic outreach.

Frank Bernatt was hospitalized for heart tests when he felt God prompting him to reach his booming community for Christ in Nocatee, Fla.

Hundreds are expected to gather Friday (Nov. 8) at a drive-in theater type of set-up in Splash Water Park Field to view “Defining Moments,” one of several films offered through My Hope.

“I would just say it’s amazing,” Bernatt said. “We got to see a miracle firsthand because we were obedient and allowed Him to work through His Holy Spirit.
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Submitted photo
Frank Bernatt, right, a layman in Nocatee, Fla., joins in prayer with a local Baptist pastor, Jeremy Pellum, on the site of a field where a community-wide drive-in-type showing is slated Nov. 8 for “Defining Moments,” a film associated with the national My Hope America with Billy Graham evangelistic outreach.


“I bet we could hold 500 cars in this field,” he said. “I believe that everything that has been organized or attempted to be organized, God had His hand in it all.

“Every step of the way, as we went to get different approvals, we prayed. And we put it in God’s hands, and if it were meant to happen, He was going to make it happen,” Bernatt said. “What it’s become today, I don’t think any of us could have planned it to result in the way it is. The Nocatee development folks have been more than cooperative.”

A local Publix store manager in the growing planned community with 2,000 occupied homes has offered to pop popcorn for the event, and more than 800 Bibles and soft drinks have been anonymously donated.

A local Baptist pastor, Jeremy Pellum, said he is impressed that the event is lay-led, involving more than two dozen volunteers to plan and serve at the outreach. Many will serve as counselors, praying with community members after the film.

Pellum is hopeful the event will reach many for Christ.

“I want to see folks embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. ... That’s primary,” he said. “Secondary is, I want the hearts of the people to turn toward the mission.

“Baptists have been traditionally married to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ,” Pellum said, “and I don’t want that zeal to die.”

The event will open with brief greetings from community leaders and will feature Christian music videos broadcast onto a screen that may stretch 30 yards wide, followed by the film, an invitation to Christian discipleship and individual counseling led by volunteers.

The event has come together in a way only God could have fashioned, said Bernatt, who approached the management of the Nocatee development with an idea of showing a My Hope film in a small corner of the community water park.

“You always think, Is it God speaking to you or is this just some whim or a thought that you had?” Bernatt said of his experience at the hospital. “If it were me, I think I would have had that little corner of the water park to show a little movie. I think God had a different idea. I think about this event today, as I was lying in a hospital bed so many months ago.

Bernatt, 57, relocated to Nocatee in March from Johnstown, Pa., where he was president of Freight Car America. He had been an active member of the independent Emmanuel Baptist Church and had led small-group studies in his home.

“When I talked to Pastor Jeremy I said, ‘I don’t know what [God] has planned here. But I’m not going to interfere. I’m just going to be obedient and see what He wants from us.’ And I think that’s the difference,” Bernatt said. “I was very conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to limit Him. I just wanted to be obedient.

“So in this whole process, anyone that has been involved with me, and there’s been a great number of people that have a heart for the lost and a love for the Lord to be obedient, we’ve prayed and I think that was the focus,” Bernatt said.

As designed, Nocatee in its full development is expected to have about 13,000 homes, up to a million square feet of retail space, 4 million square feet of office space and nine public schools, according to developers, who promote Nocatee as the sixth-best-selling master planned community in the country, on pace to sell over 900 homes this year.

News of the event has spread beyond the community.

Word of mouth and the work of the Holy Spirit are pretty awesome,” Bernatt said. “I’ve been elsewhere in the area of Jacksonville and I’ve heard people talking about it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
 

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11/7/2013 2:47:07 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Suicide and salvation discussed by Frank Page

November 7 2013 by Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY  – Frank Page acknowledged in an interview at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that he struggled with feelings of failure as a father following his daughter Melissa’s tragic death.

Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen discussed the consequences of suicide – including whether someone who is saved can commit suicide – with Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. The interview, posted on Allen’s website, is part of a series of discussions related to issues facing the church, Christian life and culture.

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Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page is shown with his eldest daughter Melissa.

In Page’s book Melissa, A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide that was released in June, Page wrote about the painful loss of his 32-year-old daughter who took her life in 2009. 

Too often family and friends who are left behind after a loved one’s suicide fall victim to guilt, depression, and blaming others – and God, Page said during the interview that was posted Oct. 10. Page said he wasn’t above the pain of wondering if he did enough to help his daughter.

“It still happens sometimes, but in my more cogent, sane moments I realize that I did the best I could at the time,” Page said in an interview with Allen on the seminary campus in Kansas City, Mo. “Was I a prefect father? No. So, we have to realize reality. That person [who is struggling with suicide] ... can decide what they want to decide. There are many voices people listen to other than the voice of mom and daddy and other than the voice of the Lord.”

At the same time, family and loved ones of someone who is considering suicide should do everything they can to get that person the help they need. If someone is threatening suicide, Page said, the people around them should see those threats as an opportunity to help them find help. 

“Melissa never threatened suicide – ever,” he said. “We worried about her in many ways ... but she never threatened suicide.... Most do. So, take those [threats] seriously. Get the help they need.”

It is a growing problem, he said.

“I heard recently that for the first time suicide has replaced automobile accidents of young adults as [the top] cause of death,” he said. “It is epidemic.”

When comforting the families of those who lost a loved one to suicide, Page said to avoid “trite platitudes,” such as “Oh, they are in a better place.”

“They may be [in a better place], but that is probably not the time to say that,” he said. “Be very careful to do what they need most, and what they need most is a ministry of presence. They need a friend. They need a family member who will love them and say, ‘I am going to be with you.’” 

Immediately following Melissa’s death, some of Page’s closest friends stayed with him to offer support.

“They were with me, and when I lowered her in the grave, two of my life-long friends stood by me,” Page said. “ ... I do not think they said a word; they did not need to.”

Allen asked Page to share his thoughts on whether or not someone who is truly saved can commit suicide.

“Melissa was never at peace, and I think He let it happen so she could finally be at peace,” Page said. “I know she knew Him. She struggled with that. I think He allowed it in His permissive will that she might finally rest.”

The vast majority of suicides involve people who have “lost touch with reality,” Page said. 

“Mental or emotional struggle has reached such a horrible point that they are not thinking straight anymore,” he said. “I do believe that believers can come to that point of oppression, or confusion, or depression so much so that they are not thinking straight. I believe the vast majority of people who commit suicide have reached that point, and I do not believe that our Lord would hold against them the pain that led them to that point. ... Scripture teaches in Romans that nothing shall separate us from the love of God.”

Page addressed the opinion that someone who commits suicide cannot go to heaven because they commit a sin that they cannot ask for forgiveness.

“Most every Christian alive will die with some unconfessed sin in their life,” Page said. Many theories about suicide are not scriptural, he added.

“... Quit listening to people and start listening to God,” he said. “Go to the Word of God and study it.”

For those who are contemplating suicide, Page said they should remember that they are not alone. 

“Come to Christ, listen to Christ; He can help you,” he said. “There are God’s people who will help you. I am calling ... for churches to be places of help and hope. Don’t sweep it under the rug. Don’t act like it is something we cannot discuss, but talk about it, be honest, and deal with it.”

See more of this discussion here.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Story adapted by Shawn Hendricks, managing editor of Baptist Press.)
11/7/2013 2:34:25 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Moore: Promote gospel, freedom at same time

November 7 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – Christians should seek to preach with clarity the gospel in its strangeness while advocating for religious freedom at the same time, Russell D. Moore told seminary students at his alma mater.

“[T]he worst thing we can do in defending religious liberty is to seek and to try to make Christianity normal,” said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“We don’t seek to make Christianity normal. We seek instead to make Christianity clear,” he said. “We seek to make [clear] the question of crucifixion and resurrection from the dead and the freedom of the conscience” before God.

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NOBTS photo by Boyd Guy
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks at New Orleans Seminary in his first visit to his alma mater since his election to the SBC ethics post in June.

Moore’s remarks came in an Oct. 29 chapel address at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he received his master of divinity degree. It was his first time to speak at the seminary since becoming the ERLC’s president in June.

The apostle Paul provides a model for how pastors and other Christians are to maintain “the centrality of the gospel and the defense of religious liberty at the same time,” Moore told the seminarians.

Preaching from Acts 26:24-32, Moore said Paul both defended his religious freedom and proclaimed the gospel in an appearance before King Agrippa and the governor, Festus. The governor accused Paul of being insane by preaching the gospel, but Paul defended his message as “true and rational.” Paul acknowledged during the appearance, which was a step in his legal appeal to Caesar, he was seeking that day to persuade all who heard him to become Christians.

“Paul here understands that freedom itself is not enough,” Moore said. The freedom Paul sought – and Christians today should seek – “is a freedom to do something ... the pushing and the pressing and the pleading of the gospel,” he said.

“The mission isn’t what we do after we’ve achieved religious liberty. The mission is what we’re doing while we are appealing for religious liberty,” Moore told the seminary audience.

“We don’t stop there,” he said. “We are instead, the scripture says, ambassadors of reconciliation who are pleading with those around us” to be reconciled to God.

At a time when nominal Christianity is collapsing because it is no longer perceived as useful, the declaration of true Christianity will clash with culture, Moore said.

“If we settle for an almost gospel, if we settle for an almost kingdom, religious liberty is easy, because Uncle Caesar isn’t troubled by what we’re saying,” Moore said. “But if we stand up and clearly say there is another King, Jesus, and He isn’t dead any more, then the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the government will all be in an uproar together, and we must stand there with grace, with mercy, with grit, with conviction, with truthfulness, with kindness, and preach freedom and preach the gospel with liberty and Jesus for all.”

Moore told future chaplains in the audience they would be “on the front lines of these sorts of questions.” The ERLC has worked with the North American Mission Board, which commissions Southern Baptist chaplains, in the effort to defend the freedom of military chaplains. In August, NAMB issued revised guidelines making clear its chaplains would not participate in same-sex weddings or counseling sessions with same-sex couples.

Chaplains will be told to pray generic prayers, not ones in Jesus’ name, Moore said. The problem with agreeing to do so is “you have allowed the government to set up a generic religion that you are a minster of,” he said. “When it comes to prayer, the government does not have jurisdiction there.”

Moore told the audience, “If the state is able to assert its lordship over the conscience, the state has become a god. When Paul says to the state, ‘I am going to appeal all the way up the chain here; I’m going to speak in my own defense,’ he is recognizing that he is not appealing for a favor from the state.

“When you and I say to our government, ‘We must live freely and exercise our beliefs freely and we believe everybody around us ought to exercise their beliefs and consciences freely,’ we are not asking for a favor from the government as though we were a business looking for a bailout,” he said. “We are saying to the government, ‘Because no bureaucrat is going to be standing next to us at judgment, you do not have authority over the free human conscience.’“

Christians should defend religious liberty for people of all faiths, Moore said.

A government “that is able to run over their consciences will be able in the fullness of time to run over the conscience of those who hold to the gospel,” he said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
11/7/2013 2:20:20 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



N.J. district reverses ban on religious holiday songs

November 7 2013 by Katherine Burgess, Religion News Service

A New Jersey school district has reversed course and retracted its ban on religious holiday songs at winter concerts.

“In reviewing additional legal considerations and advice on this matter and the expressed sentiments of the community at large, I have reconsidered the decision on the musical selection for the upcoming winter programs so that pieces with traditional and historical religious origins will be permitted,” said Constance J. Bauer, Bordentown superintendent, in a Nov. 1 statement.
 
“Concurrently, the Board will continue its review of the larger policy implications for the future.”
 
Bauer had issued a statement Oct. 18 saying that religious music would not be a part of elementary programs.
 
A following statement said the ban was implemented after parents questioned whether songs focusing on the birth of Jesus could legally be included in the school’s concert.
 
The ban was met with opposition from the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which sent the school board a letter charging that the district lawyer who advised the ban had misunderstood federal rulings on related cases. Previous rulings actually recognized and condoned the cultural significance of religious Christmas carols, the legal group said.

“What the First Amendment does require is that the Bordentown Regional School District remains neutral towards religion and refrains from demonstrating an unconstitutional hostility toward songs with religious origins,” the letter stated. “The district’s policy of excluding religious music, regardless of its demonstrated cultural value and educational merit, likely crosses that constitutional line.”
11/7/2013 2:16:00 PM by Katherine Burgess, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



SEBTS installs Ed Young Sr. Chair of Preaching

November 6 2013 by SEBTS Communications

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) recently celebrated the installation of the Dr. Ed Young Sr. Chair of Preaching.

Young serves as the senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, the largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). His church continues to grow and currently has over 63,000 members. Young is a former SBC president and a graduate of SEBTS.

The events were held on Oct. 15 on Southeastern’s campus.
 
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SEBTS photo
Daniel Akin, left, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, was named as the Dr. Ed Young Sr. Chair of Preaching after Ed Young Sr., right. This is the fifth endowed chair at Southeastern and the second in preaching.

Young attended Southeastern during a liberal period of the seminary, yet held true to his conservative theology.
 
Addressing the chapel attendees, Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern, said, “Many of you would not be here today or you would not want to be here if it were not for Ed Young Sr.”

This is the fifth endowed chair at SEBTS and the second one in preaching. The installation was held at Southeastern’s chapel service with Young as the guest speaker.
 
Preaching from Nehemiah, Young focused on five essential leadership qualities of a great leader: having a vision, giving away the vision, discernment, tenacity and integrity.
 
“God has entrusted you and me with a calling to bring this world Jesus Christ. The answer for every problem on this earth … is one simple thing, it’s the bending of the knee for Jesus Christ,” said Young.
After Young’s sermon, Akin presented the President’s Award to Young’s church, Second Baptist Church. This is the highest honor awarded by Southeastern.
 
As a part of the ceremony, Akin was installed as the new chair, a selection made by the Board of Trustees at Southeastern.
 
He expressed his appreciation for the honor to continue to serve the seminary through the teaching of preaching.
 
An Ed Young Chair Installation luncheon was immediately held after the service with his family and church leadership as well as SEBTS faculty and the Board of Visitors and Trustees. The event featured an interview of Young mediated by Akin.
 
Young shared about becoming a Christian, his family, educational background and his personal style when it comes to preaching.
 
“I spend a lot of time by myself,” Young said. “I think if you are going to be a preacher in this world you better spend a lot of time by yourself with God and with your books. I spend more time preparing me than the sermon.
 
“I think preaching should have an element of surprise and warmth. It is a wonderful adventure. I don’t have it mastered, but we spend a lot of blood, sweat and tears in preparation.”
 
His concern for the church today is centered on the need for sharing the gospel.
 
“SBC churches are pastored by functional universalists,” he said. “They know all theological principles; they are inerrantists; they can pound the Bible all day, but they haven’t figured out how to take the truth of God and turn it into evangelism and see lives change.”
11/6/2013 2:23:50 PM by SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments



Prison transfer puts Abedini ‘directly at risk’

November 6 2013 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

TEHRAN, Iran – The life of American pastor Saeed Abedini is “directly at risk” after he was transferred Nov. 3 to an “even more dangerous” Iranian prison, according to Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

“Rajai Shahr Prison is where prisoners are sent to disappear – many are murdered at the hands of other prisoners,” Sekulow said.

Abedini’s move to Rajai Shahr Prison – where he is being held in a cellblock with murderers and rapists – came on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

It also came two days after four U.S. senators proposed a bipartisan resolution calling “on the Government of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini and all other individuals detained on account of their religious beliefs.”

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Photo courtesy of American Center for Law and Justice
Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith for a year now, and his wife Naghmeh continues to advocate for his freedom. He was transferred to an “even more dangerous” prison Nov. 3.

One of those individuals is Iranian pastor Behnam Irani, who has served nearly 900 days in prison, according to World News Service. Irani, charged with holding church services and sharing the gospel with Muslims, has four years remaining on his sentence. In prison he has suffered from major health issues without adequate medical treatment. 

In September, Irani’s attorney appealed his prison sentence. Iranian authorities had granted freedom to 11 prisoners of conscience, and the pastor hoped a judge would reconsider his sentence. Present Truth reported the judge stated the only way he would pardon and release Irani was “if he repented and returned to Islam.” The ministry reports: “He will not accept this condition and will remain in prison.” 

Other Christians serve lengthy sentences with little international attention. Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi has spent nearly three years in prison for his Christian activity. A judge sentenced Fathi, 34, to six years in Evin Prison. 

In a country where less than half a percent of the population are Christians, devotion to Christianity remains dangerous – and in cases of a man converting from Islam – punishable by death. 

Abedini was one of those converts. He turned from Islam to Christ at age 20 while living in Iran. After establishing a network of house churches, he moved to the U.S., where he lived in the Boise area with his wife Naghmeh and two children.

On a visit to Iran in September 2012 to lay the groundwork for an orphanage, Abedini was arrested and handed an eight-year prison sentence. 

Up until this week his parents, who live in Iran, were allowed to visit him, though he was forbidden to speak with his wife and children. In Rajai Shahr Prison, however, visitors are not allowed.

“Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance are stowed away,” said Loes Bijnen, a Dutch diplomat from the embassy in Tehran. “Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being.”

The ACLJ has posted a new petition for immediate intervention on Abedini’s behalf at http://beheardproject.com/saeed#sign.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. This story was contributed to by World News Service.)
11/6/2013 2:14:29 PM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Australia’s Hillsong Church exports its influence

November 6 2013 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

SYDNEY – The ubiquitous praise song “Shout to the Lord” can be found in many U.S. churches on any given Sunday. What fewer people probably realize is that it comes from a megachurch on the outskirts of Sydney, which over the past 30 years has emerged as one of the most influential evangelical bodies on the world stage.
 
Combining Christian rock, charismatic energy and Australian accents, Hillsong Church has found a winning combination that is shaping Christian life in major cities across the globe.

Perhaps most remarkable is that the church could flourish at all in Australia, where in 2011 nearly a third of Australians said their religious affiliation was either “no religion” or not stated.
 
“In a country where 55,000 people indicated ‘Jedi’ as their religion (from the 2006 census), and most denominations are in decline, Hillsong’s continual growth is stunning,” said Ed Stetzer, president of Nashville-based LifeWay Research and a close observer of evangelicals.
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Hillsong Church photo
Senior Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston in prayer at Hillsong Church.

 

Thriving amid abuse scandal

On a recent Sunday at Hillsong’s main campus, children and adults swarmed a petting zoo and coffee stations as volunteers handed out balloons as part of the church’s 30th anniversary celebration. A racially diverse crowd streamed into services in jeans and sunglasses or backward ball caps on their heads, raising their hands while singing along with the iconic band.
 
In any given week, Hillsong estimates that more than 30,000 people will attend one of its six Australian campuses.
 
But an even greater number, estimated at more than 50,000, attend Hillsong off-shoots in London, Cape Town, Paris, Kiev, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen and New York. A new campus is slated to open soon in Los Angeles.
 
The Hillsong empire is overseen by founders Brian and Bobbie Houston. Their son Ben will oversee the Los Angeles branch, while their other son Joel leads the New York congregation, which has become one of the city’s fastest-growing churches, attracting celebrities like singer Justin Bieber and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. “I’m a Jew, raised by a family full of nonbelievers, but I have to admit, I was tempted,” wrote Max Chafkin, a New York Times reporter who recently visited Hillsong in Manhattan.
 
The church and its New Zealand-born founders have faced bumps on its road to success after starting with about 70 people in a school.
 
In 2000, Brian Houston’s father Frank Houston, also a minister, confessed to sexually abusing an underage male at his New Zealand congregation 30 years before. In response, Brian Houston, who was then president of the Assemblies of God in Australia, fired his father, took control of the church and merged it with Hillsong.
 
“I think I’m quite a tolerant person, but one thing I’ve really never had any tolerance for is sexual abuse, and especially child abuse,” Brian Houston said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “So, I don’t think you could have kicked me in the guts with a bigger blow, in some ways.”
 
His father died four years later.
 

Added challenges and controversy

While widely admired, Hillsong is no stranger to criticism. Some question the church’s support of women pastors. Creationism proponent Ken Ham has decried Brian Houston for not adhering to a belief in six-day creationism. Others scrutinize the church’s traditional teachings on homosexuality and gay marriage. American evangelical John MacArthur has criticized the church’s Pentecostal teaching that the Holy Spirit enables spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues.

The church has a tricky relationship with the Australian media, with each treating the other with great suspicion. “If anybody is an expert in media opposition, it’s me,” Brian Houston said in his sermon, later referring a reporter to a church spokesperson to answer questions.
 
Theologically, some say Hillsong treads near the “health and wealth gospel” found in other Pentecostal churches. Brian Houston, for example, wrote a book titled You Need More Money. But observers say he has dialed back on prosperity gospel-sounding theology, focusing more on stewardship than success.
 
“It is dominated by a more contemporary style than many older ‘traditional’ Pentecostal groups,” said Scott Thumma, a megachurch expert at Hartford Seminary. “I know there has been some concern about Hillsong’s preaching of prosperity but that has been tempered.”

Hillsong’s driving dollars

One of the biggest criticism Hillsong faces is its finances, which under Australian law are not required to be publicly disclosed. Proposals to tax a congregation like Hillsong remain controversial.
 
Hillsong’s Sydney location reported $64 million in revenue in 2010 (the last year available), but its report does not reveal income from its worldwide music sales.
 
The church spent almost $10 million on “welfare, missions and overseas aid,” $6.2 million on a Bible college and $6.7 million on conferences.
 
In 2010, Houston disclosed a salary of $300,000 ($285,000 U.S.) from Hillsong and its related global outreach ministry, and he said his wife’s salary is “significantly less than mine.” A church spokeswoman did not respond to a request to view financial details of the larger Hillsong organization.
 
One of Hillsong’s largest exports is its conference business. Its most recent U.S. conferences featuring the band Hillsong United sold out the iconic Radio City Music Hall, Hollywood Bowl and Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
 
Cassandra Langton, the director of Hillsong’s creative ministry, said this summer that every week more than 45 million people sing songs written by Hillsong in U.S. churches, an estimate most likely based on the number of churches paying licensing fees. A non-commercial church reproduction license for worship usage includes $10 per song for 12 months.
 

Charismatically influential

The church remains politically and socially influential in Australia, attracting a parade of politicians. It also seems to be shaped by leading American evangelicals; the church’s bookrack features many U.S. megachurch pastors, including Joel Osteen, Max Lucado, T.D. Jakes and Ed Young.
 
“We believe a basic charismatic/Pentecostal theology, but we don’t build strong on theology,” Brian Houston said. “We make it about Jesus, about the grace of God, and we try to have a net so it’s broad, not narrow.”
 
Because he believes in targeting Hillsong’s growth in less religious large cities, Houston said it’s unlikely he’d ever try to plant a church in the Bible Belt. “I really have a passion for big centers of influence,” he said. “I think the message is timeless, but the methods have to change if we want to keep reaching society and not become an insular little island.”
 

A musical might

Despite some of the controversy surrounding theology or finances, there’s little doubt that Hillsong’s greatest influence is its music label. The church was originally known as Hills Christian Life Centre but the music became so famous that the church appropriated the Hillsong name.
 
To date, the Hillsong United label has sold more than 14 million albums. Its recent album “Zion” debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ overall albums chart in the U.S. and in seven other countries, and was listed at  No. 5 on the Billboard 200.
 
Hillsong music’s Twitter account has more than 680,000 followers, and more than 4 million Facebook fans. Its popular songs include “Mighty to Save,” “God is Able” and “God is in the House.”
 
“I always wanted to have the kind of church which influenced the way people do church,” Brian Houston said. “People may be divided on doctrine and theology and other things, but worship tends to transcend all of that.”
 
At 59 and 56, Brian and Bobbie Houston are fashionable grandparents. At New York’s Radio City Music Hall show, he wore skinny green pants and a denim shirt. Finishing her mascara backstage, his wife wore wedge sneakers and all black ensemble that would fit in at any rock concert.
 
While his church is known for its music, Brian Houston is not a musician.
 
“I was the church drummer until — this is a true story — in New Zealand, as a kid, the organist one time got very frustrated, jumped up off the organ, walked over, grabbed both of my drumsticks, and sat on them on the organ stool,” he said. “That was the end of my drumming career.”
 

Local and global social impact

Hillsong is also active in local and international aid projects, with ministries in Cape Town, South Africa, and Mumbai, India. The church gave $500,000 toward the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami relief efforts and frequently partners with other evangelical organizations including Compassion International and the Salvation Army. The leader of Hillsong’s A21 campaign that fights sex trafficking, Christine Caine, is a featured speaker at many U.S. and global conferences.
 
“I think sometimes people miss the social care, which is the undergirding foundation of our church, but really that’s the fuel,” Bobbie Houston said.
 
John Cleary, a religion journalist for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, noted that Brian Houston’s father was initially an officer in the Salvation Army, where his son became a Christian. Hillsong is part of the Australian Christian Churches, formerly known as Assemblies of God in Australia.
 
“They’ve got the Salvation Army’s musical sensibility. They’ve stripped it of the uniform and strict disciplines and what emerges is a charismatic praise concert,” Cleary said. “It’s only in recent years Hillsong has recovered the Salvation Army’s emphasis on social work.”
 
Because Australians take a dim view of self-promotion, the Houstons tread the marketing line carefully. While some U.S. megachurches revolve around celebrity clergy, Hillsong’s influence extends well beyond the husband-and-wife team at the top.
 
“I’d guess that globally, they’d be in the top 10 influential evangelicals in the English-speaking world,” Stetzer said.
11/6/2013 1:51:02 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Growing opposition to KY child care agency

November 6 2013 by Todd Deaton, Western Recorder/Baptist Press

HARDIN, Ky. – A letter-writing campaign and petition drive calls for trustees to oppose changes in Sunrise Children’s Services’ hiring practices to allow employment of known homosexuals.

The West Kentucky Fellowship of Directors of Missions (DOMs), in urging fellow DOMs across the state to “take a stand,” states: “This is not a battle against homosexuals, but a stand against this sin becoming so culturally acceptable that we evade calling it sin.”

Bill Smithwick, president of Kentucky Baptist-affiliated Sunrise Children’s Services, has informed pastors by letter that its board of directors has discussed the possibility of altering the ministry’s anti-discrimination policy. A board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 8 after an Aug. 16 meeting in which the proposal was tabled.

Sunrise11-06-13.jpg
The West Kentucky directors of missions, in the letter composed by Rodney Cude of the Ohio River Baptist Association, encourage DOMs to contact the members of Sunrise’s board to encourage them to stand for the principles of scripture and the biblical values under which Sunrise was formed. The West Kentucky DOMs, from 12 Baptist associations, also request other DOMs to pass on an accompanying “Petition of Moral Concern” to the churches in their associations.

“One is called to question how Sunrise, which has been fighting a legal battle concerning their current hiring procedure that forbids the paying of same-sex benefits, and hiring a person who is knowingly homosexual, that spent thousands of dollars (which includes special gifts from [Kentucky Baptist Convention] churches to aid in that fight) even allowed this issue,” the DOMs’ letter states. “How has such an issue, based on abandoning biblical principles, been allowed to find a foothold in a KBC partner agency?”

The letter affirms, “Our hearts should be moved to assist those in this lifestyle because it carries immediate and eternal consequences.” But it also urges, “… let us hold our ground for the children entrusted to our ministry at Sunrise by not exposing them to this lifestyle through employees, their spouses, or in the future perhaps foster parents.”

A PowerPoint presentation that accompanied the trustee minutes from the Aug. 16 meeting presented Sunrise trustees with three options: a) change the employment practice; b) become a single-site religious home for privately placed kids; or c) close. 

The “increasing, perpetual push for the normalization of homosexuality, including marriage,” means that Sunrise’s “primary funding source and hiring practices are on a collision course,” the PowerPoint – which trustee sources have confirmed was presented by Smithwick – states, “Sunrise will comply or close.” Asserting that Sunrise cannot meet the needs of today’s abused and neglected children without public assistance, the presentation maintains that, even if hiring practices include homosexuals, Sunrise can “continue to integrate our Christian principles of grace, unconditional love, and hope throughout our programs to the children we serve and our staff.”

Kentucky Baptist churches contribute about $1 million annually, or approximately 5 percent of the agency’s budget. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, about 85 percent of its funding comes from the state, with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services being a main contractor.

The Aug. 16 meeting of Sunrise’s board prompted one trustee, Rick Fyffe of Ashland, to resign in protest and another, Stan Spees of Paducah, to express his concerns to Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders.

In its “Petition of Moral Concern,” the West Kentucky Fellowship of DOMs implores Sunrise trustees: “We believe this is against our stand as Southern and Kentucky Baptist[s] regarding this lifestyle choice and will be detrimental to the best care of the children you serve.” KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood also has denounced Sunrise’s proposed change in its hiring practices: “If the trustees decide to follow Smithwick and surrender biblical values to maintain government funding, then clearly they will have forsaken the Baptist character of Sunrise and become the equivalent of any secular corporation that contracts with the state to provide childcare.”

Smithwick, in a letter sent in late October to Kentucky Baptist pastors, wrote, “The issue for the Sunrise Children’s Services Board has not been and is not about homosexuality. The core question is not about separation of church and state or government money. The question is, ‘What is the greater good?’ Do we walk away from the pain, suffering, loneliness and brokenness of the kids we serve over our hiring practice or continue ministering to young children who desperately need someone to show them God’s love?”

Smithwick drew a comparison with the Pharisees confronting Jesus: “What did Jesus do that was so sinful? He helped and healed those who could not help themselves on the Sabbath much to the chagrin of the righteous Pharisees. He put people over dogma, grace over law, and healing over doctrinal purity. Such is the principle we face at Sunrise – which is the greater good – save the kids or keep our hiring practices and close.”

Business for Sunrise will continue as usual, Smithwick wrote. “We will continue to meet the children’s spiritual, emotional and physical needs in the same way we do today.” He noted that Sunrise will “stringently enforce boundary policies prohibiting all staff from sharing personal information, especially personal sexual information whether heterosexual or homosexual, with the kids.”

Smithwick offered a hypothetical illustration: “Suppose my wife and I are appointed as missionaries to a Muslim country to start a church, but to stay in the country she has to cover her head, which is an acknowledgement of Islam and Allah. Which is the greater good, stay, keep her head covered in public and start the church – or leave?” Identifying the distinguishing feature of Southern Baptists as traditionally being a focus on missions, he said, “Sunrise is as focused on missions as any other KBC institution or agency. Changing our hiring practices makes us no less distinctively Baptist.”

Chitwood reported on his blog Oct. 23 that he and the convention’s president, Dan Summerlin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lone Oak, requested a meeting with Smithwick to discuss the possible change in the hiring practice, but Smithwick responded that such a meeting was premature because the Sunrise board had yet to make a decision.

Describing the line of reasoning in Smithwick’s letter to pastors as “an end justifies-the-means approach,” Chitwood asked, “Why could not this line of reasoning justify Sunrise hiring an adulterous, homosexual, or Muslim president for the organization?” With regard to Smithwick’s example of contextualization in missions, Chitwood countered, “Indeed, a female Christian missionary in the Muslim world might wear a jihab, but we don’t hire Muslims to be Christian missionaries!

Chitwood noted that in addition to what it would mean for the kids, another tragedy of Smithwick’s recommendation “is that it ignores the investment of untold tens of millions of Baptist dollars and surrenders the very reason Sunrise came into existence as Kentucky Baptists’ gospel-centered ministry to orphans and neglected children.

“How I wish Smithwick would have been willing and desirous to meet with Kentucky Baptists or their elected leadership before attempting to secretly change the biblical convictions that have guided the organization since its founding 154 years ago,” Chitwood added. “Surely we could have found a better way to walk forward together.”

In 1998, Sunrise, then known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, fired an employee when it became common knowledge that she was a lesbian. A portion of the legal wrangling continues, but the courts threw out the former employee’s claim of discrimination by Sunrise.

Established in 1869 as a Louisville orphanage primarily for children displaced by the Civil War, Sunrise today cares for approximately 2,000 children annually through residential services, foster care, community-based outpatient programs and other services located across the state.

Each year, messengers to the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s annual meeting approve trustees and directors of 10 agencies and institutions affiliated with the convention, including those serving on Sunrise’s board. Those organizations also receive funding from Kentucky Baptists through the Cooperative Program. Additionally, the Sunrise ministry has received support for decades from Kentucky Baptist churches and associations through the Thanksgiving Offering, Food Roundup and Mile of Pennies.

Still, according to Smithwick’s letter to pastors, such support today totals about $1 million compared to the approximately $26 million that Sunrise receives annually from the state and federal governments to care for abused and neglected children.

On his blog, Chitwood cited the covenant agreement between KBC and Sunrise that states the relationship “is built upon many years of faithful commitment and trust by many individuals and by many millions of dollars contributed by Kentucky Baptists in support.” The agreement also states that Sunrise “shall maintain its distinctive Baptist character as set forth in its purpose and the support of the Kentucky Baptist Convention is based upon faithful adherence to that purpose.”

Summerlin said he continues to pray that Sunrise board members would make the courageous, if culturally unpopular, decision to maintain the current hiring practice. “The key question is, do (Sunrise) trustees want to be a Baptist agency or a secular institution,” Summerlin said. “I pray they will consider their history and heritage as they seek an answer to that vital question.”


(EDITOR’S NOTE – Todd Deaton is editor of the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. KBC Communications writer Dannah Prather contributed to this report. To read an earlier Baptist Press report, click here.)
11/6/2013 1:27:12 PM by Todd Deaton, Western Recorder/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Campbell student paper makes top 100 list

November 6 2013 by Press release

The Campbell Times, the student newspaper at Campbell University in Buies Creek, has been listed among 100 exemplary college newspapers for journalism students. The list, compiled by Journalism Degrees and Programs, is made up of colleges and universities throughout the United States and even some international institutes.

The Campbell Times was the only publication listed from a Baptist institution.
 
Visit http://journalismdegree.org/exemplary-college-newspapers/.
11/6/2013 1:09:15 PM by Press release | with 0 comments



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