November 2017

Jonathan Edwards Center to open at Gateway in 2018

November 30 2017 by Kathie Chute, Gateway Seminary

A Jonathan Edwards Center will be established at Gateway Seminary, Jeff Iorg, the Southern Baptist entity’s president, has announced for the Los Angeles-area Ontario campus.

The center, or JEC, will be affiliated with the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University in New Haven, Ct. An agreement between the two institutions was signed in October.

Jonathan Edwards

“The JEC at Gateway Seminary will serve as a research, education and publications hub for the study of Edwards and his connection with Baptist history,” Iorg said. “We expect to officially open the center in the Gateway Seminary library sometime in 2018.”
The JEC at Gateway will be the third in the U.S., joining the one at Yale and one at Trinity International University in the Chicago area. Worldwide, there are 11 such centers.
Edwards (1703-1758), a key figure in the First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s, was a Congregationalist pastor in New England, revivalist, theologian/philosopher, missionary and president of what is now Princeton University. Widely regarded as one of America’s greatest theologians, he is the subject of scholarly interest due to the legacy he left on America’s religious, political and intellectual landscapes.
Edwards’ writings, such as his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” are consulted by religious leaders, pastors and churches worldwide because of the fervency of his message and the acumen with which he appraised religious experience.
Global interest in Edwards has increased in part by the work of Yale’s JEC in its mission to support inquiry into the life, writings and legacy of Edwards by providing resources that encourage critical appraisal of his historical importance and contemporary relevance as a theologian.
The Yale JEC hosts the digital Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, a learning environment for research, education and publication encompassing all of Edwards’s writings along with editorial materials to allow readers various ways to examine Edwards’ thought. The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, as well as the Jonathan Edwards Studies journal online and the Global Accelerated Sermon Editing project are accessible through the JEC website,
Chris Chun, director of JEC at Gateway, said the seminary is “looking forward to collaborating with international Edwardsean scholarly communities as well as local churches in California. Under the auspices of the seminary, it will host conferences followed by publications and will strengthen existing visiting scholar programs.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathie Chute is director of communications for Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

11/30/2017 9:39:40 AM by Kathie Chute, Gateway Seminary | with 0 comments

Location of Jesus’ tomb suggested by scientific dating

November 30 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Scientific dating of ancient mortar in Jerusalem has added to what some scholars call mounting evidence the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the site of Jesus’ tomb.

File photo by Gary D. Myers
A shrine called the Edicule in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed by some to be the site of Jesus’ tomb.

“Obviously our faith does not rest in external evidences,” said Daniel Warner, associate professor of Old Testament and archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, noting the Bible alone is humans’ infallible rule for faith and practice. But “it’s nice and comforting to know that what we’ve been claiming since the [time] of Christ ... has always panned out.”
In October 2016, scientists opened the shrine surrounding Jesus’ purported burial site in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the first time in centuries. Among their discoveries was an ancient limestone tomb surrounded by a marble slab.
Independent analyses by two labs released Nov. 28 by National Geographic confirmed that mortar between the slab and the tomb dates to around A.D. 345, approximately the same time Roman records indicate the tomb was enshrined to mark it as Christ’s burial site.
Warner told Baptist Press (BP) Christians living some 300 years after the resurrection likely would have had accurate records of significant sites in Jesus’ life – much like accurate records of sites in George Washington’s life still exist today nearly three centuries following his birth.
“As important as Washington was, think about what Christ did,” Warner said. “A guy who never went more than 50 miles from His house changed the course of the world ... They knew what the site [of His burial] was” in the fourth century.
Warner noted the site of Jesus’ tomb cannot be pinpointed with certainty, but he said the “circumstantial” evidence is strong for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as opposed to the so-called Garden Tomb, an alternate proposed site of Christ’s burial.
When researchers unearthed the tomb within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre last year, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary archaeologist Tom Davis told BP the Garden Tomb “is an Iron Age tomb (8th c. B.C.)” and therefore does not match scripture’s description of Jesus’ burial place as “a new tomb” in the first century.
Stephen Andrews, an archaeologist who teaches Hebrew and Old Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said most archaeologists who study Jesus’ burial location believe the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a more likely site than the Garden Tomb. Some evidence, he told BP, suggests pagan Roman authorities in power before the fourth century built a shrine at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to desecrate the site because early Christians regarded it as the location of Jesus’ tomb.
The mortar dating announced this week, Andrews said, “does give credence to the account that [Roman emperor] Constantine’s delegation [in the fourth century] actually found this tomb and put a memorial there.” But “we still don’t know if it’s actually the tomb where Jesus was laid.”
Andrews stressed that “where the tomb is isn’t as critically important” because “we worship the person, the Son of God Jesus Christ, and not just the place where He was buried.”
National Geographic reported scientists also have detected physical evidence for reconstruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre burial shrine in the 11th century, when it was destroyed, and for a documented 16th-century restoration.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/30/2017 9:34:19 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Theistic evolution critiqued by evangelical scholars

November 30 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

“An interdisciplinary critique of theistic evolution” was the topic of a half-day session at this fall’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).
The event featured scientists, philosophers and theologians presenting arguments against the notion that God created humans and other living beings through the process of evolution rather than by direct creation of distinct species – a view known as theistic evolution.
At issue in particular were some theistic evolutionists’ claims that all organisms are descended from a single common ancestor in the distant past and that seemingly random mutations in the genetic code produced all the varieties of life observed today.
Presentations and ensuing panel discussions paralleled the content of a book titled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, set for release Nov. 30 by Crossway.
Among the claims of the Nov. 15 ETS presentations and accompanying book: “Theistic evolution is incompatible with the teachings of the Old Testament” and “theistic evolution is incompatible with the teachings of the New Testament.”
Wayne Grudem, one of the book’s editors and research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, argued in his presentation that “theistic evolution denies 12 creation events and undermines crucial doctrines.”
Grudem’s chapter of the same title in the book claims theistic evolution entails several problematic assertions. Among them:

  • “Adam and Eve were not the first human beings (and perhaps they never even existed)”;
  • “God did not act directly or specially to create Adam out of dust from the ground”;
  • “God never created an originally ‘very good’ natural work in the sense of a world that was a safe environment, free of thorns and thistles and similar harmful things”; and
  • “After Adam and Eve sinned, God did not place any curse on the world that changed the working of the natural world and made it more hostile to mankind.”

Countering such claims, Grudem writes, “A nonhistorical reading of Genesis 1-3,” as required by theistic evolution, “does not arise from factors in the text itself but rather depends upon a prior commitment to an evolutionary framework of interpretation, a framework which the science and philosophy chapters in this volume show to be unjustifiable.”
Other presentations supplemented the biblical critique of theistic evolution with theological, scientific and philosophical arguments.

Theological critique

Gregg Allison, professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered a presentation claiming “theistic evolution is incompatible with historical doctrinal standards.” His chapter of the same title in “Theistic Evolution” cites writings of early church fathers, medieval theologians, Protestant Reformers and contemporary Christian thinkers to show followers of Jesus have always rejected the types of claims advanced by theistic evolutionists.
For example, the fourth-century Nicene Creed’s “specification that God is the ‘maker’ of ‘all things visible,’” Allison writes, “was uniformly understood in the early church to affirm God’s direct creation of all the varieties of plants and animals on earth. Yet this creedal affirmation contradicts the claim of theistic evolution that God was the ‘maker’ only of the initial inanimate matter in the universe and that that matter, apart from divine guidance or intervention, eventually developed by pure natural processes into ‘all things visible.’”
Likewise, the medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas “affirmed that God alone creates and he rejected the idea that creation itself possesses the ability to create or develop other living realities,” Allison writes.
Despite Protestants’ many disagreements with Catholics in the 16th century, they reaffirmed the “traditional view” of creation, Allison writes, citing numerous examples from Protestant confessions of faith.
Among Allison’s conclusions, “Theistic evolution’s affirmation that God created matter is, in itself, neither wrong nor controversial, but it does not go far enough. Such a view falls short of affirming, as the church has historically believed, that God created not only inanimate matter but also all visible things ... and all invisible things.”

Scientific critique

Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, made a presentation on ”the growing scientific problems with contemporary evolutionary theory.” The Discovery Institute is a Seattle-based think tank that plays a leading role in the Intelligent Design movement, which argues the universe is the product of intelligence rather than blind chance.
The chapters Meyer authored in “Theistic Evolution” similarly highlight scientific problems with the theories advanced by some theistic evolutionists. In particular, he takes issue with the claim that an undirected process which appears random under scientific analysis yielded complex life and the appearance of design.
“According to textbook neo-Darwinian theory,” Meyer writes, random mutations in DNA sometimes produce genetic changes that “confer a survival advantage on the organisms that possess them.” Those changes are passed on to the next generation, evolutionists claim, and over time, accumulated genetic changes gave rise to new species of animals.
But Meyer, citing contemporary biological research, counters that the number of possible DNA arrangements “are simply too vast, and the available time” for natural selection to cycle through the possible mutations is “too short for there to have been a realistic chance of producing even one new gene or protein by undirected mutation and selection in the time allowed for most evolutionary transitions.”
In other words, “it is overwhelmingly more likely than not that” random genetic mutation “would have failed to produce even one new functional (information-rich) DNA sequence and protein in the entire history of life on earth,” writes Meyer, an editor of “Theistic Evolution.”

Philosophical critique

J.P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif., addressed “philosophical problems with evolution” at ETS. He told Baptist Press via email some of the material in his presentation mirrored a chapter he authored in Theistic Evolution on theistic evolution’s tendency to rob “Christians of confidence that the Bible is a source of knowledge.”
In that chapter, Moreland, another of the book’s editors, expresses alarm that many in western society claim “the hard sciences” – such as biology, physics and chemistry – “are the only or the vastly superior way to know things.” According to that viewpoint, statements “that cannot be tested with the five senses ... such as those at the core of ethics, political theory and religion are not items of knowledge, but rather, matters of private feeling.”
In contrast, Moreland writes, the Christian worldview holds science as one of several valid sources of knowledge, including the Bible.
Theistic evolutionists unwittingly “become the church’s gravedigger,” Moreland writes, by treating speculative claims of scientists as a more reliable source of knowledge than scripture.
“It can hardly be doubted,” Moreland writes, “that the greatest impact of evolutionary theory is its significant contribution to the secularization of culture, a shift that places a supernatural God ... outside the plausibility structure of Western society. In light of that, why would any Christian want to flirt with theistic evolution?”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/30/2017 9:33:56 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Kidney donation reflects church’s family environment

November 30 2017 by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today

Nikki Koonce took the biblical admonition about being generous to a new level on Nov. 28 when she gave one of her kidneys to a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq.

Photo by Kenny Rager, Kentucky Today
Nikki Koonce, left, is recovering after donating a kidney to Allen Miller, right, on Nov. 28. Though not blood relatives, they are members of the same church family.

Allen Miller had been dealing with kidney disease for a decade and renal failure for the past two years. Dialysis had become an unwelcome fact of life.
Though not blood relatives, Nikki and Allen both attend Life Community Church in Owensboro, Ky., a tightknit group of believers who see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. So, when members of the church family found out Allen needed a kidney transplant, they lined up to see if any of them would be a match.
“I’m just a vessel for God to use,” Nikki said the day after surgery. “I’m blessed to be a part of this.”
On Tuesday morning, Nikki and Allen and their immediate families, along with a waiting room filled with their church family, underwent their respective surgeries at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. By early afternoon, both were in recovery and doing well.
Pastor Kenny Rager said he’s never seen a more beautiful display of brotherly love.
“I’m in a waiting room full of church members rejoicing over an operation,” Rager said. “We’ve never been happier.”
Allen is hoping to get out of the hospital by the end of the week.
“I’m so blessed by this whole situation,” he said. “For Nikki to give me renewed life and put herself through surgery, I can never thank her and her husband Daniel enough.”
Allen’s wife Michelle said members of the Life Community Church family saw the gradual decline in her husband’s health as the disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, progressed. She said it was amazing to see church members stepping up to be tested to determine their suitability as potential donors.
“It’s just amazing how God sees His perfect plan through when you put it in His hands and pray over it,” Allen said.
Allen, 38, who served in the military from 1998 through 2004, has been a part of Life Community Church since shortly after its founding. Folks know him as “quiet and reserved, a great family man, the kind of person who would give you the shirt off his back.”
“It’s unbelievable; there are no words to describe how it makes you feel that someone is willing to give of themselves to help you,” Michelle said. “It shows the love of Jesus.”
Nikki’s husband Daniel said he has felt many different emotions leading up the surgery, including both fear that something might go wrong and gratitude for having such a godly wife.
“Personally, I was terrified,” he said. “It’s insane the amount of different emotions that can run through you at one time.”
Nikki, 33, who works as a nursing assistant in an Owensboro doctor’s office, ended up being the best donor match, and she didn’t hesitate for a moment.
“I met and fell in love with her for her heart,” Daniel said. “She has a big heart. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for anybody.”
Both families say Life Community Church fosters the kind of brotherly love that it took for Nikki to give a kidney to Allen.
“It’s a church environment, but it’s so much more than that,” Daniel said. “It’s a family environment. It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you used to be. It’s about who God is changing you to be. There’s so much love and support. It’s unlike any other church experience I’ve ever known.”
Daniel said the kidney transplant between non-relatives is proof of the importance of being part of a church family.
“People like to tell you they don’t need a church family,” he said. “This, to me, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt why Jesus set the model of a church family. It’s for this kind of support. It’s for these things that come up in life that we can’t expect or control.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger Alford is editor of Kentucky Today,, a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

11/30/2017 9:28:55 AM by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments

Responding to God’s call focus of BGAV

November 30 2017 by Nathan White, BGAV

The Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) focused on how individuals and churches can respond to God’s call during literal and figurative storms of life at its 194th annual meeting Nov. 13-15 in Hampton, Va.

BGAV photo

During evening worship Nov. 13 at the Hampton Roads Convention Center, BGAV Executive Director John Upton set the tone by interpreting the event’s theme, “God’s Call ... Now What?” Upton invited attendees to consider the courage and excitement of the first disciples in Matthew 4:18-22, who left everything they knew to follow Jesus.
The Spirit-filled service featured praise and worship bands from Ivy Memorial Baptist Church and Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Temple, both of Hampton. Messengers and guests watched a video and heard personal stories of BGAV’s volunteer response to the people of Liberty, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey and ongoing disaster relief efforts there.
Chuck Harrison of the Peninsula Baptist Association spoke about congregations ministering together across racial boundaries to work toward reconciliation. Freddy Villarreal of Freedom Life Church of Hampton concluded the service by challenging Virginia Baptists to rise up and respond to the serious storms the U.S. is experiencing.
Villarreal reflected on Mark 4, where Jesus calmed the storm with three things: His presence, His promise and His power. “Ships sink because of the water inside them, not because of what’s outside,” he explained. “Are we putting more faith in what’s around us than in what’s inside?”
Attendees had the option of attending one of several breakout sessions. More than 100 pastors also attended the Virginia Baptist Pastors’ Conference, an interactive workshop focused on relational intelligence.
Highlights of the first business session, held Nov. 14, included signing a new partnership covenant between the BGAV and the McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University, and continuing a longstanding partnership between the BGAV and the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) of Virginia. Began in the late 1880s, BGAV’s partnership with WMU was described as active and relevant.
Resolutions of appreciation were presented for Fred Anderson, who retired as executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society after 38 years of service, and for Ron Crawford, who retired as president of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.

BGAV budget

The 2018 budget, presented by the executive board, was approved at $10 million, the same amount as the 2017 budget, and is in line with expected Cooperative Missions receipts. As in previous years, the budget divides allocations between BGAV ministries and partners – a category which will total $7,200,000 in 2018 – and world mission causes, totaling $2,800,000.
The BGAV offers three preset giving tracks to its churches, and it provides a fourth option for churches to customize their giving. The percentage divisions are as follows:

  • The World Missions 1 track provides 66 percent for Virginia ministries and 34 percent for Southern Baptist Convention ministries.
  • The World Missions 2 track provides 72 percent for BGAV ministries and 28 percent for a combination of Virginia, Southern Baptist Convention, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and other ministries.
  • The World Missions 3 track provides 72 percent for Virginia ministries and 28 percent for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministries.


Reports, addresses

John Upton, in his executive director’s report, explored how Virginia Baptists continue to respond to the challenges and storms of life. He cited specific examples of growth in the number of church planters and in the amount of resources sent to those in need, including Texas, Puerto Rico and Ghana.
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was the keynote speaker. In the first of two messages Nov. 14, Anderson focused on how God calls Christians to exhibit mercy and follow Jesus’ example by offering help and hope to all, regardless of who they are or where they are from.
Anderson revealed statistics that worldwide, Christians are increasing in number at a rate of 10,000 per hour. “It’s like we have a Pentecost every 60 minutes,” he said.
In his second message, he addressed ways to become the kind of leaders God wants His people to be. “You are the church of Jesus Christ, and Jesus has sent you to start the race,” Anderson said, “but He has also sent you to finish the race.”

Officers, board members

During the Nov. 14 business session, retired pastor George Fletcher was elected BGAV president. Richard Martin, a member of Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond, was elected first vice president, and Brooke Holloway, associate pastor of youth and missions at Memorial Baptist Church in Arlington, was elected second vice president. Fred Anderson, a member of River Road Church-Baptist in Richmond, will serve as clerk for a 36th year.
Shirley Cobb, Lora Gravatt, Tamara McBride, Bryan Taliaferro and Kevin James were all nominated to serve on the executive board. Kevin Meadows was approved to succeed Carl Johnson as board chair.
In additional business, the Religious Liberty Committee brought forward a resolution establishing and encouraging an increase in education about religious freedom. The resolution passed with a unanimous vote.
The meeting continued Nov. 15 with worship led by the Uptick Artists, a praise and worship band comprised of young leaders from throughout the BGAV. Participants concluded their gathering by sharing in a time of communion. Fletcher, in his first act as BGAV president, offered a benediction and adjourned, praying, “Lord, we know what you’ve called us to do; now give us courage to go and do it.”
The BGAV 195th annual meeting will be held Nov. 12-14, 2018 at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Glen Allen.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nathan White is chief marketing officer for the Baptist General Association of Virginia.)

11/30/2017 9:14:53 AM by Nathan White, BGAV | with 0 comments

LifeWay dedicates new headquarters in Nashville

November 29 2017 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Christian Resources

LifeWay Christian Resources dedicated its new corporate headquarters Nov. 27 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a prayer of thanksgiving and a pledge to remain faithful to God’s Word.

Photo by Katie Shull, LifeWay
LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer, center, is joined by Carlton Capps, manager of the Nashville LifeWay Store, left, Eric Geiger, LifeWay senior vice president and chief business officer, right, and members of the executive leadership team in cutting the ribbon to celebrate the grand opening of the Southern Baptist Convention entity’s new corporate headquarters and LifeWay Store in downtown Nashville.

President and CEO Thom S. Rainer recounted the changes taking place at LifeWay, from new physical spaces to new digital technologies.
“You could say we have reinvented ourselves,” Rainer told the crowd of employees and guests. “But we remain faithful to Him who has called us.
“We will continue to provide resources that will point people to God’s Word and to Christ.”
Joined by other LifeWay leaders, Rainer wielded giant scissors to cut an oversized red ribbon in front of the new 277,000-square-foot facility, which includes a retail store to serve downtown Nashville.
“We dedicate this building to God,” Rainer said, “for His glory and for His gospel.”
Moments earlier, LifeWay’s executive leadership team spoke briefly to highlight LifeWay’s five core values – trustworthy, collaborative, innovative, comprehensive and transformational.
“LifeWay is trustworthy – not because of our merit but because we stand on the true and faultless Word of God,” said Eric Geiger, senior vice president and chief business officer.
Joe Walker, senior vice president and chief financial officer, pointed to the collaboration between LifeWay and churches. “Our success is defined by the success of those we serve,” he said.
LifeWay has a growing array of digital products and mobile and cloud-based applications for churches, said Tim Hill, senior vice president and chief information officer. “We are innovating with technology to build biblical solutions for life.”
Selma Wilson, senior vice president and chief people officer, said the mission of Christ compels LifeWay to be comprehensive. “We serve all churches – in farmlands and in cities. We serve churches here in the U.S. but we also are committed to serving churches around the world.”
Brad Waggoner, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said transforming people’s lives with the truth of the gospel is at the core of LifeWay’s ministry. “That transformation is something we praise God for on a routine basis.”

Photo by Katie Shull, LifeWay
LifeWay Christian Resources employees gather for an inaugural chapel service in their new headquarters, with President and CEO Thom S. Rainer chronicling the Southern Baptist entity’s history and looking toward the future.

In his closing prayer, Rainer thanked God for all He has done through LifeWay. “We are grateful for the transformation of LifeWay,” Rainer said. “May everything that comes from this place be used in such a way that lives will be transformed, not only here on earth but into eternity.”
The event capped a month of activities celebrating LifeWay’s move to Capitol View from its former location about a half-mile away. LifeWay, known as the Sunday School Board at its founding in 1891, sold the previous property to developers in late 2015 and broke ground on the new facility in April 2016.
On Nov. 1, during LifeWay’s final chapel service at the former site, Rainer presented mementos to employees and credited God for blessings related to the move. “In the midst of the biggest downtown boom ever, we’ve seen obstacle after obstacle fall,” he said.
A week later, on employees’ final day in the previous building, LifeWay celebrated the move with lunch, games and music.
For most employees, Nov. 13 was the first day of work at the new campus. Activities during the first week included tours and prayerwalks throughout the building and an inaugural chapel service in which Rainer chronicled LifeWay’s history and looked toward the future.
“God has chosen since 1891 to make this a place where people around the world will be touched, moved, empowered, equipped and evangelized by our resources,” Rainer told employees.
“We remember the miracles of God in the past, hold on to His promises in the present and enter the future with enthusiasm.”
Special guests at the Nov. 27 ribbon-cutting ceremony included Rainer’s wife Nellie Jo, and their son and daughter-in-law Jess and Rachel Rainer; Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee; Hamilton Frost, great-grandson of the Sunday School Board’s first president, James M. Frost; Lloyd Elder, former president of the Sunday School Board; Randy Davis, president of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board; Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention; Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary; Bill Henard, executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists; Tim Patterson, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan; former LifeWay trustees Adam Greenway, Jeanne Davis and Phil Neighbors; Jeff Haynes, a partner in Boyle Nashville LLC and chief overseer of the overall Capitol View development project; and representatives from Skanska construction, Gresham Smith & Partners, Alfred Williams & Company and Herman Miller.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.)

11/29/2017 9:37:07 AM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Still in court: Baptist entities & the HHS mandate

November 29 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist institutions and other objectors to the six-year-old abortion/contraception mandate are still working to protect their freedom of conscience on a number of fronts after the Trump administration provided aid through a new rule.
The challengers to the controversial requirement are negotiating with the federal government, pushing for permanent relief in court and, in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, fighting new suits now being waged by California and Pennsylvania.
The battle over religious liberty continues even after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued rules in early October that exempted entities from the requirement based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The new exemptions addressed the objections to a 2011 rule under President Barack Obama that required employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those that can potentially induce abortions.
The abortion/contraception mandate – part of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation in 2010 – resulted in legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofits, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and several Baptist universities.
Among developments since HHS issued its exemptions Oct. 6:

  • Union University in Jackson, Tenn., reached a settlement in its lawsuit against the HHS, the university announced Nov. 20. The federal government agreed that the mandate had substantially burdened Union’s religious free exercise and permanently exempted it from the requirement. As part of the settlement, the government agreed to pay most of the legal fees Union absorbed in the suit.
  • GuideStone gained a favorable ruling Oct. 23 when the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver dismissed an HHS appeal filed during the Obama administration. After the Trump administration announced its exemptions, HHS filed a voluntary motion to dismiss its appeal. The 10th Circuit’s action returns the case to a federal court, where GuideStone intends to push for full legal protection.
  • The Little Sisters of the Poor, the Roman Catholic order that became the face of the objecting institutions, have returned to court to defend anew their freedom of conscience after California and Pennsylvania brought suit in reaction to the new HHS rules. Becket – which defends religious liberty – intervened Nov. 21 on behalf of the Catholic order.

Southern Baptist religious freedom advocate Russell Moore reiterated his support of the new HHS rules – describing them as “a welcome return to first principles” – while bemoaning state efforts against them.
“[H]ere we are again, with states contesting these rules,” Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments.
“These lawsuits are unnecessary. We must insist again that freedom of conscience is a natural and inalienable right, not a privilege that gets to be denied by Uncle Sam,” Moore said.
The church has a role in fostering religious freedom, Moore said. “As Christians, my hope is that we would rekindle in our own churches why religious liberty and freedom of conscience are essential for a free church and a free state,” he told BP.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with Becket, decried the suits by California and Pennsylvania.
“Sadly [Pennsylvania and California attorneys general, respectively] Josh Shapiro and Xavier Becerra think attacking nuns is a way to score political points,” Rienzi said in a written statement. “No one needs nuns in order to get contraceptives, and no one needs these guys reigniting the last administration’s divisive and unnecessary culture war.”
The states’ lawsuits appeared to confirm the wisdom of GuideStone’s efforts to assure that a federal court provides longstanding protection for its health plan and the religious employers it serves.
GuideStone General Counsel Harold R. Loftin Jr. expressed gratitude for the Trump administration’s decision to drop the appeal in the 10th Circuit Court. “We look forward to bringing a final resolution to this case that will protect the unborn and preserve religious liberty,” Loftin said in a news release.
While GuideStone – the SBC’s health and financial benefits entity – was exempt from the mandate, it serves ministries that were required to obey the requirement. Among them was Truett-McConnell University, a Baptist school in Cleveland, Ga., that joined GuideStone in its lawsuit.
East Texas Baptist University (ETBU) in Marshall continues in negotiations with the federal government to reach a final resolution over its suit, according to Becket. Houston Baptist University is one of the other parties with ETBU represented by Becket in their legal challenge.
Two other Baptist schools – Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and Louisiana College in Pineville – have lawsuits that are still active, though the latter gained a summary judgment in federal court in 2014. Information on the status of the cases was not available from the schools or Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) before the deadline for this article. ADF represents both schools.
A federal judge dismissed a suit by Criswell College in Dallas in 2013 on the grounds HHS was addressing the school’s concerns. Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., dropped its challenge after a 2013 loss at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., and gaining an exemption from the mandate through protection under a grandfather clause, according to Liberty Counsel, which represented the school.
When it issued the controversial rule in 2011, HHS provided an exemption for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church, nonprofit religious organizations that object. HHS proposed nearly 10 accommodations for the objecting institutions but none proved satisfactory to their conscience concerns.
In May 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court nullified multiple federal appeals court decisions against the religious institutions and blocked the Obama administration from imposing fines on them. The justices told the appeals courts involved to give the parties an opportunity to reach a solution “that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” No agreement was reached before President Obama left office in January.
The federally approved contraceptives for which coverage is required by the mandate include the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s conscience-based challenge to the mandate. In their 5-4 opinion in that case, the justices upheld objections to the requirement by “closely held” for-profit companies such as family owned businesses.
Messengers to the 2012 SBC meeting adopted a resolution calling for an exemption from the mandate for “all religious organizations and people of faith ... who declare a religious objection to such coverage.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

11/29/2017 9:35:00 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Federal judge blocks Texas dismemberment abortion ban

November 29 2017 by Evan Wilt, WORLD News Service

A federal judge on Nov. 22 blocked a Texas law protecting unborn babies from dismemberment abortions. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel placed a permanent injunction on Senate Bill 8, calling the legislation unconstitutional.
Texas lawmakers passed the bill earlier this year to ban the procedure typically used in the second trimester. See related report.
“The act intervenes in the medical process of abortion prior to viability in an unduly burdensome manner,” Yeakel said.
Texas lawmakers drafted the legislation after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a different law placing stricter restrictions on where abortions can take place in the state. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to appeal Yeakel’s decision.
“Through extraordinary evidence and expert witness testimony, we established that Senate Bill 8 is lawful, treats the unborn with dignity and respect, and protects the integrity of the medical profession,” he said in a statement.
“We will defend Senate Bill 8 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary,” he added.
Before the ruling, Texas was the eighth state to block the procedure. Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia also have dismemberment abortion bans.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evan Wilt writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine,, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

11/29/2017 9:32:29 AM by Evan Wilt, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Puerto Rico missionary’s relief aid opens hearts

November 29 2017 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB

Even in the aftermath of Puerto Rico’s devastation from Hurricane Maria, church planting missionary Jorge Santiago has been experiencing the truth of Romans 8:28 that all things can work together for good.

Photo from Facebook
Jorge Santiago preaches to a group of people who gathered in Comerío, Puerto Rico, to share a meal and hear a message from the Bible. Santiago, a missionary with the North American Mission Board, and his family have been ministering in the municipality in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria by providing meals and laundry services.

In July, Santiago and his wife, Rebeca, moved to Puerto Rico with their two children, Sebastian and Sophia, to serve as North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting missionaries in Comerío, a municipality of 20,000 about 30 miles south of San Juan.
“Right after the storm,” Santiago said, “we just focused on helping people. We started looking for resources, food and water so that we could take it to Comerío.”
Southern Baptist pastors on the island have rallied together along with some from other denominations to help one another in their mission to serve those in need. As Santiago prayed and ventured to find food and other resources, he noticed, both from personal experience and from others’ stories, just how difficult it was to wash clothes by hand.
Santiago saw different groups passing out food and water but no one was seeking to meet the need of helping people clean their clothes.
“My wife’s dad is a pastor whose church sent us some money,” most of which Santiago used to buy three washing machines “by faith.”
They eventually were able to acquire three more washing machines that they’ve used to start a community outreach called Proyecto Mi Ropa Limpia – My Clean Clothes Project.
“God hasn’t stopped giving to us,” Santiago said, “and we haven’t stopped giving to the people everything that comes our way.”
Santiago and his family have been hard at work ministering in Comerío, leaving for the town around 4:30 in the morning and not returning to their base in San Lorenzo, 30 miles to the east, until 8:30 or 9:00 at night. Rebeca manages the washing machines while Santiago travels around searching for food and water and distributing what he is able to find.

Photo courtesy of Jorge Santiago
Jorge Santiago, his wife, Rebeca, and their two children, Sebastian and Sophia, take a family photo after his ordination in Maryland before moving in July to serve as church planting missionaries in Puerto Rico – then came Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, prompting the North American Mission Board couple to move into full-scale disaster relief ministry.

Santiago received one of the pastor packs that NAMB’s Send Relief ministry sent to Puerto Rico, and he said the package arrived at a time when he was having difficulty finding resources.
Whenever he went to search, Santiago would pray and ask God to lead him to where the resources would be. After three days of not finding anything, he received a phone call telling him to go to the Send Relief warehouse.
“Then, when I saw [the pastor package], I started crying because I saw all the things they brought to us,” Santiago recounted.
The generator that was included in the package is being used to power some of the washing machines for My Clean Clothes Project, and the other food and resources have been a boost for his ministry to the community.
“God gave us the privilege to show the people how committed we are to them and to God,” Santiago said. “We get to live the gospel by serving the people.”
Initially, Santiago and his family had been planning to start church services in January. Hurricane Maria changed those plans, however, and Sunday, Nov. 12, Santiago had the opportunity to preach the gospel and pray with a group of people as they gathered to share a hot meal.
“It is good, all that we are doing right now to help serve people,” he said. “It’s important to the people, but more important than that is the need to share the gospel.”
A passage from Mark 1:32-38 helped Santiago see that it was time to start preaching. The community was open. “People every day started asking me what my church is, but I don’t even have a church yet,” he said. “They kept asking me the time of the service, and they wanted to hear the Word of God.”
Their plan is to keep gathering with people every Sunday and preaching the Word. The way that Santiago and his wife served the community opened the door for the gospel and has made him eager to preach the Good News.
“We are not here to play or waste our time or God’s time.” Santiago said. “We are here with a mission, and we are here to accomplish our mission.”
Santiago continues to move toward an official launch for the church, but in the meantime, he and other churches like his will make use of resources that arrive through financial donations made through Send Relief.
“As a pastor, I still need resources to help the people,” Santiago said. “People won’t believe in what you’re going to say to them unless you prove to them that you love them. The way that they experience your love for them is by giving to them.”
Visit to volunteer or donate funds to the continuing disaster relief efforts for men, women and children in Puerto Rico who still need aid as they recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)

11/29/2017 9:24:21 AM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments

Amid attacks in Egypt, Christians see churches close

November 29 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Christian persecution continues in Egypt amid the terroristic slaughter of more than 300 Sufi Muslims during worship at a North Sinai mosque, Morning Star News reported.
Weeks before the Nov. 24th attack at the Al-Rawdah Mosque, attributed to Muslim terrorists who carried an Islamic State (ISIS) flag, Coptic Christians in the country already faced the closure of many Christian houses of worship for fear of similar attacks, Morning Star reported Nov. 27.
In addition to targeting Christians, Islamic terrorists who follow a strict Salafi version of Islam also terrorize Sufi Muslims, considered to be mystics.

Churches closing their doors

Coptic Orthodox bishop Anba Morcos of Shobra El-Kheima closed the Pope Kerlis VI and Archdeacon Habib Gerges church before Nov. 17 services, Morning Star said based on reports in the Egyptian newspaper Almasry Alyoum. Morcos decided to close the church, located about 30 miles outside Cairo, after the governor of Qalyubia warned of possible Islamist attacks, according to news reports. The church had served about 1,000 families who now have no place to worship, area residents told Morning Star.
In addition, Coptic Orthodox Bishop Anba Makarios of Minya told Morning Star that government officials closed four churches over a two-week period after Islamic terrorists attacked three churches there, although he described his statement to Morning Star as “preliminary.”
Among churches the government reportedly closed in Minya Governorate are the Virgin Mary church in El-Sheik Alaa village, Anba Mousa El-Aswad church in Kershery village, and Abu Sefeen church in Abu Qurqas city.
Coptic Christians have historically faced targeted terrorist attacks surrounding Christmas, a holiday Coptics celebrate annually Jan. 7. During the 2017 Coptic Christmas season, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a Dec. 11, 2016 attack that killed 28 at a chapel next to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.
During Easter celebrations in April, ISIS claimed responsibility for two separate attacks at St. Mark’s Cathedral and St. George’s Church in Tanta that killed 28 and wounded more than 125, it was widely reported.
As recently as February, ISIS vowed in a propaganda video to wipe out Copts in Egypt and “liberate Cairo,” World Watch Monitor reported.
Regarding the Nov. 24 mosque attack, Egypt’s Interior Ministry killed 11 men described as “terrorist elements” during a raid Nov. 28 on a suspected militant hideout in nearby Ismailia, reported. Police also arrested nine others at the hideout.
Militants were using the hideout to train terrorists and store weapons and logistical equipment used in attacks in North Sinai, police told, a news and documentary network. Separately, three suspected militants were killed in central Sinai, a military spokesman said, but offered no additional details.
An estimated two dozen or more terrorists attacked the mosque, using guns and hand grenades, witnesses have told the Associated Press. The attackers used the ISIS rallying cry Allahu Akbar, or God is great, witnesses said.
ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 305 and injured nearly 130, according to news reports.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

11/29/2017 9:20:56 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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