November 2017

California pro-life centers win fight against abortion law

November 9 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Pro-life pregnancy care centers in Los Angeles will not be forced to promote abortion after a state trial judge last week halted enforcement of California’s Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act.
 
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Gloria Trask issued a permanent injunction against the 2015 law that required pregnancy care centers to post signs or distribute literature telling women the state offers free or low-cost contraception and abortions. The law also required pro-life centers to give women a local abortion provider’s phone number.
 
“The FACT Act compels speech, and regulates content,” Trask said in her ruling. “This speech is not merely the transmittal of neutral information, such as the calorie count of a food product, or the octane of gasoline purchased at a pump.”
 
Trask noted that while the California government may support access to abortion, “its ability to impress free citizens into state services in this political dispute cannot be absolute; it must be limited.” She ruled the law violates California’s constitutional protections for free speech.
 
While so far only enforced in Los Angeles, the FACT Act prompted lawsuits from multiple pro-life organizations on behalf of pregnancy care centers throughout the state. They said the mandated pro-abortion statement amounted to government-coerced speech and violated their religious liberty.
 
Scott Scharpen, founder of The Scharpen Foundation, said the law went “profoundly against” the mission and purpose of the group’s mobile clinic, Go Mobile for Life. His organization filed suit against then-Attorney General Kamala Harris in November 2015 and won the favorable ruling from Trask on Oct. 30.
 
Scharpen said members of his organization were “overjoyed” at Trask’s verdict and are prepared to pursue the case through an expected appeal by current California Attorney General Xavier Becerra: “It’s our hope that as we continue to litigate this through the state court system that other judges will look on it in a similar way.”
 
Scharpen’s group is so far the only pro-life organization to win a fight against the law.
 
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed suit in October 2015 on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a network of pregnancy care centers. The organization argued the law violated the state and U.S. constitutions by limiting pregnancy care center workers’ free speech and freedom of religion. After the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the California law in October 2016, ADF asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
 
Liberty Counsel also filed suit on behalf of three pro-life pregnancy centers, saying the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s provision for freedom of speech and exercise of religion. The 9th Circuit also denied that request for an injunction, and the three centers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could decide this week whether to hear the case.
 
Liberty Counsel attorney Mat Staver said the recent state court ruling likely will weigh into the Supreme Court justices’ decision on whether to take his organization’s case: “What this now does is make a specific conflict between the state decision and the federal court decision, and that’s a classic example of what the Supreme Court looks for to take cases.”
 
Pro-life groups have successfully defeated similar laws in Maryland; Illinois; Austin, Texas; and New York City. A suit against a new Hawaii law – even tougher than the California law – is ongoing.
 
If the Supreme Court strikes down California’s law, it will leave Hawaii’s law vulnerable and perhaps dissuade other states from considering similar legislation, Staver said.
 
“This is government-coerced speech,” he said. “If this doesn’t stop in California, there’s other states no doubt that will follow suit, and California will become emboldened
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)
 

11/9/2017 9:18:36 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Pakistani death sentences show blasphemy laws’ threat

November 9 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The October death sentences for three Pakistani men demonstrate the threat of blasphemy laws in many countries to the life and liberty of Christians and other religious minorities.
 
The judgments for the Pakistanis – all members of the Ahmadi Muslim sect – came two months after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a report that showed more than one-third of the world’s countries have blasphemy laws. Most of the blasphemy laws in those 71 countries not only transgress international human rights standards but fail to fully protect freedom of expression and impose unduly severe punishments on violators, according to the report.
 
Arrested in 2014, the three Ahmadis – Mubasher Ahmad, Ghulam Ahmed and Ehsan Ahmed – received the death penalty Oct. 11 in a court in the Punjab Province of eastern Pakistan. They were charged with violating the country’s law against deliberately insulting Islam by tearing down a religious poster, according to a report by Voice of America (VOA). An Ahmadi spokesman said the poster was anti-Ahmadi, VOA reported.
 
While Ahmadis describe themselves as Muslims, Pakistan – with Islam as its state religion – does not recognize them as such and prohibits some of their practices. Ahmadis differ from other Muslims in that they believe the Messiah has already come.
 
Southern Baptist religious freedom advocate Russell Moore said the sentencing “is yet another reminder how imperiled religious liberty is throughout the world.”
 
“Conscience freedom is the most fundamental human right of all,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, “but for millions of people across the globe, including many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, such freedom is consistently and violently attacked.”
 
In written comments for Baptist Press (BP), Moore said he prays the United States “will continue to take the lead in global advocacy for religious liberty. Most importantly, I pray that we as Christians would work and pray for conscience freedom for everyone and everywhere.”
 
USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark said in a written statement, “In short, Ahmadis are required to renounce their faith in order to avail themselves of important civil rights in Pakistan.”
 
USCIRF – a bipartisan panel selected by the president and congressional leaders – “has consistently called on Pakistan to repeal such laws. They violate human rights standards and make the government the ultimate arbiter of religious doctrines or truths. This is quite simply wrong,” Mark said.
 
The situation for minority faith groups is growing worse, an expert on blasphemy laws told BP.
 
“There is an escalation of pressure and charges of blasphemy against religious minorities in many Muslim-majority countries, both in terms of formal legal charges by the government and also in private accusations by radicals, vigilantes and terrorists,” said Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
 
Accusations are more dangerous than government charges, he said in an email interview.
 
“For example, nobody has been executed for blasphemy under Pakistan’s current laws, which date from the 1980s, but dozens, perhaps hundreds, have been murdered after they had been accused of blasphemy or quasi-blasphemy laws,” said Marshall, who co-wrote a 2011 book on blasphemy codes.
 
Blasphemy accusations are increasing not only in Pakistan but in Egypt, Algeria, Bangladesh and Indonesia, he said.
 
When USCIRF released its report Aug. 16, Mark pointed to this double-edged menace.
 
“Blasphemy laws are wrong in principle, and they often invite abuse and lead to assaults, murders and mob attacks,” he said in a written statement.
 
As an example, a Pakistani Christian man and his wife were falsely accused of tossing pages of the Koran into the garbage and were thrown into the furnace of a brick kiln in 2014, according to Morning Star News.
 
In its report, USCIRF defined blasphemy as “the act of expressing contempt or a lack of reverence for God or sacred things.” In the study, blasphemy laws include sections “that sanction insulting or defaming religion and seek to punish individuals for allegedly offending, insulting, or denigrating religious doctrines, deities, symbols or ‘the sacred,’ or for wounding or insulting religious feelings.”
 
The USCIRF report showed the five countries with the worst scores in its survey – Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Qatar in order – all use blasphemy laws to guard the state religion of Islam, violating the rights of other religious groups in the process.
 
While many of the 71 countries with blasphemy laws hold Islam as the government religion, many others do not. Some countries with blasphemy laws seem surprising, such as Canada, New Zealand and several European countries, including Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Some of those governments do not enforce their laws, according to the USCIRF report.
 
USCIRF calls “upon those countries to set an example for the others and repeal their blasphemy laws,” Mark said. “And we call upon all countries to repeal any such laws and to free those detained or convicted for blasphemy.”
 
USCIRF found 86 percent of the countries with blasphemy laws call for prison sentences for violators.
 
The United States has the ability to help combat blasphemy laws around the world, Marshall said.
 
“The U.S. should point out that empirical research shows that restrictions on religious freedom, including blasphemy laws, actually increase religious tension, hostility and violence and push to limit and ultimately abolish blasphemy laws and restrictions wherever they occur,” he told BP. “We should also resist so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws in the West, since many of these function as blasphemy laws.”
 
In addition to the three Ahmadis sentenced to death in Pakistan, other individuals charged, sentenced or imprisoned under blasphemy laws in recent months include:

  • Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian Christian who had his request for parole rejected in early October despite his poor health while serving a prison sentence for a social media post saying the light of Jesus overcomes the “lie” of Islam and its prophet, according to World Watch Monitor.
  • Nadeem James, a Roman Catholic father of two who has been sentenced to death for blaspheming Muhammad, Islam’s prophet, in a phone text despite the fact he is illiterate, Morning Star News reported Sept. 18.
  • Shahzad Masih, a 17-year-old Roman Catholic in Pakistan who was arrested July 14 after being accused by a Muslim co-worker of blasphemy following an argument, according to Morning Star News.
  • Ishfaq Masih, a Christian father who was arrested June 16 in Pakistan after being accused of blasphemy by a Muslim client following a disagreement over a repair bill, Morning Star News reported.
  • Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian ousted as governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, who began serving a two-year prison sentence for blasphemy in May for comments he made during a 2016 re-election campaign, BP reported.

 
The USCIRF report – “Respecting Rights? Measuring the World’s Blasphemy Laws” – is available online at uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Blasphemy%20Laws%20Report.pdf.
 
In September, USCIRF issued a follow-up compilation titled “Selected Blasphemy Cases,” which provides information on many individuals imprisoned for violating blasphemy laws. The report is available at uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Selected%20Blasphemy%20Cases%20–%20September%202017.pdf.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

11/9/2017 9:14:18 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Protecting children from porn called ‘daily war’

November 9 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Churches and parents must model and emphasize a godly respect for human sexuality to protect children from the pervasive and savvy culture of pornography, speakers in a religious webinar addressing the subject said Nov. 7.
 
No longer adequate are the internet filters parents have relied on to prevent exposure to pornography, said Dean Inserra, lead pastor of City Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Tallahassee, Fla. He was the main speaker in the webinar hosted by the interfaith Religious Alliance Against Pornography (RAAP).
 
“Let’s be wise and have filters in place, but it’s got to be deeper than that. It’s got to go to the heart,” Inserra said. “We’ve got to create a different environment. We have to be distinct from the world and raise up a church that is unafraid to say as a male, these things matter.
 
“As a male, this is one of the greatest responsibilities that God has given me, that I respect, care for, love, look out for and protect women, especially in this area,” Inserra said, referencing the #MeToo campaign that has exposed allegations of widespread sexual abuse in Hollywood, business, politics and other arenas.
 
The free, one-hour webinar, “Parents, Kids, and Pornography: Attack on a Generation,” also included a panel discussion led by David Blair, director of the Church of God (COG) Department of Youth and Discipleship. Indiana COG youth director Josh Martin and Dewayne Moree, founder of the Youth Ministry Coaching Network, offered additional insight on the panel.
 
The webinar was designed to help parents and churches equip children and teenagers to honor God and avoid entrapments by pornography and sexually graphic images and terminology. RAAP has announced a second webinar on the subject Nov. 16 at 8 p.m.
 
Before the age of 11, 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls in the U.S. have viewed pornography, webinar participants said. In addition, 12 to 15 percent (close to 100 million) of all websites are pornographic in nature. Anxiety, depression, addiction and peer victimization are all byproducts of porn exposure and use, speakers said.
 
“We need to kind of get our heads out of the sand and realize that we live in this world now that is saturated with it everywhere, and we can’t control it,” Inserra said. “It means that pornography is now coming to us.”
 
Alleged and admitted sexual abuse, rape and sexual harassment claims that have grown from the Harvey Weinstein scandal are indicative of the harm pornography has been shown to instigate, Inserra said. He described sexual sin including pornography as a major contemporary evil that must be addressed in Christian discipleship.
 
“The conversation that needs to happen in churches, that needs to happen in discipleship group, that needs to happen with parents in homes, is what does it really look like – in a porn-saturated world, in a sex-obsessed world – what does it really look like to live out that prayer of Jesus, to be in the world and not of it,” Inserra said. “It’s a daily war. We walk into battle as God’s missionaries every single day.”
 
Parents should anticipate their children’s exposure to porn and teach them in advance how to respond, Martin said.
 
Among pointers offered to parents and churches during the webinar:

  • Communicate the need for modesty in dress and behavior without blaming women for men’s stumbling, nor making women a scapegoat;
  • Counter the cultural falsehood that “boys will be boys” by teaching boys to become men who are respectful, humble and intentionally protective of women;
  • Churches must intentionally tackle the issue through modeling, training and preaching;
  • Students are more receptive to advice from church leaders who have taken the time to build relationships and trust.

 
Registration for the Nov. 16 webinar is available at religiousalliance.org. Webinar attendees also receive a list of pertinent resources.
 
With support from Christians, Muslims and Jews, RAAP markets itself as an organization working “to create a broad interfaith effort to alert, educate, and mobilize all people to understand and combat pornography.”
 
K. Marshall Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia and immediate past president of the National African Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Dan Darling, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) vice president for communications, are members of RAAP’s advisory board. Retired ERLC President Richard Land and the late Adrian Rogers, former Southern Baptist Convention president, are among past board members.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

11/9/2017 9:07:41 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Shootings don’t stop churches, say past victims

November 8 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Church shootings like the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, will not intimidate the body of Christ, according to a Washington Post op-ed by Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore. Congregations that have experienced shootings are offering testimony to support his assertion.
 
“The goal the gunman sought, to terrorize worshipers, has been attempted constantly over the centuries around the world by cold, rational governments and terrorist groups – all thinking that they could, by the trauma of violence, snuff out churches, or at least intimidate those churches into hiding from one another,” Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in a Nov. 6 op-ed.
 
“Such violent tactics always end up with the exact opposite of what the intimidators intend: a resilient church that, if anything, moves forward with even more purpose than before,” he wrote.
 
Moore was referencing the Nov. 5 shooting at First Baptist that left 26 dead and some 20 others injured. The alleged gunman, Devin Kelley, died later, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after being pursued by bystanders in a high-speed vehicle chase.
 
For some, the Sutherland Springs slayings called to mind previous church shootings like a 1999 incident at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas; a 2009 incident at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill.; and a 1980 incident at First Baptist Church in Daingerfield, Texas.
 
Those who kill followers of Jesus apparently assume, Moore wrote, “that gunfire or poison gas or mass beheadings will show Christians how powerless we are. That is true. They assume that this sense of powerlessness will rob the community of its will to be the church. That is false.”
 
Because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, “death is not the endpoint” for Christians, Moore wrote. That’s why churches long have stood firm and even flourished amid violence.
 
“To eradicate churches, our opponents will need a better strategy,” Moore wrote.
 
That’s also the assessment of a pastor at Wedgwood, where 18 years ago a lone gunman killed seven people and injured seven more at a Wednesday-night See You at the Pole rally before fatally shooting himself on the back pew.
 
Jeff Laster, then a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary student and head of facilities for Wedgwood, was among the wounded. He told Baptist Press (BP) the church did not allow Satan to have victory over it through the shooting.
 
Hundreds have been baptized at Wedgwood during the ensuing years, said Laster, now the church’s associate pastor for administration. At least one sister church has been planted because of the congregation’s labor.
 
“Going through [the shooting] allowed us to be able to minister to people and help them in a way that I don’t think we could have before,” Laster said. “And not just from a shooting perspective, but in other ways.”
 
Laster noted, “Anytime you’ve gone through something that traumatic, it either makes you or breaks you. If you allow it to, it can damage the church body. But if you’re trusting in God,” strengthened faith can be a result of the healing process.
 
In subsequent years, Wedgwood was able to help sister churches that experienced violence, including First Baptist Maryville, when its pastor, Fred Winters, was fatally shot during a 2009 worship service. Then-Wedgwood pastor Al Meredith spent a weekend with First Baptist Maryville, comforting and helping the congregation, Laster said.
 
Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said, in the eight years since the shooting at First Baptist Maryville “God’s grace has eclipsed that tragedy over and over again.”
 
“The people and the leadership there have trusted Him through pain and then healing and then renewal and then the good that only God can bring out of such pain,” Adams told BP in written comments. “Those who were there that day, and those of us who were touched deeply by it later, are somehow stronger and deeper and closer to the Lord because of it. And that’s a miracle that only God can bring out of such tragedy.”
 
Another congregation to experience God’s steadying hand following a shooting was First Baptist Daingerfield, where in 1980 a gunman shot 15 people during a worship service, killing five. A documentary film titled Faith Under Fire traced how the massacre led some church attendees to experience crises of faith, nightmares, divorce and thoughts of revenge.
 
Nevertheless, some two decades later, then-First Baptist pastor John Stone told BP, “As painful as it is to remember, it is also something you don’t want to forget, because if you do, you also forget the faithfulness of God to His people. The scripture is true: ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.’”
 
First Baptist Daingerfield continues to minister in its east Texas community today, with an average worship attendance of 110, according to data from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Church Profile.
 
Pastor Danny Broughton told BP the father of a First Baptist Daingerfield member is among the dead at First Baptist Sutherland Springs. That member and others have resolved to write “letters of comfort” to the believers in Sutherland Springs.
 
At First Baptist Daingerfield, the shooting 37 years ago increased “our urgency, because we’re not guaranteed life,” Broughton said. “Tomorrow is not a guarantee, so for this congregation, I have seen enjoyment and urgency to continue the work of Christ.”
 
Yet another congregation to experience victory after a shooting was Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
 
A year after a white supremacist killed nine black worshipers at Emanuel in 2015, a victim’s husband told BP the tragedy led some people to testify “about the fact that they were racist, and they’ve repented and confessed.” The church, however, was still transitioning “from mourning to healing,” he added.
 
Reflecting on this week’s shooting, Texas pastor Bart Barber wrote in Christianity Today that a small, rural congregation like First Baptist Sutherland Springs faces unique challenges, especially when required to recover from the murder of virtually all of the church’s lay leadership. Yet “smaller churches can generate a loyalty and a resiliency that make them hard to kill.”
 
“A single scandal involving a key personality can make an entire network of megachurches vanish without a trace in the span of a few months. I predict a better outcome for First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs,” wrote Barber, a speaker at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference, which focused on pastors of smaller churches.
 
“People are less likely to abandon the church they attended with their grandparents,” Barber wrote. “I believe that members who have been on the sidelines will step up. Sister churches in that rural area will reach in and give a helping hand. The martyrdom of these believers will bring people to Christ. ... The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s church.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

11/8/2017 9:45:49 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Southern Baptist chaplains respond to hurting Texas community

November 8 2017 by Josie Bingham, NAMB

“It’s a pretty somber place,” Scottie Stice said of the community left behind after Sunday’s horrific mass shooting at a Southern Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
 
Stice, disaster relief (DR) director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), reported teams of Southern Baptist chaplains and other DR volunteers are ministering however they can among those devastated by the “senseless” tragedy.

Photo from The TEXAN


On Nov. 5, a gunman opened fire on worshipers at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Among the 26 killed, was Annabelle, the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri. About half of those who lost their lives were children. There were reportedly 20 wounded; some are still enduring surgeries in nearby hospitals. The victims of Sunday’s shooting reportedly ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years.
 
It’s only been about a month since Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains responded to the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead and nearly 500 others wounded.
 

‘Hurting church ... hurting state’

With chaplains now on the ground in Sutherland Springs, Stice noted “lots of healing needs to take place; it’s a hurting church and a hurting state.”
 
SBTC’s associate for pastor/church relations, Ted Elmore, was among the first to respond to the tragedy with a team of field ministry strategists.
 
“When we found out there was an event, we rounded up a team to see how to serve pastors and churches,” Elmore said. “Since Sunday evening after the shooting, we’ve received assistance from disaster relief chaplains and have been reaching out to local churches to better understand what they need to rally around their friends and families.”
 
In the days ahead, Elmore said, his team will create a strategy to help the community recover.
 
“Prayer is the main thing people can do right now,” he said. “The chaplains are terrific. They are there to listen to the families and to the community as questions like, ‘Why?’ surface. We are trusting God to lead us well through this so we can serve and minister to everyone.”
 
The community is “expressing their grief but also locking arms and holding one another up,” Elmore said.
 
“The people of Sutherland Springs are coming together in this,” he noted. “Many churches are partnering with us. Chaplains, First Baptist Church members, Texas Baptist Men, the North American Mission Board (NAMB), disaster relief volunteers and many other organizations are here to respond. And while there is sadness, we trust and hope in a Father who loves us all so much.”
 
SBTC staff members are currently helping plan a prayer service for Wednesday evening (Nov. 8).
 
Terry Henderson, the state disaster relief director for Texas Baptist Men (TBM), knew one of the victims of the Sutherland Springs shooting. He said members of TBM have continued to invite chaplains to Sutherland Springs where they can occupy the Red Cross’ Family Assistance Center to provide support and comfort to those in need.
 
“Many have responded to the call and are at either the family center or in the hospitals,” Henderson said. “Many chaplains stayed at the family center when names of the deceased were announced. We are grateful for chaplains from many organizations as they’ve been here to listen.”
 
Chaplain and retired Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver spoke with Southern Baptist Army chaplain Joe Sherwin who is a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) resident at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
 
“Joe and two other Southern Baptist chaplains and CPE residents, Doug Yoder (Army) and Kraig Smith (Air Force), have been involved in caring for the eight victims brought to Brooke Army Medical Center,” said Carver, NAMB’s executive director of chaplaincy.
 
“They report tough times due to the chaos, the age of the victims, their injuries and the loss of life. But they are there to share the gospel and to provide hope in this terrible situation.”
 
On behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, NAMB has offered to cover funeral expenses for all shooting victims in coordination with the SBTC.
 
Texas Baptist Men operates in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas, one of two Baptist state conventions in the state.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Josie Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board.)
 
Related articles:
Texas shooting: SBC leaders to visit grieving pastor, church
26 killed in Texas church shooting
 

11/8/2017 9:38:36 AM by Josie Bingham, NAMB | with 0 comments



Reformation yields gospel unity, Mohler tells conference

November 8 2017 by SBTS Communications

On the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of his famous 95 Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany, R. Albert Mohler Jr. addressed The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SBTS) “Here We Stand” conference.
 
The gathering of theologians and pastors to celebrate and reflect on the the Protestant Reformation’s quincentennial was sponsored by SBTS, Reformed Theological Seminary and Ligonier Ministries, Oct. 31-Nov. 2 in SBTS’s Alumni Chapel in Louisville, Ky.

SBTS photo
R. Albert Mohler Jr., left, dialogues with other speakers at the “Here We Stand” conference at Southern Seminary making the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.


In his address, Mohler laid out the significance of the Reformation and answered criticisms that the Reformation split the church. He argued that the gospel of Jesus Christ is what the reformers meant to reclaim in churches. Not, according to Mohler, that the reformers meant to divide the church, per se; rather, they “sought to find and to establish and to form the church for whom Christ had died.”
 
“Wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, the Reformation doesn’t fail,” Mohler said. “Where the gospel isn’t preached, there is no church. Where the gospel is preached, Jesus saves.”
 
This, Mohler said, is the first mark of the church: the preaching of the gospel. He argued that the gospel leads, contrary to the analysis of detractors from the Reformation, to wide unity across Protestantism.
 
“Luther began an argument 500 years ago on this date, and that argument continues to work its way out,” Mohler said. “And those who stand in the gospel together ... are in the same church.
 
“We may not be in the same congregation, and we may be denominated according to different denominations, but we stand together in the gospel. And we are confident that we are part of one great church because it’s Christ’s church – it’s the church about which Jesus said, ‘Upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’”
 
Gregg R. Allison, professor of Christian theology at SBTS, encouraged Here We Stand attendees to celebrate the commonalities between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism while acknowledging the vast differences between the two belief systems.
 
The gospel of Jesus Christ, Allison said, is “the good news for Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and agnostics and atheists – to the glory of God and the glory of God alone.”
 
Allison mentioned commonalities such as the belief in “the glory and travesty of human nature”; the Trinity; and the personhood and salvific work of Christ, among other aspects. “The Reformation isn’t over,” he said, reminding attendees that Protestantism, like Roman Catholicism, is a worldview, whereas the gospel supersedes everything.
 
He concluded his session with four ways Protestants can engage their Roman Catholic neighbors, which included reading the gospels with them, which he said is a slow and steady process of teaching them who Jesus is and what He said.
 
Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and president of the 9Marks church health ministry, explored the doctrine of justification – the central theological legacy of the Reformation and the one that continues to set apart Protestant and Catholic churches.
 
Dever noted the critical Protestant theology of justification by faith alone, demonstrating how the doctrine continues to mark faithful Christianity. Explaining the doctrine from Jesus’ story about the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18, Dever challenged the popular notion that justification is primarily a Pauline doctrine and pointed to the legalistic worldview of the Pharisees. That legalism among the Jewish leaders in the first century was similar to the legalism of the Catholic Church in the 16th century.
 
While the Catholic Church believed in the doctrine of “impartation” (or, God making sinners just), the Protestant church teaches that justification is a legal acquitting of the unrighteous (or, declaring sinners just).
 
“Justification is the judicial act of God in which, primarily, God declares on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner,” said Dever, a graduate of SBTS and former chairman of its trustees.
 
“Secondarily, justification includes the adoption [of believers] as children of God with the right to eternal life,” Dever said. “It includes forgiveness and restoration. The forgiveness that says you may go and the adoption that says you may come – that is all entailed in Christian justification.”
 
Other speakers included J. Ligon Duncan, chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary, as well as the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology; Stephen J. Nichols, president of Reformation Bible college and chief academic officer and teaching fellow for Ligonier Ministries; Steven J. Lawson, president and founder of OnePassion Ministries and dean of the doctor of ministry program and professor of preaching at The Master’s Seminary; and Derek Thomas, senior minister at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and Robert Strong Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Seminary.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications office of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
 

11/8/2017 9:35:20 AM by SBTS Communications | with 0 comments



Nationwide Bible drive hosted by LifeWay stores

November 8 2017 by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Stores

Customers often leave LifeWay Christian Stores with new Bibles in their hands. But for five days in November, they will also be bringing Bibles into the stores – to donate to others.
 
On Nov. 17-22, LifeWay will host a nationwide Bible drive at all of its stores to collect copies of God’s Word to donate to mission organizations and local ministries.

“Customers are invited to visit their local LifeWay store and donate their gently used Bibles or purchase new ones [to be donated],” said Nathan Magness, director of marketing strategy.
 
This is LifeWay’s second year hosting a nationwide Bible drive, Magness said. Last year, customers donated approximately 14,000 Bibles.
 
According to a recent study by LifeWay Research, the average American household owns three Bibles. LifeWay’s Bible drive is a way to get some of those extra Bibles sitting unused on bookshelves into the hands of ministries that can put them to good use.
 
“I was pleasantly surprised by the response to last year’s Bible drive,” said Ron Jones, manager of the LifeWay Christian Store in San Jose, Calif.
 
“This year, as we encourage our staff to talk about the drive with our customers, I’m expecting God to do a great work.”
 
The San Jose LifeWay location will collect Bibles this year for CityTeam, a faith-based ministry serving people struggling with poverty, homelessness and addiction. Across the country, other local ministries are also partnering with LifeWay for the Bible drive. A few examples:

  • In Birmingham, Ala., LifeWay will send Bibles to The Grace Place, a ministry of Bessemer Baptist Association.
  • In Mount Juliet, Tenn., Bibles will go to the Nashville Rescue Mission.
  • In Pineville, N.C., Bibles will be sent to North Carolina Baptist Children’s Homes and to mission projects in Guyana, South America.

 
Customers can contact their local LifeWay Store to find out what ministry or mission organization will receive Bibles collected in their area.
 
LifeWay stores will accept new or gently used Bibles during regular business hours Nov. 17-22. All LifeWay stores are closed on Sunday.
 
In operation for more than 90 years, LifeWay Christian Stores is the largest Christian bookstore chain in the United States with more than 170 stores nationwide. The stores are owned and operated by LifeWay Christian Resources with headquarters in Nashville.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Wilson is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
 

11/8/2017 9:31:15 AM by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Stores | with 0 comments



Miracles in Appalachia leave Bill Barker in awe

November 8 2017 by Tobin Perry, NAMB

When God first called Bill Barker as a missionary to Appalachia in the spring of 2001, the veteran pastor of more than 30 years – and a native of the region – got down on his knees and prayed.

Photo by John Swain, NAMB
Bill Barker, director of Appalachian Regional Ministry, picks up donated clothes sent in an assortment of cardboard boxes. After 16 years of service as a NAMB missionary, Barker is retiring at the end of this year.


“Lord, what is the message I need to take?” Barker asked God.
 
The answer to his prayer came in Matthew 9:35-38, the passage where Jesus sees the multitudes and is moved with compassion. Jesus says in that passage, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.
 
Barker has preached that passage 1,500 times, prayed it and seen it answered countless times over the years.
 
With Barker leading the Appalachian Regional Ministry (ARM), Southern Baptist churches have sent more than 1 million short-term volunteers to the region. Another 300 people have moved there to serve fulltime.
 
Barker is retiring at the end of December after more than 16 years as a North American Mission Board missionary. He has also overseen the Mississippi River Ministry (MRM) since 2012. ARM and MRM are North American Mission Board (NAMB) ministries that mobilize Southern Baptists to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the two regions through evangelism, church planting and church strengthening.
 
As Barker looks back over his missionary service, he noted several developments that stand out. A gospel tract written by ARM volunteers has been distributed to more than 1.6 million people. The tract led to a correspondence Bible class initiated by ARM, now led by local churches and completed by more than 5,000 people. Hundreds have come to faith in Christ through it, including several dozen men in prison.
 
Barker has also appreciated the opportunity to connect with and speak to thousands of Southern Baptists, traveling over 1 million miles during the course of his ministry. In a typical year, he has spoken at 125 churches and 10 to 20 Baptist associations and Woman’s Missionary Union groups.

NAMB photo
Bill Barker, director of the Appalachian Regional Ministry (ARM), is retiring as a North American Mission Board missionary after 16-plus years of service.


“God has enabled me to be out there and be among Southern Baptists and talk about His work,” Barker said of the ministry that has led to 77,000 professions of faith. “It has been a marvel to see God use this old boy from the head of a hollow in West Virginia in a manner such as this.”
 
In recent years, Barker has been greatly encouraged by growth in ARM’s Christmas Backpack Ministry in partnership with eight state conventions. Developed from a shoebox ministry, it provides gifts, necessities and fun items to impoverished children throughout Appalachian and Mississippi River regions, expanding from 300 shoeboxes in 2012 to an expectation of 65,000 backpacks this year.
 
Miracles like that have been plentiful in Barker’s experience.
 
“I wake up every morning wondering what miracle God is going to do today,” he said. “I’ve seen God do small miracles. I’ve seen Him do big miracles.”
 
Barker started seeing miracles in his first year with ARM. In February 2002, Barker visited Larry and Bessie McPeek to learn more about their ministry helping young mothers keep their babies. In the three months before Barker arrived they’d helped 180 women. But they were broke.
 
“I have no money to give you,” Barker told the couple before praying with them and leaving.
 
That night a call came to Barker’s cellphone in a location where he typically did not have cell coverage and hasn’t since. It was from a lady who had heard Barker speak at her church two weeks earlier in South Carolina.
 
“God has given me the ability to understand investments, and I received an inheritance,” the lady told Barker. “I want to send you the tithe off of that to help people in Kentucky. God has told me people in Kentucky need help.”
 
Barker thought the lady would send him $20 or so. Two days later he received a check from her for $10,000, which substantially helped fund the McPeeks’ pro-life ministry.
 
The miracles have kept coming. Just a few years ago, Barker got a call from a lady in Jacksonville, Fla., who had four boxes of discontinued baby clothes she wanted to give. Each box had around 40 outfits. But there was a catch. Someone had to pay for the shipping (about $20 a box). Barker started calling ministries in Appalachia that he believed could use the clothing but none of them could pay for the shipping.

NAMB photo
North American Mission Board missionary Bill Barker reads thank you notes from children who received backpacks as part of the Appalachian Regional Ministry’s annual Christmas outreach. Barker is retiring as a NAMB missionary after 16-plus years of service.


The next day he got another call from the lady in Jacksonville.
 
“Mr. Barker, I hate to tell you this, we don’t have four boxes of baby clothes,” the lady told him. “To tell you the truth I have 26 pallets of baby items. If you could tell me where they need to go, I’ve called in a favor and can get it hauled from Jacksonville, Fla., to anywhere in Kentucky or West Virginia, provided it’s on the interstate.”
 
Meanwhile, unknown to Barker, Keith Decker of Cedar Ridge Ministries in eastern Kentucky had noticed an overwhelming number of poorly clothed, malnourished babies in their area. Wanting to help, Decker and his wife decided to host a baby shower for the mothers. On the same Friday Barker had received the first call from the Jacksonville woman, Decker had posted a notice on Facebook about the shower, hoping to help 35 to 50 women thanks to a partner in South Carolina. Instead, 1,000 women signed up to be a part of the baby shower.
 
Just moments after Barker had learned about the 26 pallets of baby clothes, Decker called him in a panic over the situation. When the two realized the unique timing of the two calls, they knew God had come through again.
 
“It has been 16-and-a-half years of miracles like those,” Barker said.
 
Barker expects to stay active in Appalachian ministry after his retirement from NAMB, but he doesn’t yet know where that will be. NAMB’s work in the region will continue through a new Send Relief ministry hub located in Kentucky.
 
“I am grateful to Southern Baptists for their support of Cooperative Program missions and of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and their state missions offerings in those partnership states,” Barker said. “Those are the offerings that have funded this work.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)
 

11/8/2017 9:03:43 AM by Tobin Perry, NAMB | with 0 comments



N.C. Baptists' resolution denounces racism

November 7 2017 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

North Carolina Baptists approved a resolution condemning racism at their annual meeting in Greensboro Tuesday, after passing an amendment from a messenger who did not fully agree with the wording of a similar resolution that was approved at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention meeting.
 
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s two-day gathering was held in a city of historic significance to the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Greensboro was the scene of a six-month long sit-in movement that took place at a Woolworth’s lunch counter until it was integrated in the summer of 1960.
 
The “Resolution Denouncing Racism” was put before the assembly of church representatives by the convention’s Committee on Resolutions and Memorials.
 
Committee Chairman Jonathan Blaylock said, “North Carolina Baptists denounce racism in all its expressions as sin against a holy and just God.”
 

Photo by Steve Cooke
Phil Addison, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Bunnlevel, proposed an amendment to the Resolution Denouncing Racism that affirmed the “sentiments” of SBC’s “Resolution on the Anti-gospel of Alt-right White Supremacy,” but rejected wording in the national statement that discouraged the use of the Confederate battle flag.

Two amendments to the resolution were proposed.
 
Ray Barnhill, pastor of Union Missionary Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, proposed the first change, which was intended to remove a section referring to the “preservation of history,” a reference to debates over Confederate monuments and statues, and a section affirming a controversial resolution on the “alt-right” from the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting in Phoenix earlier this year. Barnhill’s amendment was voted down overwhelmingly.
 
Phil Addison, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Bunnlevel, proposed an amendment to the Resolution Denouncing Racism that affirmed the “sentiments” of the SBC’s “Resolution on the Anti-gospel of Alt-right White Supremacy,” but rejected wording in the national statement that discouraged the use of the Confederate battle flag.
 
“I do not have a Confederate flag. I will not fly a Confederate flag, because it offends my brother,” Addison said. “But what happens when the American flag becomes so hated that it offends my brother? What happens when [anti-fascist groups], what happens when Black Lives Matter – you see, I agree with the sentiment of the [alt-right resolution] but I do not agree with the content.”
 
Addison’s amendment passed narrowly in a ballot vote, then the revised resolution was approved with a near unanimous show of hands.
 
The Resolutions Committee explained why they felt such a statement was needed in an article published last month. They called racism “a critical and perennial issue in our culture and particularly in our own state,” and said the convention should “formally express a biblically grounded opinion.”
 
The convention also passed a resolution affirming “God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex” and that “North Carolina Baptists commit to pray for our neighbors who identify themselves as homosexual and transgender.”
 
Read the amended Resolution Denouncing Racism below:
 
WHEREAS, The Bible clearly teaches that God has created all men and women in His image, from all tribes and nations of the world (Genesis 1:27; Acts 17:26); and
 
WHEREAS, Christ died for the sins of people from every nation, tongue, and tribe (Revelation 5:9); and
 
WHEREAS, Christians are commanded to make disciples from every nation (Matthew 28:19); and
 
WHEREAS, The Bible declares, “God does not show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34-35); and
 
WHEREAS, Significant racism still exists in our communities, as evidenced by recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Durham, North Carolina, and other cities across our nation, and the devil uses these opportunities to perpetuate division and strife in our society; now, therefore, be it
 
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Annual Meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, November 6-7, 2017, denounce racism in all its expressions as sin against a holy and just God, because it disregards the image of God in all people and denies the truth of the Gospel that Christ died for the sins of all mankind; and be it further
 
RESOLVED, That we affirm the sentiments of the resolution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13-14, 2017 titled “On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy”; and be it further
 
RESOLVED, That we call on North Carolina Baptists to humble themselves before God, acknowledging that while the preservation of history is critically important for a nation, the demonstration of Christ’s love and the proclamation of the Gospel to all peoples must take precedence over the important personal preferences of individual Christians, including the preservation of history. Therefore, we call on North Carolina Baptists to joyfully set aside anything that might create a barrier for the sharing and hearing of the full truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it finally
 
RESOLVED, That North Carolina Baptists commit to pray fervently for those who advocate racism, so that they may become aware of their sin through the light of the Gospel, repent of the sin of racism, and recognize that the love of Jesus Christ has been extended to all men and women of every race and nation.

11/7/2017 3:54:02 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 1 comments



BSC Executive Committee hears ‘optimistic’ financial report

November 7 2017 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Although Cooperative Program (CP) receipts were slightly behind budget through the end of October, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) officials remain confident that the convention will meet or exceed its 2017 budget.
 
Through Oct. 31, CP receipts totaled more than $23.8 million, which is nearly 5 percent behind the overall $30.375 million budget for 2017. However, those numbers are up more than 1 percent when compared to the same period a year ago.
 
“We are almost 5 percent behind budget but as I’ve been telling you all year, the December effect is coming,” said Beverly Volz, who serves as BSC director of accounting services.
 
Volz shared the financial report during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Executive Committee on Monday, Nov. 6 at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro. The committee meeting was held in conjunction with the state convention’s annual meeting.
 
The “December effect” Volz referenced includes five Sundays on the December 2017 calendar, which gives churches an extra Sunday at the end of the year to receive offerings and forward Cooperative Program receipts to the state convention. Plus, charitable giving typically increases in December as individuals make year-end financial donations.
 
Additionally, BSC bylaws allow the convention to receive end-of-year CP receipts for five business days following the final Sunday of the year.
 
With Dec. 31 falling on a Sunday and New Year’s Day falling on a Monday, the convention will not close the books on 2017 until Jan. 8, 2018, Volz said.
 
“It gives us an extra long time for churches to get their receipts in,” Volz said. “Given the fact that we are ahead year-over-year by over 1 percent, we feel good that we will meet the budget.
 
“We are very optimistic.”
 
Volz also reported that N.C. Baptists have given more than $11.1 million to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions and more than $6 million to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions through Oct. 31. Those figures are up more than 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively, through the same time period in 2016.
 
In addition, N.C. Baptists have given more than $1.5 million to date to the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO), which supports a variety of ministries, including disaster relief, church planting, mission camps, associational projects and more.
 
Overall, NCMO gifts are up nearly 12 percent through the same time period as 2016.
 
“We are trending upward in all of our major offerings,” Volz said.
 
Brian Davis, BSC associate executive director-treasurer, said the increase in NCMO support shows that churches understand the value of the offering.
 
“This year, we’ve had multiple major disasters, and the temptation is for churches to give more to designated offerings,” Davis said. “Sometimes, that hurts NCMO, but that hasn’t been the case this year. I believe that our churches are understanding the value of the North Carolina Missions Offering and the value of special offerings when catastrophes happen, as well.”
 
Robert Simons, president of Baptists on Mission, also known as N.C. Baptist Men, reported to the committee that disaster relief volunteers are serving in four counties in western North Carolina that were recently impacted by tornados. Simons also said that volunteers continue to serve in areas of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico that were impacted by hurricanes in recent months.
 
Volunteers are also needed to assist with the long-term relief efforts in eastern North Carolina, as a result of last year’s Hurricane Matthew, Simons said.
 
The Executive Committee also recognized outgoing board members David Duarte, Mike Moore, Ed Rose and David Spray.
 
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the full BSC Board of Directors is scheduled for Jan. 29-30 at Caraway Conference Center and Camp near Asheboro.
 

11/7/2017 10:33:28 AM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



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