September 2014

Syrian refugees pass 3 million mark

September 19 2014 by Brian Andrews, Baptist Press

The Syrian crisis reached a new milestone as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees counted more than 3 million officially registered refugees driven out by the conflict tearing the Middle Eastern country apart.

As the crisis continues in its fourth year, Christian workers persevere in bringing spiritual and physical aid to the refugees and call on the church to keep praying and keep giving to these efforts.

“We have a God-given moment in history,” Don Alan,* a Christian worker in the Middle East, said. “Will we be cowards and shrink back, or will we play the role that God is calling us to? I pray that you [the church] will stand with us as we respond to this window of opportunity that we have been privileged to be a part of.”


BP Photo by Jedediah Smith
Syrian refugees cross the border from Syria to Jordan. They must wait a few hours before going to the UN camp.

The Syrian crisis began in the spring of 2011 with protests against the government that escalated into a civil war. Since then, countries surrounding Syria -- Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt -- have been flooded with Syrian refugees seeking asylum.

In the last four years, the conflict has displaced more than 6.5 million people within Syria and killed more than 150,000.

As the numbers continue to rise, workers seek to keep their focus on the individual people around them, sharing the “ with refugees as they meet their physical needs.

“Jesus said that He came to seek the lost, bringing healing to the hurting,” Alan said. “As we continue to reach out to refugees, our desire continues to be to reach out [to] one person at a time and make a difference in their life.”

However, despite efforts to focus on the individual and daily victories, the incredible scope of this conflict can sometimes seem daunting, Alan says.

“The length of the fighting and the number of refugees threatens to overwhelm not just aid agencies, but may also be discouraging us [the church] from staying involved,” Alan said.

Workers urge the church to stand alongside them on behalf of the Syrians, remembering that God has not left Syria. “From events on the ground, we are reminded daily that God is at work -- don’t lose hope,” Alan said.

As refugees continue to flee their homes, solidarity and action from the church is invaluable. The question for each believer, Alan says, is not whether they should help but how God is calling them to help.

“God reminds us often in His Word to endure, and not lose faith,” he said. “As you continue to consider what part you will play, know that God is at work and that your praying, giving and even being willing to go is part of God’s plan in reaching the Syrians.”


  • Ask God to give Christian workers perseverance and wisdom in reaching out to the Syrian refugees around them.
  • Ask God to provide workers with the resources to meet Syrian refugees’ physical needs, and open doors to share the gospel with them.
  • Pray many refugees will find their refuge and hope in Jesus.

Learn more

  • For more related stories, videos, photos and information on ways to help, go to
  • Write to to find out about short-term and long-term opportunities to work among Syrians.

*Name changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE - Brian Andrews is a writer for Baptist Press’s London Bureau.)

9/19/2014 11:24:33 AM by Brian Andrews, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Labor and witness mark summer student volunteers

September 19 2014 by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press

Thousands of World Changers and P2 Missions volunteers tackled manual labor and served with local churches this summer, often with an impact that will last a lifetime and into eternity.

A woman was able to leave her home in Tennessee for the first time in months after volunteers built a wheelchair ramp. Teams in Cleveland, Ohio, were able to restore a home that was destroyed by fire. A church plant in Philadelphia, Pa., formed a relationship with an established church and was able to secure a place to meet because of painting done by the student volunteers.

These are only a few of the stories from those who served with the two ministries of LifeWay Christian Resources dedicated to week-long short-term missions projects.


BP Photo
P2 Missions volunteers like this young woman in Philadelphia helped make numerous ministry possible this summer, church planter Alonzo Johnson says.

This summer, 12,642 World Changers participants served at 900-plus work sites doing manual labor in homes and communities. P2 Missions, previously PowerPlant, encompassed 2,865 participants who served 108 church plants.

Alonzo Johnson, a church planter in Philadelphia, said the work by a group from First Baptist Orange City, Fla., made possible the outreach that Northeast Bible Fellowship had planned for the rest of the summer.

Johnson said the church plant conducted a sports clinic and kids club at a community center the week after the Florida volunteers came to paint benches and clean the area. “The following week’s ministry would not have been possible if we did not have this group willing to do hard work and help us build relationships through cleaning, painting and just talking to people in the community,” Johnson said.

But more than serving with their hands, a special emphasis was placed on training students to share the Gospel this year, Dave MacNeill, a strategist with World Changers and P2 Missions, noted.

“World Changers has always been about using construction as an avenue into a community in order to share the Gospel,” MacNeill said. “This year, more than ever, we saw students take their evangelistic training into the communities where they were meeting a physical need while verbally sharing the Gospel of Jesus.”

That training paid dividends as, in addition to the work provided through World Changers and P2 Missions, 12,851 presentations of the Gospel were made, with 569 people making commitments to follow Christ.

The work and the Gospel presentations came together in Cleveland where Jeff Bodziony is planting Forward Church in the same neighborhood where he previously sold drugs.

A fire damaged the home of a Forward Church member, forcing her and her extended family to live elsewhere. Over the last two years, World Changers worked at the home, cleaning it out, replacing the sheetrock and plumbing, re-roofing and rewiring it so her family could return.

More importantly, however, two of her children have joined Forward Church after turning to Christ through the witness and service of the student teams.

Not only did the projects cause a lasting change for the individuals served, but also for the students who participated. A total of 402 participants professed a call to vocational ministry.

Erin Haley, member of a team from Jessieville First Baptist in Arkansas, said New Circle Church in Indianapolis gave her a greater appreciation for church plants. As a college freshman, she is now exploring and praying “about the possibility of helping with the establishment of a church.”

For Ben Trueblood, LifeWay’s director of student ministry, those moments are part of what makes World Changers and P2 Missions worthwhile. “When I hear stories from youth pastors about their students learning how to share their faith and having an opportunity to do so through one of these projects, it is a special thing,” he said. “That’s something those students will take back to their own cities and be able to make an incredible impact.”

To learn more about this year’s projects or to see plans for 2015, visit World Changers and P2 Missions.

(EDITOR’S NOTE - Aaron Earls is a writer with the communications team of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

9/19/2014 11:11:43 AM by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

BP website launches new look

September 18 2014 by Baptist Press

Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service, launched today (Sept. 17) its new redesigned website, unveiling an updated look and new features.
This is the first comprehensive Baptist Press redesign of since 2007, said Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. The more flexible, user-friendly design will better “position BP to communicate content in the fast-paced world of Christian journalism,” he noted.
“The old design was based on a newspaper format, reproducing a ‘daily’ in a web-based environment,” Oldham said. The updated design “provides flexibility in delivering news as it happens, expanding Baptist Press’ ability to post news through the variety of media that people utilize in their daily lives, including print, audio and video.”


The site’s new responsive design “automatically sizes to fit whatever screen size, shape or orientation individuals use to access Baptist Press, whether on their computers, smart phones, tablets or other electronic devices,” Oldham said.

Art Toalston, now in his 23rd year as editor of Baptist Press, said the website redesign is “the latest step forward in how the SBC Executive Committee has equipped Baptist Press to be the best possible news service.”
The new website “will optimize the display of our daily content of convention news, of national and international affairs, and of theology and our Baptist distinctives such as the Cooperative Program and a high view of Scripture,” Toalston said. “We have been fortunate to have excellent staffing and supportive relationships with editors, writers and photographers at the SBC entities and state Baptist conventions. Now, we will have an elevated online presence for the Christian journalism we all seek to produce. Next up within a few weeks – a BP app that will extend our cooperative reach even more.”
Providing news with a Christian perspective since 1946, Baptist Press circulates stories through the Internet for 40 state Baptist publications across the country. The news service is based at the SBC Executive Committee’s offices in Nashville. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. BP reaches a worldwide audience of Southern Baptists, like-minded evangelicals and readers seeking faith-based content.
Among other new features:

  • Updated search capabilities designed to be more user-friendly as people search for archived material and story collections.

  • In addition to a “Latest News” tab on front page of the site, the site also includes a “Most Popular” tab that highlights the most-read stories from the last 10-15 days.

  • Various international and national stories will be accompanied with a Google map that corresponds with the story’s dateline.

  • The weather and forecast that corresponds with the reader’s location will display at the bottom of the front page of the site.

The redesign was part of a partnership between the Executive Committee’s information systems and Baptist Press teams. Both groups worked together to create an updated site that allows for smoother navigation and features a more streamlined appearance.
Chris Chapman, director of information systems for the Executive Committee, noted that the new look and feel of Baptist Press is “a refreshing update to an already informative news source for Southern Baptists. It was enjoyable collaborating with Dr. Oldham and the Baptist Press staff, who came prepared with ideas and suggestions from day one.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press.)

9/18/2014 9:22:32 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bivocational church model best, Page says

September 18 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The bivocational church model is the best way to make disciples in the 21st Century, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee President Frank Page told bivocational and small-membership church pastors he assembled in Atlanta.
“I’m convinced that in the 21st Century, the best stewardship model is bivocational,” Page said at the first meeting of the Bivocational and Small Church Advisory Council Sept. 11-12. “We’ve got a lot of students coming out of seminary now who have no intention of being full support.”

Giving small-membership churches and bivocational pastors their proper focus, respect and participation in the SBC is one of his main leadership goals, Page told the 21 pastors he appointed to advise him on meeting this population’s unique needs.

“I will not allow the Southern Baptist Convention to forget who we are,” he said. “Part of my goal in this is to elevate the role of the small-church pastor and the bivocational pastor, period. And that’s going to happen.


BP Photo by Diana Chandler
Bob Sena (second from right), Hispanic relations consultant to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, leads devotion at the Sept. 12 session of the Bivocational and Small Church Advisory Council meeting in Atlanta.

“The majority of our boards and agencies are run by small-church trustees. And I assure you that’s true. ... You are represented in every level of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Page said, calling the leaders true heroes. “Some would say 35,000 of our 46,000 churches, maybe more than that, are in the two categories of small church or bivocational.

“I appreciate each one of you,” he told the council. “Each of you brings a different perspective to this table, and ... I thank God for you.”

Page, who for the past year has used the theme of an earthquake fault line to pinpoint volatile areas of friction within the SBC, identified a fault line based on church membership size, and pledged to address the tension. Page defined small churches as those with 125 or less in Sunday School attendance.

A “methodological” fault line also exists, he said, based on the question of ‘How does one do church in the 21st Century?’”

“That’s probably one of the biggest issues facing us in our convention today. ‘How do you do church?’ When you go plant a church, are you using a more traditional model or a more contemporary model?” Page said. “That’s a big question out there now, and it’s going to be a huge question in the future.

“Because whether you know it or not, bivocational ministry is the wave of the future. People are beginning even to realize that the best way to be a church planter is through a bivocational model,” Page said. “Some of our Christian universities are actually realizing that and training pharmacists how to be a pharmacist and a pastor at the same time.... There is a new receptivity to a model that I think you represent. But how does one do church, that’s going to continue to be a huge issue.”

Gathering statistics and information to define the characteristics of Southern Baptist churches will be a main function of the council, said Ken Weathersby, SBC vice president for convention advancement. The council’s goal is to use that data to compile a report at the end of the group’s three-year term in 2017.

“Hopefully we’ll come out with a report that will be used to help pastors, that will be used to help associational missionaries, state convention leaders, and of course all of our entities who are responsible to assist the church,” Weathersby said. “In every ministry assignment that the Southern Baptist Convention has given all of our entities, it all begins with, ‘To assist the local church.’ We hope that we will be able to provide … good information.”

Page named the council to help the Executive Committee and SBC entity leaders gain greater understanding of and appreciation for the perspectives of churches and pastors in the categories the council represents. Ray Gilder, pastor of Gath Baptist Church in McMinnville, Tenn., and national coordinator of the Bivocational Small Church Leadership Network, will serve as council chairperson.

Other council members present were Ira Antoine Jr., Minnehulla Baptist Church, Goliad, Texas; Vernon E. Beachum Jr., First Baptist Church; Fort Ashby, W.Va.; Paul Biswas, Cambridgeport Baptist Church, Cambridge, Mass.; Fredrick Brabson Sr., New Covenant Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tenn.; Bobby Clark, Abbott Baptist Church, Mansfield, Ark.; Gordon Donahoe, Neely’s Bend Baptist Church, Madison, Tenn.; Kenny Heath, Grace Baptist Church, Cumberland, Md.; Hal Hopkins, Lighthouse Baptist Church, Breinigsville, Pa.; Stephen R. Jones, Central Baptist Church, Alameda, Calif.; Pusey Losch, Mountain View Community Church, Richfield, Pa.; Henry Luckel, Ethne Church, Larkspur, Colo.; Gary Mitchell, First Baptist Church, Chataignier, La.; Joel Perez, Iglesia Bautista La Cosecha, Okeechobee, Fla.; Michael Pigg, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Lithonia, Ga.; Shannon Smith, Westside Baptist Church, Fremont Campus, Omaha, Neb.; A. Scott Tafoya, Indian Nations Baptist Church, Albuquerque, N.M.; Mark Tolbert, Bedico Baptist Church, Ponchatoula, La.; Elizondo Marcos Villarreal, Iglesia Cristiana Bautista, Lufkin, Texas; Cliff Woodman, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Carlinville, Ill., and Joe Young, Calvary Chapel, Parchman, Miss.

9/18/2014 9:10:57 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Baptists refute ‘evangelical’ marriage group

September 18 2014 by Art Toalston & Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist theologians and ethicists have taken exception to a new organization – Evangelicals for Marriage Equality that is advocating for same-sex marriage in the name of evangelical Christianity.
Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME) debuted Sept. 9, saying in a statement of belief at its website that a person “can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married.” While EME affirms the significance of marriage and recognizes America’s devotion to religious liberty, “We also believe that in a religiously diverse society, no one religious perspective should determine who can and cannot be married,” the statement says.
In response, Southern Baptist leaders told Baptist Press the EME’s position contradicts God’s Word, revises the Creator’s definition of marriage and abandons any biblical standard for sexuality.
“We’ve seen this before,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “Every generation seems to have those who try to rewrite the portions of the Bible they are embarrassed about. But if evangelical theology is to keep the evangel, then we must not be ashamed of the Gospel or what it teaches about sexuality. This means holding firm to what the Scripture says and the church has believed about marriage from Pentecost to the present.”
EME’s launch came as advocates await a possible ruling this term from the U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage (SSM). The justices’ next term begins Oct. 6. Gay marriage already is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and SSM advocates have won in the last 15 months nearly all legal challenges to state laws limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Three federal appeals courts have struck down marriage protection laws, and decisions are pending in three other circuit courts.
Some Southern Baptist commentators refuted the claim by EME spokesman Brandan Robertson that the organization “is not taking a theological position” on marriage. “We just want evangelicals to see that it is possible to hold a plethora of beliefs about sexuality and marriage while affirming the rights of LGBTQ men and women to be civilly married under the law,” Robertson said, according to Religion News Service.
EME’s “very language is theological in nature,” said Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “To say that they do not take a theological position on marriage is disingenuous.”
Based on Robertson’s comments, “the options for sexuality are virtually limitless,” Lenow said. “Does EME place any restrictions on adultery, fornication, polygamy, polyamory or even incest? If ‘Bible-believing evangelicals’ made an argument for these expressions of sexuality, must biblical standards that prohibit them also be dismissed? There is no limit on the options for expressing sexuality and marriage if EME believes that there are a plethora of beliefs.”
EME, Lenow said, has “adopted a revisionist definition of [marriage] that understands marriage to be nothing more than an intimate emotional relationship between individuals.” He added, “Holding the Bible’s clear instructions regarding marriage and sexuality as true and binding on all people will most certainly not be tolerated within their organization.”
Dorothy Patterson, professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern, told BP the Bible addresses the issue with “one word from God without contradiction.”
“He doesn’t change it from the Old Testament times to the New Testament times,” Patterson said. “He doesn’t change it from inspiring one writer of Scripture to inspiring another, but He has just that one plan. And it’s based on the creation order.”
God “created the man and the woman and put them in the garden, essentially creating the home and the family, that this is the way He has chosen to reveal Himself,” Patterson said. “He calls Himself Father; He calls the church the bride; He calls heaven home; He calls us His children. You break down that metaphor and you have actually knocked out the underpinnings of God’s revelation of Himself.
“So it becomes really important for us not to mess with the metaphors God uses,” she said.
Daniel Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “There is no genuine question among Bible-believing Christians over what the Bible teaches about the sinfulness of welcoming same-sex sexual desires and behavior. The Bible is clear, and Bible-believing Christians are clear, about what the Bible teaches.
“No one who relies on the Word of God over secular culture is wrestling with the ethics of homosexuality,” said Heimbach, the author of a new book, Why Not Same-Sex Marriage: A Manual for Defending Marriage Against Radical Deconstruction.
Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger, co-authors of the new book God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “[S]o-called ‘marriage equality’ ... is utterly incompatible with an evangelical ethos and submission to the authority of God’s Word, where man and woman are shown to be created with unique and irreversible roles.”
Andreas Kostenberger is senior research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Seminary, where his wife is adjunct professor of women’s studies.
“Whether or not this political ploy will succeed, it is a tragic and mistaken effort that will sadly leave gender confusion, broken lives and anarchy in its path,” the Kostenbergers said. “Can any of us improve on God’s design and set it aside with impunity? We fear that by advocating marriage equality, the same-sex revolution, with the transgender revolution in its wake, will likely further destabilize the already fragmented social fabric of our culture.”
Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said EME’s assertion that it is not making a theological statement “could not be more wrong.”
“Marriage is not only given us by God for the betterment of a man and a woman and for the procreation and nurture of children. It is a sign and symbol of the union between Christ and His church,” Strachan said. “Only a complementarian union – constituted by a husband and wife – images Christ the bridegroom and His bride, the church.”
EME’s nine-member advisory board includes Brian McLaren, a former leader of the emerging church movement, and Richard Cizik, longtime vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals. Cizik was forced out at NAE after he supported gay civil unions in 2008, he said.
Three evangelical publications – Christianity Today, Relevant and WORLD – have declined advertising submitted by EME, according to the pro-SSM organization.
EME’s unveiling occurred about six weeks before an ERLC national conference designed to help Christians think in a Gospel-focused way regarding homosexuality and SSM. The meeting – titled “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage” – will be Oct. 27-29 in Nashville.
In its statement, EME says millennials – generally adults in their 20s and early 30s – “are increasingly supportive of marriage between same-sex couples.” A 2012 survey by Pew Research Center showed 29 percent of white evangelicals ages 18 to 29 endorsed permitting gays and lesbians to marry legally, RNS reported. About 17 percent of older evangelicals supported such unions. In general, 65 percent of young adults approved of gay marriage. A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute poll showed 43 percent of white evangelical millennials are likely to back SSM, according to RNS.
Strachan said the idea the church “is embracing same-sex marriage owes more to PR than to reality. While it is true that some young evangelicals are proving susceptible to cultural pressure on this issue, the majority of evangelicals, including young evangelicals, are holding firm to biblical teaching.”
Evangelicals’ strong defense of biblical and traditional marriage is behind EME’s emergence, Heimbach said. The reason EME is seeking “to change how evangelical Christians view the ethics of same-sex sexual relationships and marriage is because evangelical Christianity is the last truly significant block of convictional opposition to normalizing the publicly expressed ethical approval of same-sex sexual desires, behavior and relationships in American life and culture,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press; Tom Strode the Washington bureau chief for the Southern Baptist Convention news service.)

9/18/2014 8:33:39 AM by Art Toalston & Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Whitney updates spiritual disciplines book

September 17 2014 by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS/Baptist Press

“Discipline without direction is drudgery,” Donald S. Whitney writes in the familiar opening to his classic NavPress book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, newly released in a revised and updated edition.

Whitney said the newly released edition contains new material with more emphasis on the gospel as a help to first-time readers as well as others intent on grounding their disciplines soundly in scripture.

The 1991 bestselling Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is widely used in seminary classes across the country.

Whitney said NavPress approached him to revise the book for a 20th anniversary edition in keeping with a tradition established with the spirituality books of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. “As it turns out, it is a 23rd anniversary edition, so it is just called revised and updated,” said Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.


SBTS photo
Donald Whitney said the newly released edition of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life contains new material with more emphasis on the gospel as a help to first-time readers as well as others intent on grounding their disciplines soundly in scripture.

Whitney improved on the 1991 edition of the book by adding 11 new methods of meditation on scripture and including a more explicit Christocentric focus in each chapter. He bolstered the content with more scripture references in order to distance himself from a mystical approach to spirituality and removed any cultural references that would fade with the passing of time.


“If you do not get justification right, you are not likely to get sanctification right,” Whitney said. “In my revision, I removed some sources and statements that might be misconstrued or implied to support connections to mysticism,” he said, referring to the absence of Christian spirituality writers Willard and Foster. “I want students to focus primarily on trusted sources as it relates to the gospel and living out the gospel,” he said.

The expanded methods of meditation on scripture carry on the legacy of the original edition, which introduced praying through the text as an enriching exercise for many Christians.

“That’s the most instantaneously and permanently transformational thing I think I teach outside of the gospel,” Whitney said. “Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer said statistics show the most important pitch on which to throw a strike is the one-and-one count – that’s the most determinative in getting the batter out. For me, the one-and-one count in the devotional life is meditation on scripture. That tends to make all the other disciplines fall into place.”

Newer methods prescribed in the revised edition include formulating a principle from the text, asking how the text points to Jesus, creating an artistic expression and using meditation mapping.

“A mind map is a diagram that outlines information in a more visually appealing and memorable way than words on lines,” Whitney writes, explaining the intellectually stimulating practice of meditation mapping with the example of Romans 8:28. “It’s not a different way to think,” he notes, “just a different way to write down what you think.”

Whitney also revised and updated the companion study guide for the book, a 140-page resource for small group discussion and personal study.

“I hope it continues the impact on Christian spirituality [by relaying] a biblically based, theologically driven spirituality but that is clear, plain and workable,” Whitney said. “Anything God expects of all of His children like spiritual disciplines has to be fundamentally simple.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – ­S. Craig Sanders writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

9/17/2014 12:33:20 PM by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ancient Canaanite water system keys NOBTS archaeology focus

September 17 2014 by Gary Myers, NOBTS/Baptist Press

After the Israelites entered the Promised Land of Canaan following 400 years of bondage in Egypt, the ancient city of Gezer was memorialized in scripture, but not in a positive way. Gezer is forever connected with the failure of God’s people to fully possess the land He had given them.

Gezer – where New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) is engaged in archaeological discovery – was allotted to the tribe of Ephraim, as recorded in Joshua 16:3 and 16:10, and it became one of the Levitical cities, according to Joshua 21:21. At that time, the Bible offers a blunt assessment of what did not happen at Gezer:

“But, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer. So the Canaanites live in Ephraim to this day, but they are forced laborers” (Joshua 16:10, HCSB).

In the biblical record, Gezer also is connected to the Israelites’ conquest of the land. In Joshua 10:33 and again in 12:12, scripture records an account of the Battle of Makkedah in the Aijalon Valley. When the king of Gezer led his army south to help defend the Canaanite stronghold of Lachish, Israel prevailed, capturing Lachish and killing the king of Gezer.

The monumental Canaanite ruins at Gezer still bear witness to their strength and their devotion to false gods. Because the Israelites failed to drive out the Canaanites in cities such as Gezer, the worship of idols became a trap for God’s people.

For the past five years, a team of archaeologists and volunteers from New Orleans Seminary’s Moskau Institute of Archaeology has excavated at Gezer with the goal of determining who constructed the ancient water system and when it was constructed.


Photo by Gary D. Myers
Volunteers discover a large piece of pottery in the basin area of the ancient Gezer water system in Israel. A team from New Orleans Seminary has been excavating the massive rock-hewn system since 2010.

The Gezer excavation is a joint project of NOBTS’ Moskau Institute and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). The dig is co-directed by NOBTS professor Dan Warner and INPA chief archaeologist Tsvika Tsuk. Jim Parker, NOBTS professor and executive director of the Moskau institute, and Dennis Cole, professor and chairman of the division of biblical studies, also provide leadership for the dig. In conjunction with the dig, NOBTS has launched an academic program in archaeology, offering a master of arts in biblical archaeology.

By Warner’s estimate, the Canaanites likely built the water system between 2000-1800 B.C. during the height of Gezer’s prominence as a Canaanite city-state. Though this would place construction 500-700 years before the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the water system can shed light on the Canaanite people and their culture – a culture which plays such a formidable role in the Old Testament.

The Canaanites experienced a time of cultural decline in the years before the conquest but they were still a formidable foe with heavily fortified cities. The water system, along with the massive defensive walls and gate, illustrate an advanced society with great technical know-how, significant engineering skills and a desire to build things on a large scale.

“This is an unbelievable water system. It’s monumental, there is nothing like it in the world,” said Warner, associate professor of Old Testament and archaeology at NOBTS. “It is one of the oldest and largest [water systems] in the world.”

The system, which provided a water source inside the walls of Gezer, consists of four parts: a keyhole-shaped entrance, a long diagonal shaft, a basin to collect water and a cavern located just beyond the basin. The massive water system, at its opening, measures 12 feet wide and 24 feet high, stretching 130 feet into the ground at a 38-degree slope.

Irish archaeologist R.A.S. Macalister excavated the system from 1906-08. He and French archaeologist Peré Vincent, who visited the site, produced detailed drawings and accounts of the system’s features. Shortly after the excavation, a retaining wall collapsed and refilled the water system. It remained untouched for 102 years.

Macalister dated the system to the Middle Bronze Age. However, many modern archaeologists attribute its construction to the Iron Age Israelites under King Ahab (c. 870 B.C.). These are the two most logical options since the other monumental building projects at Gezer also were completed during these distinct periods.

Gezer water system: a brief history

In the Middle Bronze Age, Gezer grew from a small village into a heavily fortified city-state. The Canaanites built high stone walls, massive towers and a mud-brick gate system to protect the city.

King Solomon started another construction boom in the Iron Age. He rebuilt and fortified Gezer and strengthened the defenses at Hazor, Jerusalem and Megiddo (1 Kings 9:15-17). Some archaeologists believe that water systems around the time of King Ahab were built at Hazor and Megiddo, leading them to date the Gezer system to the same period. Recent evidence may date Megiddo to the earlier Middle Bronze Age, providing additional evidence for Gezer’s early dating.

During his dig, Macalister cleared the shaft and cut probes into the cavern but he did not excavate the basin area. Instead, he laid a “causeway” of stones across the muddy basin to reach the cavern. While the causeway helped Macalister’s team reach the cavern, it also protected materials resting in the basin from contamination following the retaining wall’s 1908 collapse. The NOBTS/INPA team discovered Macalister’s causeway during the 2012 dig season.

The 2014 excavation plan called for clearing the entire width of the basin and exposing the bottom of the basin. The dirt sealed below the causeway would be sifted for pottery to help establish a date for the system’s construction.

The first goal proved too large for one season. The team cleared half the width from the bottom step of the water shaft to the cavern entrance but failed to find the lowest point of the basin (which is believed to be the source for the water). The bottom is still sloping at a steep angle, so far, reaching nine feet below the causeway. The lowest point of the bottom must be well inside the cavern. This enormity was unexpected.

The second goal, collecting finds and pottery to help determine a date for the system, proved more attainable. The team discovered thousands of broken pottery pieces sealed under Macalister’s causeway, most dating to the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550-1200 B.C.). Since these finds date the last use of the system, the wear on the steps indicate a construction date for the tunnel much earlier, likely the Middle Bronze Age.

The Bible provides additional dating clues. David’s men utilized a “water shaft” to invade and conquer the fortress of Zion/Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:6-8). Archaeological evidence found there confirms that rock-hewn systems were present in the land long before the time of Ahab. Based on all the available data, Warner believes the Gezer system was carved very close to the time of the water system in Jerusalem dating around 2000 B.C.

How the Canaanites could build such a system remains a mystery. Many have attributed the system to outside influences such as the Minoans, Egyptians or Mesopotamians. But the Middle Bronze Age dating removes that option. Warner maintains the possibility that the Canaanites developed the technology.

“I think the Canaanites, by this time period, have reached a level of engineering ability to do this,” Warner said. “If the Canaanites did not develop the techniques, I think maybe they sure were spreading the technology to others.”

Return to Gezer

The 2014 season marked the conclusion of the Moskau Institute’s original commitment at Gezer. However, with more work to do, NOBTS renewed its commitment for several additional years and will continue to excavate the water system. With the extra time, the crew will be able to clear the entire basin, explore and study the cavern and investigate how the system functioned.

After the completion of the NOBTS/INPA dig, the Israeli government plans to equip the tunnel with stairs and open portions of the system to the public.

Next year’s dig at Gezer will run from May 24 to June 11. For information about Gezer or for details regarding participation in the 2015 dig, contact Dan Warner ( or Dennis Cole ( at NOBTS. Those interested in the master of arts degree in biblical archaeology may contact Warner or Cole for more information.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary D. Myers is director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

9/17/2014 12:20:49 PM by Gary Myers, NOBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Prayer webcast slates Ezell, Platt, Floyd

September 17 2014 by Baptist Press

On Oct. 2, Southern Baptists are encouraged to take time to pray for pastors and missionaries engaged in spreading the gospel worldwide. The special day, including a webcast, is part of the North American Mission Board’s TenTwo prayer emphasis based on Jesus’ call in Luke 10:2 to pray for more workers in the harvest field.

Jesus told His followers: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2, HCSB).


NAMB President Kevin Ezell, International Mission Board President David Platt and Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd will lead the TenTwo webcast.

The half-hour prayer webcast – to begin at 10:02 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, Oct. 2 – can be viewed at and will be archived for future viewing at the same site.

“There is absolutely no substitute for prayer in any facet of life,” Ezell said. “Prayer is the primary, fundamental need in any mission endeavor. I would not think of taking any action without God’s counsel. And TenTwo is a daily reminder that living life on mission includes praying for others as God sends them to the mission field.”

Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said prayer is “the greatest action we can take to mobilize our churches and raise up next-generation missionaries to reach the world for Christ.”

“God can do more in a moment than we can do in a lifetime,” Floyd said. “This is why each of us should participate with the TenTwo webcast where we gather to pray online from across the world.

“No great movement of God ever occurs without first being preceded by the extraordinary prayer of God’s people,” Floyd noted. “This webcast is an expression of God’s people praying in an extraordinary way. I hope many will join us as we call out to God together for the world to be reached for Christ.”

To learn more about prayer support for Southern Baptists, visit or

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications staff of the North American Mission Board.)

9/17/2014 12:07:28 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Freddie Gage, 6 decades an evangelist, dies

September 16 2014 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Freddie Gage, a Southern Baptist evangelist for more than 60 years whose fervency for souls extended to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Conservative Resurgence, died Friday (Sept. 12) in a Houston hospital after an extended illness. He was 81.

Gage – a teen gang leader who came to Christ after hearing the gospel preached in 1951 in Houston – was among the initial inductees to the Evangelists Hall of Faith, created in 2008 by the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists.

“Our beloved fellow evangelist Freddie Gage has now embraced Christ Jesus in heaven,” said Richard Hamlet, president of the evangelists’ organization.

“Heaven only knows the number of souls who were brought to Christ through the proclamation of the gospel by this champion for Jesus,” said Hamlet, president of Global Ministries Fellowship in Memphis, Tenn. “His legacy as an evangelist continues on earth as his example and mentorship multiplies through those of us who remain as God-called evangelists in this hostile world.”

Gage preached in more than 1,300 churches and area-wide crusades and in more than 3,000 high school assemblies and youth rallies. “It is estimated that more than 1 million people professed faith in Christ as a result of Gage’s evangelistic efforts,” the Southern Baptist TEXAN wrote Sept. 12.

Jerry Sutton, author of The Baptist Reformation history of the Conservative Resurgence, said Gage “preached in churches, high schools, bars, funeral homes, football stadiums and anywhere else he could get an audience.”


Freddie Gage

“His passion for souls bridged to a passion for the Word of God. That is why he was extremely active organizing pastors and churches in what became known as the Conservative Resurgence,” Sutton said in a statement to Baptist Press. “He was relentless, untiring and courageous. His efforts were one reason that Southern Baptists experienced the turn-around that many said would never happen.”

Adrian Rogers, whose election as SBC president in 1979 marked the unfolding of the Conservative Resurgence, listed Gage among those who pushed him to the forefront of the fledgling movement.

“Adrian, you are our man,” Gage told Rogers, as the late pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church recounted for Sutton’s book.

“I said, ‘Freddie, God will have to write it in the sky.’

“Freddie said, ‘All right then, I will rent an airplane and I will get a sky writer and we will write it in the sky, if that is what it takes.’”

Over the years, Gage voiced concern over “a lack of passion for souls in our pulpits. ... The battle for the Bible has been won. The battle for souls has not begun,” he wrote in a 2005 column in Baptist Press.

He remained passionate for “the glory days”: “Baptist churches had altar calls, tent revivals, all-night prayer services, testimonial meetings and open-air crusades. … We were taught that real discipleship was teaching and training new converts to go reach another lost soul. ... Back then if you were not a soul-winner, you were out of place. Today, if you are a soul-winner, you are out of place. Souls being saved was not only on the agenda, it was the agenda.”

Gage also became concerned over a lack of preaching on hell.

“The subject of hell should motivate us to be soul-winners!” he declared. “The ‘seeker friendly’ movement says that if you preach on hellfire, you alienate people and run them off. But my question is: ‘Where are you going to run them off to?’ I know of four options: 1. Hell; 2. Hell; 3. Hell; or 4. Hell.”

He adopted “Go Tell” as the core theme of his ministry, reflecting his first moments as a Christian.

“The night I was born again God put a burning desire in my heart to see my friends and family won to the Lord,” he recounted in his autobiography “All My Friends Are Dead.” “I took a Bible, and I wrote in the front of it 300 names of my friends, acquaintances, family members and some police officers I knew. I have preached the gospel to all 300 without exception. I have either shared one-to-one in prisons, or the streets, in psychiatric wards, at funerals, or in crusade meetings. I can truthfully say there is no blood on my hands for any person I knew on the streets of Houston, Texas. I tried to lead every one of my friends and family members to Christ.”

Gage is survived by his wife Barbara; four sons, Daniel, Paul, Rick and Rodney, each of whom has been involved in various ministries; 10 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and one great-great grandchild.

Rick Gage, whose GO TELL Ministries conducts evangelistic crusades and youth camps, recounted to Baptist Press, “Shortly after I got saved I started traveling with my dad in February 1984. One of the first local church crusades I worked with him was in Austell, Ga., Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. Over 800 total decisions were recorded and 475 of those decisions were for salvation. The auditorium seated only 1,100 but on Wednesday night 2,400 were in attendance. Over 150 counselors had been trained for this local church crusade. Every night for four weeks there was continual prayer in the chapel. Over 7,000 homes were visited and 23,000 homes were mailed fliers inviting people to attend the meeting. They baptized 218 converts the week of the meeting....”

“There are not many places I go in my ministry where I don’t come across someone who was touched my dad’s ministry,” Rick Gage said. “Dad was a soul-winner, he was a fighter for souls, he had a huge impact on my life for the cause of evangelism.”

Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said he first met Freddie Gage in the mid-1980s when the church where he (Page) was pastor led in providing counseling training for a crusade in Fayetteville, N.C. “It was a delightful experience as many people came to know the Lord, churches were strengthened and believers were encouraged,” Page said. “Since that time, I have appreciated the ministry of this great man of God. Heaven is richer today!”

“There will never be another like Freddie Gage,” Morris H. Chapman, Page’s predecessor, told Baptist Press. “He lived to see souls saved.”

Chapman credited Gage for bolstering the “Crossover” evangelistic outreach for the 1991 annual meeting in Atlanta when Chapman was SBC president. After mentioning it to Gage, “he immediately launched a one-man campaign,” Chapman told Baptist Press. “He began urging Southern Baptists to participate in Crossover, staying on the phone for hours and enlisting Southern Baptists wherever he went. ... No one will ever know how many people came to Christ because of his persistent and earnest plea for the sake of souls.”

Noting another facet of Gage’s passion, Sutton said the evangelist “had a special place in his heart for hurting people.” For a number of years, he hosted a Christian counseling ministry’s luncheon at the SBC annual meeting and later became the driving force for a Wounded Heroes outreach to ministers which eventually was absorbed by LifeWay Christian Resources.

“All his life he had a heart for pastors who were mistreated in the local church,” Sutton said. “With Wounded Heroes he did something about it. Later in life, Freddie had struggled with depression. Because of that, he was extra sensitive to people who were hurting. More than once he told me, ‘minister to hurting people and you will never have trouble filling your church.’”

A celebration of life service for Freddie Gage will be held on Friday, Sept. 26, at 1 p.m. at Sagemont Church in Houston, to be streamed online at For information about memorial gifts in lieu of flowers, go to The family has set up a Facebook page for those who would like to share how Gage impacted their lives:

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/16/2014 11:22:19 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Religious liberty needed to limit state

September 16 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Conservative Christians should recover the proper use of the term “separation of church and state” in defending religious liberty against government interference, Russell D. Moore said at an evangelical conference in the country’s capital.

Evangelical Christians also should advocate for the freedom of Muslims and adherents of other religions in order to limit state power, said the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

Moore made his comments Sept. 10 at the Evangelical Leadership Summit, the first such conference sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. He spoke as part of a panel discussing the impact of religious liberty on economic and political freedoms.

One of the reasons religious liberty for all people is important is because of its value in limiting government authority, Moore said.

When Americans have the kind of freedom that enables them “to argue with one another, that signals not only to the government Caesar is not God, it also signals” the same message to citizens, he said.


Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, spoke Sept. 10 at the Evangelical Leadership Summit, the first such conference sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. Moore spoke as part of a panel discussing the impact of religious liberty on economic and political freedoms.

That is why conservatives “need to reclaim ... a term that we long ago tossed overboard – the ‘separation of church and state,’” Moore told the audience. That term “does not mean secularization,” he added. “It means that the state is limited and does not have lordship over the conscience ...”

Conservative evangelicals have largely abandoned the use of “separation of church and state” in recent decades as strict separationists championed it in advocating for a public square largely bereft of religious presence and influence.

To defend religious freedom, evangelicals need to advocate “as loudly for those issues that are irrelevant to our own as we are for those that are relevant,” Moore said.

“There is no reason why a conservative evangelical ought ever to ignore a situation where a city council is zoning a mosque out of existence,” he said. “Objecting to this does not mean that one is agreeing with Islam. It means that one does not believe in giving the power to the mayor and the city council to hand down theological edicts and also recognizing that those who have that power to drive people out of town on the basis of what they believe will in the fullness of time drive us all out.”

A lack of religious freedom does not result in a “purely secular state,” Moore said. “It means that we have a more religious state and a state that is dictating religious terms.

“If you give to the government the ability to differentiate between what religious convictions are really and truly important or not, then we will wind up with a state-established religion in which the government says a vague concept of the divine is all that really matters and all of your particularities can simply be wiped away like a building being plowed away by eminent domain in order to build a new business.”

The panel discussion took place as religious freedom takes hits in many parts of the world. Widespread persecution of Christians and other religious adherents – including executions – is rampant in such countries as Iraq and Nigeria. Research shows 5.3 billion people, or 76 percent of the world’s population, live in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom from the government or groups in society, said panelist Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation.

In the United States, “threats to religious liberty are mounting,” said Tim Shah, a co-panelist with Moore. Among the examples in this country are the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate, which fails to provide adequate conscience protection for religious individuals and institutions. Also, government officials have acted against bakers, florists and photographers who have declined to provide their services for same-sex weddings.

The status of religious liberty in this country is “very bleak,” said Shah, the associate director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

Shah predicted, “[I]t won’t be long before great religious institutions in this country are stripped of their tax-exempt status ... and we will be in a very different social, legal and political environment, I think, in about 10 years.”

The case for religious freedom for all people needs to be made for the good of society, Shah said.

“It’s not petty to fight for what may seem like relatively small issues and dimensions of religious freedom, because if we don’t fight for the small ones, we are really in big trouble,” he said. “It’s not unimaginable ... the level of distrust may become so great that we will not recognize our society in a generation. So we all need to make common good arguments for religious liberty, not because they’re good for our team but because they’re good for the entire body politic.”

Moore said of religious liberty in the United States, “[T]he sense of alarm is rising, and the sense of working together is rising, but it’s a long haul.”

Many evangelicals “who believe themselves to be spiritual and pious” are not helping, he told summit participants. These evangelicals “say, ‘Let’s simply step back from all of our rights, and let’s simply step back from the table and surrender all that,’” Moore said. “In a democratic republic by doing that, it is not just that you are saying, ‘I am willing to be persecuted.’ You are saying, ‘I am willing to be persecutor,’ by putting into jeopardy future generations of people based upon their consciences.”

Churches and religious institutions must be able to “equip people to keep the next generation out of jail” and “to train up a generation who is willing to go to jail, who have consciences that are not so malleable that they can be directed simply by the whims of the marketplace, consciences that are not so malleable that they can be directed by government edict...,” Moore said.

Religious liberty promotes political freedom and economic progress, panelists said. Research shows religious persecution “spawns civic division, conflict and extremism,” while religious freedom – including the ability to evangelize – “promotes civic stability, a wide array of democratic freedoms and the empowerment of vulnerable groups,” Shah said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

9/16/2014 10:18:30 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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