January 2013

In Jerusalem, the Temple that Jesus visited

January 31 2013 by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press

MAYFIELD, Ky. – Viewing the remains of the Jewish Temple complex that Jesus visited on many occasions remains the favorite aspect of both trips I’ve made to Israel. After nearly 2,000 years, the Temple still inspires the many Jewish and Christian visitors to the old city of Jerusalem.

In the New Testament, the term “Temple” is used for both the sanctuary/shrine as well as for the whole Temple complex site that includes its many courts and retaining walls. The Temple that Jesus visited was started by King Herod beginning around 20-19 B.C. Under Herod, the sanctuary itself was completed in a year and a half, but construction on the various courts, gates and retaining walls continued on and off until just a few years before the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66.

In the early ministry of Jesus, the most recent terminus of construction to that point had occurred 46 years after Herod began the project, according to the biblical record in John 2:20. It was the third Jewish Temple built on the site. Solomon and Zerubbabel had earlier sponsored Temple complexes there, but the historian Josephus related that Herod even removed the foundation stones of the earlier Temples to construct his Temple (Antiquities of the Jews, 15,391; 15,421).

Herod’s Temple complex was impressive. Largely constructed of local white meleke limestone from the Jerusalem area with a veneer of marble and gold on the shrine itself, the huge ashlars (finely cut and dressed rectangular blocks designed to fit together without mortar) were polished to reflect the sunlight. Josephus tells us that visitors seeing the Temple from a distance may have thought it a snow-covered mountain (Jewish War, 5,223). Even a disciple of Jesus marveled at the beautiful and massive stone work of the Temple (Mark 13:1).

Spanning nearly an acre, this outdoor model of the first-century Temple and the surrounding ancient city of Jerusalem is on display at the Israel Museum.

Nevertheless, the Lord knew that Herod’s great Temple would be destroyed – particularly the buildings and shrine at the site. Jesus replied to His disciple: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2 HCSB). His prediction came true in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed all the buildings on the Temple Mount, including the magnificent sanctuary.

So, what remains of the Temple that Jesus visited? Although the buildings on the Temple Mount were destroyed, one can still find a good deal of the Temple complex that Jesus, the disciples and the apostle Paul would have recognized. Specifically, the following features still can be viewed today: portions of the massive retaining walls, some special features and even some signage that once was posted in the Temple complex.

The retaining walls

Today we know that the lower courses of Herod’s retaining walls are found on all four sides of the Temple Mount (or the “Haram al-Sharif” to Muslims who currently possess the Temple Mount platform). Most of the north side retaining wall is under the present ground level, but on three sides – the west, south and east – portions of the retaining wall exist above ground. We can identify the Herodian masonry because of the huge stone ashlars in the lower courses of the present old city wall around the Temple Mount. The upper portions, containing smaller stones from later centuries, were not present in New Testament times.

One of more imposing parts of the Herodian retaining walls is at the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount (the “pinnacle of the Temple” – the highest point of the Temple complex above the Kidron Valley). Here the Gospels record that Satan unsuccessfully tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:5; Luke 4:9). Below-ground portions of the “pinnacle” platform extend another 75 feet or so underneath the present ground level.

Nevertheless, the most famous above-ground portion of the retaining wall is the Western Wall (the so-called “Wailing Wall”). Here 21st-century Jews pray at the most impressive surviving portion of the wall above ground. Like the stone courses of the “pinnacle” platform, many layers of the Western Wall continue underneath the present ground level. A tunnel adjacent to another portion of the Western Wall reveals the Herodian ashlars set on massive foundation stones.

Special features

Other aspects of the Temple that Herod built and Jesus visited still are extant today. These include some paving stones and floor tiles that match tiles found at Herodian palaces at Masada and other locales, a sundial for perhaps determining the time of day for prayers (Acts 3:1) and sacrifices, geometric and floral designs on the column capitals and facings of the stone work (no animal or human likenesses have been found among these) and, just outside the Temple complex on the south side, there are a number of Jewish “mikvot.” A “mikveh” (singular) was a baptismal pool for Jews undergoing ceremonial cleansings. Many Jewish pilgrims to the Temple made use of these before ascending the steps into the Temple complex on the south side.

In addition, some surviving architectural features can still be viewed today. Among these is Wilson’s Arch on the Western Wall (named for the archeologist who rediscovered it). The arch once was part of a bridge over the Tyropoeon Valley (the misnamed “Valley of the Cheesemakers”) into the Temple. A part of the arch is the original Herodian structure or a later rebuilt arch constructed with Herod’s huge building blocks. Archeologists remain divided on the origin of the current structure. Not disputed are the nearby partial remains of Robinson’s Arch (named for another archeologist) also on the Western Wall. Here pilgrims could enter the Temple from the valley below on a staircase supported by the arch.

On the south side of the retaining wall for Herod’s Temple are a number of interesting features. These include the stairs to the Double and Triple Gates. Both gates functioned as the entrance way for most Jews entering the Temple Complex in the New Testament era (Mishnah, Middoth, 1,3) but today, no one can enter the Temple Mount in the vicinity of these gates. Some of the stair steps have been reconstructed and restored while other original steps reveal their 2000 years of wear and tear. The lintel piece atop the walled-up Double Gate is partially visible today but the rest of it is covered by a Crusader era structure. The Triple Gate also is walled-up but contains some of the original stones at the bottom and below the ground level. It is not known if this was a “Triple Gate” in antiquity; the modern Avi-Yonah model of the Temple shows it as another Double Gate.

Around and under the Temple Mount are a number of other surviving features. Highlights include some of the cisterns and water courses that served the Temple and the Fortress Antonia (some still carry water), storerooms and the massive Herodian structures misnamed as “Solomon’s Stables.” These huge pillars supported the massive works above ground near the south side. Some of these features have only recently been accessible to tourists by the opening of tunnels under and adjacent to the Temple Mount.


Like most public structures in the 21st century, the Temple that Jesus visited possessed signage. Only a few years ago, archeologists recovered a sign in Hebrew letters announcing “to the place of the trumpeting.” At the original site somewhere atop the southwestern part of the Temple complex, Jewish priests blew the shofar to announce the beginning of the Sabbath and other special days. The sign either was a deliberate permanent sign to designate where the priests would trumpet or a temporary sign that remained to point construction teams to the site of the “place of the trumpeting.”

Josephus acknowledged that special signs in both Greek and Latin warned Gentiles not to go beyond the Court of the Gentiles into those courts reserved for Jews (Jewish War, 5,194). Although no Latin signs have been recovered, today we possess two stone signs in Greek that caution Gentiles not to go any further into the Temple Complex. The signs warn: “No foreigner [Gentile] is to enter within the forecourt and balustrade around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his subsequent death” (ABD 2.963). That the Jews of this period took the warning seriously can be gleaned from Acts 21:27-33.


Aspects of the first-century Temple fascinate both Jews and Christians. One can still view some of the sights that Jesus saw when He ministered at the Temple. Archeologists continue to uncover both artifacts and even structures (largely underground today) connected to the Temple of this era.

Although Christians are not commanded in the New Testament to make pilgrimages, Southern Baptists can learn much about their faith by touring Israel and Palestine and visiting places like the Temple Mount. Having returned from my second trip shortly after the tensions with Gaza last fall, I found the experience inspirational, safe and problem-free. My two visits to the Holy Land have positively impacted my faith.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Stephen Douglas Wilson is dean emeritus and chair of the history department of Mid-Continent University in Mayfield, Ky., and a member of the SBC Executive Committee.)
1/31/2013 1:42:03 PM by Stephen Douglas Wilson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Boy Scouts & Scouting Sunday

January 31 2013 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Little did I know when I called on Southern Baptists to dedicate 2013 as a year of prayer for spiritual awakening that we would have so much to pray for so early into the New Year.

When I received a call from the Boy Scouts two weeks ago asking for a face-to-face meeting, I somehow knew it would not be good. They wanted to let me know – along with leaders of other conservative religious groups (Mormons and Catholics) – of a probable change in their long-standing policy against allowing openly practicing homosexuals into positions of leadership in their national scouting organization.

I was gravely distressed. But, what was even more distressing was to hear how far down the path toward change they had already traveled. After a time of prayer and consultation with several other leaders, including our SBC president Fred Luter, I sent a letter asking them to reconsider. On Monday (Jan. 28), I was on a conference call with three of their top leaders. What a distressing moment! I learned that their recommendation to the full board was already formalized before we were even informed a change was being considered.

Is there a ray of light at the end of this tunnel? Is there a silver lining to this ominous cloud hanging over an organization I have lauded and loved? Yes, there is.

First, there is worship. When Jesus heard the reports from the 70 following their missions trip (Luke 10), He reminded them that He had seen Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash. He then began to worship before the Father, saying, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and have revealed them to infants” (Luke 10:21). The same Lord who saw Satan cast out from heaven knows the eventual end of all who engage in sinful behavior. We must never forget that God is still on His throne!

Second, there is providence. I find it very interesting that the Scouts themselves set the first Sunday in February (this weekend, Feb. 3) as Scout Sunday. This means that across our nation, thousands of churches will be focusing their attention on the Boy Scouts. I strongly urge every Southern Baptist member and congregation to direct our prayers toward the heavenly Father that the board members will reject this recommendation. Focused prayer on Sunday; board meeting on Monday. What a divine moment!

Third, there is action. While we pray, let us act. I was told by the Scout leaders that they have received petitions asking them to reverse their long-standing, principled policy. I believe, had there been time, Southern Baptists and other Bible-believing Christians could have matched their petitions, not one for one, but 10 names for every name on their petitions, asking them to continue their principled stand on biblical morality. I join the leadership of the Association of Baptists for Scouting in their call to all Baptists involved in Scouting, whether through their church or in a non-church-based troop, to contact the Boy Scout leadership at http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs.aspx to express your views and/or concerns with them. The Scouts need to hear from the grassroots Baptists who will be deeply impacted by this decision.

Fourth, there is prayer. We should never confuse prayer as a substitute for human action. But, neither should we treat human action as if it were equal in effect to prayer. At the end of the day, the action steps we take can only do so much. Apart from the wooing influence of the Holy Spirit, the human heart remains stone cold to His purposes. Intercessory prayer is more than a quick rush of words in the midst of our busy schedules; it is a focused time of intense beseeching before the Father. Let us pray like never before!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank S. Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.)
1/31/2013 1:36:18 PM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The sad transformation of the Boy Scouts of America

January 30 2013 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The comprehensive scope of the moral revolution America is currently experiencing is likely to surprise many Americans when they realize that the Boy Scouts are now swept up in the revolutionary tide.

Word came Monday (Jan. 29) that the Boy Scouts of America (B.S.A.) is poised to change its policy preventing the participation of openly homosexual scouts and leaders. According to a spokesman for the Boy Scouts, the group may make the formal decision to end the policy as early as next week.

This announcement comes just six months after the B.S.A. board declared that it would not reconsider the policy. Deron Smith, B.S.A. national spokesman, said last July that a special committee established by the B.S.A. board had unanimously recommended keeping the policy. Smith said that the committee “came to the conclusion that this policy is absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts.”

Back in July, B.S.A. chief executive Bob Mazzuca told the press: “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting.” He also said, “We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”

Note carefully the language used by B.S.A. leadership just six months ago. The decision to maintain the policy barring openly homosexual members and leaders was “absolutely the best policy” and was supported by “the vast majority of the parents of the youth we serve.” The special committee had been unanimous in their recommendation to keep the policy.

Now, just six months later, the Boy Scouts are ready to announce a complete revocation of that policy. Deron Smith, the very same spokesman for the group, said Jan. 29 that the new policy “would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address the issue.” He described the new policy with this rather stark language: “The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under the proposed policy the B.S.A. would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”

What the B.S.A. is actually floating is a complete revocation of the national policy, but not an immediate reversal of the policy. The national policy prohibiting openly gay leaders and scouts will be rescinded, but no national policy including openly homosexual scouts or leaders will be put in place – at least not for now. Instead, the B.S.A. will offer what amounts to a local option. Each governing council and troop would come up with its own policy, in consultation with the more than 100,000 sponsoring bodies.

The Boy Scouts have been under mounting pressure. Even when the board announced no change in the policy last July, two prominent board members, Randall Stevenson, CEO of AT&T, and James Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young, openly called for the board to reconsider. Both lead companies considered friendly to gay rights and both were themselves under pressure from gay rights advocates.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America had a constitutional right to set its own membership standards. As recently as 2004 the group adopted a policy that stated: “Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed.”

The new policy announced yesterday is almost sure to please no one and to lead to disaster for the Scouts. Those pressing for a reversal of the national policy are not likely to be satisfied with a local option. They had demanded a national policy mandating the full inclusion of homosexuals throughout Scouting at every level.

On the other side, those who wanted the current policy to remain in place will now have to reconsider any relationship with the Boy Scouts. The scale of potential membership loss to the Boy Scouts of America is staggering. Conservative religious bodies sponsor the vast majority of Boy Scout units. Mormons lead with more than 37,000 units and 400,000 boys involved. United Methodists place second, with 11,000 units nationwide. The Roman Catholic Church sponsors more than 8,000 units. Add Southern Baptists and other evangelical groups to the mix and you can see the scope of the challenge the Boy Scouts will now face.

The Boy Scouts will soon face the same challenge seen in much of the United States military. The conservative segments of the population most opposed to the normalization of homosexuality are also the segments that have historically provided the vast majority of those who volunteer to serve in the military. The Boy Scouts of America is prepared to surrender to massive public pressure and to set itself against the majority of its own members. Remember that just six months ago the B.S.A. chief executive said that the current policy was supported by “the vast majority of the parents of the youth we serve.”

Those parents and sponsoring organizations, including thousands of churches, were no match for the political clout of the gay rights movement. This should serve as a sobering indication of the cultural momentum behind the current moral revolution – the reversal in one generation of a moral consensus that had endured for thousands of years.

The new local option policy cannot stand for long. No organization can endure a moral option on an issue of such consequence for long. Sooner than later, a national policy requiring the full inclusion of homosexuals at every level will be put in place. Those demanding such a policy will continue their demands, while those opposed are likely to retreat from Scouting altogether. You can count on an exodus by churches and many sponsoring bodies. Furthermore, the same pressures now brought against the Boy Scouts at the national level will simply be shifted to local units.

Perhaps the most sobering aspect of this sad development is the fact that speaking of sexuality in moral terms is already so culturally awkward. Less than a decade ago the Boy Scouts of America declared that homosexual conduct “is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed.” Now, the group intends to have no policy at all, and never, “under any circumstances,” dictate a position on the issue.

This is a carefully calculated effort to avoid public disaster in a time of moral revolution, but it will not work. It looks like what it is – an evasion rather than a policy.

The Scout Oath reads: “On my honor I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” As recently as 2004 the Boy Scouts of America declared homosexual conduct to be “inconsistent” with that oath. Just six months later, all that is to be swept away.

Faithful Christians are left in the excruciatingly difficult position of maintaining fidelity to moral judgments revealed in the Bible while the culture around us races in the opposite direction. While the Boy Scouts use language like “morally straight,” the church uses its own language of sin, grace and obedience.

I write as a former Boy Scout, who retains great love and admiration for Scouting and all that it has meant to generations of boys. This new policy will transform the culture of the Boy Scouts. This is exactly what those who demand the policy change are expecting. As the announcement made clear, this is no small alteration or adjustment.

The new policy to be adopted by the Boy Scouts of America represents a revolution in what that esteemed organization understands “morally straight” to mean. We should not let that pass without taking notice of what that revolution will eventually bring about – nothing less than a reversal of what morality is understood to demand.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, AlbertMohler.com.)

Related stories

Royal Ambassadors may emerge as missions-focused alternative to Scouts
SBC’s Page urges Scouts not to change policy
Boy Scouts could be poised to reverse gay leader policy
1/30/2013 1:14:42 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Businesses’ freedoms take hit

January 30 2013 by Matt Hawkins, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The freedom of Americans to run their businesses according to the dictates of their consciences is being challenged, coast to coast, by President Obama’s Department of Justice and local governing bodies. The common instigators are laws against sexual orientation discrimination and Health & Human Services’ (HHS) contraceptive and abortifacient mandate.

For years the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission warned that the addition of “sexual orientation” to non-discrimination regulations would collide head-on with religious freedom. Those conflicts are no longer theoretical in the United States, as a growing number of business owners are experiencing the brunt of what it can mean for a Christian to confront the culture.

Much of the faith community’s attention in 2012 was focused on the HHS mandate that coerces religious non-profits to provide their employees with contraceptives and abortifacients as a part of their health insurance. Those issues continue unresolved with multiple cases filtering through the courts.

However, what hasn’t received quite as much attention are a number of ongoing lawsuits involving for-profit businesses owned by people of faith. The following is a brief overview of Americans whose God-given (and First Amendment affirmed) rights are being trampled under the a regressive view of religious freedom.

Bed & breakfast, hospitality

Event venues have become a frontline for battles between same-sex couples and citizens who hold to a traditional definition of marriage. Last August, a family-owned and operated bed & breakfast in Vermont paid $30,000 to settle a suit filed against it, although no evidence of fault was produced. Wildflower Inn owner Jim O’Reilly explained the decision to settle:

“Our beliefs haven’t changed.... Small businesses like ours cannot match the limitless resources of the government and the ACLU. Ongoing litigation like this can cripple any small business.... “

Following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland last November, the operator of an Annapolis tour company has discontinued trolley transportation services for all weddings in an effort to avoid conflict altogether, foregoing approximately $50,000 a year in revenue. Also, a Methodist campground meeting association in New Jersey has lost its tax-exempt status because it declined to rent its privately owned facilities for a lesbian civil union ceremony. These cases are not a positive indication of things to come.


In 2006, Elaine Huguenin, a photographer in New Mexico, declined to photograph a lesbian “commitment” ceremony, believing her participation in such an event would affirm same-sex marriage which conflicts with her Christian faith. Elaine & her husband were fined almost $7,000 by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. The lower court decisions have not been encouraging thus far, although the New Mexico Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. As it stands, the New Mexico Court of Appeals essentially made it illegal for photographers to decline photographing events based on conflict with personally held religious beliefs.


Newland v. Sebelius is the case of family-owned Hercules Industries, an HVAC manufacturer in Colorado that is suing the federal government over the mandate. The court decisions so far have been encouraging, but Obama’s Department of Justice continues to appeal. They explicitly argue that Americans lose their freedom of religious expression once they engage in for-profit business activities. Autocam, an automotive parts and medical equipment manufacturer in Michigan, finds itself in a similar predicament.

Retail, real estate

Garnering a little more media attention in recent days is Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, a retail chain with 525 stores in 42 states. The owners refuse to compromise their Christian beliefs in light of the HHS mandate and soon will be subject to a possible $1.3-million-per-day fine. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ruled against Hobby Lobby’s plea for an emergency injunction over the holidays. Meanwhile, an opposite ruling at a federal district court granted Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan essentially the same injunction Hobby Lobby had requested. Monaghan requested the injunction on behalf of his Michigan property management company.


Obama’s Justice Department has argued in court that Tyndale House, the Illinois-based Bible publisher, is not “religious enough” to avoid the HHS mandate. We aren’t making this stuff up. Thankfully, a federal court granted Tyndale a preliminary injunction against the HHS mandate, relieving – for now – a mandate for the Bible publisher to provide abortifacients as part of its employee health care plans.

The above is merely a scratch at the surface. To date, there have been 43 federal cases filed in response to the HHS mandate alone. That’s a pace of about 3.5 new cases each month since Sebelius first issued the rule. In the absence of a reversal from the Obama administration on this issue, 2013 is shaping up to be a chaotic year in the judicial system.

It appears Christians in America, across all sorts of professions, will see more and more opportunities to wrestle with what it means for them, in their own communities and businesses, to confront a fallen culture as they seek to be faithful to Scripture.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matt Hawkins is managing editor of erlc.com and research assistant for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
1/30/2013 1:11:03 PM by Matt Hawkins, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Talking about ‘love’ and ‘equality’

January 29 2013 by Mark Creech, Guest Column

In his second inaugural address President Obama spoke about love. He said that our nation’s journey for equality “is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Ah, equality and love, who could possibly be against these? Certainly only haters, bigots and religious extremists would oppose or stifle their advancement in the cause for gay marriage. Yet, it’s highly doubtful that even homosexual activists really believe what they so vigorously applauded in the president’s speech – the belief that “if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Really? Then why aren’t the president and the LGBT community also vigorously fighting for marriage rights for the polygamist who claims his love for more than one woman is equal to all other loves? Why aren’t they fighting for the incestuous woman who claims her love is misunderstood and that her romance with her brother is a love worthy of marriage? What about the man who loves someone underage – a child? If we should believe that all love is equal, then why can’t we accept his contentions or even that of the child’s that their love is consensual – just as real and deserving of equal respect to that of any other?
Certainly, the most common answer to these questions is that all of these other relationships are unhealthy and harmful. But so is the homosexual lifestyle and the evidence to this end is voluminous. Some of the health perils include increases in AIDS and STDs, hepatitis, colon and rectal cancer. Lesbian women are at much greater risks for cervical cancers, bacterial vaginosis, and the list goes on.
Nevertheless, nothing serves the argument better than to make the simplest of comparisons. Think of it, if everyone were faithfully committed to natural marriage, the end result would be a dramatic reduction in the welfare rolls, the crime rate, the number of abortions, and the instances of child abuse. But if everyone were committed faithfully to same-sex marriage, it would ultimately mean the end of the human race. Granted, all relationships would never become homosexual, but the illustration is only meant to clearly show that all “love” is not “equal” – all love is not equally beneficial to society.
The point is that love is not the primary reason the government sanctions the institution of marriage anyway. No marriage license application asks the candidates if they “love” each other. As far as the government is concerned, it’s singing right along with Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Government’s vested interest has always been about the positive contribution marriage makes to the culture, the stability it provides for both men and women, the value it brings to child-rearing, and the superior way all these dynamics work together to supply a citizenry that is emotionally, physically, and spiritually strong enough to sustain its civilization.
Moreover, the president’s referencing the Declaration of Independence as a premise for the argument in favor of gay marriage was most erroneous. To contend that God, who is the author of “unalienable rights,” approves of same-sex relationships, flies in the face of truth that is “self-evident,” the larger body of religious history, as well as God’s design of the human body.
Is this to say the “love” homosexuals share is not real? Absolutely not! Nonetheless, it is meant to contend that not only is every love not equal, but sometimes what we say is “love” can be an inverted or perverted form of love that is detrimental. Adultery is wrong! Incest is wrong! Pedophilia is wrong! Polygamy is wrong! And yes, homosexuality is wrong! No matter how much one contends that it is love and that it feels right – it’s still morally wrong and injurious!
Marriage has never simply been about satisfying the emotions of two people. Instead, it’s conventionally been about the greater good of mankind. The value of same-sex relationships cannot accurately be said to have matching worth as that of one man and one woman committed to each other for life. And the reason the standard in America has long been in favor of traditional marriage is because no other relationship can demonstrate that it truly is in the best interest of advancing the public good.
And for these reasons, the president’s inaugural remarks supporting gay marriage demonstrate a woeful ignorance of his ability to explain or even talk about the true nature of “love” or “equality.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Creech is executive director of the Christian Action League. He acknowledges with appreciation that he has drawn some of his conclusions throughout this article with help from “Correct, Not Politically Correct: How Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone” by Frank Turek.)
1/29/2013 2:27:30 PM by Mark Creech, Guest Column | with 0 comments

The main reasons people leave a church

January 25 2013 by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Numbers of gifted persons and organizations have studied the phenomenon of the church “back door,” the metaphorical way we describe people leaving the church. And there will always be the anticipated themes of relocation or personal crises. We should recognize those issues, though we can respond to the latter more than the former.

But all the research studies of which I am aware, including my own, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local congregation should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been realized.

Certainly we recognize there are many legitimate claims by church members of unfulfilled expectations. It can undoubtedly be the fault of the local congregation and its leaders.

But many times, probably more than we would like to believe, a church member leaves a local body because he or she has a sense of entitlement. I would therefore suggest that the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.

Look at some of the direct quotes from exit interviews of people who left local congregations:
  • “The worship leader refused to listen to me about the songs and music I wanted.”
  • “The pastor did not feed me.”
  • “No one from my church visited me.”
  • “I was not about to support the building program they wanted.”
  • “I was out two weeks and no one called me.”
  • “They moved the times of the worship services and it messed up my schedule.”
  • “I told my pastor to go visit my cousin and he never did.”
Please hear me clearly. Church members should expect some level of ministry and concern. But, for a myriad of reasons beyond the scope of this one column, we have turned church membership into country club membership. You pay your dues and you are entitled to certain benefits.

The biblical basis of church membership is clear in Scripture. The Apostle Paul even uses the “member” metaphor to describe what every believer should be like in a local congregation. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul describes church members not by what they should receive in a local church, but by the ministry they should give.

The solution to closing the back door, at least a major part of the solution, is therefore to move members from an entitlement mentality to a servant mentality. Of course, it is easy for me to write about it, but it is a greater challenge to effect this change.

May I then offer a few steps of a somewhat practical nature to help close the back door by changing the membership mentality? Here are five:
  1. Inform church members. Though I do not have precise numbers, I would conjecture that more than half of church members do not have a biblical understanding about church membership. Providing that information in a new members’ class can move an entire congregation toward a servant mentality.
  2. Raise the bar of expectations. We have dumbed down church membership in many congregations to where it has little meaning. Clarify expectations of members. Again, doing so in the context of a new members’ class is a great way to begin.
  3. Mentor members. Take two or three members and begin to mentor them to become biblical church members. After a season, ask them to mentor two or three as well. Let the process grow exponentially.
  4. Train members. Almost 100 percent of pastors agree that their role is to train and equip members. But almost three-fourths of these pastors have no plans on how they will train them (see Ephesians 4:11-13).
  5. Encourage people to be in small groups. Those in Sunday School classes and small groups are more likely to be informed and functioning church members. In others words, there is a much greater likelihood of a member with a servant mentality to be in a small group than not.
What are you doing in your church to close the back door? What are you doing to move members from an entitlement mentality to a servant mentality?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on his website, www.ThomRainer.com.)
1/25/2013 12:51:59 PM by Thom S. Rainer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

If only I had ...

January 24 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Regret is a painful thing. We look back on the foolish things we have done and the good things we have left undone. We lament wasted years, wrong attitudes, hurts inflicted on others, missed opportunities.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, spent years caring for patients in their last days. She identified the most common regrets they expressed about their lives in an article, and later a book, titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. They are:

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

“This was the most common regret of all,” Ware writes. “When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

“This came from every male patient that I nursed,” Ware reports. “They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

Many people regretted staying silent or living dishonest lives just to “keep the peace” with others. They often developed illnesses from bitterness and resentment.

4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Ware: “Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. ... It all comes down to love and relationships in the end” – not money, things or accomplishments.

5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

Many people failed to realize until it was nearly too late that happiness is a choice, Ware discovered. They willingly remained in the bondage of patterns and habits that were familiar, yet brought little contentment.

I’ll add a few more regrets that I have experienced. Perhaps you have some, too:
  • I wish I had spent more time glorifying God and less time cursing the darkness.
The world stinks. People are evil. Terrible things happen all the time. This is not exactly news. Constantly bemoaning it is a waste of time. Praising the Lord, His greatness, His grace and mercy and His salvation is time better spent – both now and in preparation for eternity in His presence. It’s also a better way to eliminate darkness. Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).
  • I wish I had spent more time serving God and people and less time serving myself.
God created you and me to love Him, not to squander our brief time on earth loving ourselves only. The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647 is a far better guide in this regard than all the pop psychologists and phony priests of self-worship: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
  • I wish I had told a lot more people about Jesus – and helped other Believers to do so.
If Jesus meant the words He uttered in Matthew 28:19-20, when He told His followers to make disciples among all nations (peoples), this is our agenda. Nothing else comes higher on the priority list. And we have more resources to do it on a truly global scale than any previous generation of Believers.

What are your regrets? If you’re still alive and alert enough to read this, you can change the habits and patterns that caused them.

“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality,” Ware says of her experiences with the dying. “I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal.”

We are all dying. Some of us have a few days left; some of us have many years. Make every day count.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is International Mission Board (IMB) global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com. Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/167/16719/16719-93243.mp3.)
1/24/2013 1:34:04 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Why we should remember Carl F.H. Henry (who’d be 100 this month)

January 24 2013 by Jason Duesing, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – Each semester in my Baptist history classes I require students to write a theological biography of one of 10 significant Baptist figures. I always include Carl F. H. Henry on the list, as he remains largely unknown to current students, with the hopes that a few will select him and have their lives changed and challenged. Jan. 22 marked what would have been the 100th birthday of Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry, someone I like to think of as evangelicals’ and Baptists’ “once and future theologian.”

To be sure, Henry was a towering figure of key doctrinal shaping influence in the 20th century. For those of us classified as Generation X, Henry serves as a spiritual grandfather, a faithful example from the Greatest Generation of advocacy for theological truth and balanced cultural engagement all harnessed and put to use toward the end of global evangelization. For Southern Baptists, Henry is like a William Tyndale, forerunner of the English Reformation, as his clear arguments for the trustworthiness and usefulness of scripture would serve as a foundation upon which many of our heroes in the Conservative Resurgence would build and solidify their defense of biblical inerrancy during the 1980s and 90s.

But Henry can resurface well as our “future” theologian. That is, if we were to rediscover the life and thought of Carl Henry in our own day, we might just find again a helpful voice laying before us a clear path for navigating our increasingly complex world. As Russell Moore notes, Henry’s 1947 work, “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism,” still speaks with prescience to the ways in which we should engage the culture. Henry’s arguments for biblical inerrancy outlined in his majestic “God, Revelation and Authority” (see especially volume 4) still answer well contemporary critical questions as well as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which Henry helped draft. In terms of the future prospects of evangelicalism, I am very much looking forward to the soon release of Gregory Alan Thornbury’s work (“Recovering Classic Evangelicalism”) that also sheds light on the contemporary value for the study of Henry.

However, for Baptists, Henry also still speaks. Henry grew up a nominal Episcopalian, but due to the witness of a diverse group of people, he was converted to Christ. Through the study of scripture during his college years he became a convinced Baptist. While known more for his advancement of evangelical cooperation, Henry nevertheless retained his commitment to Baptist distinctives as “the preferred medium to communicate the life of Christ in his church.” Just as the study of scripture brought him to these convictions, Henry explains that it is the determination to stay with scripture that provides Baptists with the armor necessary to maintain their tradition as well as relate properly to other evangelicals. In his essay, “Fifty Years a Baptist,” Henry writes:

“I am convinced that any activity not conformed to the Bible as the inspired rule of faith and practice becomes a mere distraction. Only through acknowledgment of this scriptural foundation, and justification of Baptist positions in light of this criterion, can Baptists everywhere be impelled to the conviction that their same concern controls their unity in Christ. This matchless distinctive of Bible-relatedness can quicken both total Christian and individual loyalties. It will armor Baptist engagement in the Christian enterprise from easy capitulation to alien encroachments.”

As a direct recipient of the blessings preserved by a generation of Southern Baptist resurgent conservatives, I am grateful for Henry’s influence that inspired so many to faithfulness to God and His Word. As I think about the present theological skirmishes and cultural quagmires in the world, for evangelicals and Baptists alike, I am grateful for this evangelical-Baptist who pointed continually toward a trustworthy Bible.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at TheologicalMatters.com, a blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Jason G. Duesing serves as vice president for strategic initiatives and assistant professor of historical theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, Texas) and is the editor of “Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary” (B&H Academic, 2012).)

Further reading

Carl. F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Word, 1986).
Carl. F. H. Henry, “God, Revelation, and Authority”, 6 vols. (Crossway, 1999).
Carl F. H. Henry, “Fifty Years a Baptist,” in Tom J. Nettles and Russell D. Moore, eds., “Why I Am A Baptist” (B&H, 2001).
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Carl F. H. Henry,” David S. Dockery and Timothy George, eds., “Theologians of the Baptist Tradition” (B&H, 2001).
The Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.http://www.henrycenter.org/about/carl-f-h-henry/published-works/
“Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003): A Tribute,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Winter 2004).
1/24/2013 1:29:13 PM by Jason Duesing, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Teacher fired despite his rights

January 21 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – A New Jersey school board terminated a longtime substitute teacher on Jan. 15 because he shared a Bible verse in the course of a conversation with a student. After sharing the verse, the teacher offered the student a New Testament, which the student accepted.

The Phillipsburg School Board contends it fired Walter Tutka for violating school policies that stipulate a teacher must remain neutral when discussing religious materials and is prohibited from distributing religious literature on school grounds.

If the story being told by Tutka and others is true, then it seems that the teacher was terminated for nothing more than the free exercise of his religion.

According to a variety of reports, Tutka was substituting at the Phillipsburg middle school sometime near the beginning of the new school year. He was holding a door for students and said to a straggling student, “Just remember, the first will be last and the last will be first.”

The student, according to Tutka, asked the teacher the origin of the phrase. “I believe it’s from the Book of Matthew,” Tutka replied. “If I get a chance I’ll take a look and see and get back to you.”

The next time he served as a substitute, Tutka said, the student sought him out and again inquired about the quote, but the teacher had forgotten to look up the verse. “Well, this occurred several times, until I finally said, ‘Look, I’m writing it down and I’ll get back to you, which I did,’” Tutka told Phillipsburg School Board members, as reported on lehighvalleylive.com, the website of The Express Times of Easton, Pa.

According to Tutka’s recollection, he was reading his personal copy of the New Testament at lunch on Oct. 12 when the persistently inquisitive student again approached him and asked about the quote. He showed the student the verse.

When the student indicated that he did not have a Bible, Tutka said he offered his New Testament. “I looked at him and said, ‘Listen, this is my personal copy. I want to gift it to you.’” The student accepted the New Testament and, according to Tutka, seemed happy.

Some reports indicate that the student later returned the New Testament to Tutka.

The Phillipsburg School Board was adamant that Tutka had flagrantly violated its policies, terminating him as a substitute teacher for the remainder of the school year. The policies Tutka was fired for violating, one would assume, were adopted in an effort to comply with the board’s understanding of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which is, at best, misguided.

The First Amendment states very clearly, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....” Thus, the lawmaking body of the United States is forbidden from enacting any legislation that would restrict an individual’s practice of his or her religion.

A law, quite simply, does one of two things. It mandates that a citizen must do something or it stipulates a citizen cannot do something. If a citizen does not do what he or she “must” or if the citizen does what he or she “can’t,” then the citizen risks some level of consequence.

For example in the state in which I reside, Louisiana, the law mandates that certain passengers in an automobile “must” wear seat belts. If the “must” is violated, then the driver of the vehicle risks a consequence.

The same is true for the “can’t” aspect of a law. Traffic laws stipulate that a driver “can’t” exceed a road’s posted speed limit. If a driver does not comply with the “can’t,” he or she risks a consequence.

The religious clause of the First Amendment states that the government is forbidden to enact legislation that says a citizen “must” adhere to, acknowledge or practice any specific religion. At the same time, it also says the government is prohibited from saying a citizen “can’t” freely exercise his or her religion.

If anyone is violating the First Amendment in the situation in New Jersey, it is the Phillipsburg School Board.

However, reality doesn’t seem to hold much sway these days.

If sharing phrases derived from the Bible and offering a New Testament as a gift to one student is really interpreted as a violation of the First Amendment and enough to have a teacher terminated – and if it is upheld by a court – there is no question that the public square is overtly hostile to Christianity.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
1/21/2013 1:05:27 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The Supreme Court weighs in on marriage

January 16 2013 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, has issued a call to prayer for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world during 2013. In addition, the month of January has been designated a month of prayer on the convention’s calendar. Baptist Press will carry first-person articles during the year encouraging Southern Baptists to pray in specific areas and for specific needs as we petition the Father for spiritual awakening.)

NASHVILLE – In 75 days the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of two laws, one a bipartisan legislative act, the other a citizen-driven initiative. The high court will consider the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 on March 26 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act on March 27.

I call on Southern Baptists and other like-minded followers of Christ to join me in praying for our nine Supreme Court justices and for those who will present oral arguments before them.

How should we pray?

First, we pray that God’s will be done. Though our preference is for God to extend mercy to us, the Lord is a Righteous Judge. If He allowed judgment to fall upon His chosen people throughout history, how much more on a nation that forgets God?

Consider: The sword did not depart from David’s household. The kingdom divided under Rehoboam. Samaria (the northern kingdom of Israel) fell to the Assyrians. The southern kingdom of Judah, including Jerusalem, was conquered and the temple destroyed by the Babylonians. The second temple was utterly destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus.

In each instance, God’s will was accomplished – punishment was permitted against the sinful nation for the purification of the remnant whose hearts were drawn back to the Lord. Habakkuk’s words are particularly relevant, “LORD, I stand in awe of Your deeds. Revive Your work in these years; make it known in these years. In Your wrath remember mercy!” (Habakkuk 3:2).

Second, we plea for God’s mercy rather than His justice. We pray for the hearts and minds of the justices. We cannot imagine the external pressures being brought to bear on each judge. Their positions are designed as lifetime appointments to help minimize the politicization of their duties. However, they, like us, long to be liked and appreciated by individuals who are often politically connected and considered intellectually sophisticated.

The president has signaled his desires, having instructed the Justice Department not to defend the law of the land enacted by Congress. But God, who is rich in mercy, is able to move the hearts of kings. His Spirit can work in ways we cannot fathom to help guide and sway each justice. It only takes five justices to establish the constitutionality of these laws and rescue our nation from the precipice of moral destruction. We pray for them.

Third, we pray for supernatural wisdom for those who argue for the constitutionality of these two initiatives. The law is a fluid thing. It is always being shaped by a combination of factors, including precedent, logic, the effect of past laws on the human condition, and even personal charisma of the presenters.

Perhaps no idea has more shaped Supreme Court deliberations over the past few decades than the principle of fairness. Truth and justice do not always seem fair to our fallen minds. Morality does not always seem reasonable. Our sinful hearts are frequently darkened so that evil is considered good and good is considered evil.

We pray that the individuals selected to argue for the constitutionality of traditional marriage will have keenness of insight, eloquence and logical consistency in their arguments and in response to each question directed their way. We pray their arguments will be biblically sound, compelling, reasonable and persuasive.

Fourth, the Psalmist frequently asked the Lord to let the wicked be caught in their own schemes (Psalm 10:2). Let us petition the heavenly Father that those who argue against biblical truth will be ensnared in their own pride and be taken captive by their own conceits.

Fifth, the best way for God’s people to pray, of course, is to pray His Word back to Him. Isaiah 59 (reprinted below) is a most fitting text for us to pray as we intercede on behalf of our nation. Let me urge you to pray this passage to the Lord, acknowledging His might, His ability and His willingness to rescue our land from imminent moral peril.

Isaiah 59, Holman Christian Standard Bible:
“1 Indeed, the LORD’s hand is not too short to save, and His ear is not too deaf to hear.
2 But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen.
3 For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers, with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, and your tongues mutter injustice.
4 No one makes claims justly; no one pleads honestly. They trust in empty and worthless words; they conceive trouble and give birth to iniquity.
5 They hatch viper’s eggs and weave spider’s webs. Whoever eats their eggs will die; crack one open, and a viper is hatched.
6 Their webs cannot become clothing, and they cannot cover themselves with their works. Their works are sinful works, and violent acts are in their hands.
7 Their feet run after evil, and they rush to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are sinful thoughts; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths.
8 They have not known the path of peace, and there is no justice in their ways. They have made their roads crooked; no one who walks on them will know peace.
9 Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We hope for light, but there is darkness; for brightness, but we live in the night.
10 We grope along a wall like the blind; we grope like those without eyes. We stumble at noon as though it were twilight; we are like the dead among those who are healthy.
11 We all growl like bears and moan like doves. We hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.
12 For our transgressions have multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us.
For our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities:
13 transgression and deception against the LORD, turning away from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering lying words from the heart.
14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far off. For truth has stumbled in the public square, and honesty cannot enter.
15 Truth is missing, and whoever turns from evil is plundered.
The LORD saw that there was no justice, and He was offended.
16 He saw that there was no man—He was amazed that there was no one interceding; so His own arm brought salvation, and His own righteousness supported Him.
17 He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and He wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak.
18 So He will repay according to their deeds: fury to His enemies, retribution to His foes, and He will repay the coastlands.
19 They will fear the name of Yahweh in the west and His glory in the east; for He will come like a rushing stream driven by the wind of the LORD.
20 ‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.’
This is the LORD’s declaration.
21 ‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the LORD: ‘My Spirit who is on you, and My words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouth of your children, or from the mouth of your children’s children, from now on and forever,’ says the LORD.”
1/16/2013 3:05:04 PM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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