January 2016

Religious liberty: a Baptist distinctive

January 29 2016 by Danny Akin, SEBTS President

A passion for religious liberty and freedom of conscience runs in the veins of Baptists. It is actually in our DNA! Our forefathers and mothers fought and suffered for this inalienable right because they understood to truly love and worship God is to love and worship Him freely.
Coerced love is an oxymoron. It is nonsensical. We must be free to love our God without intimidation because it is a divine right granted to us by our Creator as His imagers. This is why we persuade others to trust Christ with the Word and not the sword!
Southern Baptists are firmly committed to this proposition for all people. Indeed, we are willing, like those who have gone before us, to fight for and even suffer for every person’s right to believe or not believe according to their conscience.
So important is religious liberty to us that we have an article in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message specifically dedicated to this conviction. There we read:

XVII. Religious Liberty

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.
Genesis 1:27; 2:7; Matthew 66-7, 24; 16:26; 22:21; John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Romans 6:1-2; 13:1-7; Galatians 5:1, 13; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; James 4:12; 1 Peter 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19.
This is a wonderful statement of faith and conviction. God alone is Lord of the conscience. Not any man. Not any government. The government is to keep its nose out of the church’s business and we will honor and obey the government as long as what it requires is not contrary to the will of God revealed in Holy Scripture. All men should have “the right of free and unhindered access to God ... and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion ...” What we ask for ourselves we gladly grant as a right to others.
George W. Truett, renowned pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas from 1897-1944, said, “Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first the trophy of Baptists” (citing American historian George Bancroft).
I fear this trophy is in serious danger of being snatched away in our day. Rumblings in our governments and courts signal that a “religious liberty tsunami” is at hand. For the sake of our nation and the nations, we cannot sit on the sideline or be silent. My friend Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says, “We [Baptists] have a history of being irritants” when it comes to religious liberty. Irritants, let us rise up and seize the day!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Danny Akin is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. This article was originally published in the fall 2015 issue of The Great Commission Magazine of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

1/29/2016 11:27:08 AM by Danny Akin, SEBTS President | with 0 comments

David Bowie, Glam Rock & gender rebellion

January 28 2016 by Candi Finch, BiblicalWoman.com

As many in the world mourn the passing of musical icon and innovator David Bowie, the influence of his 1970s androgynous, Glam Rock alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, lives on in contemporary discussions about gender.
Bowie, who died from cancer Jan. 10 in New York City at age 69, was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, whose career in music, film and theater spanned more than four decades.
Even if you are not a child of the ‘70s or if you would rather just forget the era that brought us lava lamps and bell bottom pants, Christians need to be aware of the social commentary and change during the era of Bowie’s emergence.
From Kate Millet’s “Sexual Politics” that argued that gender was essentially a cultural construct rather than a biological reality to second wave feminism’s mainstreaming of Simone de Beauvoir’s claim in “The Second Sex” that one is not born but rather becomes a woman, the concept of gender became a hotly discussed topic.


Image: iStock
The public leave flowers at an impromptu shrine at a public mural of David Bowie in London.

In fact, before the late 1960s “gender” and “sex” were used as synonymous terms. However, in 1968, psychologist Robert Stoller desired to explain why some people felt they were “trapped in the wrong bodies” so he pioneered the use of the term “sex” to denote biological traits and “gender” to describe the amount of femininity and masculinity a person exhibited. The distinguishing of these two terms has had a disastrous impact.

Glam Rock as gender rebellion

What does all this have to do with David Bowie? Within the swirling social discussions on gender in the 1970s, Glam Rock entered the mix, and David Bowie became one of its most acclaimed practitioners. Glam Rock, also called glitter rock, “began in Britain in the early 1970s and celebrated the spectacle of the rock star and concert. Often dappled with glitter, male musicians took the stage in women’s makeup and clothing, adopted theatrical personas, and mounted glamorous musical productions frequently characterized by space-age futurism.”[1]
This style of music and performance was regularly called “gender bending” or “gender rebellion.” The lyrics often touched on taboo topics and pushed the boundaries of sexual norms as seen in Bowie’s song “All the Young Dudes” that became a Glam Rock anthem (he wrote this song for the English rock band Mott the Hoople):
Now Lucy looks sweet
‘cause he dresses like a queen
But he can kick like a mule
it’s a real mean team....
Feminist scholar Camille Paglia, author of “Sexual Personae,” reflected on the impact of Bowie on her own life: “Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period in the early 1970s had a staggering influence on me. I had been writing about androgyny in literature and art in my term papers in college and grad school, so Bowie’s daring experiments seemed like the living embodiment of everything I had been thinking about.”[2]
Ziggy Stardust for Paglia was a “bold, knowing, charismatic creature neither male nor female” and viewing one of his costumes for her was “a sacred epiphany, like seeing a splinter from the True Cross.”[3]
In fact, another columnist recently noted that David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust “paved the way for future generations of androgynous, gender-bending icons in pop” and Bowie himself will always be remembered as a “barrier-busting hero who acted as an avatar for gender fluidity before that was even a term.”[4]
Bowie’s gender activism continued throughout his career even though he retired his Ziggy Stardust persona after only a few years. In 2014, he appeared in a PSA that proclaimed, “Gender is between your ears, not between your legs.”[5]
Remembering Bowie, Madonna commented that she “was so inspired by the way he played with gender confusion. [He] was both masculine and feminine.”[6] Martin Scorsese, who directed Bowie in The Last Temptation of Christ, said that Bowie has “left a deep imprint on the culture.”[7]


Current forms of gender rebellion

Unfortunately, the Glam Rock movement of the 1970s is not very different from the gender rebellion movement we see today through the likes of Bruce Jenner. Glam Rock sought to defy sexual stereotypes through sexual and gender ambiguity and androgyny. The leaders essentially desired to thumb their noses at constructed understandings of gender. They wanted to define themselves.
The problem with claiming the right to name ourselves is that we are created beings. We have a Creator God who has already defined us. With great intentionality God created two distinct genders (Genesis 2:18-25). Gender is a gift from God, not something that is socially constructed or self-determined. As the book of Isaiah declares, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
Southern Baptists, in a 2014 resolution “On Transgender Identity,” set forth a broad statement of biblical truth as reflected in the Baptist Faith and Message, Article III: “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.”
Truth be told, however, human beings made a mess of things when we rebelled against God and decided to claim the right to define ourselves. Conceptualizations of gender have evolved quite a bit since Stoller’s 1968 definition, and current definitions describe gender as representing several distinct things:

  1. Our bodies (gender biology)

  2. How we dress and act (gender expression)

  3. How we feel inside (gender identity)[8]

Add to those understandings the concept of sexual orientation, and you get a staggering number of ways that people are choosing to identify themselves today. Back in 2014, Facebook came out with more than 50 different “custom” gender options other than male and female. Terms like gender expansive, gender fluidity and genderqueer are just some of the new entries into the current lexicon. It is difficult just to keep up with all the new and evolving definitions!
David Bowie’s gender rebellion in the 1970s paved the way for the gender fluidity movement of our day. His legacy is found in comments by the likes of young Disney starlet Rowan Blanchard, who stars in “Girl Meets World.” This 14-year-old teen and self-proclaimed feminist activist recently declared herself “queer” in a tweet because she doesn’t want to be labeled.
Blanchard tweeted, “In my life – only ever liked boys…However I personally don’t wanna label myself as straight, gay or whateva so I am not gonna give myself labels to stick with – just existing.” In a follow-up to that tweet, she said, “Yes open to liking any gender in future is why I identify as queer.”[9] Time magazine named Blanchard one of the 30 most influential teens of 2015.[10]
Blanchard, like Bowie, is claiming the right to define herself. At its heart, this act is rebellion against God.
Sadly, we have made complicated what is very clear for God: “Male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Candi Finch is assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who holds the Dorothy Kelley Patterson Chair of Women’s Studies. This article first appeared at the seminary’s Biblical Woman website, www.biblicalwoman.com.)
[1] See http://www.britannica.com/art/glam-rock
[2] David Daley, “‘A bold, knowing, charismatic creature neither male nor female’: Camille Paglia remembers a hero, David Bowie,” Salon.com, January 12, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/01/12/a_bold_knowing_charismatic_creature_neither_male_nor_female_camille_paglia_remembers_a_hero_david_bowie/
[3] Ibid.
[4] Kyle Anderson, “David Bowie,” Entertainment Weekly (January 22, 2016), 29.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Interview with Kyle Anderson, “David Bowie,” Entertainment Weekly (January 22, 2016), 30.
[7] Ibid., 33.
[8] See https://www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/
[9] Rebecca Rose, “Girl Meets World Star Rowan Blanchard Opens Up to Fans: ‘I Identify as Queer,’” Cosmpolitan (January 18, 2016), see http://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/news/a52308/rowan-blanchard-identifies-as-queer/
[10] http://time.com/4081618/most-influential-teens-2015/#4081618/most-influential-teens-2015/

1/28/2016 11:12:20 AM by Candi Finch, BiblicalWoman.com | with 0 comments

Hopeful for millennials

January 27 2016 by Shane Pruitt, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention

What is a millennial?
There are no precise dates when this generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from 1978 to the early 2000s. I was born in 1978, so I just missed the Generation-X group and barely fit into the millennials. In fact, some definitions would keep my age group out of the millennials category, but I am around true millennials all the time by speaking to high school and college students, church planters and young families on a regular basis.
In my experience with this broad and large people group, I find there are extreme differences between 34-year-olds and 17-year-olds. However, there are some common views that come to the surface in most millennials no matter their age.
This is extremely important because, as children of God, we have firsthand experience of the incredible grace of Jesus. So, we should have a never-ending drive within us to love every age group the way that He loves us, and be students of every generation in order to be faithful missionaries with the gospel to them.
With that in mind, here are 10 common views of millennials that may help us understand this large and diverse generation:

  1. Millennials don’t promote ageism. People tend to think that millennials don’t want to have anything to do with the older generation. However, this generation is in desperate need for older generations to invest into them. This is largely a fatherless generation. They often seek out or are more open to discipleship or mentorship than we tend to believe. But they won’t know how to ask for it, so they ask you to “hang out.”

  2. Millennials value experience over heritage. For the most part, millennials don’t value “heritage.” For example, a young person is not typically going to be Southern Baptist just because his parents were. If we can’t answer their “why” questions or we get defensive over their questions, we’ll lose them. Be ready to answer their honest questions with love, patience and kindness. Their experience with something or someone will dictate their views more than history will.

  3. Millennials are fairly non-committal. Unless it’s an Apple product, millennials aren’t completely committed to anything. Previous generations may have valued commitment over enjoyment by making statements such as, “I’ve hated my job for over 40 years but I’m committed to it.” You’ll probably never hear a millennial say that, however, because they tend to value enjoyment over commitment. So they may say something like, “Why be miserable for 40 years? I may make less money and move around a lot, but I certainly don’t want to be miserable. Life is too short for that!” A great way to keep millennials engaged is by constantly communicating, illustrating and empowering participation in the vision and mission of the church. Remember, the younger generation is not the future of the church – if they’ve been redeemed with the blood of Jesus, they’re the church right now. Let them have some ownership of the ministry and be patient with them when they mess up, possibly a lot.

  4. Millennials mainly think about today. They often seem shortsighted. Think about it – the defining moment of their lifetime involves the tragic events of 9/11. They saw the twin towers fall over and over again on a video screen while they were still children. It’s burned into their subconscious. Because there is so much focus on today, there will be very little preparation for the future by most millennials. This is also the reason for a lot of debt with this generation. “I need money today, so I’ll take out this loan and worry about how to pay for it tomorrow.” There is a great opportunity for the church to utilize the urgency of each day with this generation while also discipling them in the values of planning.

  5. Millennials are more globally minded. Most millennials are up to date on world news and affairs. However, they may seem to be less patriotic to the USA than previous generations. They tend to view things from a global perspective while still valuing their country. It’s very possible that the Lord may accomplish the Great Commission through their interest in the nations.

  6. Millennials know public shaming all too well. Public shaming once was a thing of the past but now has been revived with social media. Millennials have grown up afraid. They’ve felt the sting of cyber-bullying and may even have participated in viral trends. Their online persona is often as important to them as their real persona. Where we once said a photo was “A Kodak moment,” we now say, “That picture is Instagram-worthy.” This is an incredible opportunity for the church to teach this generation that a true identity found in Christ is better than a false identity created online.

  7. Millennials see brokenness at an earlier age. They are exposed to more violence, graphic images and evil at an earlier age. Internet exposure, media coverage and broken homes are unfortunately the norm for far too many. Mass shootings are mainly a new phenomenon in their generation. This is a pornography-saturated generation – the average age of first exposure is 11. The fastest-growing consumers of Internet pornography are girls 15–30; 90 percent of guys admit to interaction with Internet pornography and 60 percent of girls. This generation is looking for solutions at a much earlier time in their lives. They know they’re broken. Thank God for the Gospel because it is mighty to save millennials. Share it with them because they’re starving for it, whether they know it or not.

  8. Millennials are cause-oriented. This generation wants to be a part of “doing” something. They’ll want more out of their church than sitting on a pew, listening to sermons, going to potluck dinners, while waiting on the Rapture Bus to swoop down to pick them all up. They are not scared to die young; however, they are terrified to die at a ripe old age while not having done anything significant with their lives in their own eyes. They are not typically impressed by a church’s size or budget. They’re more interested in being noticed relationally and in what the church is doing outside the walls of the building. Sometimes you’ll find a greater percentage of millennials in smaller churches or church plants because of the assumed accessibility of the leaders to cultivate a relationship.

  9. Millennials are an ADHD generation. Surprising to some, they usually don’t mind long sermons. The communicators most popular among millennials commonly preach 45-50-minute sermons. However, millennials have about a 7-10-minute attention span at the most. In communicating, teaching, preaching, it is a must to break up the message several times with a story, illustration or practical application. Also, teaching has to be more than relaying content. This generation is visual. If they can’t see it or envision it, they have difficulty understanding it.

  10. Millennials value doctrine. Mature Christ-following millennials deeply value doctrine, verse-by-verse preaching and missions. This generation seems to get weary of gimmicks and sleek presentations very quickly. The seeker-sensitive movement of their parents’ generation has grown to be “old hat” for the millennials who grew up in church. In preaching, the more raw, transparent and vulnerable the communicator is, the more millennials connect. There was a time when preachers were told not to use themselves in personal illustrations; however, this generation wants to hear those personal stories.

Millennials are a hopeful generation, and I personally am encouraged by this. My prophetic prediction about this generation is that God will use them to further the Great Commission more than any previous generation. Even if I’m wrong, millennials nevertheless are people made in the image of God who desperately need the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shane Pruitt is director of missions for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. This article first appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, the convention’s newsjournal.)

1/27/2016 11:05:28 AM by Shane Pruitt, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention | with 0 comments

Political tension and the pastor

January 26 2016 by Chris Hefner and Rit Varrialle, N.C. pastors

The discussion of “religion and politics” is among those sensitive subjects that pastors and Christians in general have been advised to avoid, or at the very least, limit the expression of their views when speaking from the pulpit or in a Bible study class. Most do not want to invite potential conflict from those who could be offended.
There are many views on the subject from pastors of every persuasion. We expect differences from those who come from opposing theological and political camps.
But we need to acknowledge that even among those who agree theologically, opinions are not equal. We also need to be committed to civil discussion in the context of these and other opinions. Two equally conservative, loyal Southern Baptist pastors expressed their views in a discussion with our readers. Both men are committed to biblical integrity. Both love their church members and desire to be faithful leaders.
We hope the courage of these pastors will lead to a continued civil discussion in the Biblical Recorder throughout this election year. See what BR editor K. Allan Blume said about this discussion in a recent editorial.
We invite your comments also. Send them to editor@brnow.org or Editor, P.O. Box 1185, Cary, NC 27512.


From Chris Hefner, Guest Column:


Chris Hefner, pastor of Wilkesboro Baptist Church.

I must confess, I’m a bit of a political junkie. I enjoy following the political issues and conversations of the day. As citizens of the United States, we have the freedom, privilege and responsibility to participate in the political process. With the 2016 presidential election on the horizon and primary season in full swing, political issues are trending and controversial. What is the Christian leader to do with serious political issues? Immigration? National security? Religious freedom? Abortion? And the list could go on and on. Is there a balance between biblical pastoral leadership and being engaged in the political conversation? Let me offer several observations that I believe can assist us in dealing with political topics as Christian leaders.
1. Remember that political issues are not a part of Christ’s mission to the church.
Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples not advance a political agenda. Paul and the early missionaries focused on preaching the gospel and planting churches, not issues of socio-political action. Christian thinkers from John Stott to D. James Kennedy have emphasized the need for Christians to engage in socio-political action. Some have made the case for integrating political action with Christian mission. However, I believe the Great Commission itself focuses Christian mission on making disciples. This observation does not mean Christians should neglect political issues. Rather, I mean that Christian mission – our primary responsibility – must take precedence over political action in our preaching ministry.
2. Be attentive to the reality that social media has given a voice to the uninformed.
It used to be that having a political voice meant that you vote, write a letter to the editor or volunteer for a politician or political party. Today, behind the comfort of your cellphone, you can read news stories, post/share them and comment on them with little personal investment. The social media proliferation of news sources and political commentary is not a bad thing. More people today have a voice and opportunity to speak.
Alexis de Toqueville insightfully noted centuries ago in his work, Democracy in America, that the proliferation of newspapers was one of the things that made America great.
But Facebook rants and 140 character tweets allow for the uninformed to comment as if they are experts. We should be aware of this phenomenon and avoid the peril of commenting in ignorance.
3. As a pastor, you will preach to and lead those with whom you will disagree politically.
Make sure your people know you love them and you love everyone, which means you might need to listen with kindness to those with whom you disagree. There’s not nearly enough honest disagreement with a tolerant demeanor in political conversations. Christ affirmed paying taxes to Caesar while he challenged the religious authorities of the day. He was a controversial peacemaker.
One of the beautiful realities about the political process in the United States is that we have the freedom to disagree. Pastors should model humble Christ-like interactions with those who might disagree with us (on gray area issues) while not being afraid to state biblical positions when they are clear even on controversial topics.
4. The United States will not rise or fall based on the last or the next presidential election.
Isaiah 40:15-18, Psalm 2, Habakkuk 2, Revelation 20:11-16 are just a brief sampling of the scriptural affirmation that God sovereignly rules the nations. The United States is not unique with regard to God’s rule. He ultimately governs the political processes of all nations including our own.
While we must dutifully be involved in the political process, we need to remember who is in charge and point our congregations to the authority and Lordship of the One who is King of kings and sovereign over presidents. After all, the hope that John offered in the book of Revelation was not to people who had any vote in Rome’s political agenda. Yet, John affirmed that Jesus is Lord and will return to reign over the nations.
5. Acknowledge the complexity of political issues.
Many political issues are exceedingly complex and controversial – immigration, the Syrian refugee situation, terrorism, foreign policy, education, gun control, gun rights, etc.
Some political issues have simple biblical answers like abortion and homosexuality. However, even these issues may raise complex interpersonal situations such as counseling a guilt-ridden woman after her abortion or speaking to a young man who believes he was born homosexual.
Overly simplistic solutions to many of these political issues are not realistic. Regarding immigration and the Syrian refugees, we should be governed by Christ’s love and seek to share the gospel with any whom God might allow to be relocated into our nation. As U.S. citizens, we can rightly pursue being a nation governed by laws and pray for and vote for politicians who will represent our concerns in congress. Furthermore, the complexity of these and other issues encourages us to hold our views on the topics with humility and should drive us to pray. Paul’s admonition is appropriate here. We should pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).
6. The pulpit is the place for biblical authority not political opinion.
When the Bible is clear, we should be as well. We should learn to separate our personal convictions from biblical absolutes and state the difference if we communicate our personal convictions from the pulpit. We should not be afraid to preach on controversial, political topics when they are addressed in the Bible. But I don’t believe the content of our preaching should be driven by political issues. Rather, I believe our preaching should be driven by scripture. And the centerpiece of scripture is Jesus – the crucified, risen Savior and returning King.
These observations are by no means exhaustive. You might disagree with some of them. That’s fine. But above all, let’s not allow our political persuasions in any way to become a detriment to our preaching of the gospel.


Rit Varriale, Guest Column:


Rit Varriale is pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby.

Though I agreed with much of what Chris Hefner said, his observations reflect commonly accepted perspectives that may contribute to inaction on the part of the church. Using his six points as a framework, I want to offer another perspective on religion and politics in America.
1. Remember that political issues are not a part of Christ’s mission to the church. The church cannot allow the world to define what is political and what is biblical. If we do, then issues like prayer and sexuality will be deemed political. Applying the modern notion of separation of church and state to the early church, and subsequently interpreting the Bible as if the apostles approached politics as we do, is a mistake. In the apostles’ world, there was no separation of religion and state. The failure to challenge the socio-political system of our day by speaking directly to “political” issues is more a reflection of modern political thought than biblical values and discipleship. This is the great deception of the church – we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re fulfilling the mission of the church, but we’re really following the orders of the court.
2. Be attentive to the reality that social media has given a voice to the uninformed.
Mark Twain said: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” The same is true for social media. Social media brings more voices to the table, which enables us to challenge the mainstream media and political establishments. If there is a dilemma caused by the proliferation of news via bloggers and tweets, the real danger is that the variety of sources, be they informed or otherwise, allow us to find justification for our actions and opinions however misdirected or unbiblical they might be.
To Hefner’s point, we must walk circumspectly through the labyrinth of information provided by social media, but we must remember social media can be one of our greatest tools for discernment and change.
3. As a pastor, you will preach to and lead those with whom you will disagree politically. Certainly, we must be sensitive to this obvious point, but our sensitivity should not lead to compromise in the pulpit. Tickling people’s ears might grow a congregation numerically, but it will never grow the church spiritually. We have created a fiction in the pacifist Christ who always turns the other cheek. The Christ of the gospels is not afraid to fight for righteousness and truth. Jesus’ righteous indignation caused Him to flip over the exchange tables and run the moneychangers out of the temple (John 2:12-15). In order to model the totality of Christ’s actions and ministry, there are times Christians must put aside pious platitudes and start flipping tables. Pastors should lead with love, but they shouldn’t be afraid to mix religion and politics in their preaching.
4. The United States will not rise or fall based on the last or the next presidential election. This observation lacks theological consistency. If we are to believe that God is sovereign and integrally involved in “the political processes of all nations,” then why would we expect the church to separate its theology and activity from the political processes? In the realm of sports, if a team doesn’t show up to play a scheduled game, then we call it a “forfeit.” A forfeit results in a win for the team that did show up. Christian values are consistently losing in politics and the public square because the church doesn’t show up to play. The U.S. may not rise or fall on the last or next presidential election, but mark my words – the U.S. will rise or fall on the action or inaction of pastors and churches. If, in the name of separation of church and state, our inaction persists, then our nation will pay the price and we will have to answer to God for our failure to standing boldly for biblical values.
5. Acknowledge the complexity of political issues.
Although many issues are complicated, some are not. Take for example, abortion and the LGBTQ agenda. Neither issue is, from a biblical perspective, complicated. People’s feelings and thoughts may complicate a conversation on these issues, but the Bible is pretty clear – infanticide and homosexuality are wrong and cannot be supported by orthodox Christian teaching. Hefner states, “Overly simplistic solutions… are not realistic.” Yet, I believe his response to these complex issues is simplistic, namely, keep praying and honor the authorities. Did Jesus do that? No. He prayed, but then He challenged the authorities – as did the prophets before Him and the apostles after Him. Thus, a more biblical and complex response to these political issues would be to; 1) pray, 2) honor our leaders according to biblical values, and 3) obey God over and against unbiblical authorities (Acts 3-5). The church in America has failed miserably at the latter.
6. The pulpit is the place for biblical authority not political opinion.
When we separate the pulpit from politics and current affairs, we run the risk of becoming a state church precisely because we are acquiescing to the dictates of the state. Too many pastors and Christian leaders worry more about litigation than sanctification. Hefner states, “Our preaching should not be driven by political issues.” But, I ask, “Why not?” The modern court system, not the Bible, has promoted the separation of religion from politics and the public square. Had our Lord simply toed the socio-political line, He would not have gone to the cross. The cross was not the result of expositional Bible studies and posh high-tech worship services. The cross was the result of messianic activism.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chris Hefner is senior pastor of Wilkes-boro Baptist Church. His column was originally posted on LifeWay Christian Resources blog for pastors: lifeway.com/pastors/2015/12/18/political-tension-and-the-pastor. Rit Varriale is pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby. See God Before Government Facebook page. His forthcoming book, God Before Government, is due out in November 2016.)

1/26/2016 11:08:28 AM by Chris Hefner and Rit Varrialle, N.C. pastors | with 0 comments

Everything is different, yet nothing has changed

January 25 2016 by David Jeremiah, Turning Point

Steve Jobs didn’t have a lot to say. He didn’t give a lot of speeches, except for a graduation address at Stanford University. He didn’t take to the podium except when unveiling his new products.
Yet Jobs was one of history’s greatest communicators, for he changed the history of communication itself. He made the world accessible to us, and us to the world. He turned “I” into a lower-case phenomenon and squeezed all our bulky entertainment systems into portable devices. Jobs’ mission was delivering as much content possible, to as many people as possible, as quickly, portably and affordably as possible.
Steve Jobs wasn’t perfect, and I’m not holding him up as a role model except in this way: Perhaps his commitment to his mission will remind us of our commitment to ours. We’re to rededicate ourselves every day to deliver the gospel to as many people possible, as quickly, portably and affordably as possible.

Technology through the ages

Christians have always used the most advanced technologies of their day for delivering the gospel. We can illustrate this from the life of the apostle Paul. Though the world had changed little in his day, Paul took advantage of even the smallest technological advancements. He used papyrus instead of parchment, Roman roads instead of self-made trails, Greek in addition to Hebrew.
Paul used every means available to him. “I have become all things to all men,” he said, “that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22b). He didn’t compromise his morals or his message, but he did adapt his methods to ensure the greatest possible success.
Christians since New Testament days have followed Paul’s example in using “all means” to spread the gospel. In the 1400s, Johannes Gutenberg changed the world with his printing press. And what was the first book that rolled out of its movable type? The Bible, of course.
Fast forward to 1992. The first text message ever sent was by British engineer Neil Papworth. It was a two-word greeting: “Merry Christmas.”
Our expanding technology allows us to reach more people with the message of Christ. Yes, we’re aware of the moral dangers of our advancements. But that’s all the more reason to harness them for Christ.

An ageless gospel

The world is changing, but the more it changes, the more it stays the same. People are still sinners. Judgment is still waiting. The grace of God is still available. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is still our only hope.
I grew up in an era in which people came to the Lord through revival campaigns and door-to-door visitation. Some of those methods are useful today; others less so. But the gospel I preach is exactly the same as the apostle Paul presented in 1 Corinthians 15: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand ... that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (verses 1-4).
The ministry of soul-winning is never out of season. It’s the act of one person telling another about the wonderful grace of Jesus. Instead of reduced options or decreased openness, we have more ways than ever to share Christ.
Earlier, I referred to Steve Jobs’ address to the graduates of Stanford University. His words were poignant: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it,” he said. “When I was 17, I read a quote that said something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’”
Steve Jobs is right in saying our time on earth is limited. We should live each day as if it were our last and seek to do things that really matter.
Don’t be afraid to try something new when it comes to evangelism. Let’s say with Paul, “I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., and founder and host of “Turning Point for God.” For more information on Turning Point, visit DavidJeremiah.org.)

1/25/2016 12:08:06 PM by David Jeremiah, Turning Point | with 0 comments

Picking a president

January 22 2016 by Jim Richards, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention

In this presidential election year, no candidate (even the one I like) is going to bring revival to the churches. No president will be in the forefront of evangelism even if he is a committed believer in Christ.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t participate in the process. Based on Romans 13, believers have an obligation to be good citizens. In the American context, that means we should register to vote and cast our ballots.
As you assess the candidates this year, here are several key considerations:

Be informed

Select a candidate who has high moral character. This is a tall order because all of us are sinners; no one is perfect. It is impossible to find a candidate who has no blemishes. David, king of Israel, was a flawed man but still had redeeming qualities, such as humility before the Lord. Politicians will say anything to get your vote. Research the best person for whom to cast your ballot. Character matters.

Be convictional

Biblical issues are important. God is pro-life from beginning to end and in between. A candidate or party that holds pre-born babies as mere tissue is outside the biblical ethic. Euthanasia is taking God’s place in the process of death. Racial discrimination is unacceptable to the Christ follower. All people are to be treated with respect and dignity. The Bible speaks to economic systems.
There are virtually no public policies that are untouched by God’s Word. Find out where the parties stand on these issues. Vote for candidates that most closely represent a biblical ethic.

Be a patriot

There is no conflict between being a Christian and an American. Perhaps one of the most controversial subjects is patriotism itself. I believe some have created a false dichotomy by saying, “I’m a Christian first, an American second.” Every Bible-believing Christ follower, however, should say “Amen” to that statement.
Being a Christian first doesn’t mean you can’t be a good American. The United States has provided evangelical Christianity with greater opportunities to present the gospel to the world than any country in modern times. Why would Christians want to weaken our nation? A strong America enables the gospel to be furthered to the ends of the earth. Whether it is reducing our national military defense or allowing illegal immigration, it is self-destructive to our nation. We should pursue peace, but we are not pacifists. We should love those who are in our land illegally without perpetuating the crisis.

Be a witness

America has experienced a shift in culture that will never be reversed by politics. Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have a completely different worldview from our founding fathers. Secularists seek to eradicate the Christian witness from the public square.
The only way we will ever see an America that is based on Judeo-Christian principles is to win people to Christ and teach them a biblical worldview. God doesn’t need America, but we need Him. Only the gospel, not public policy, can change people’s lives. They need our Savior to save them from hell.
As you go to the ballot box this year, remember it is important to be a Christian first, then an American second. If you do that, you will cast a vote pleasing to our Father. May God bless America!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Richards is executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

1/22/2016 12:53:07 PM by Jim Richards, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention | with 0 comments

Freedom is not free

January 21 2016 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

Anna Greenberg, former assistant professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, observed in a 1999 Chronicle of Higher Education essay:
“Polls show that Americans have the perplexing ability to hold ideologically contradictory views. As many scholars note, Americans are simultaneously attached to both limited and activist government policies; they are capable, for instance, of favoring both cutting the federal budget and increasing spending on education, health care and other social programs. Americans are also quite willing to offer opinions to poll takers on subjects that they concede they know nothing about. (“Public Opinion Makes Better Sense without the Opinion Makers,” May 14, 1999, pp. B8-B9; cited in Leadership, Winter 2000, p. 69.)
As this observation humorously portrays, Americans are people with varying opinions, competing loyalties and often contradicting perspectives.
Despite our weaknesses and sometimes our silliness, we have much for which to be thankful. We enjoy freedoms that most people in the world do not have. While there is much with our government, judicial system, legislative process and executive branch to cause us concern, we must stop and thank God for the freedoms we do have. We must also remember our duties and responsibilities as Christian citizens.
The apostle Paul thought this was important. Both Romans 13:1–7 and 1 Timothy 2:1–4 are instructive about the Christian’s perspective on the role of government.

We are to acknowledge that government is ordained of God.

The Romans passage speaks of our subjection to government authorities. In verses 3–5, Paul went as far as to tell us that government is a minister of God. We know that God’s purpose through government is to aid the good and punish the evil. Governments are ordained of God to help citizens accomplish the greatest good for the greatest number and, hopefully, to prevent evil people from profiting at the expense of the overall community. Assuming that the government fulfills its purpose, one reason for obeying our laws would be the fear of punishment. However, for Christians there is a more worthy motive, namely to be good citizens as part of being a positive Christian witness in society.

We are to remember our duties.

The Romans text also instructs Christ-followers to obey the laws and honor those in authority (vv. 5–7). Yes, we have duties as good citizens! One of those duties in a free society is to encourage all persons to be involved in the political process.
I am well aware that we are in the midst of one of the most interesting election cycles in our history. There is deep division in our country as to what needs to happen in the days ahead. Colorful candidates are espousing views which reveal, in essence, two very different Americas. We desperately need to be involved in the process so that we will vote for a person who would honor the true needs of our citizens while also honoring the timeless judgments and precepts of our Lord. Christians must be involved in the political process. To relegate that responsibility to nonbelievers is irresponsible at best.
In the churches I have served over the years, we routinely held registration drives to encourage people to vote. It is unconscionable to me for a Christian not to exercise his or her right as a citizen in this country. I understand apathy. I understand fatigue. However, we must not grow weary in well-doing. We must vote our convictions!
I viewed it then, and view it now, as inappropriate for me to endorse specific candidates. But it would be irresponsible for me not to remind followers of Jesus Christ about an issue of extreme importance, namely Christian citizenship and the duty to show up at the polls and vote our convictions.

We are to prioritize focused prayer for our government and our leaders.

In 1 Timothy 2:1–4, we see the need to pray for our leaders: “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone” (verse 1). When government espouses the values of religious liberty and respect for its citizens, hindrances to public witness and barriers to religious freedom begin to fall. Christ-followers are able to lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (verse 2). Such an environment is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (verses 3–4).
Have you been praying for our leaders? Have you been praying for our president? Are you praying for this election process? Are you registered to vote? I hope so. Let us pray and let us vote to protect the liberties we have enjoyed in our lifetime and preserve them for our children and their children throughout the generations!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank S. Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)

1/21/2016 11:07:22 AM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction

January 20 2016 by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President

On March 30, 1961, Ronald Reagan spoke to the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. He spoke these timeless words with great conviction:
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” (1)
This champion for freedom was later elected the 40th president of the United States. We should never forget these compelling words. Today, America needs this same kind of vision for freedom.

In America today

This past Saturday, Jan. 16, President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation: Religious Freedom Day, 2016. In his proclamation, he quotes from the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was adopted on Jan. 16, 1786, and drafted by Thomas Jefferson. These profound words need to be heard today in every village, town and city in America:
“... all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (2)
This proclamation offered by President Obama is worth reading and sharing with others. May the mercy of God continue to grant America religious freedom.

On the same day, a miracle around the world

Interestingly, it was also this past Saturday that pastor Saeed Abedini was released from an Iranian prison along with four other Americans. As you may recall, Pastor Saeed was in prison for his commitment to Jesus Christ.
In the past two years, Pastor Saeed’s wife, Nagmeh, has spoken to our Southern Baptist Convention in various settings. During both of these conventions and privately since, we have prayed for Pastor Saeed’s release. Today, we rejoice and praise God for answered prayer. In my communication with Naghmeh on Saturday, she was thankful to God for the prayer support. Please continue to pray for the Saeed family.

Today, our nation honors another champion of freedom

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in America. We celebrate the remarkable achievements of this great American. As a civil rights leader, he stood boldly against segregation, at a great cost. His life was given for racial equality in the United States.
This past November, I spoke in Jackson, Miss., with my friend Dr. Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention. After he spoke to this gathering of leaders, I spoke on the subject “Now is the Time for the Racial Crisis to End in America.”
In the message, I spoke about Dr. King. I referenced the letter he wrote on April 16, 1963, Letter from a Birmingham jail. Then I quoted his words from the final paragraph:
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” (3)
This champion stood so tall for freedom, it eventually cost him his life. Thank God for Martin Luther King Jr. We honor him today.

While in Washington, D.C.

This past Saturday, I spoke at a Free to Believe event with the Family Research Council, which is led by Southern Baptist Tony Perkins. They asked me to help honor our great heritage of religious freedom in our nation.
Saturday morning was a convergence of emotions. As I was preparing to honor our history regarding religious freedom in our nation’s capital, Pastor Saeed was released, and just before I left the hotel, I received word regarding the death of my friend and Cross Church ministry staff member Richard Cox. While experiencing the grief of losing this brother in Christ to cancer, I was overwhelmed thinking of the freedom he is now experiencing in heaven.

In this pivotal time in our history

Therefore, in this pivotal time in our history, we need to cherish the freedom we have in our nation. We are in challenging days relating to freedom, not only here, but across the world. Even more specifically, we are in a daily challenge to preserve religious freedom in our country.
May the words of President Ronald Reagan ring in our ears clearly: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” This includes religious freedom and freedom regardless of skin color. We need to rise up as champions for freedom in our nation.
Because of the freedom in our land, my friend and staff member who died this past Saturday was able to hear the gospel, which resulted in radical life change. Richard Cox’s testimony is powerful. While we may face days where freedom is at stake, we need to look toward the day when all cares of this world are over. The day we exit this world through death or Christ’s second coming, we will experience complete rest and freedom forever.
But until then, we love Jesus. We love one another. We serve Jesus. We cherish and even fight for the freedom we have now, always looking toward the day when we experience freedom forever. Freedom in the presence of Jesus.
(1) https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ronald_Reagan; accessed on January 17, 2016
(2)https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/15/presidential-proclamation-religious-freedom-day-2016-0; accessed on January 17, 2016
(3) https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/letter-birmingham-jail; accessed on January 17, 2016
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. This article first appeared at Ronnie Floyd’s website, www.ronniefloyd.com.)

1/20/2016 10:31:55 AM by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President | with 0 comments

Make your church ‘adoption-friendly’

January 19 2016 by Kevin Ezell, NAMB

When I pastored Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., my friend David Melber and his wife Tera started a “Considering Adoption” class for couples. It ran for five weeks and became so popular that we offered it twice each year. Not everyone who took the class ultimately decided to adopt but the class became an important part of raising awareness in our church about everything involved in the adoption process and how we could support those families who were pursuing it.
As believers we should be the biggest advocates for and participants in adoption. Not only does the Bible encourage us to look after orphans, it is filled with references to our being adopted children of God once we have made Christ the forgiver and Lord of our lives.
Three of our six children are adopted and my wife Lynette and I benefitted so much from a church and fellow believers who supported us along the way. There is a huge need for adoptive and foster parents today. What a great opportunity for your church to demonstrate the love of God to the world and provide for the physical and spiritual needs of children who desperately need to know they are loved and that they belong.
Here are some ways you can make your church adoption-friendly:

  • Talk about it from the platform. As pastor, make adoption a priority. Regularly remind your congregation that God refers to us as His adopted sons and daughters. Let them know that adoption and foster care are great ways to meet urgent needs in today’s society. Give time for adoptive parents and older children to tell their stories.

  • Share resources and networks that help with adoption. There are several strong Christian agencies that work locally and internationally. Give these prominent attention in your church resource center, online or in your worship guide occasionally.

  • Provide assistance to families who are on the adoption journey. Our church was blessed by some donors who specifically gave financially to help parents with adoption costs. But even without much money churches can find ways to assist and encourage parents along the way.

  • Celebrate when an adoption takes place in your church. Every birth is special, but be sure you find specific ways to celebrate when a member of your church family adopts.

It was amazing to see what God did after we started taking a few simple steps to encourage an adoption culture. I loved walking through our church nursery on Sunday mornings – it felt like a pre-school version of the United Nations! But even greater was seeing those children later accept Christ and walk with Him.
Lynette and I are so grateful that God placed each of our six children in our family. He gave us an opportunity to bless them but each has been an even greater blessing to us. Your church can play a big role in encouraging and creating adoption opportunities. Don’t miss out on the chance to see God do amazing things through this ministry.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/19/2016 10:33:47 AM by Kevin Ezell, NAMB | with 0 comments

OSCARS: R-rating prevalent in Oscar nominees

January 18 2016 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

Recently I predicted that the majority of the films nominated this year as Oscar’s best picture would be rated R. Guess what?
I was right.
No matter the genre, no matter the story, it appears that many in the land of make-believe equate serious subject matter with R-rated content. Because of this, most positive themes found in many motion pictures this past year are eclipsed by abusive and coarse content. And for this, they get awards?
I don’t mean to insinuate that there aren’t good people, religious and secular, in the entertainment industry. Nor is this piece meant to imply that all movies from 2015 failed to uplift or amuse. There were examples of clever dramas (“Mr. Holmes”) and witty comedies (“Inside Out”), while the faith-based film industry met a need overlooked by major studios (“Woodlawn,” “War Room” and others). While Hollywood has much to answer for, my analysis is not meant as a critical evaluation of the nominees so much as an examination of what the culture now accepts as, well, acceptable.
The cinema at its best was once used effectively as an illusionary art form, wisely suggesting mature subject matter rather than graphically exploiting it. Filmmakers of days gone by dealt with the same issues moviemakers address today. The difference: The execution of the subject matter tended to be more profound when handled with discretion. For some reason, words such as discretion, taste and class don’t resonate with many merry moviemakers. Why is that?
Eyes begin to roll in certain circles when I complain about the content of films. Most in critic circles don’t even mention the content of films in their reviews, despite the fact that content influences the culture as much as a film’s artistic and technical merits. And once again, the Academy Awards will honor an industry for a secularist worldview that abides within content laced with obscenity, cynicism, perversion and irreverence to God.
What is the purpose of art if not to enrich the soul of man? Some artists may respond by suggesting that film must reveal man’s character truthfully, casting aside any moral facade. There’s some validity to that, but it isn’t enough to show the failings of man without giving examples of what he can become. Once he realizes that he is more than a mental and physical being, man may then embrace a higher meaning. Ah, there’s the rub. Any indication of a spiritual growth in the cinema will not be tolerated by some who make movies, or by most who watch them.
If R-rated content isn’t suitable for children, what makes it okay for adults? I’m not talking about subject matter children can’t comprehend, just the morass that seems to muddle grownup movie matter. How is an excess of such material not as harmful to the adult psyche as it is to the child’s?
Perhaps people have evolved into beings capable of processing any amount of abuse Hollywood puts before their eyes. But is that what our Creator intended for us?
Ephesians 5:11 reads “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
“It’s just a movie,” one might retort.
No, it’s nearly every movie. Which raises the question: Will Hollywood studios someday only offer R-rated movies for adults and PG-rated films for kids? It does appear to be going in that direction.
Certainly the listed nominees below have artistic merit; some selections arguably feature insightful perspectives. But as a whole, the content found in this year’s nominees signals a spiritual wasteland praised in the artistic community.
How would our national discourse sound if the following Scripture were considered before the making of each movie:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

2016 best picture nominees

Five of the eight films nominated are rated R. And nearly the same content can be found in the three PG-13 contenders.

  • The Big Short (R)

  • Bridge of Spies (PG-13)

  • Brooklyn (PG-13)

  • Mad Max: Fury Road (R)

  • The Martian (PG-13)

  • Revenant (R)

  • Room (R)

  • Spotlight (R)

Comedian Chris Rock will host the 88th Academy Awards at 7 p.m. Eastern Feb. 28th on ABC.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright, in addition to writing for Baptist Press, reviews films at moviereporter.com and is a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)

1/18/2016 12:36:11 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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