June 2015

Christian Action League: ‘a trusted resource’

June 30 2015 by Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

The Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee of the Baptist State Convention encourages pastors and church leaders to make an intentional effort to read, pray and engage in matters of public policy in their communities.
 
Many communities across our state are wrestling with any number of matters that impact families, schools and sometimes even churches. Christians should not shy away from speaking into these debates and entering the public conversation.
 
Keeping up with the items on the agenda for a town council, county school board or county commissioners is often a straightforward process.
 
However, to do so regarding the public policy debates that take place in the General Assembly in Raleigh requires greater effort.
 
Tracking the introduction of bills, their movement through various committees and the debate of issues important to North Carolina Baptists is more difficult in Raleigh simply due to the speed with which the General Assembly approaches its work today.
 
The ability to stay informed and respond in a timely manner to matters of public policy under consideration in the General Assembly requires an individual to devote a significant amount of time and effort to these matters.
 
It is difficult for any single church alone to give the attention needed to these matters; they need a trusted resource upon whom they can call for information and analysis. It is at this important juncture that the Christian Action League of North Carolina (CAL) deserves the attention, the consideration and the support of churches and individuals from across the state.
 
Under the capable leadership of executive director Mark Creech, CAL is the trusted source for Christians seeking to understand and interpret the impact and effect of legislation and policy being discussed by the General Assembly.
 
CAL staff understands the conviction of pastors, the position of churches and the admonition of our Lord to be “salt and light” in a world that is growing darker by the day. CAL analyzes the public policy issues of the day through the lens of a Christian worldview.
 
While pastors are engaged in the difficult work of ministry, the staff of CAL is working on their behalf in the General Assembly.
 
But it’s not just to the General Assembly in Raleigh to which CAL is watching and listening.

As matters of importance come before county commissioners and other local bodies, CAL shares this information. It’s not uncommon for an issue that is being debated in one community to surface on the agenda in another community shortly thereafter.
 
Because CAL is doing such important work on behalf of Christians across our state, we’re asking that you join us in doing three things to support CAL and introduce others to the important work of the organization.
 
First, please pray for Mark Creech, the board of the directors and the staff of CAL. Ask that God will provide them wisdom, discernment and favor in the eyes of the members of our General Assembly. Pray that they will stand boldly upon biblical truth, yet communicate these truths with Christian grace, and in all things extend and express Christ’s love.
 
Second, invite Mark Creech to preach in your church, speak to a group in your congregation or meet with you and your church leaders.
 
You’ll appreciate the depth of Mark’s understanding of the legislative process, be encouraged by his testimony of how God is working among of the members of the General Assembly and better understand the mission, vision and values of CAL.
 
Third, support the work of CAL. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina was instrumental in founding CAL and has always financially supported the organization.
 
However, the support from churches and individuals is essential. Consider leading your church to place CAL in your annual budget.
 
Even gifts of $100 per year from pastors and other individuals, when multiplied over the 4,300 churches of our convention, will have a great impact on the ability of CAL to fulfill its mission.

Thank you for all that you’re doing to impact your communities, make disciples, shine the light and show the love of Christ in your community.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – CAL is a non-profit organization, but due to the nature of its work, gifts to CAL are not tax deductible.)

6/30/2015 11:25:29 AM by Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina | with 0 comments



Why I must forgive Dylann Roof

June 29 2015 by Todd Brady, Baptist Press

After reeling from the atrocious killings in South Carolina, America again dropped its jaw as family members of the victims stood in court and spoke counter-intuitive words of forgiveness to Dylann Roof, who confessed to murdering nine people in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.
 
Their testimony of forgiveness shows us that followers of Christ are committed to doing what He commands regardless of how they might feel. As I listened to victims’ families speaking, I thought of Jesus’ words: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
 
No one I know has emotions of happiness or sympathy for Dylann Roof. Emotions of raw and angry feelings are bubbling up across the country about such a heinously racist act of violence. There are some like Roxane Gay whose thoughts, “Why I can’t forgive Dylann Roof,” appeared in The New York Times on June 23. Instead of insisting on why we can’t forgive Dylann Roof, Christians must join these family members in extending the forgiveness to Dylan Roof that God extends to us.
 
Gay says that she is “unwilling to forgive those who show no remorse, who don’t demonstrate any interest in reconciliation.” Such a statement considers forgiveness to hinge on the “other person,” but when God calls us to forgive, the call is not focused on the other person, but on us. With forgiveness, she says “surely there must be a line.” She draws this proverbial line in the sand and says that while there is a place for forgiveness, there is a place where forgiveness cannot happen. For her, the line has been reached.
 
Extending forgiveness does not negate last week’s senseless and sinful acts of murder or alleviate the pain which victims’ family members or friends now feel. Extending forgiveness does not erase the reality of past or current racism in America. It does not make things right. Extending forgiveness does not bring the dead back to life or bring about justice. Extending forgiveness is not a matter of our politics, but a matter of our hearts.
 
Gay mentions that media attention surrounding the families’ responses implies that some believe forgiveness to be “a way to make sense of the incomprehensible.” Hardly. Christians do not forgive in order to make sense of the incomprehensible. Christians forgive because God commands it and Jesus modeled it. We are to bear with one another “and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Not only are Christians called to forgive one another, Christians are to forgive “as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:13). My forgiveness of others is to mirror God’s forgiveness of me. When the world sees how I forgive, they are to see how God forgives.
 
God did not show forgiveness to me only after I asked for it. Likewise, God did not extend forgiveness to me because I had earned it. On the contrary, He freely gave it – in spite of what I had done. And God granted forgiveness not because, as Gay says, “we must atone for our sins,” but because He Himself atoned for my sins through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
 
God has crossed the line we might imagine. He has provided forgiveness for us in Christ. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). No one is beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness.
 
Legal proceedings must now take place. Justice must be served. While we may not know all that will happen, this one thing I know: God can forgive Dylann Roof, and so must I.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Todd Brady is vice president for university ministries and assistant professor of ministry at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)

6/29/2015 11:58:45 AM by Todd Brady, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Jefferson Davis descendant: Be the one nation ‘God intended’

June 26 2015 by Bertram Hayes-Davis, USA Today Network

No one person in the history of the United States is more directly attached to the Confederate Battle Flag than Jefferson Davis.
 
Much of my life has been attached to this historic figure and my reaching for an understanding of the president of the Confederate States of America and his relation to our country’s history. I have confronted this issue directly and have come to the conclusion and agreement with the opinions of many; this flag has become a symbol that divides our country.
 
The argument of heritage has validity if used in an historical context and placed in the proper perspective and location. Public display has always been an issue, by opening up wounds of hurt from the past, for many people. The latest catastrophic event, by an individual who supports this flag, has opened another discussion about the right place for the flag and its interpretation.
 
As a descendant of Jefferson Davis, I have seen this flag used to represent his entire life. Forgotten are the first 52 years of his life as an American patriot. West Point, U.S. Army, U.S. representative, secretary of war and senator, along with his many great accomplishments for this country, are all forgotten. As you look at the Capitol of the United States today, few know the impact that Jefferson Davis had on making this building what you see today. All of this history has been replaced to instead focus on his position as president of the Confederacy and its ties to the battle flag.
 
That history, as seen from the American people’s perspective and attachment to the battle flag, creates the same divisions that we are seeing today in our country. It is time that this flag be folded and placed in the right historic perspective and locations.
 
Jefferson Davis preached, after the war, that we have one country and should focus on making it that which God intended. History cannot be erased; it must be remembered and told with fact and truth.
 
Symbols that are currently used to create fear or mistrust have no good purpose in this day and time. It is time for the Confederate battle flag to be part of historical collections and not a public symbol to any one person, group or organization. The time for division is over, and we must all come together for the future unity of this country.
 
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. This is my flag, as it should be throughout our entire country.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column was originally published in The Clarion-Ledger, a Gannett company.)

6/26/2015 11:04:49 AM by Bertram Hayes-Davis, USA Today Network | with 0 comments



Do you have a story to tell?

June 25 2015 by J. Randy Forbes, Baptist Press

Did you know that, according to the American Enterprise Institute, someone who attends church regularly is 21 percent more likely to donate to charity, and 26 percent more likely to volunteer, than someone who does not? As a nation, we outpace every other developed country in charitable giving. Faith is not the only motivator of generosity in the American spirit, but it is definitely a significant one.
 
At a time when our nation’s political and cultural debates often seem bitter with division and strife, uniting around faith is perhaps more important than ever before.
 
Why is this? Because faith motivated by compassion and love moves us forward. It unites across backgrounds, perseveres throughout difficulties and never stops fighting for the voiceless, the hopeless and the oppressed. Every day, people of faith serve tirelessly behind the scenes to better their communities. They are accomplishing this individually as well as collectively, through philanthropy, organizations and churches. Often, they are making a more direct and personal impact than government programs ever could.
 
In the Fourth District of Virginia – the area I am privileged to represent in Congress – one such individual is LeOtis Williams.
 
LeOtis grew up in Suffolk, Va., and even though his family sometimes struggled to makes ends meet, his mother would unfailingly welcome guests to their dinner table and share generously of what they had. That memory inspired Williams to do the same thing in his community.
 
Every year around Thanksgiving, folks come from all around Hampton Roads and northeast North Carolina to receive a turkey from LeOtis Williams. Last year, Williams gave away a total of 2,000 turkeys and 200 bushels each of collard greens and cabbage to families who could not afford Thanksgiving dinner. And that’s not counting the 1,300 hotdogs and 400 hamburgers cooked on-site as well as cases of water and juice given away, according to the Suffolk News Herald. This past year, 38 organizations participated as well as many volunteers. Williams estimates he has handed out about 16,000 turkeys to date, benefiting 64,000 individuals.
 
Asked about his motivation for giving, Williams talks about his faith, quoting Colossians 1:16, “For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him.”
 
“Being a contributor to the community allows me to integrate my personal values of loyalty, dignity, optimism and compassion as the cornerstone of my interactions with others,” Mr. Williams says. “You know that you are doing the right thing when it feels good to your soul.”
 
While we can count turkeys and bushels of collard greens, who can say the countless number of lives that have been touched by LeOtis Williams’ ministry? Who can say how many people felt loved and cared for because of one man’s decision to meet a need he saw in our community?
 
To put it another way, what would the impact on the community have been if LeOtis never acted? How many people would have been left hungry and unreached?
 
Williams’ story is just one of many. Countless individuals and organizations throughout our communities and the country are motivated by their faith to help others, advocate for change, and aspire to a world where everyone is treated with dignity and compassion.
 
It is important to tell these stories. Policies are often generated because of real-life stories of how those policies impact the lives and direction of a nation. However, amidst the policy debates, we sometimes lose sight of the stories. That’s why, as the founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, I am joining with members of Congress across the country to tell these inspiring stories of how people of faith are making a positive impact on their communities. We’re calling the initiative “Faith it Forward” and hope it will help unite the nation around celebrating the hope and inspiration that comes from helping others.
 
Do you have a story to tell? If so, you can join with us in sharing the selfless work that people of faith are carrying out every day. Just visit the Facebook page at facebook.com/faithitforward and fill out the quick form so we can share how someone you know is “faithing it forward.” Together, we can tell the stories of hope that are changing our communities, our country and the world.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – J. Randy Forbes represents the 4th Congressional District of Virginia. He is co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and a member of Great Bridge Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va.)

6/25/2015 11:50:17 AM by J. Randy Forbes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Racial superiority – confronting the truth

June 24 2015 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., AlbertMohler.com

Among Christians, the word heresy must be used with care and precision. Not every doctrinal error is a heresy, though all doctrinal error is to be avoided. A heresy is the denial or corruption of a Christian doctrine that is central to the faith and essential to the gospel. The late theologian Harold O. J. Brown defined heresy as a doctrinal error “so important that those who believe it, who the church calls heretics, must be considered to have abandoned the faith.”
 
Premillennialists consider postmillennialists to be in error, but they do not consider postmillennialists to be heretics. Those who deny the Trinity, on the other hand, are heretics, and the believing church must consider non-trinitarians to have departed the faith. The same must be said of those who deny the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ.
 
Today, we must recognize and condemn another heresy that has reared its ugly head. The killing of nine worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., is a hideous demonstration of this heresy’s deadly power. The young white man charged with the killings has not, as yet, claimed a theological rationale for his acts. Nevertheless, he has been exposed as someone whose worldview was savagely warped by the ideology of racial superiority – white superiority.
 
If the reach of that ideology could be limited to a few fringe figures, we could allow ourselves to be less concerned. But the ideology that was represented in Dylann Roof’s reported words as he killed and in the photographs and evidence found on his Internet postings is not limited to a small fringe.
 
The ideology of racial superiority is one of the saddest and most sordid evidences of the Fall and its horrifying effects. Throughout history, racial ideologies have been driving forces of war, of demagoguery and of dictatorships.
 
At the same time, many white Americans claimed and assumed the superiority of caucasian skin to black and brown skin – or any other color of skin. The main “color line,” as Frederick Douglass called it in 1881, has always been black and white in America. While theories of racial superiority have been popular in both the North and the South, it was the states of the old Confederacy that gave those ideologies their most fertile soil. White superiority was claimed as a belief by both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, but it was the Confederacy that made racial superiority a central purpose.
 
More humbling still is the fact that many churches, churchmen and theologians gave sanction to that ideology. While this was true throughout the southern churches, Southern Baptists bear a particular responsibility and burden of history. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was not only founded by slaveholders; it was founded by men who held to an ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in scandalous theological argument. At times, white superiority was defended by a putrid exegesis of the Bible that claimed a “curse of Ham” as the explanation of dark skin – an argument that reflects such ignorance of scripture that it could only be believed by those who were looking for an argument to satisfy their prejudices.
 
I gladly stand with the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in their courageous affirmation of biblical orthodoxy, Baptist beliefs and missionary zeal. There would be no Southern Baptist Convention and no Southern Seminary without them. James P. Boyce, Basil Manly Jr. and John A. Broadus were titans of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
 
But there is more to the story. The founders of the SBC and of Southern Seminary were defenders of slavery. Boyce and Broadus were chaplains in the Confederate army. Just a few months ago I was reading a history of Greenville, S.C., where Southern Seminary was founded, when I came across a racist statement made by Boyce, my ultimate predecessor as president of the seminary. It was so striking that I had to find a chair. This, too, is our story.
 
By every reckoning, Boyce and Broadus were consummate Christian gentlemen, given the culture of their day. They would have been horrified, I am certain, by any act of violence against any person. But any strain of racial superiority, and especially any strain bathed in the language of Christian theology, is deadly dangerous all the same.
 
In 1995, on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination publicly repented of its roots in the defense of slavery. In 2015, far more is required of us. It is not enough to repent of slavery. We must seek to confront and remove every strain of racial superiority that remains and seek with all our strength to be the kind of churches of which Jesus would be proud – churches that will look like the marriage supper of the Lamb.
 
I do not know all that this will require of us. I intend to keep those names on our buildings and to stand without apology with the founders and their affirmation of Baptist orthodoxy. But those names on our buildings and college and professorial chairs and endowed scholarships do not represent unmixed pride. While we the living cannot repent on behalf of those who are dead, we can repent for the legacy that we would otherwise perpetuate and extend by silence.
 
I bear the burden of acknowledging the totality of the legacy and the responsibility to set things right as far as I have the opportunity to set them right. I am so thankful that the racist ideologies of the past would rightly horrify the faculty and students of the present. And yet, are we horrified enough?
 
While I could never fly the flag that represented their cause in battle, perhaps most of today’s defenders of that flag do not intend to send a racial message nor to defy civil rights. But some do, and there is no way to escape the symbolism that so wounds our neighbors and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, most who defend that flag do so to claim a patrimony and to express love for a region. But that is not the whole story, and we know it.
 
And now the hardest part. Were the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary heretics?
 
They defended all the doctrines they believed were central and essential to the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible and as affirmed throughout the history of the church. They sought to defend Baptist orthodoxy in an age already tiring of orthodoxy. They would never have imagined themselves as heretics, and in one sense they certainly were not. Nor, we should add, was Martin Luther a heretic, even as he expressed a horrifying antisemitism.
 
But I would argue the separation of human beings into ranks of superiority and inferiority differentiated by skin color is a direct assault upon the doctrine of Creation and an insult to the image of God in which every human being is made. It is also directly subversive of the gospel of Christ, reducing the power of His substitutionary atonement and undermining the faithful preaching of the gospel to all persons and to all nations.
 
So far as I can tell, no one ever confronted the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and Southern Seminary with the brutal reality of what they were doing, believing and teaching in this regard. The same seems to be true in the case of Martin Luther and his antisemitism. For that matter, how recently were these sins recognized as sins and repented of?
 
We cannot change the past, but we must learn from it. There is no way to confront the dead with their heresies, but there is no way to avoid the reckoning that we must make, and the repentance that must be our own.
 
By God’s grace, this is the best I know to say. By God’s grace, may I not die with heresies unknown to me, but all too known to my children and to my children’s children.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from an article that first appeared at Southern Seminary’s AlbertMohler.com website. R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)

6/24/2015 10:34:56 AM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., AlbertMohler.com | with 0 comments



Father Models – Ten Roles Dads Play with Their Kids

June 19 2015 by Daniel Akin, Send Network

Continuing our parenting series, we look specifically to fathers. Fathers play many roles in rearing their children. Through each role, they prepare their children for life and give their kids opportunities to build a relationship with dad.
 
Christ follower: Fathers should model Christ and help meet their children’s spiritual needs.
Christian fathers should make faith a way of life in the family (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
 
Leader: Children need direction. The passive father fails to provide quality leadership; the dictatorial father models unhealthy leadership styles. Dads should show their kids how to use power and influence for God’s glory and other’s good (Colossians. 3:21).
 
Male: Children need a strong, healthy father. Children mean something special when they say “Dad.” Be that special male figure in the life of your children.
 
Provider: Children need providers. Dads should bring home the cash (1 Timothy 5:8) and bring up the kids (Ephesians 6:4). Avoid providing presents at the expense of your presence. They need and want you.
 
Caregiver: Children need nurturing. Be involved in a wide range of your children’s lives. Encourage them to soar in areas of their interest and giftedness.
 
Teacher: Children are learners. Fathers are expected to “train up a child in the way he should go,” and “bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4b). Teaching takes place in the everyday activities with children. Fathers teach mostly through who they are, not by what they say. But, what they say is important.
 
Disciplinarian: Children need boundaries. Fathers should not dump all the discipline on the mother, or relate only to their children as disciplinarian. Neither should dads be too strict or too lenient. A good sense of right and wrong, and a proper set of boundaries produce better, not bitter, children (Hebrews 12:9-11).
 
Protector: Children need security and safety. Dads should avoid being overprotective and under-protective. They cannot protect their children from everything dangerous and sinful. Yet, they can help them anticipate dangers before they encounter them. They can also create a family lifestyle that reduces their children’s chances of being exposed to improper activities during impressionable times.
 
Coach: Children need playful dads who instruct and guide. Dads who enjoy life help their kids face challenges, handle competition, and practice cooperation.
 
Friend: Children need friendly fathers who accept them as they are, enjoy being with them, and understand them. Absentee fathers and abusive fathers poison their children. Being best buddies with one’s children is not healthy either. Pals are equals; dads and their kids are never equal. But, dads should be friends with their children.
 
No father is perfect, but for the sake of his children and the glory of God, he should give it his best shot. We have a perfect role model in our heavenly Father!
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daniel Akin currently serves as the President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a professor of preaching and theology.)

6/19/2015 12:08:59 PM by Daniel Akin, Send Network | with 0 comments



What to make of Southern Baptists’ declining numbers

June 17 2015 by Trevin Wax, Religion News Service

The largest Protestant denomination in the United States is meeting this week, but it’s not as large as it was last year, or the year before. Southern Baptists now number just under 15.5 million members, down from a peak of 16.3 million in 2003. And many people in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) sense a corresponding loss of clout and credibility when speaking to the wider culture.
 
What’s going on? The number of Southern Baptist churches is higher than ever – 46,449 churches are in some way affiliated with the SBC. Meanwhile, church planting continues to pick up steam, and a common concern among established churches is the need to be “revitalized.”
 
So, why did the SBC’s growth begin to slow in the 1950s, stall in subsequent decades, and then begin to decline several years ago? And what does all this mean for the SBC’s engagement on political and social issues?
 
From the outside, some may see the SBC’s conservative theological and political views as the culprit. Believing in Jesus as the only way to God or upholding Jesus’ vision for marriage and sexuality are increasingly unpopular. So, the thinking goes, perhaps conservatism is a barrier to reaching new people.
 
This explanation would make more sense if all conservative denominations were shrinking and liberal denominations growing, but such is not the case. The Assemblies of God, now the second-largest evangelical denomination in the U.S., has seen 25 straight years of growth, and its views are similar to the SBC’s. Likewise, nondenominational churches, most quite conservative, are exploding in numbers and membership. Meanwhile, the more liberal denominations are in a much steeper decline than the SBC.
 
Lots of explanations are floating around, but it’s likely that a variety of factors have led us to this point. Here are a few to consider:
 
1. Many former Southern Baptists are now nondenominational.
 
Christian comedian Tim Hawkins has a funny bit on the differences between denominations. When he pokes fun at believers whose churches are unaffiliated, he jests: “Come on! You’re not fooling anyone. You’re just a Baptist church with a cool website!”
 
Hawkins’ line gets laughs because there’s some truth to that statement. In the past five decades, the number of nondenominational churches has soared. And while I don’t think we should write off traditional denominations as having no future (see my previous article), it’s undeniable that many people who today attend a nondenominational church grew up Southern Baptist.
 
When it comes to social and political matters, only a handful of nondenominational churches publicly trumpet their views on pressing moral and political issues. And so, as Southern Baptists have scattered out into other denominations, the perception of unity surrounding social issues has become diffused.
 
2. Southern Baptists are having fewer children.
 
It’s often said that “demography is destiny,” and if this is true, it should come as no surprise that the SBC’s stagnation and decline largely mirrors the number of children Baptists have. In the past 50 years, most of the SBC’s reported baptisms were performed during the childhood and teenage years. Now that we’re having fewer children, we’re having fewer baptisms, all across the board.
 
3. There are multiple changes in membership philosophy and church attendance patterns.
 
Several years ago, Southern Baptists began a conversation on membership and church discipline. After a resolution was passed encouraging pastors to be more accurate in reporting, many churches cleaned up their rolls as a way of moving toward “meaningful membership.”
 
While some of the decline may simply be a move toward more accurate reporting, the membership issue doesn’t explain the drops in baptisms and in church attendance. In fact, the highest percentage of decline last year was in weekly worship attendance (down 2.75 percent, to 5,674,469).
 
Twenty years ago, a “faithful church member” was someone who attended three times a week (Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night). Today, many pastors consider a “faithful church member” someone who attends three Sundays a month. The shift in attendance patterns is significant, and it’s no wonder it has shown up in the data.
 
4. Southern Baptists are less evangelistic.
 
There’s no way to prove or disprove this statement. But considering the drop in the SBC’s baptismal numbers, it seems clear that Southern Baptist outreach efforts are diminishing – either in effectiveness or intensity, perhaps both.
 
Pastors and church leaders warn about a general malaise regarding evangelism, even in many of the most conservative churches. This apathy may stem from theological shifts (in a pluralistic society, many Baptists may doubt, deep down, that faith in Jesus is the only way to escape eternal condemnation) or societal realities (fewer Christians have significant relationships with unbelievers).
 
An oft-expressed concern is that an overly politicized vision of Christianity has, at times, become a distraction from sharing the simple good news of Jesus Christ. Others worry that the abandonment of political engagement offers a truncated gospel that neglects the cause of justice in the world and hinders the church’s witness.
 
And finally, the good news.
 
How are Southern Baptists responding to the news of decline? By praying for revival, planting more churches, refocusing on theological education, seeking to be more evangelistic and helping revitalize declining and dying churches.
 
In all these efforts, Southern Baptists are also grappling with rapid shifts in societal views of morality and are beginning to recognize that their diminishing clout when speaking to the wider culture is a sign that they are now closer to the margins of society, not the center.
 
The good news is, Baptists have a long history of being on the margins of society, and it was largely due to Baptists that Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers enshrined our nation’s rights to conscience and free religious exercise. So, to look at the current state of the SBC with hope is not to succumb to a naïve optimism, but to face our challenges head-on, with confidence that God’s kingdom will endure and that, no matter what happens to the SBC, Christ will build his church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Trevin Wax is managing editor of the Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including “Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After.”)
 

Related Story:

SBC reports more churches, fewer people

6/17/2015 11:51:32 AM by Trevin Wax, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Fond memories of Dad

June 17 2015 by Abby Edwards Guest Column

Some of the fondest memories of my dad includes waking up early for school and catching him in the act of reading the Word and praying. I can picture him at his desk, on the couch or in his big leather chair with his head bowed praying, interceding on behalf of his family members, friends, fellow church members or the people he was counseling that week. Even when my father, who was an [International Mission Board] missionary for years and still an active pastor, had tough weeks and I mean REALLY tough weeks, you could still find him faithfully spending time with the Lord. What an encouragement that was then and continues to be now. I know each day my dad continues to intercede in prayer over the things in my life along with praying for others, and that always encourages me. His continual faithfulness challenges me to not only examine my daily conversations with the Lord, but see how much I really love people. If I could be half the person my dad has been, I would be truly blessed.
 
Abby Edwards
Team leader assistant, Great Commission & Associational Partnerships
Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

6/17/2015 11:46:59 AM by Abby Edwards Guest Column | with 0 comments



Reflections from a Chinese orphanage

June 16 2015 by Josh Owens, ERLC/Baptist Press

In China’s Yunnan Province, there is an ancient temple made of copper that crowns Jindian Park. In English it is literally “Golden Temple Park,” reflecting the Daoist religion that it serves. Here on Jan. 14, 1994, a police officer noticed a five-day-old orphan, took him up and delivered him to the nearby orphanage.

Nine months and three days later, that orphan was the first boy ever adopted from Kunming Municipal Children’s Home.

I visited that Chinese orphanage a few weeks ago, and for the first time in two decades I entered Jindian Park. As I wandered among the rooms of the orphanage and up the temple trail in that wooded park, thoughts and questions muddled my mind. Why would I, in a nation of a billion, be left alone in Jindian Park? Why did someone notice me and bother to act? Why would all this happen right after China opened itself to foreign adoptions in 1992? And why would I be adopted into this family, my family? I am now 21 years old and even if my existence could be explained, by all rights the orphanage should have returned me three years ago to the streets from whence I came. Really, what do you say to all of that? I was quiet that day.

When I feel the weight of the odds against an infant alone in China, I am at a loss. My life as I know it never should have happened. Indeed, the Chinese would call it “lucky” that I even made it breathing to the orphanage. It is not that my life should not have happened while others’ should; still, it is pretty obvious that among 7 billion humans on a pale blue dot, this one of all should not be inhaling and exhaling.


6-15_Chineseorphanage_WEB.jpg

Josh Owens and his sisters Mary (left) and Grace return to China with their adoptive parents, Waylan and Betsy Owens.

When I survey the cross on which the sovereign Prince of Glory died, I lay my hand over my mouth, speechless like Job. Even if telescopes and test tubes can be taken for granted, the love of a Father cannot.

Colossians 3:3 is, in a nutshell, the only guarantee Christ-followers get: We have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God. When Christ is all we have, then Christ is all we need, and everything else begins to matter a good bit less.

The heroes of Hebrews 11 had no guarantee such as, “You will not be sawn in two.” Each, like us, signed over the blank check of his or her life to God. There were no secondary guarantees then, and there are none now. We must each surrender to Christ, trusting Him to guide the course of our lives.

Yet Jesus is worth it. Colossians 3:3 is the ground for 2 Corinthians 1:20, for when our lives are hidden with Christ then the promises of God to us are yes and amen. When we sign over our blank checks, all we get is Christ. All we get is everything for which we were ever meant.

Still, there are debts you would rather not owe, whose weight is incomprehensibly massive. This double-adoptee is in the red more than I could hope ever to repay or even to calculate. When you’ve signed your check, sometimes the balance is overwhelming. And when the check is going to be cashed, it is then with David we taste and see that God is good. For the check is filled with a debt charged not to our account but to God’s. Written over our lives, “Grace.”

That day at the orphanage, our hosts asked me to speak as part of the welcome ceremony, a representative of the visiting adoptees. It was a surreal experience to stand where I used to lie, and to proclaim the name of the Father who oversaw my adoption and then adopted me for Himself.

I left Kunming two decades ago, not long after China opened to adoption. What a 20 years it has been, I told the audience. If hallmarks of earthly success include a college degree, reliable employment and a loving family, then my scorecard reads A+. Orientals call this luck and credit the balance of forces and gods. The West shouts, “I am the master of my soul!” and pulls itself up by its bootstraps. But a human life is not up to luck, nor is it decided by self-sufficiency.

If God notices the death of a sparrow, certainly He is concerned with the lives of humans whom He values far more. While David asked a fair question in Psalm 8 when he wondered what is man that God is mindful of him, the answer is simply that the character of God is love.

In Romans 8, Paul promises those who love God that “all things work together for good.” This good, of course, is not a diploma or employment, or even adoption. Paul had already praised the only adoption that transfers to eternity, and of that he said we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with the firstborn over all creation. Forever and always, my Father orchestrates the trajectory of my life to conform me to the image of His Son. For I have died and my life is hidden with Christ in God. That’s a guarantee you can take to the bank.

I don’t know why my life began the way it did, or why it is the way it is. I have more questions than answers, and questions hidden beneath questions. What do I do with my experience in Jindian Park, in 2015, in 1994? How do you process something when you have come to the end of yourself?

This much I know. When I signed over my life’s check to God, grace was written in the blank. God was there in Jindian Park on Jan. 14, 1994, not as a perfect balance of yin and yang, not as luck or human sufficiency. God was there as He is now here, sovereign and good.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Josh Owens, of Fort Worth, Texas, is a social media strategist for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a recent graduate of the College at Southwestern, the undergraduate arm of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

6/16/2015 10:56:08 AM by Josh Owens, ERLC/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Why gay marriage wouldn’t surprise Paul

June 15 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

It’s common for proponents of gay marriage to claim that scripture condemns only promiscuous, predatory and pedophilic homosexual behavior, as if the biblical authors had no knowledge of consensual, adult, monogamous homosexuality. In some cases, LGBT advocates state explicitly that the ancient world was ignorant of modern forms of homosexuality.
 
But that claim is false. And believers should be prepared to engage its advocates in the ongoing cultural debate over same-sex marriage.
 
The suggestion that scripture doesn’t condemn modern homosexuality is one component of the controversy surrounding Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., and its alleged approval of same-sex unions. Weatherly Heights pastor David Freeman asserted in a 2013 sermon that “the Bible does not address” “adult, loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships.” Believers have wrongly asserted blanket condemnations of homosexual behavior, Freeman said, based on scripture passages dealing only with promiscuity, predatory behavior and abuse.
 
(Weatherly Heights was disfellowshipped from the Madison Baptist Association March 16 by a vote of the body’s executive board. The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions withdrew fellowship from Weatherly Heights May 15, acting on behalf of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee is expected to take action on behalf of the SBC June 15 relative to the church’s cooperation with the convention.)
 
Pastor Danny Cortez made a similar argument in September when the SBC Executive Committee withdrew fellowship from New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., for its approval of same-sex marriage. Pro-gay author Matthew Vines asserted the ancient world’s ignorance of adult, monogamous homosexuality in his 2014 book God and the Gay Christian.
 
Before Freeman, Cortez and Vines, the argument that Old and New Testament authors had in mind only dominating and violent forms of homosexuality dates back at last 33 years to Robin Scroggs’ book The New Testament and Homosexuality.
 
Is this claim true? In a word, no. A forthcoming book from B&H Academic titled Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality identifies numerous references in antiquity to adult, consensual and, in some cases, monogamous homosexuality, including gay marriage. Among the references cited by authors Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams:

  • The tomb of Egypt’s Pharaoh Niuserre from approximately 2600 B.C. pictures two of the monarch’s male officials holding hands, embracing and touching noses – a typical Egyptian way to depict kissing. A rendering of Pharaoh Ikhnaton some 1200 years later pictures the monarch as having a feminine shape and sitting nude with his son-in-law as the two stroke each other’s chins.

While the proper interpretation of these images is debated, they may confirm Leviticus 18:3’s statement that Egyptians practiced the behaviors condemned in that chapter, including homosexual acts.

  • In the first century A.D., the Jewish Apocalypse of Abraham described men expressing sexual passion for one another.

  • Plutarch, a Greek author contemporaneous with the New Testament writers, spoke of both “unwilling” and “willing” sexual unions between men.

  • A second- or third-century Jewish writing titled Sifra applied Leviticus 18:3’s condemnation of homosexual acts to “a man married to a man and a woman [to] a woman.”

  • Juvenal, a first- and second-century Roman satirist, wrote of homosexual marriage, though it is not clear whether he knew of the practice or merely believed society was heading toward it.

  • Sextus Empiricus wrote around A.D. 200 that a story of “burning love” between two male friends in Greek mythology contributed to acceptance of homosexual relationships in some cities.

  • The second-century Greek writer Ptolemy referenced women who regarded other women as their wives.

Of course, ancient writings also contain references to homosexual acts that are abusive, violent and involve minors. And some of the references above were penned after the New Testament was complete. Nonetheless, they refute the claim of LGBT advocates that adult, monogamous, loving homosexual relationships were unknown in the ancient world. Even the oft cited homosexual scholar John Boswell warned against exaggerating the difference between ancient and modern forms of homosexuality in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.
 
Ancient references to adult, consensual homosexuality – including gay marriage – should bolster believers’ confidence that Moses, Paul and other biblical authors would not recoil in surprise if they learned about contemporary gay marriage. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. scripture’s condemnation of homosexual acts prohibits every form of same-sex sexual expression.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

6/15/2015 11:16:48 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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