True Confessions

Where is God in a hurricane?

September 19 2018 by Scott Pace

As we witness the unfolding impact of Hurricane Florence on millions of lives, we are confronted with the question of why natural disasters occur.

If God loves us and has promised to protect us, what explanation can be given for nature’s destructive forces and how should we view them? Of course, our answer comes from the authoritative source of God’s own words, the Bible, where we learn:

Natural disasters result from man’s original sin.

Through the sin of Adam when he rejected God’s plan for his life, we know that sin entered the world and condemns all mankind of sin’s guilt (Romans 5:12). As God gave Adam rule over His creation (Genesis 1:28-30), “creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20) and Adam’s sin resulted in the corruption of God’s creation.
While Christ’s death on the cross is mankind’s redemption for those who “receive the abundance of grace” (Romans 5:17), creation “waits eagerly” with “anxious longing” (Romans 8:19) for its redemption “from its slavery to corruption” (Romans 8:21). This is not limited to portions of God’s creation, but “the whole creation groans and suffers” (Romans 8:22). Just as we still struggle against the sin nature that remains, creation fights against sin’s corruptive effects, looking to Christ’s establishment of a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1-6, 2 Peter 3:10,13). Until then, natural disasters can be an expected part of life.

Natural disasters reflect God’s judgment of sin.

Throughout the Scriptures, God used His sovereignty over His creation to enact His judgment of sin. The flood (Genesis 6-8), Sodom ‘s destruction (Genesis 19), the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7-11) and many other scriptural accounts indicate God’s power over His creation to judge sin. In the gospel accounts, we see Christ’s power over “the winds and sea” (Matthew 8:27) and other aspects of nature (Matthew 17:27), so we can be assured of God’s continued ability to reign over His creation, even though He has given control to man, his sin and Satan himself (Ephesians 6:12, John 16:11).
Although we cannot know if the destruction from natural disasters is God’s judgment of a specific sin, we do know that God included nature in His judgment for original sin (Genesis 3:17-18), and we can be reminded of His hatred of sin and His promised judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

Natural disasters remind us of Christ’s return.

Before Christ died, was resurrected and ascended into heaven, He promised His return (John 14:1-3). But as He told His disciples about the end times, He spoke of things that would signify His coming. Along with false prophets, wars, plagues, famines and earthquakes (Luke 21:8-11), which are prevalent in our world today, Jesus promised “terrors and great signs from heaven” (v. 11).
In Matthew’s parallel account, Jesus referred to the natural signs as “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8), much like the apostle Paul referred to creation’s groaning and suffering from “the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22). Although we cannot know the day, hour or place of Christ’s return (Matthew .24:36), we can be assured that sin’s effect on creation climaxes toward His coming again. The occurrence of natural disasters reminds us of the imminence of His return, our need to be prepared (Matthew 25:44), and the eagerness with which we are to wait (2 Timothy 4:8).
How to respond to natural disasters

Pray for those affected.

The tragedy of lives lost and homes destroyed should drive us to our knees in prayer for all of those affected by natural disasters. We pray for God to use the tragic circumstances to accomplish His good, perfect and pleasing will (Romans 8:28). But we also must pray for God’s comfort and peace to embrace the hearts and lives of the many families, homes, churches and individuals searching for comfort during this difficult time (Philippians 4:6-7).

Position your life on God’s Word.

Jesus promised that “heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). As the temporal value of this life and earth is seen through the destruction of a natural disaster, we must continue to establish our lives on that which lives and endures forever, the Word of the Lord (1 Peter 1:23-25). As Jesus taught, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).

Prepare for Christ’s return.

Being prepared for Christ’s return involves assurance of faith in Christ and living a life that is pleasing to Him “so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (1 John 2:28).

Propagate our faith.

In light of Christ’s imminent return, we should recognize the condition of the lost souls around us and across the world, resulting in sharing our faith with urgency (Matthew 28:18-20). But also, with the physical needs around us in the wake of a natural disaster, we must be faithful to share the love and compassion of Christ as we minister to people in His name. This involves understanding that these disasters “lead to an opportunity for your testimony” (Luke 21:13) and we must make the “most of each opportunity” (Colossians 4:5).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Pace holds the Johnny Hunt Chair of Biblical Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is associate director of its Pastors Center. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

9/19/2018 10:32:45 AM by Scott Pace | with 0 comments

Thyatira: a call to church discipline

September 18 2018 by Jonathan Homesley

Fourth in a series
What does Jesus think of a church that tolerates false teaching? We see the answer in Christ’s open letter to the church at Thyatira. This indictment of Thyatira by the risen Christ calls us to maintain watchfulness over our doctrine and practice.

The open letter begins by describing both the vision and the power of the Savior (Revelation 2:18). His fiery eyes accurately perceive theological compromise in His church. No sin escapes His sight. His burnished feet crush sin in judgment.
When these fiery eyes looked at Thyatira there was much to commend. The church was characterized by “love and faith, and service, and patient endurance,” all qualities we should pray for in our own churches. Having begun with gospel baby-steps, Thyatira now exploded in great strides of faith. Their “latter works” surpassed and exceeded their first (v. 19).
And yet, a contingent of the church had compromised the faith by tolerating false teaching and false teachers. They had bought into the seductive self-indulgent religion of “that woman Jezebel” (v. 20). Just as the Jezebel of ancient Israel had led the people of God into idolatry long ago, there was now a teacher doing the same in Thyatira.
In Smyrna, Satan had sent tribulation (Revelation 2:10). Satan had set up his throne in Pergamum to assault the church there (v. 13). But, some in the church at Thyatira had delved into the “deep things of Satan.” It’s hard to determine what is precisely meant by this phrase, but this association with the teaching of Jezebel imperiled the witness of the church and displeased the Savior.
When false teaching takes root in a church, the gospel is distorted, and sinners perish outside of Christ. What could be more heart-breaking?
Church, we must maintain watchfulness over our teaching. We must work together to “hold fast what you have” until Christ returns (v. 25). When someone espouses that which contradicts the clear teaching of scripture, they should be called to repentance (v. 22).
We must work for meaningful church membership. Can the members of your church distinguish between true and false teaching? Are they willing to sacrifice their comfort in order to correct error? Are they equally prepared to patiently unravel theological knots with someone who has been led astray? Are they prepared to dismiss an unrepentant member whose false beliefs distort the gospel and lead sinners away from Christ?
What we teach sends a message to the world. What we tolerate sends an equally strong message.
The circumstances in Thyatira were grave, but they we not irredeemable. Christ would have to deal with Jezebel. False teachers would have to be pulled out by the roots. Faithful church members would have to tighten their grip on the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). What would be the end result? “And all the churches will know that I am He who searches mind and heart” (v. 23). The question is, do we have ears to hear?
Related columns:
Ephesus: Have we lost our first love?
Smyrna: The poor church that was rich
Pergamum: No compromises
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article is part of a series on the theme of the 2018 North Carolina Pastors’ Conference, “7 Churches of Revelation.” This year’s event will occur Nov. 4-5 in conjunction with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s annual meeting. Visit for more information. Jonathan Homesley is senior pastor of Lake Wylie Baptist Church in Charlotte. Each column in the series is written by a different N.C. leader and refers to one of the seven churches in Revelation.) 

9/18/2018 11:51:15 AM by Jonathan Homesley | with 0 comments

Be prepared to vote

September 18 2018 by Ray Waldbusser

The 2018 election season is upon us, so it’s time to start thinking about who to vote for on Nov. 6. Early voting begins Oct. 17.

This year, North Carolina residents will be voting for U.S. House Representatives, N.C. State House Representatives and Senators, district attorneys, board of education members, county commissioners, sheriffs, court officials and judges. There will also be six amendments to the Constitution of the State of North Carolina on the ballot.
As you can see, the results of this year’s voting will affect what laws are passed both in Washington, D.C., and Raleigh, how our county governments and schools are run, what curriculum is taught to our children and how our laws are enforced. As the enemies of God continue to attack Him and His institutions, we need to elect people whose emphasis is on pleasing God, who rely daily on the providence of God and who desire to spread the praise of God.
But before we vote this November we need to do three things. First, we need to pray daily for God’s will to be done in our local, state and national governments.
Second, we need to be prepared. Voter guides are available from organizations like the Family Policy Council that help identify where candidates stand on vital issues. It’s important to know who the candidates are and what the constitutional amendments say before going to polls.
Research the candidates and issues so you can make an informed decision.
Third, register and vote! You must register by Oct. 12. The voter registration form is available on-line at or by calling your county Board of Elections. There will also be voter registration drives at various locations throughout the state and you can register to vote during the one-stop early voting period.
There are so many opportunities available that there is no excuse for not voting.
We also need to remind our legislators that we are pro-life voters, and we expect them to enact pro-life legislation to end the 27,000 abortions that occur every year in our state. The website will help you send emails to your elected leaders. Tell them they need to protect unborn children. We need to send a strong message that we won’t settle for the status quo during the 2019 legislative session.
As the Bible says in James 2:17 (NLT), “Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all – it is dead and useless.” Please don’t sit idly by and allow our liberty and freedoms erode away. Do something! Cast your vote.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ray Waldbusser is a member of Cape Carteret Baptist Church. He leads the church’s Culture Impact Team and teaches an Adult Life Group.)

9/18/2018 11:45:39 AM by Ray Waldbusser | with 0 comments

Unite together in prayer this October

September 18 2018 by Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer

“Spiritual transformation of neighborhoods, municipalities and nations begins and ends with biblical, passionate, kingdom-advancing prayer on behalf of all people.”
This quote is taken from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s recently released devotional prayer guide developed by Chris Schofield, who leads our Office of Prayer for Evangelization and Spiritual Awakening. The quote reflects the passion that Chris, our staff and others across our state share to see God glorified and people from every tribe, tongue and nation drawn to Him.
All great moves of God begin with prayer, and for the seventh consecutive year, we are encouraging North Carolina Baptists to join in a 30-day prayer emphasis this October as we unite together in intentional and focused prayer. The new prayer guide is designed to be used during the prayer emphasis, and it includes 30 days of scripture selections, devotional readings, prayer prompts and more.
The prayer guide is aligned with the same theme as our upcoming Annual Meeting in Greensboro on Nov. 5-6, which is “Who is My Neighbor?” The devotions and prayer points are designed to assist you in seeking Christ personally and corporately for revival and spiritual awakening.
The number of individuals and churches who have used these devotional resources and participated in the October prayer emphasis has steadily increased in the past several years. Numerous individuals have expressed to me how much they have benefited from reading these devotionals and the impact it has made in their lives. I hope you will consider participating this year as an individual, a family, a small group or an entire church body.
There are several ways that you can participate in the prayer emphasis. You may download a free copy of the prayer guide by visiting Printed copies of the prayer guide are also available for $2 each by visiting our online store at One copy of the prayer guide has been mailed to every N.C. Baptist church.
You may also sign up to receive devotionals by email and prayer prompts via text messaging on a daily basis throughout October. To sign up for daily emails, visit To receive daily prayer prompts through text messaging, text the phrase Pray30Days to 313131.
My hope is that we will individually and collectively be burdened to pray with fervency and feel compelled to wait before the Lord, listen to the impressions of His Holy Spirit and experience His life changing presence working within us during this upcoming prayer emphasis. I challenge you and me to be open to the prompting of God’s Spirit and obedient in the ways He will lead us to reach our children, our grandchildren, our friends and acquaintances for Christ.
Learn more about about this year’s prayer emphasis and ways that you can be involved by visiting
Therefore, I exhort first all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men” – 1 Timothy 2:1 (NKJV).
9/18/2018 11:40:10 AM by Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer | with 0 comments

Viral photo shows problems with IVF

September 17 2018 by Andrew Walker

A picture showing a beautiful baby girl surrounded by over 1,100 in vitro fertilization (IVF) needles is making the rounds on the internet.
According to the description of the photo, “After trying to get pregnant for four long years via IVF, Patricia and Kimberly O’Neill, a couple from Arizona, finally welcomed a beautiful little girl, London, into the world via C-section on Aug. 3. To celebrate their beautiful baby girl and the long road they traveled to officially become parents, they hired photographer Samantha Packer of Packer Family Photography to capture their experience in an image – and it’s no surprise it went completely viral when she shared it on Facebook.”
What we can surmise from this picture is that 1,161 IVF needles were used signifying all the injections necessary to help this woman conceive. 
Before I get to the larger issue of IVF, it should be noted that the couple above is a lesbian couple, which is both sinful and puts the question of natural procreation aside entirely. The baby girl in this story is, tragically, being denied her right to a father. Still, regardless of this being a homosexual relationship, the reality of one woman’s infertility and experience with miscarriage (battles my wife and I have experienced as well) means I do not want to harshly condemn one woman’s physical hardship.
Miscarriage and infertility can physically afflict all women, regardless of whether their sexual desires are sinful or pure. 

A sensitive issue

But to the broader issue of infertility or miscarriage afflicting heterosexual couples, like all instances where IVF factors into decision-making, an absence and holy longing exists. The practice of IVF is used when something has gone wrong. The desire for children should be praised, and the corresponding childlessness should be grieved.
All throughout scripture, barrenness is a source of great grief and shame. The scripture speaks to infertility with vivid reality, and Christians, of all people, should be the most compassionate in talking about this subject (Genesis 30:1; 1 Samuel 1:5-10). Christians should be sensitive to infertility, miscarriage, and children conceived through IVF without forgetting the importance of discussing what is lurking behind this now-viral picture – the morality of IVF itself. 
IVF is an enormously sensitive issue for Christians to discuss, because the availability of IVF makes it possible for couples to conceive who otherwise could not. Telling would-be parents they should not utilize IVF as a last resort to become parents can seem uncaring, unloving and depriving a husband and wife of something (children) that God considers a blessing (Psalm 127:3).
We should not minimize this longing. It is a primal desire given to us by a loving heavenly Father. The longing for children is by nature and by choice. 

A complex issue

But IVF is not a morally neutral procedure. It is not like a flu shot or a hip replacement. The issue of conception – and where conceptions occurs – requires a certain context. The natural means of conception poses no ethical dilemma. 
With the use of IVF, however, at least two dilemmas immediately arise. There’s an issue of the means and the results that follow from IVF. There can be more embryos created than can be implanted, and the excess embryos are either destroyed, used for research or frozen – what are often called “Snowflake” babies.
How do we balance the good of wanting children with evaluating technology that can also lead to denying a whole class of persons – in this case, embryos – their right to exist? 
This photo raises questions that do not have a clear answer: How many embryos (children) were created over those seven attempts?
And how many remain frozen? How many were destroyed or used for medical research?
Even where technology can allow the fertilization of only one embryo that would prevent the death or destruction of other embryos, IVF still is problematic because it participates in the larger ecosystem of utilizing reproductive technologies that dispense with the one-flesh union of husband and wife. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the use of IVF even to fertilize one embryo will lead to the successful implantation and development of the child.
To employ an unnatural method of conception where the possibility of failure exists is in a different category than the possibility of infertility or miscarriage realized by the natural means of conception. 
But to a broader theological principle, children are not hatched. They are not to be clinically developed in a petri dish by white-coated scientists.
Children are an outflowing of marital love. The union that seals the marriage covenant, according to scripture, is the same union that is designed to bring forth new life under the right conditions. 

A human dignity issue

As a part of our holistic human dignity ethic, Christians must understand that the life of a frozen or destroyed embryo is just as precious as the enfleshed child. For us to minimize their humanity and personhood is to unwittingly fall prey to the pattern of thought that so dominates our culture’s thinking about children being the product of choice and the will, rather than as a divine gift. 
The reality, however, is that IVF creates children that are conceived distinct from the one-flesh union of husband and wife (Genesis 1:28; 2:24). The medicalization of conception is an issue that Christians must confront. We must examine our desire for children with the pattern for how God designed children to be conceived. We have to caution that the godly desire for children not become an idol that would allow Christians to bypass the marital intercourse that brings children into this world and in the process, create a whole host of ethical dilemmas that challenge human dignity. 

Wisdom and ethics 

One of the greatest dilemmas around IVF is how commonplace it has become, even among Christians. Because there is no verse that explicitly prohibits IVF, many Christians see the availability of this technology as evidence of God’s common grace to bring relief from infertility.
Advanced technology that brings new questions to the experiences of life and the limits we are willing to impose on such technology is one of the greatest challenges facing the Christian church. For example, imagine a pill that would allow humans to live to be 350 years of age. Is that moral? Should Christians endorse it – or even use it? Hypotheticals like that, and realistic devices like IVF, show how questions of ethics and morality are not as cut and dried as finding the right Bible verse.
Pastors need to compassionately shepherd and disciple our churches to understand that the availability of technology cannot mean its unquestioned use. 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew Walker is director of research and senior fellow for Christian ethics at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. This article first appeared at Used by permission.)

9/17/2018 4:13:18 PM by Andrew Walker | with 0 comments

People and churches survive Florence

September 17 2018 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

As Hurricane Florence barreled along her predicted course toward North Carolina’s mainland Sept. 13, schools and businesses in its path closed. Residents in high target areas were told to evacuate. Many of our pastors, church staff and directors of missions left their homes to find temporary shelter elsewhere.
Some pastors and directors of missions who serve in coastal regions of the state evacuated to Virginia, Tennessee, upstate South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. I followed the postings of some of our pastors on Facebook, and asked many church leaders across the state to report on weather-related conditions.
High winds blew the steeple off Enon Chapel Baptist Church’s building in Midway Park. The church is located north of Wilmington and is led by pastor Jim Kelley. A photo of the downed steeple became an iconic image of the storm’s power in multiple Facebook posts.
The Parkview Baptist Church building in Morehead City also lost a steeple. John Carswell is the pastor. The city took a severe blow, and Baptists on Mission volunteers are eyeing Parkview as a potential operations site to serve the area.
Joey Canady, pastor of Hampstead Baptist Church, shared several videos before, during and after the storm. The church facilities sustained heavy water damage, according to one video. I appreciate Canady’s diligence to show the rest of us the storm’s advance through Hampstead.
Jim Pennington weathered the storm and posted multiple videos from New Bern, one of the state’s most damaged towns. He is the senior pastor of Temple Baptist Church. In one video, Pennington said the church would hold one Sunday morning service, but asked worshippers to come in work clothes, prepared to serve their neighbors as needed. Two videos showed a convoy of Baptists on Mission vehicles arriving and setting up a primary ministry point in the church’s parking lot. “Manna One,” North Carolina’s largest feeding unit, began feeding emergency workers on Sunday with plans to serve the whole community Monday.
Kevin Clubb, pastor of Cape Carteret Baptist Church, said he evacuated, but had “major damage to our home as did several other families in our church. The church facility seems to have fared fine. We can’t get back because of all the flooding.”
Beach Road Baptist Church in Southport suffered significant damage. Pastor Todd Houston, who evacuated to Tennessee, said Sunday, “all roads leading into Southport are either impassable due to water, downed trees or completely washed out. So far, we have confirmed at least two church families that have lost their homes due to flooding. We have had significant water damage to the church – standing water in the sanctuary and numerous leaks throughout. It may be at least a couple weeks before we are able to use our sanctuary.”
The northern coastline of the state was spared the brunt of Florence’s fury. Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City proceeded with regular Sunday services. Farren Roper is the pastor. Nearby, Wayne Proctor, pastor of Eure Baptist Church, said, “My wife and I live on the Chowan, and it is swollen, and probably will be for days or maybe weeks to come. But no water came in our home.”
Aaron Wallace, lead pastor at Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell reported the church ran on normal schedules. They saw no damage to buildings or surrounding communities, but water levels could be a problem with some creeks later in the week. Most churches in the immediate Raleigh area stayed on schedule, but south of the city, flooded roads and downed trees forced the cancellation of many customary services.
Friendship Baptist Church in Bunnlevel, where Phil Addison is the pastor, cancelled all services. He said church members were out in the community, serving the needs of others. There was significant flooding in the area.
South and east of Bunnlevel it was hard to find any church that was able to gather for worship. The same communities and churches that felt the fury of Hurricane Matthew two years ago saw a repeat performance in Florence.
Tammy Weeks told the Biblical Recorder that Island Creek Baptist Church in Rose Hill and Piney Grove Baptist Church in Faison have roof damage. Ronald Ginn and Michael Maragelis are pastors of these churches respectively. She said Eastern Baptist Association’s office in Warsaw plans to be a disaster relief site as soon as power is restored. Her husband, Richard, is the association’s director of missions. The area is experiencing “catastrophic flooding” and roads are impassable. “With rivers rising, pray for Duplin and Sampson Counties as we face uncertain days ahead. ... What a better time than this to love your neighbor.”
Cameron McGill reported that his family was staying in the facilities of White Lake Christian Camp along with volunteers who were ready to serve when the storm broke. He is pastor of The Lake Church near Elizabethtown. Bladen County expects major flooding.
Mike Madaris, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in New London, and Stony Benfield, pastor of Prospect Baptist Church in nearby Albemarle, ran live Facebook videos for church members. Both churches joined the majority of churches in a line from Wilmington to Charlotte that cancelled Sunday services.
North and west of Charlotte, many churches held morning services but cancelled evening events under the threat of high wind and heavy rain.
Among them are Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby and Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville. Rit Varriale serves Elizabeth church, and Bobby Blanton pastors the Lake Norman congregation.
The Asheville Citizen-Times said storm damage in western North Carolina was “not as bad as was feared.” Pole Creek Baptist Church in Candler proceeded with their worship services on schedule. Dennis Thurman is the pastor. Greg Mathis, pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, preached on schedule.
The high likelihood of flash flooding, high winds and downed trees in the northern mountains pushed most Baptist churches in the Boone area to cancel Sunday services. Among them were Perkinsville Baptist Church, where Seth Norris serves as pastor, and Mount Vernon Baptist Church, where John Ewart is the interim pastor.
Churches in the Piedmont Triad region had mixed schedules. Life Community Church in Jamestown proceeded with morning services but cancelled evening activities in anticipation of six or more inches of rain throughout the day. Jake Thornhill pastors the congregation. Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, where Brandon Ware serves as pastor, altered their schedule to hold one morning service and cancelled afternoon/evening activities. The service ran live on Facebook.
According to Gerald Hodges, pastor of Westwood Baptist Church in Roxboro, bad weather did not impact the area, so church services moved along on schedule. He said the community is uniting to help as needed.
A truck in the church parking lot is being loaded with water and other essentials as people drop off their donations. Volunteers are ready to respond when the call for help goes out.
This is but a sampling of how the state fared over the weekend. The bottom line is this: we need to stand with our brothers and sisters in a strong way. Churches that have damaged facilities and will close for weeks are in need of financial support.
Can your church send them a gift to make up for lost offerings? Can you send volunteers to help repair and rebuild facilities?
Your support for the North Carolina Missions Offering (through your local church) and additional gifts to Baptists on Mission (through your church or online) are critical at this time.

9/17/2018 4:07:22 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Why can’t Christians agree?

September 13 2018 by Dan DeWitt

Why are Christians so divided? If Christianity were true, you’d expect a lot more solidarity and unity about what Christians believe. That’s what you hear a lot from skeptics.

And they’re kind of right. On a surface level, Christians are divided. We divide over silly things and important things.
Not all division can or should be explained away. Whenever I see a “Friendship Baptist Church” or “Unity Baptist Church,” I almost always wonder whether there was a church split at some point and the friendly folks went one way with their sign and the unity folks went the other. The split may or may not have involved friendliness or doctrinal unity. Sometimes church signs say more about the past than the future.
When Christians separate over important things, it doesn’t mean they are divided. While Christians can agree on the gospel and how a person is made right with God, they can disagree on issues related to the Christian life. Sometimes those disagreements are significant enough that it requires them to worship in different churches. For example, Bible-believing Baptists and Bible-believing Presbyterians can love and respect each other, fellowship with one another, but it makes good sense that they attend separate churches since they don’t agree on whether to baptize children.
This doesn’t mean Christianity is divided, it just means there are important features about Christianity upon which civilized thinking believers can agree to disagree.
On a deeper level Christians from all times and all places are unified. Take, for example, the Apostles’ Creed which we know dates back to at least the fourth century. The Apostles’ Creed can be seen in detail or influence in almost any evangelical confession today.
In voicing the Apostles’ Creed, followers of Christ affirm:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church [i.e., the church of all times and places],
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
This confession is a foundational expression of what Christians believe. As the late G.K. Chesterton once noted, “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.”
Or consider an even earlier creed that was likely on the lips of the earliest believers within a short time after the resurrection, which also reflects the revelation received by the apostle Paul:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7, ESV).
Are Christians divided? On a surface level, yes. On a deeper foundational level, absolutely not. We are founded upon our Lord Jesus Christ. Expressions of our common confession that unite all Christians can be traced back to those early days after the first Easter as believers summarized their beliefs in a short creed that Paul passed along to us.
It is a confession of Jesus, who died, was buried, and rose again, according to the scriptures. This we believe. This is our confession. We did not make it. It is making us.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dan DeWitt, at, is associate professor of applied theology and apologetics at Cedarville University and director of the Center for Biblical Apologetics & Public Christianity at the Ohio University's campus.)

9/13/2018 10:31:34 AM by Dan DeWitt | with 0 comments

Hurricane Florence & the ‘many’

September 11 2018 by Art Toalston

Don’t let the vastness of Hurricane Florence’s looming devastation cower you into thinking that your prayers can’t make a difference.

We were under great pressure,” the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.
Paul continued, in recalling the times of trauma he had faced in behalf of the gospel: “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.
Yet, he reported: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises from the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us….
Paul concluded the sentence: “… as you help us by your prayers.
Then many will give thanks on our behalf,” he rejoiced, “for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
Let’s not miss this divine moment to be one of “many.”
Granted, we do not know how God will answer our prayers across a flooded region or in the lives of those who will be Hurricane Florence’s countless survivors and first-responders, disaster relief officials and volunteers, pastors and chaplains and laypeople who sacrifice to help their suffering neighbors.
We simply know that even the apostle Paul requested prayer for his ministry and that he had confidence in – and was thankful for – the prayers of many.
As we add ourselves to the “many,” let us pray specifically for people we may know in North Carolina and the East Coast and for survivors and aid workers who will be shown and heard on TV, radio, newspaper and internet news reports.
We may see and hear of people surrendering their lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
We may see and hear of amazing hopefulness among survivors as they interact with those who have lost hope.
And while we’re praying during Hurricane Florence’s immediate onslaught and long-term recovery, let us have confidence that it will always be appropriate to be among the “many” who pray for our country, for our president, for our missionaries and for the world’s masses who need Jesus’ redemption, for our pastors and church leaders, among so many others in today’s troubled world.
It’s simply and squarely a matter of obedience to God in His divine Word to pray in all things.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press who has spent many vacations on the Outer Banks.)

9/11/2018 10:12:30 AM by Art Toalston | with 1 comments

How’s your church doing?

September 10 2018 by Gary Ledbetter

I made an unusual number of visits to the doctor(s) this year. Nothing unusual going on except I had neglected normally annual things for too long and had to catch up with the labs and scans and pokes.

I knew I weighed more than I should but it wasn’t real until I was standing in the hall in the clinic looking at the scales. It seemed I could hear a judge’s gavel as the very young woman behind me called out the number. Hard facts are facts whether we face them or not. With the help of a small army of medical professionals I have faced mine this year.
It’s not always fun to face objective appraisals of our health or work. Maybe that is why it has become so difficult to get some churches and their leaders to examine and report the statistics of their own ministries.
State conventions in general struggle to get our churches to report basic information on an Annual Church Profile. It is pretty basic, too. At one point the ACP seemed to rival the U.S. Census report – baptisms by demographic, mission training attendance grouped in six categories, music ministry by age-graded choirs and much more. Most current reports now list fewer questions, such as membership, worship attendance, Bible study average, baptisms and giving. Pastors or church administrators could complete the information in short order.
But why should you?

Facing the facts

As in my story of doctor visits, it is beneficial to know how you’re doing. It’s not enough to feel fine or to think you’re in better shape than “that guy”; what do the facts indicate about how you’re doing? But it’s just numbers, you might say. Sure, but whether that number is the number of people you’ve been privileged to baptize this year or an indication of high blood pressure, numbers stand for something that we should consider important.

Benefit from analysts

The SBC has a number of people who study how we are doing at our most important tasks. Not only are they assessing the trends of our denominational groupings of churches, they are also able to help you see trends in your own ministry – even to help you seek reasonable solutions. You could do it yourself but it is hard to be objective about your own work. You could hire someone, but they’d likely ask for much more information than the ACP’s basic questions.

Be honest with your sister churches

We do not control one another but we are connected in our Great Commission work. You have a row to hoe and the church down the street does too. Are you making progress? Do you have something you might add to the understanding of another church facing the same challenges? Is there a reason you’d dread another pastor or church knowing how your ministry fares? I know one pastor friend who considers such reporting to be immodest or distracting and he will not participate. That’s his conscience and I leave it to him, but I also know of at least one case of a pastor who stopped reporting because his ministry was declining and he wanted to move to another place. Is it easier to report your stats when the trend is up? Are you at peace with the heart behind any self-conscious pride?

Feed your analysts

From a denominational perspective, the more information we can gather about the progress of our mission together, the more on-target our efforts will be to help churches. We know anecdotally how churches are doing and we have reports from some quarters that suggest needs, but the picture is less hazy as we have more reports.

Build an effective and relevant denomination

The work denominational employees are about is a response to what churches have directed, enabled and suggested by their specific needs. It’s your work, then. If you want it to succeed, help those who serve your church know what needs to be done. A church or regional collection of churches whose numbers are all down suggests a completely different situation than a church whose baptisms are way up and Bible study numbers are leveled off or declining. Seeing signs of more and less health in a church prompts your servants to reach out for more details and to offer help or encouragement specific to your church. The help will be increasingly less relevant if we aren’t directed by facts to areas, or churches, in greatest need.
The fact that church reporting has become easier (you can mail your answers in, you can register them online, you can give the information by email; folks can even call you and fill out the report over the phone) but still has declined in percentage suggests that making it easier is not the issue.
As is the case with some other aspects of denominational life, I’ve heard it said that the denomination is irrelevant, that it adds little of value to a church’s ministry. That is more likely to be true if we have no report from the churches. Simply reporting can be a first step to accessing expertise and resources that could change the direction of the reports you make in coming years.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Ledbetter is editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN,, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, where this column first appeared. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

9/10/2018 11:37:40 AM by Gary Ledbetter | with 0 comments

A coonhound’s ‘baptism’

September 6 2018 by Steve Playl

Everyone who knew him just called him “Red.” He was my best friend and we spent a lot of time together.

We romped in the fields and woods, swam together in the creek and talked a lot. Well, I talked – Red mostly just cocked his head to one side and listened attentively. In the fall we would run through the woods together in search of ‘coons, ‘possums, skunks, squirrels, rabbits – whatever.
One day I got to thinking about what the preacher had said about heaven and hell, and I became concerned about Red’s eternal destiny. So I sat him down and “preached” to him, explaining the severity of his condition as best I could. He failed to show as much concern as I felt he should but he listened patiently with his eyes glued to mine. Then he wagged his tail and licked my face.
That would have set me to giggling, usually, but this was too serious to my 8-year-old mind. So I told Red I would have to baptize him. Being a Baptist, I didn’t even consider “sprinkling.” On the other hand, I didn’t want to risk drowning my best friend, so I just stood him on his hind legs, held his front paws to his nose and dipped him in a pretend baptistery. Even without the water, I felt better about Red, and he never complained.
A few days later Red turned up missing. Daddy said he thought he had seen him lying in a ditch by the road not far from home – hit by a car – but he couldn’t be sure it was Red. For weeks I held out hope. But I never saw him again.
Years later, with my theology strengthened by Bible study and a seminary degree, I confess that there was a flaw in my doctrinal position in those days. Fact is, I could not even define “theology” or “doctrine” as an 8-year-old. One thing is certain, though, as a young boy I was more concerned about Red than many church members seem to be about their friends and neighbors and family members. Of course I looked foolish “baptizing” a dog in the dog pen, but I didn’t care how it may have looked to whoever may have witnessed the process. I loved that old coonhound.
Many of us are embarrassed to invite our friends to church or show someone we truly care about them. Sometimes we are afraid to “discuss religion” even with our own family members. And maybe some of us think we are too sophisticated to talk about Jesus.
As an 8-year-old, my theology needed a bit more depth, but at least my heart was in the right place. We must be willing to share our faith from a heart of love, because people need the Lord.
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness,” the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steve Playl, a retired Baptist pastor, is a chaplain at a hospital in Bristol, Tenn., a newspaper columnist and college instructor. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

9/6/2018 11:10:04 AM by Steve Playl | with 0 comments

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