N.C. leaders speak out on religious freedom

April 21 2015 by BR staff

U.S. news has been full of stories and debates about Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (also known as RFRAs). Controversial laws in Arkansas, Georgia and Indiana have received much attention in the past few weeks. North Carolina has a similar RFRA in the legislature now. Many Christians are concerned and want to know – How important is religious freedom? North Carolina Baptist leaders share their opinions.
Nathan Finn, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies and director of the Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality: Historically, religious freedom has been a bedrock conviction among Baptists. In the past century, it has become a shared commitment among nearly every Christian tradition, including those that once curbed the religious freedom of others. More broadly, religious freedom is a basic civil right in our nation – indeed, it is one of the “first freedoms” enshrined in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For all of these reasons, I’m deeply concerned at the recent backlash against legislative proposals to protect religious freedom in states such as Indiana, Arkansas and Georgia. Opposition to religious freedom has rapidly become one of the most pressing issues in our nation.
Strong religious conviction of any kind – and especially traditional/orthodox Christian morality – is now viewed as intolerant to the degree it offers an alternative voice that challenges our culture’s idols of sex, money and power. North Carolina Baptists and others who care deeply about religious freedom cannot stand silent while our constitutional rights are undermined for the sake of celebrating anti-biblical sexualities, promoting corporate greed and endorsing amoral political correctness. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, we must remain faithful by offering a consistent, winsome and prophetic witness to biblical morality. And we must defend our constitutional rights to affirm those truths publicly, even if we find ourselves to be a moral minority in our increasingly decadent culture.


Phil Ortego, pastor of Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington:
In light of the recent firestorm over religious liberty, many Christians wonder why this is so important and how religious liberty affects them personally. Let me answer this in three brief points:

  1. Religious liberty has been the cornerstone of the American experience. From the very beginning the founders have stated the importance of religious faith in the foundation of our nation. James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution wrote, “We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments.” John Adams wrote, “We have a government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” These were the overwhelming convictions of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

  2. Religious liberty is a catalyst for shaping the culture. Religious liberty is more than just having the opportunity to worship freely; it is the opportunity to live out our convictions in such a way that it impacts our culture. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of Christianity will change the face of the world.” Religious liberty not only allows us to worship freely, but to influence and shape our culture for Christ.

  3. Religious liberty protects against government’s intrusion into religion. Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association speaks about a wall of separation between church and state. His intention was to protect the free exercise of religious convictions, but not to remove Christian principles from government.

Without such foundational principles guiding our leaders and our nation, Christians will no longer have the freedom to speak their convictions or to refuse to participate in activities that are contrary to their religious convictions without fair and equal treatment. Therefore, we must protect our religious liberties.
Marty Jacumin, senior pastor of Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh: Our nation was founded on a belief of religious freedom for all people and has remained one of the key concepts that makes us a free people. As religious freedom erodes, the very nature of what it means to live in a free nation erodes with it.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest: Religious freedom has always been one of the foundational rights in our society, and something that the founders of this nation deemed to be crucial. It is increasingly important in a day when the public square is in danger of shrinking. The simple request that the state protect the right to dissent on religious grounds has become more complicated, particularly as we navigate a fundamental disagreement over the definition of one word: marriage. We cannot walk away from the pursuit of biblical truth as expressed by our Lord through an inerrant Bible.
But just as I believe that the U.S. Constitution gives us the freedom and right to express belief, I also believe that the gospel frees us to love. We must continue to respect our neighbors and pursue civil discourse in an open public square. I will continue to affirm marriage as a covenantal, monogamous relationship between a man and a woman, but I also love every person regardless of their views or lifestyle and I am against any expression of hatred toward individuals. We can never stop standing for religious freedom, and we can never stop using that freedom in a way that honors our Lord. Our hope is in King Jesus. We must proclaim his gospel and extend His grace to others, grace that meets us where we are and transforms us into His image.
David Ethridge, minister to young adults at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Raleigh: Religious freedom is of paramount concern because the questions it enables us to explore – origin, meaning, morality, and destiny – are of eternal significance. Religious freedom secures the right to ask these questions, live one’s beliefs about the answers, and attempt to persuade others to embrace those beliefs, all free of coercion and intimidation.
Baptists have historically championed the notion of “a free church in a free state” as the best environment for propagation of the gospel in our fallen world. By granting adherents of other religions – or no religion at all – the right to their beliefs, we secure for ourselves the freedom to proclaim the gospel of our Lord in the public square, “instructing our opponents with gentleness” in hopes that “God will grant them repentance leading to knowledge of the truth.” Because the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Christians do not need the state to accommodate us over other religions, but only to give us the freedom to proclaim the gospel in word and deed.
Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte: Religious freedom is at the heart of what it means to be American. The erosion of religious freedom happens to the cadence of goose-stepping jackboots in the distance. As believers, we will “go outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured.”
Daniel Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary: Religious freedom is the bedrock of all civilly respected freedoms embedded in the U.S. Constitution and written into the Bill of Rights our founders required in order to support and pass our nation’s basic document in the first place. Religious freedom is called “the first freedom,” not as a matter of sequence, but as a matter of priority in relation to all other civilly respected freedoms. It was Baptists in the early years of our nation who most strongly insisted on including religious freedom in the Bill of Rights, and Baptists have continued to affirm its importance ever since.
Disputing the importance of religious freedom to common life in America is like disputing the importance of oxygen in the air we breathe. Removing or even diminishing its presence threatens the whole project and turns something very good into something very bad. It ruins the very thing that has enabled the American Constitution to hold a conglomerate of persons from disparate religions, cultures and convictions together over time. Diminishing religious liberty weakens the source of our national strength and leaves American common life vulnerable to disintegration.
The North Carolina Religious Freedom Restoration Act does nothing more than assure in North Carolina law what Federal law already guarantees at the national level. It merely keeps the coercive power of government from being used to force citizens to participate in or affirm behaviors God says are sinful and wrong. It does not deny access to services allowed by law, even if some regard them as sinful, and does not stop choices from being made with which others disagree. Rather, it only limits using government power in recognition that God transcends human government and people must be allowed to obey God rather than man.

Rit Varriale, pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby: Do I agree with the general intent of the RFRAs? Most definitely. However, it is the pastors not the politicians, it is the pulpit not politics that should bring this change about.

Religious freedom does not come from government. Rather, religious freedom comes from God. Thus, when we look to the government to pass Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs), we are in a very precarious situation as a Church. Do we not realize that a government that passes a RFRA can also take away a RFRA?
Religious freedom cannot be restored by a government. It can only be restored when the Church sets an example of religious freedom and courage to the larger society. If we look to the government to perform the courageous duties that only we, the Church, can perform, then we are setting ourselves up for continued failure.
Why are we looking to politicians, when we should be looking to the power of the Holy Spirit? Why are we shamefully obeying the rulings of dictatorial secular judges, when we should humble ourselves before the Judge of all the earth and engage in civil disobedience? If we believe in the separation of Church and State, why do we look to the State to stand up for our religious freedoms?
For Christ’s sake, it’s time for the Church to stand up and tell the government, “Push off! We don’t need your politics! We will obey God rather than men!”

Day of Action

April 28 is planned as a Day of Action in Raleigh to support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Visit for information about a visit with Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest and gathering at the Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh. N.C. Voters Coalition is sponsoring the event. RSVP at Visit

4/21/2015 11:35:05 AM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Baptisms in N.C. churches decline in 2014

April 21 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

The number of baptisms reported by North Carolina Baptist churches fell more than 10 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to the information provided by churches through the Annual Church Profile (ACP). The total number of believers baptized in 2014 is 18,111. That number is down from the 20,324 reported the previous year.
The top 105 churches in reported baptisms are listed on this page. The top 10 churches account for 19.8 percent of all N.C. baptisms with a total of 3,585. The 105 churches reported 7,761 baptisms or 42.9 percent of the state’s total.

4-21-15_baptisms_WEB.jpgClick image to view.

One or more baptisms was reported by 1,849 churches. A total of 789 reporting churches, or 18 percent, reported no baptisms.
Do these statistics tell the whole story? In reality, the grand totals may not be complete.
The only information available comes from churches who willingly provide data through the ACP. There are no other sources for this data. All of the information is self-reported by the churches.
According to the report 1,712 or 39.2 percent of the state’s 4,370 churches did not submit the ACP. In 2013 there were 441 churches that reported one or more baptisms, but did not provide any data in 2014. The fact is that reporting is incomplete – either by typographical error, omission, neglect or intentional rejection of the process. In Baptist life, each autonomous church determines what they will do with the ACP.
We would like to provide a list of baptisms by church size, but that information is incomplete as well. Many churches who provided baptism information did not report the number of members or worship attendance. Therefore, the Biblical Recorder cannot report information on baptisms by church size.

4/21/2015 11:25:04 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Greear to nominate Floyd for 2nd term

April 21 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd will be nominated for a second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear announced April 20.
Floyd “is a leader God has raised up for us at this crucial hour, and sensing God’s hand upon him, I want to see him lead us for another year,” Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., wrote in a statement to Baptist Press announcing his intention to nominate Floyd at the June 16-17 SBC annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.


Ronnie Floyd

Floyd, pastor of the multi-campus Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, has focused on calling the convention to pray for spiritual awakening and for advancing the gospel globally during his first term as SBC president, while also championing the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified method of funding missions and ministries internationally and in North America.
Greear stated four reasons he plans to nominate Floyd:
“Pastor Ronnie filled his first term with repeated calls to prayer. Every time I hear him speak, he lifts our eyes beyond what we can do to what only the Holy Spirit can do. He really believes a move of God is possible in our generation. And he makes me believe it – a true and essential message for every generation, but one especially pressing in our own,” Greear wrote.
“Second, Pastor Ronnie possesses the convictional graciousness we believe honors the Lord in our convention. I am amazed by the diversity of Baptists who call him friend and look to him as leader. He unifies Southern Baptists. He is clear on the gospel and gracious in those matters of secondary importance.
“Third, Pastor Ronnie loves young leaders. My first memories of Pastor Ronnie are of him reaching out to me when I was a very young pastor, taking interest in me, speaking courage into me and vision over my life. Pastor Ronnie’s focus is not only on the achievements of our past, but the possibilities in our future.
“Finally, Ronnie Floyd knows that the church’s ‘main thing’ is to exalt Christ by doing all we can to reach the lost. Jesus summarized His ministry by saying, ‘The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.’ I cannot be around Pastor Ronnie without developing a greater passion to see the lost reached and a greater conviction that God wants to use us to do it. Pastor Ronnie believes the greatest days of evangelism are ahead of, not behind us.”
Greear concluded, “I believe Ronnie Floyd is the man whom the Holy Spirit has chosen for this moment, and urge you to lend your continued support to him for a second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. May God through him do exceedingly abundantly above all we could ask or think, for the glory of His name in the church in this generation and those that follow.”
Floyd, who has led Cross Church for 28 years, also serves as general editor of the Bible Studies for Life curriculum published by LifeWay Christian Resources and as lead pastor and strategist with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) he played an instrumental role in encouraging churches to adopt one of NAMB’s 32 Send Cities.
Floyd served as chairman of the SBC’s Great Commission Task Force in 2009-10 that set forth wide-ranging recommendations for expanding the SBC’s missions outreach. He is a former president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference and former chairman of the SBC Executive Committee. He also was a member of the SBC’s Program and Structure Task Force during the mid-1990s that produced The Covenant for a New Century restructuring, streamlining the number of SBC entities to nine from the former 12 and developing updated ministry assignments for each SBC entity.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/21/2015 11:17:31 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Historic Union Hill builds new facility

April 21 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

A vaulted ceiling and wall-to-wall windows define the new 200-seat fellowship hall at Union Hill Baptist Church in Clemmons, N.C. The church dedicated the new building on March 22 with guests in attendance that included U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, State Rep. Debra Conrad, Forsyth County Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt and Clemmons Mayor Nick Nelson.


Contributed photo
U.S Rep. Virginia Foxx, left, seen here with Christopher Burcham, pastor of Union Hill Baptist Church in Clemmons, was among the visitors to the church’s new fellowship hall.

Union Hill is the oldest Baptist church in Forsyth County. It began in 1851 with 46 members and 164 years later it continues ministering to its community.
In 2012 Christopher Burcham, pastor of Union Hill, called together a group of members to lead the construction effort. The congregation voted in 2013 to move forward with the project, followed by a ground-breaking ceremony at the site later in the year.
The recent addition is Union Hill’s first since the 1950s. The building covers over 6,000 square feet and also includes new offices and classrooms. “Our old fellowship hall,” Burcham told Winston-Salem Journal, “was located in the basement: tiny, claustrophobic and, for the elderly or handicapped, all but impossible to get into.” Now their gathering place is accessible and full of natural light, according to the Journal. “It’s everything our old one was not,” Burcham said.
Though the project cost more than expected, the church was able to pay the $615,000 price tag and now owns it debt free.

4/21/2015 11:07:11 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

SBC Credentials Committee named

April 21 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Southern Baptist President Ronnie Floyd has named members of the Credentials Committee for June 16-17 annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
Hayes Wicker, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla., will serve as chairman.
Other committee members, listed by state, are:


ARKANSAS – Clay Hallmark , Marion First Baptist Church, Marion; Chris Johnson, Van Buren First Baptist Church, Van Buren; Jeff Williams, Geyer Springs First Baptist Church, Little Rock
CALIFORNIA – A.B. Vines, New Seasons Church, Spring Valley
GEORGIA – Tom Rush, Berean Baptist Church, Social Circle
FLORIDA – John Green, Shindler Drive Baptist Church, Jacksonville; Dean Inserra, City Church, Tallahassee
ILLINOIS – Dan Eddington, Island City Baptist Church, Wilmington
KENTUCKY – Shawn Edwards, Valley View Baptist Church, Vine Grove; John Flores, La Respuesta, Highview Baptist Church, Louisville
MISSOURI – Darron Edwards, United Believers Community Church, Kansas City; Phillip Shuford, First Baptist Church of Ozark, Ozark
NORTH CAROLINA – Rob Peters (vice chairman), Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem
NEW JERSEY – James Betner, Delaware Valley Baptist Church, Willingboro
OHIO – Becky Cavannaugh, Logan Elm Baptist Church, Circleville; Greg Cooper, First Baptist Church Groveport, Groveport; Debbie Dobbs, Dublin Baptist Church, Dublin
OKLAHOMA – Tim Prock, First Baptist Church of Collinsville, Collinsville
SOUTH DAKOTA – Doug Hixson, Connection Church, Spearfish
TENNESSEE – Sam Rainer, Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville
TEXAS – Jason Paredes, Fielder Road Baptist Church, Arlington

4/21/2015 10:57:20 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

‘Names don’t matter’ says small group specialist

April 20 2015 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Small groups may be called by different names, but they should all have the same goal. So whether they’re known as Sunday School classes, small group Bible studies or something else, the goal of a groups ministry in the local church is to make growing disciples of Jesus Christ.
“There has been an era in group life when creating Christian community was more important than people becoming mature disciples,” says Rick Howerton, small group and discipleship specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources. “We need to make disciples, not just help people make friends.”


BSC photo by Chad Austin
“We need to make disciples, not just help people make friends,” says Rick Howerton, small group and discipleship specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources.

Howerton recently spent the day with pastors and church leaders from across North Carolina for a hands-on workshop titled “Small Groups and Sunday School: Side-by-Side.” The event was sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and held March 26 at First Baptist Church in Garner.
Throughout the day, Howerton led attendees through a series of interactive discussions and activities that helped them evaluate their ministry situation and think through whether having Sunday School, small groups or a combination of both would be correct in the context of their church.
Plus, he sought to dispel some of the prevailing myths about Sunday School and small groups.
“Some people think that starting small groups will kill Sunday School,” Howerton said. “It will not kill Sunday School. It will enhance Sunday School.”
In fact, Howerton said he doesn’t think of Sunday School and small groups as being separate entities. Instead, he views them collectively as groups, which operate under the same umbrella.
“Sunday School classes and small groups are the same thing,” Howerton said, adding that healthy groups can promote growth and life change in their members whether they meet at church on Sunday or in homes during the week.


BSC photo by Chad Austin
Breaking into smaller groups allowed the participants in a recent Sunday School/small group training event to discuss their respective church ministries.

For those considering adding new groups or transitioning to a new groups model, Howerton offered some practical and helpful counsel to church leaders. He encouraged them to be prayerful and patient when embarking on change. Cast a compelling vision and work to gain the blessing and support of church leadership.
When working to build consensus within the congregation, Howerton suggested calling any new approach to groups an experiment, instead of a new ministry.
Several attendees said they were encouraged to hear that Sunday School and small groups don’t have to be either-or propositions, and that groups share a common purpose of reaching others and making disciples.
“It was helpful to hear that Sunday School and small groups can coexist,” said Mike Williams, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Burlington. “You don’t have to change something that’s working, but there are other approaches that can help you reach new people.
“The format or the method doesn’t matter as long as it’s biblical and as long as it’s making disciples of the Lord Jesus.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chad Austin is the communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)

4/20/2015 3:53:03 PM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Conference calls broken, healed to live the gospel

April 20 2015 by BR staff

“Broken enough to care, healed enough to dare” was the theme of the 2015 North Carolina Baptist Missions conference, sponsored by the North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM; also known as Baptists on Mission). Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem hosted the conference on April 10-11.
Three plenary speakers encouraged approximately 1,400 participants to reflect on the grace God has shown them despite their own brokenness, and then to consider how they might reach out to others with the gospel.
Dana Brown, NCBM advisory team leader for the Roma Gypsy partnership, shared the complex, emotional story of how she and her husband have sought adopt a young girl from the Roma people. After three years of legal successes and setbacks, they continue to look for ways to complete the adoption and reach out to Elza and her family in Ukraine, according to Brown.
Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky. and author of Not a Fan, preached in the Friday evening session.

BSC photo by K Brown
Richard Brunson, right, presents Jack and Cathy Ollis, members of First Baptist Church in Black Mountain, with the Volunteer Lay Couple of the Year award.

“How was your mission trip?” is the question Idleman posed to conference attendees. He said that most people answer that question by referencing projects and tasks. Idleman imagined asking Jesus the same question. Jesus would respond by telling stories of broken people who had experienced the grace of God, he said.
He dubbed such stories of redemption – where God’s grace intersected with human sinfulness – “beautiful collisions.” Idleman urged listeners to become collectors of beautiful collision stories, because those are what make up the Gospels.
He told stories from ministry experience of how God’s grace had impacted the lives of people in painful, and sometimes tragic, situations.
“Unless we experience brokenness, and God’s redeeming power in our lives, we really won’t understand grace,” he added.
Bryan Lorritts, pastor of Fellowship Memphis in Memphis, Tenn. and future pastor of preaching and mission for Trinity Grace Church in New York City, spoke during the Saturday morning session. Teaching out of Ephesians 2, Lorritts urged listeners toward more diverse congregations, if their community warrants it. “I do not believe every church should be multi-ethnic,” He stated. “If your community has black and white and Asian and Latino [people], and you believe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world … can we at least hear what God has to say on the matter?”
He called Southern Baptists’ efforts in missions “unparalleled” and praised their election of an African-American president, Fred Luter, who led the convention after his election in 2012 and re-election in 2013.
Lorritts chastised many conservative evangelicals for reading Ephesians 2 only until verse 10, when the epistle begins to address horizontal reconciliation.
“Horizontal reconciliation only works when I point week after week to Jesus on the cross,” he said.

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Bryan Lorritts, a Memphis pastor soon to move to a New York City church, challenged N.C. Baptists to move toward multi-ethnic churches.

What does Paul do with new believers from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds? He forms one church, said Lorritts.
“The church in America has resurrected the walls that Jesus worked to demolish,” he said, referring to how the Jewish synagogue was divided into parts where others could not go.
Not much has changed since Martin Luther King Jr. declared the 11 o’clock hour as the most segregated in America, Lorritts said. With 300,000 worshiping communities (including all religions) in the United States, only 7.5 percent are considered multi-ethnic. Among churches who claim Jesus as Lord, he said that number drops to 2.5 percent.
The church and the university Greek organizations are the “last two bastions of segregation,” Lorritts said.
“What this world needs is a church that preaches the gospel in all of its dimensions, a church that preaches all of Ephesians 2,” he said.
Lorritts encouraged churches to be intentional about reaching everyone. “Racism didn’t just happen,” he said, there were “intentional, organized steps” to keep races apart.
“Never get so grown in your theological development that ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’ fails to move you. God didn’t wait for me to clean up my act. He knew I couldn’t clean up my act at all. You are in the Kingdom because of God’s grace and God’s grace alone.”
Lorritts emphasized the need to share that grace with others.
David Nasser, popular speaker and senior vice president for spiritual development at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., gave the Saturday afternoon message.
He called attention to the two parts of mission that Jesus exemplifies in John 6:  message and method.
“Jesus shows us not just his words,” Nasser said, “but the very way that He delivers them. And it’s costly.”
“Fightin’ words” is the label David Nasser gave to Jesus’ statement in John 6:35. “I am everything, and without me you have nothing” is what Jesus was communicating, and that is offensive to some people, according to Nasser.
Nevertheless, Nasser said, that is the message Christians proclaim no matter the kind of mission work they’re doing – whether it’s medical missions, food distribution, English-as-a-second-language, education or construction work. “Different methods, one message.”
Nasser also used the story of Jesus feeding the multitude – after a child offered to share his fish and loaves – to show how God lets people join His ministry. “The best part of the story is not that a kid decides to share,” said Nasser, “it’s that Jesus lets him.
“He could have fed them without the kid’s involvement,” he added, “but isn’t it great when God decides to use you to do the miracle?”
Nasser explained how Jesus’ method is important, along with His message. Jesus used the physical hunger of the crowd to talk about the spiritual famine they were experiencing, according to Nasser. “He meets their momentary need, and the next day, they come looking for more,” he said, “That’s when they run into the undeniable, loving, honest gospel.”
Grammy-winning artist and author, Laura Story, led musical worship for each of the general sessions.
Breakout sessions took place mid-morning to early afternoon on Saturday, covering various aspects of NCBM ministries: agriculture missions, aviation missions, Baptist educators, disaster relief and recovery, food outreach, medical and dental ministries, food outreach, sports ministry, international ministry and others.
Hands-on breakouts were also available where participants could engage in activities that included prison ministry, expectant mothers ministry, homeless ministry, senior adult ministry and evangelism.
A dinner was held on Friday evening for volunteers either involved in or interested in any of the NCBM ministries.
The 2016 missions conference is scheduled for April 15-16 at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte.
4/20/2015 3:43:10 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Syrian refugees to hit 4 million; Baptists continue serving

April 20 2015 by Evelyn Adamson, Baptist Press

Syria entered its fourth year of conflict in March with the grim report that an estimated 220,000 people have been killed since fighting began in early 2011. In addition, registered refugee numbers soon will hit the 4 million mark, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Amid such trauma, Christians continue to have unprecedented opportunities to share the Good News.
“The worst humanitarian crisis of our day is opening doors among peoples we have never had access to before, and we are finding not just broken lives but open hearts,” said James Keath*, International Mission Board (IMB) strategy leader for North Africa and the Middle East.
Keath and other Christian workers live in the midst of the Syrian refugees’ daily suffering, but they are passionate about the reality of God’s love and an openness to share that love.


Photo by Jedediah Smith
Deeply suffering from the staggering effects of the ongoing Syrian war, many Syrian refugees, the majority of whom are Muslim, welcome the helping hand of many of the Christians they encounter and are open to the gospel message.

Thousands of Syrians, weary from violence as well as dwindling food and medical supplies, continue to flee their country for a safer life elsewhere. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have set up camps along their borders.
Many relief agencies, however, have seen donations take a steep drop, as the world seemingly becomes callous to the stream of horrific tales from refugees and refugee agencies.
Throughout the conflict, Baptist churches from the United States have worked in various ways to help Syrian refugees have access to lifesaving aid and to advocate for them both in the U.S. and overseas.
New Bethel Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Miss., for example, has taken generous steps to ensure they are doing their part to demonstrate God’s love to Syrian refugee families.
Seeing detailed reports about the religious and ethnic violence within Syria and Iraq last fall, New Bethel took action. Instead of collecting a Sunday morning offering for their new building project, New Bethel opted to send the money through Baptist Global Response so refugees could be supplied with food, blankets, medicine and shelter.
“I just really felt a burden that the folks in Iraq and Syria – those persecuted Christians and minorities – needed food and water and shelter and medical care more than we needed our building, even though we do need our building,” New Bethel pastor Curtis Pace said.
Many pastors in Syria elected to remain within the country in order to minister to the millions of internally displaced Syrians.
With war and the self-proclaimed Islamic State encroaching on their homes, Syrian pastors fix their gaze on the seemingly endless needs of suffering people and plant their faith firmly in Jesus Christ.
One Baptist pastor said, “I am staying ... I am staying for the church, to keep the message of Jesus as a light for the lost and frightened. [And] I am staying because the harvest is plentiful.”
The pastor quoted the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, “‘Oh that my head was water and my eyes were pools of water, that I may cry for the dead of my people,’“ then added, “Even though we are living in difficult times, let us not stop being faithful to our Lord.”
Through organizations like Baptist Global Relief and Global Hunger Relief, Baptists around the world are able to help feed, clothe, house and provide medical care for refugee families in Syria and across the Mideast.
“We have a God-given moment in history,” said Don Alan*, a Christian worker in the region. “Will we be cowards and shrink back or will we play the role that God is calling us to? I pray that you [the church] will stand with us as we respond to this window of opportunity that we have been privileged to be a part of.”
For more information about sharing hope with Syria’s refugees, go to 10 Ways to Help.

For an interactive in-depth timeline of the Syrian crisis and how God has used Southern Baptists to minister amid the upheaval, click here.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evelyn Adamson is a writer for the London Bureau of Baptist Press.)

Related Stories:

Prayer plea for Syrian Iraqi Christians voiced by Floyd
Looking for home
Two Mideast realities

4/20/2015 12:05:45 PM by Evelyn Adamson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tenn. turns back Bible as official state book

April 20 2015 by Baptist Press staff

The Bible will not become the official state book of Tennessee – at least not this year.

The Tennessee Senate voted 22-9 to send the Bible bill to committee April 16, effectively killing the measure after it had passed the House of Representatives the previous day by a 55-38 margin.
The bill was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Jerry Sexton, a first-term Republican from Bean Station, and Sen. Steve Southerland, a 13-year Republican veteran from Morristown and deputy speaker of the Senate for four years.
The bill proposed that, “The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book.”
From the outset, the bill’s supporters faced a number of detractors. While Sexton and Southerland said making the Bible the official book of Tennessee simply acknowledges the Bible’s role in Tennessee history, both past and present, opponents – including Republican Gov. Bill Haslam – said it violated the Tennessee constitution and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Attorney General Herbert Slatery III issued a four-page legal opinion April 13 declaring that the bill violates both the state and federal constitutions.


Sexton, in an interview with the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector earlier this year, had anticipated such opposition. “Making the Bible our official state book isn’t a violation of either our [Tennessee constitution] or the U.S. Constitution. ... To preclude the Bible simply because it is religious in nature is anathema to the First Amendment.”
Such a designation “doesn’t require that people read it any more than making ‘The Tennessee Waltz’ the state song would require people to sing it,” Sexton said. “It is about recognizing the Bible’s historical role in Tennessee, and that history is undeniable.”
When both the state and federal constitutions are examined line by line, Sexton said, “You’d be able to see that in making the Bible our official state book, it in no way violates either document. It doesn’t violate anyone’s conscience to believe in – or not to believe in – God the way they choose, it doesn’t compel anyone to attend or support any place of worship, it doesn’t establish any religion or provide any preference to religion, and it isn’t being set forth as a requirement for qualification for any state office.”
Slattery, however, stated in his legal opinion, “Legislative designation of The Holy Bible as the official book – as an official symbol – of the State of Tennessee, when viewed objectively, must presumptively be understood as an endorsement of religion and of a particular religion.
“Irrespective of the legislation’s actual purpose, common sense compels the conclusion that designation of the Bible as the official state book in practice and effect conveys a message of endorsement,” Slattery wrote. “Such an endorsement violates the Establishment Clause of the federal Constitution, regardless of whether the message of endorsement is intentional or unintentional and regardless of whether the message is conveyed in reality or only in the public perception.”
Noting the Tennessee constitution’s stipulation states that “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship,” Slattery described it as “substantially stronger than the federal protection against government endorsement of religion or of a religion.”
Southerland spoke from the Senate floor, becoming emotional at times, in support of the bill, The Tennessean newspaper reported. “The Bible,” he noted, “has great historical and cultural significance in the state of Tennessee.”
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris led the effort to stop the bill in the Senate, according to the newspaper.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey opposed the legislation, saying it belittles the Bible by placing it next to state symbols, The Tennessean reported.
“I am a Christian, but I am also a constitutionalist and a conservative,” Ramsey said in a statement as reported in the newspaper. “It would be fiscally irresponsible to put the state in a position to have to spend tax dollars defending a largely symbolic piece of legislation. We don’t need to put the Bible besides salamanders, tulip poplars and ‘Rocky Top’ ... to appreciate its importance to our state.”
According to both the Associated Press and The Tennessean, referring the bill to committee allows supporters to pick up the campaign again next year.
Southerland told The Tennessean he had picked up three votes from senators who were not co-sponsors, “so we’ll see next year.”
A similar bill in Mississippi died in committee, according to information at the state website. Republican Rep. William Arnold, senior pastor of The Vineyard Church in Booneville, had proposed the bill. The legislation also was introduced in the state Senate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press. This article also includes reporting by Chris Turner, director of communications for the Tennessee convention, and William Perkins, editor of The Baptist Record of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.)

4/20/2015 12:01:16 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Students gain insights into SBC & its leaders

April 20 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

For seminary student Jamin Eben, the inaugural Student Leadership Conference cosponsored by two Southern Baptist entities proved doubly beneficial.
Eben, a third-year master of divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the event provided “a much better understanding of the nature and day-to-day shape of the cooperation that makes up the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).”
“The core of Southern Baptist identity is not structure but cooperation, and the leadership conference truly brought that out,” Eben said via email.
The first-time event also helped by exposing him to various Southern Baptist pastors and leaders, Eben said.
“Leadership is desperately needed in the church today,” he said. “However, styles of leadership are so diverse that as a young leader I often wonder how to work toward my own development. Seeing a vast diversity of godly leaders helped me think through my own development a great deal.”
Eben was among 62 participants – primarily students with some faculty and staff members – from three SBC seminaries and seven Baptist colleges or universities at the March 26-27 conference in Nashville. The conference, cosponsored by the Executive Committee (EC) and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), was held in conjunction with the second annual ERLC Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation.”


Photo by Alli Rader
ERLC President Russell Moore responds during the Question & Ethics segment that was part of the Student Leadership Conference March 26-27 in Nashville. Phillip Bethancourt (left), the ERLC’s executive vice president, listens in his role as moderator.

Between and after sessions of the ERLC Summit, students interacted with Southern Baptist pastors and entity leaders. They also had the opportunity to ask questions of them in panel discussions at three meals during the summit.
Frank S. Page, president of the Executive Committee, explained the work of the EC and the convention at the March 26 dinner before joining three pastors for a question-and-answer session. ERLC President Russell Moore responded to students and other guests at a Question and Ethics segment during the March 27 dinner break. Six LifeWay Christian Resources staffers on a panel fielded questions at a March 27 luncheon sponsored by the entity.
Page said the student conference enabled the Executive Committee to engage in its assignment from the convention of building cooperation – specifically in this case “to encourage students in their understanding of and appreciation of the work of the convention.”
“We were able to connect personally, as well as to share information,” Page said. “It was a wonderful time of connection and networking. We are hopeful this event will encourage cooperation in the days ahead.”
The goal of the student conference “was to invest in next generation leaders by growing them as leaders, networking them with key SBC leaders and educating them on how the SBC works,” said Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC’s executive vice president who emceed the dinner programs.
“We hope this will become an annual event that strengthens the SBC’s connection to younger leaders,” he said. “Imagine the impact on the denomination after a decade if 500-plus key SBC leaders have attended this event and shaped their ongoing commitment to investing in the SBC.”
The conference developed from a model used by Southern Seminary, Bethancourt said.
Each spring, Southern’s Student Life office takes its ministry leadership interns to Nashville to meet those who serve the SBC at entities in the city, said Jeremy Pierre, the seminary’s dean of students and an assistant professor of biblical counseling.
“We want them to see models of faithful leadership so that they might grow into better leaders themselves,” Pierre told BP by email. “We also want to increase their appreciation for and dedication” to the SBC.
“At the ERLC Summit, our students witnessed careful thinking on a sensitive topic,” Pierre said. “Race relations is full of potential for misunderstanding and hurt, and we saw displayed a mature love for people, as well as a mature love for God’s Word.
“In addition, the folks at LifeWay and the Executive Committee demonstrated a heart for the mission of the gospel and strategic energy for accomplishing it,” he said. “The students had high praise for everything. And they’d tell me if they thought otherwise!”
For Anderson University in Anderson, S.C., it was the first time for its students to make a trip to Nashville for such an event, sending five students and two faculty members.
Tim McKnight, assistant professor of Christian studies at Anderson, aimed “to introduce our students to the important work the ERLC is doing related to engaging cultural issues with a Christian worldview and particularly from a Kingdom perspective. Particularly, we were excited about them learning how a Christian worldview and Kingdom perspective relate to the issue of racial reconciliation.”
Anderson’s students “learned how our convention seeks to engage our culture by holding out the truth in love,” McKnight said via email. “They learned that racial reconciliation is an outgrowth of the Gospel’s message of reconciling man with God and man with man. They heard how they can engage sensitive cultural issues by holding out the truth of scripture with the love of Christ.”
The students also were “able to hear firsthand from leaders within our convention and hear their hearts for engaging our nation and the world with the gospel,” said McKnight, who expressed gratitude “for the opportunity and generosity extended to our students” by the Executive Committee, ERLC and LifeWay.
In addition to Southern Seminary and Anderson University, students from the following schools also attended: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth; Criswell College in Dallas; Dallas Baptist University; Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.; Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.; Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and the University of Mobile (Ala.).
Joining Page Thursday evening in answering questions about ministry and the SBC were Nathan Lino, senior pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, and Vance Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas. Jon Akin, senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tenn., moderated the question-and-answer time.
LifeWay staff members who addressed such topics as Bible translations, discipleship, church planting and digital technology at Friday’s luncheon were Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project; Mark Dance, associate vice president for pastoral leadership; Micah Carter, spokesperson for the Holman Christian Standard Bible; Todd Adkins, director of leadership; and Daniel Im, church multiplication specialist. Jonathan Howe, director of strategic initiatives, moderated the panel.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

4/20/2015 11:55:22 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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