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Episcopal Church censured for gay marriage stance

January 18 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Archbishops of the Anglican Communion have responded to the Episcopal Church USA’s decision to permit same-sex marriage by suspending the church from full participation in the communion for three years.
 
According to a Jan. 15 communique from Anglican primates, a majority of 39 bishops present during a Jan. 11-15 meeting in Canterbury, England, adopted a series of recommendations concerning same-sex marriage, including one that for three years the Episcopal Church USA “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
 
The Episcopal Church USA’s decision last summer to amend church canons to allow marriage between people of the same gender “represent[s] a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage,” the recommendations stated.
 
The archbishops acknowledged “deep differences that exist among us concerning the understanding of marriage” but noted, “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.”

 
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The communique added that the archbishops “condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation.”
 
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is regarded as a “first among equals” among Anglican archbishops by virtue of his office, said at a Jan. 15 press conference the U.S. Episcopal Church is not being sanctioned or punished.
 
The Episcopal Church USA changed a “basic understanding of doctrine, ahead of the rest of the communion and without consultation,” Welby said according to the Anglican publication Church Times. “We are not sanctioning them. We do not have the power to do so. We simply said, if any province, on a major issue of how the church is run or what it believes, is out of line, there will be consequences in their full participation in the life of the communion.”
 
A report by the Belfast Telegraph highlighted Welby’s apology during the press conference for the Anglican Church’s role in persecuting people for their sexuality. He pointed to Africa in particular, where some nations outlaw homosexual behavior.
 
“I don’t have the right to speak for everyone,” Welby said according to the Telegraph. “I wanted to take this opportunity ... to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and present, the church has caused.”
 
U.S. Episcopal Church archbishop Michael Curry, who is African American, compared the archbishops’ action to the injustices of slavery and segregation.
 
“I stand before you as your brother,” Curry said according to the Church Times. “I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then, even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.”
 
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said conservative bishops “forced this issue” but “did not get everything they wanted.”
 
Still, Mohler said Jan. 15 in his daily podcast The Briefing, “it is a very significant development that it is the Episcopal Church USA that was singled out by its sister churches in the Anglican Communion as the outlier, as the one that is outside the bounds, the one that has violated the authority of scripture.”
 
A spokesman for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, an organization that seeks to foster renewal in mainline denominations, said the suspension is not a “formal schism” though there will continue to be “broken communion” between “various Anglican provinces and the Episcopal Church.”
 
“This sanction is the ecclesiastical equivalent of being placed in ‘time out,’” Walton wrote in a blog post. “But the goal of ‘time out’ is to change behavior, and the Episcopal Church has clearly spoken that it will not deviate from its chosen trajectory.”
 
The Anglican Communion is comprised of 85 million people worldwide who are part of national or regional churches that call themselves Anglican or Episcopal, according to the Anglican Communion website.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/18/2016 12:41:31 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Baptists speak about Sanctity of human life

January 15 2016 by BR staff

Churches across the U.S. mark their calendars each year to celebrate the value of human life. Jan. 17 is the date for 2016, and it serves as a reminder of the fateful Jan. 22 Supreme Court decision in 1973 to legalize abortion nationwide. Pastors and other Christian leaders use this Sunday to reinforce the biblical conviction that all life is precious, even life in the womb.
 
The Biblical Recorder asked some North Carolina pastors what the “sanctity of human life” means to them. Here are their responses:
 
Clay Smith, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Matthews – Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” For every murderous act commissioned upon the helpless life of an infant, we too, as the church, should examine our own sinful acts of omission regarding the denunciation of this murderous practice. I say this not as judge and jury, but as one convicted. I believe abortion is murder. I believe every life – no matter the circumstances of his or her conception – is made in the image of God and worthy of the dignity thereof. Yet, my tongue has too often been silent. It is time to speak up. It is time to make a difference.

 
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North Carolina pastors

Steve Scoggins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Hendersonville – One of my favorite pro-life verses is found in the Christmas story in Luke 1:41, “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb.”
 
Elizabeth was expecting John the Baptist. Mary was expecting Jesus. When John inside Elizabeth came into the presence of Jesus inside Mary, he leapt with joy! Notice the passage didn’t say that a mass of cells attached to the uterus jiggled. Inside Elizabeth was a person rejoicing in the presence of Jesus inside of Mary.
 
If a person is not pro-life when they consider that inside of every mother is a baby, then they must not understand what is happening inside. It could be that someone has tried to deceive them that they are simply getting rid of a problem. But if they see an ultrasound image, if they hear the beating of the little heart within weeks of conception, they will know, it is a baby! Babies need to be cherished and protected. That is the message of the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.
 
David Horton, president, Fruitland Baptist Bible College, Hendersonville – The 21st century secular worldview has great difficulty differentiating the value of human life from animal life and plant life. It is not uncommon to see bumper stickers that endorse “A Woman’s Right to Choose,” “Save the Whales,” and “Say ‘No’ to Clear-Cutting: Boycott Georgia Pacific” – all on the same vehicle! Over a century ago, one of Oscar Wilde’s characters, Lord Darlington, quipped about those who “know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” In regard to understanding the value of human life, many of our friends and neighbors have bought into a cheap philosophy peddled by anti-God secularists who know little of the value of human life.
 
If we are to make an accurate assessment as to the value of human life, we must start with the inception of human life. In contrast to the creation of plant and animal life, when human life was created, Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Genesis 2:7 adds, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The creation of human life was not an accident; it was God’s idea. God elevated the position of human life by creating humans in “His own image” and by breathing “the breath of life” into His human creation. A proper assessment of the value of human life must begin with these distinct truths or an inevitable devaluation will certainly occur.
 
Tony Merida, pastor for preaching and vision, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh – Sanctity of Human Life immediately makes me think of the doctrine of the imago Dei (image of God). This doctrine serves as the basis for the proper treatment of everyone – from the womb to the tomb, from black to white, from the rich to the poor.

Because God made all people, all people matter. They are worthy of dignity, value and love.

  • The massive number of inmates in prison should matter to us – we should visit them and minister to them.

  • The unborn should matter to us – we should defend them and advocate for them.

  • The orphan should matter to us – we should love them, care for them and consider fostering or adopting them.

  • The elderly should matter to us – we should visit them and care for them.

  • Girls being enslaved should matter to us – we should advocate for the voiceless and provide aftercare to the rescued.

  • People of every race should matter to us – we should give all men and women proper respect and equal rights.

  • The poor should matter to us – we should be concerned about their situation and seek to alleviate their need.

Think about this. Why is it that people visit Mount Vernon, Va., all the time? It’s because George Washington’s famous house is located there. We value that home because we value the maker of the home. And we should value people – all people – because we value their Maker. To dishonor any image bearer of God is to dishonor God Himself (Proverbs 14:31).
 
Ed Yount, senior pastor, Woodlawn Baptist Church, Conover – When Mother Teresa spoke at the President’s Prayer Breakfast in 1994 she said, “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murdered by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love but to use violence to get what ever it wants. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
 
I personally believe the Bible is a strong and clear advocate of the sanctity of human life. The word “sanctity” means sacred or holy. Life is sacred to God and therefore should also be sacred to us. David wrote of God carefully and meticulously forming us in our mother’s womb. Life is a miracle of God and is something to be respected, honored, and protected. We must diligently pray for the day when Roe v. Wade will be overturned and America will once again value and cherish that which has been made in the image of God.
 
Matt Capps, senior pastor, Fairview Baptist Church, Apex – Sanctity of life is about the biblical and theological belief that, according to Genesis 1:26-31, God intimately formed humans in His likeness as the crown of creation to reflect His image in the world. This is the basis of human dignity, and the foundation for protecting and nurturing the precious life that God has given to each and every one of us. Implicit in this belief is the conviction that killing, harming or even hating another person is an affront to and an attack upon the living God.

1/15/2016 12:37:09 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments



Struggling Arizona church embraces church plant

January 15 2016 by Jean Bihn, Portraits

Two years ago, members of The Church on Fillmore had to face facts: Their beloved church was failing.
 
A Phoenix institution, the downtown church began as a Bible study in 1938. Shortly after constituting as Parkview Baptist Church in 1942, the congregation purchased land near the then one-runway Sky Harbor Airport and constructed a building. In 1980, church members sold that site and bought a city block at 7th Avenue and Fillmore, inspiring a new name: The Church on Fillmore. Beautiful red brick church facilities were built.
 
Several years later, gentrification of the inner city began to displace many low-income families and homeless individuals, leading to declining attendance. Recent economic downturns added to the church’s trials.
 
Still, despite its struggles, God was not finished with the 73-year-old church.

 
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Phoenix, Arizona

Monty Patton, a local pastor and North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send City coordinator for Phoenix-Tucson, identified The Church on Fillmore as a possible site for a church plant. NAMB representatives asked Hillside Baptist Church in Phoenix and Open Door Church in Raleigh, N.C., to join them in a church-planting partnership. Also in the mix were Central Association of Southern Baptists, the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and, of course, the remaining members of the downtown church.
 
“Church on Fillmore members voted to allow a church plant to meet in their facility,” Patton says. “They were gracious enough to allow us to do that.”
 
Anthony Cox, who had completed Open Door’s pastoral training, was chosen to lead the new church plant.
 
Patton says of Cox, “The Father knew Anthony was the perfect guy for this. Not only is he extremely intelligent, he really seeks where the Father is working. I’m extremely impressed with him.”
 
Cox hit the ground running when he and his family arrived in June 2014.
 
“From the very beginning, I served in a pastoral relationship with The Church on Fillmore, with three bodies [Open Door, Hillside and The Church on Fillmore] embracing this idea of making disciples in the city,” he says.
 
Once he assumed the role of servant-leader at The Church on Fillmore, his heart became burdened for the struggling church. “It became a burden that could not be ignored,” he says.
 
Thirteen months later, on July 19, 2015, members of The Church on Fillmore held a covenant-signing service, voting to launch Mercy Hill Church in their historic location.
 
Charlotte Mroczkowski was a member of The Church on Fillmore for more than eight years.
 
“It’s night and day,” Mroczkowski says. “God brought the church back. It’s been a long haul, but it has been good it brought us closer. This church has love. The first time I came here, I felt the love.”
 
Another member, Pam Tate, says, “It’s nice to hear the babies in church. Members were aging; Anthony is bringing young people into the church.”
 
Cox says the goal was to meet people where they are.
 
“Our strategy was not to come in and take over and displace those who are on the margins,” he says, “but to meet them at the margins to build community together in partnership.”
 
The church has adopted a new vision while continuing the positive ministries of the past, such as its weekly food ministry.
 
In the future, Mercy Hill leaders hope to begin an equipping center for pastors and lay people to gain an urban experience within a local church context.
 
Cox says Mercy Hill’s mission statement best describes the church’s vision: We exist as a family of believers in Jesus Christ, who unite in Gospel, Community and Mission for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors.
 
“Not like family, but as family – a functioning family,” he says.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article appeared in Portraits at portraits.azsbc.org, newsjournal of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. Jean Bihn, a freelance writer and photographer, is a member of Mountain Ridge Baptist Church, Glendale.)

1/15/2016 12:30:34 PM by Jean Bihn, Portraits | with 0 comments



Bali: ‘Real spiritual darkness here’

January 15 2016 by Elaine Gaston, WMU

A light breeze carries the scent of cloves in through the open windows. To live on an island that smells this good could seem like a dream. Add to that Bali’s startling beauty and color: lush rice fields rimmed with coconut palms, waterfalls plunging down mountainsides and volcanic lakes with deep, clear waters. It sounds like paradise but obscures a deeper darkness.
 
“It is a blessing to live in a beautiful place,” International Mission Board worker Amy Kreisky* said.

 
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Built in 1663, this temple is used for offering ceremonies to the Balinese water, lake and river goddess Dewi Danu.

“We’ve lived in places that weren’t,” she said. “But the reality of it is once you get away from the tourist areas, there’s a real spiritual darkness here – a real spiritual heaviness that’s more part of our reality.”
 
Amy and her husband Clay,* have caught glimpses of the darkness during the years they’ve worked in Bali. Before they were married, Amy served in a remote village in an unstable African country.
 
“Sometimes we compare [this to] Amy’s time in Africa,” Clay said. “It was a difficult place to live, in a mud hut, with a war going on, and not too far from the sounds of gunshots. It was a difficult place to live, but [there was] a lot of spiritual fruit.”
 
Amy noted, “People there were hungry spiritually. Here, life is good. Life is easy for the people of Bali. They may say they’re poor, but compared to Africa, they’re not poor. And they’re not spiritually hungry.”
 
It isn’t a sense of complacency, however, that the couple feel is a serious barrier to Balinese understanding and accepting salvation through Christ. It is a spirit world that has to be reckoned with.
  “I think we’ve been awakened more to that spiritual reality, that there’s something keeping them in darkness, something keeping them blind, something keeping them from hearing the truth,” Amy said. “We’re more aware that there is a spiritual reality that we don’t see, but it is very real to these people and very real to this island.”

 

Things not seen

Dukuns, or shamans, are spirit mediums in Indonesia. In Bali, they are called “balians” and are often sought for healing if Western medicine has not solved an ailment. Because they are believed to be in touch with the spirit world and able to communicate with spirits, balians also are consulted for a variety of life issues, from infertility and physical ailments to matters of business or the heart. Some are also practitioners of dark magic.

 
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Family and guests bring special offerings of flowers and food to the gods when they visit a temple to attend a coming of age ceremony for young Balinese women. The offerings and ceremonies are meant to retain a harmonious balance between invoking good and averting evil spiritual influences.

Additionally, Balinese say there are people who can see the spirit realm. Clay and Amy have met such individuals, including one who became a Christian last year.
 
“This one girl who became a believer says she can still see into the spirit realm,” Clay said. “She says she has seen [spirits of] dead people – hopeless, wandering, meandering back and forth trying to find offerings. They haven’t found peace. So the Balinese say,
 
‘I’ve got to help my ancestor.’ To them, it’s very real.”
 
Amy said, “The more and more stories we hear from Balinese themselves, there’s got to be something behind it. We’ve got to accept the fact of spirits, demons, whatever, that are blinding and bothering them and keeping people afraid.”
  She said in Bali, there is a keen awareness that there are good spirits and bad spirits.
 
“[Balinese] spend their lives and their energy trying to appease both,” she said. “They make offerings to the gods so that the gods will be happy ... and they make offerings to the demonic spirits so that the demonic spirits will leave them alone.”

 

Underlying fear

Amy and Clay have been told stories of Balinese who have left Hinduism for Christianity only to have catastrophe strike them. “Something happens to them in the family – a wreck, a baby dies – and people think, ‘The gods are angry. I’ve upset the natural balance of things.’ They revert back to Hinduism because the gods are angry,” Clay said.

 
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Balinese Hindu rituals are a constant in daily life. Girls are brought up to carry out the offering rituals for their family as they grow up and continue them in their own home after marriage.

“They’re afraid of the ancestral spirits that [they believe] still live on this earth,” he said. “They’re afraid of being made sick by or bothered by the ancestral spirits. Even if somebody becomes a believer, it’s difficult to leave that fear behind.”
 
Amy said, “It’s something in their worldview that has to be addressed when you share the truth with them. You can’t just jump to Jesus. They need to know that God has power over these spirits. They need to know that these lower spirits are in submission to the one true God.”
 
On a recent visit to a village, Clay had the opportunity to talk with a Balinese man and explain how God created the spirits to worship Him. He explained how Lucifer became prideful and God cast him and a third of his spirits out of heaven.
 
“They’ve never heard that story,” Clay said. “The man in the village said, ‘So, it is enough just to worship the Most High God? I don’t have to worship the evil spirits?’”
 
*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S. Indonesia is the country of focus for the current International Mission Study by Woman’s Missionary Union. IMB workers featured in this study are supported through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering: imb.org/give. Find IMS study resources at imb.org/ims and wmu.com/IMS.)

1/15/2016 12:20:53 PM by Elaine Gaston, WMU | with 0 comments



Michigan church start ‘moving people toward God’

January 15 2016 by Mike Durbin, Baptist Beacon

Growing up in Metro Detroit, mile markers were a common sight to Travis Whittaker. Roads like Six Mile, Eight Mile, and Fourteen Mile help people know where they are in relation to the city.
 
In similar fashion, Mile City Church – the church that Travis and his team are planting near Detroit – uses mile markers to move people toward God.
 
“Where are you on your journey toward God?” Whittaker asked the crowd of around 350 people during the Sept. 27 launch service. “You don’t have to believe or behave a certain way to begin the process of moving toward God. Move toward God and He will move toward you.”
 
The message of moving toward God greets people even before they enter the auditorium of the church’s meeting space at Schoolcraft College. The carpet in the entrance looks like a road and banners on both sides display the nine mile markers the church uses to move people towards God: Weekends, Baptism, Daily Encounter, Group, Coached, Coaching, Team, Sphere and Generosity.
 
While all nine mile markers are on display, several were prominent during the launch service.
 
Whittaker shared how Mile City Church had been the recipient of incredible generosity from partners like 242 Church, Kensington Church, and the North American Mission Board. He acknowledged that without them, the church would not be where it is today.
 
Following the example of their generosity, Whittaker said, “We want Mile City to be known for radical generosity right from the beginning.” He challenged attenders at the first service to fill grocery bags the church handed out with food to bring back to the service the next week.
 
The food would be donated to help another church plant in Detroit, City Church, with their Thanksgiving food distribution to hundreds of people. The following Sunday, more than 200 grocery bags were collected and over $600 was given to City Church.
 
At the launch service, the Team mile marker was on vivid display as volunteers were everywhere from the parking lot to the auditorium. Teams were in place to set up, greet, teach children, lead in worship, control lighting and sound, and much more. Whittaker is quick to acknowledge the teamwork that makes Mile City weekends happen.
 
Whittaker introduced Shea and Andrea Prisk to their congregation at their launch service on Sept. 27. Shea joined the church’s staff as Connection pastor and Andrea is the church’s new Kids’ Programming Director. The couple also will begin steps to plant another church soon.
 
“On our launch day, we were excited to announce that we will be helping launch another church plant in the next couple years,” Whittaker said. “As many have invested in us, we will be investing in this amazing couple.”
 
The vision is for Mile City to be a church that plants churches.
 
“We wanted to put that in our DNA from the beginning,” Whitaker said. “Wouldn’t it be great for Southern Baptist Convention church plants in Michigan to think that way?”
 
Whittaker knows the incredible difference it makes when a church plant is connected with sending and supporting churches.
 
“When churches plant churches, it works a lot better,” Whittaker said. “We have a national organization that helps, but I feel fortunate that I also have churches that are helping me.
 
“If all I had was the national organization, it wouldn’t be enough. When two or three churches get together, it works better.
 
“I am having conversations with lead pastors that are personally investing in me. It’s priceless. I am hoping that by our example, that other churches in Michigan will connect together and back other planters to plant more new churches.”
 
Mile City has made progress in moving people closer to God.
 
“I can finally fit in a place with my daughter and we both get something out of it,” one man said following a service. “We finally found a home.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article appeared in the Baptist Beacon at baptistbeacon.net, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Mike Durbin is a missionary with the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.)

1/15/2016 12:14:49 PM by Mike Durbin, Baptist Beacon | with 0 comments



102-year-old returns to pastorates before ‘glory’

January 15 2016 by Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Witness

Woodstock Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., welcomed one of its former pastors to preach Jan. 10 – 102-year-old Oliver Everett (O.E.) Boals, who led what was called Woodstock Park Baptist Church during the 1950s.

 
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File photo
O.E. Boals

Gary Poplin, Woodstock’s current pastor, looked forward to meeting the man who had such an impact on the church. Poplin said there are current members who were baptized by Boals during his tenure there.
 
Boals has been a Southern Baptist preacher for 84 years, serving in churches across Florida. His longest tenure was at Jones Road Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where he served for 18 years.
 
To commemorate his 100th birthday in October 2013, Boals preached at First Baptist Church in Archer.
 
Poplin, who met Boals for the first time before the Sunday morning service, said the former pastor’s trip to Woodstock is part of his desire to “make his way around to all the different churches he’s pastored one more time before he promotes to glory.”
 
As Poplin sees it, “We’re excited to honor his legacy in this way.”
 
Poplin is connected to Boals not only through his church family, but his extended family as well: Boals baptized Poplin’s father-in-law and later went on to officiate his in-laws’ wedding.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Kalil is a writer for the Florida Baptist Witness at gofbw.com, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.)

1/15/2016 12:05:43 PM by Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Witness | with 0 comments



IMB reduces, reorganizes communication team

January 14 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The International Mission Board (IMB) announced in a Jan. 14 press release that it is closing its Richmond Communication Center and reducing on-site communication staff from 40 employees to 10. IMB will continue to use its “existing global network of communication teams and other trusted partners” for certain responsibilities normally assumed by the Communication Center.
 
No missionaries are affected by the new changes. Thirty affected staff will continue in their roles until April 29.
 
This personnel reduction comes as part of the organizational “reset” announced Aug. 27, 2015, in an effort to balance the budget and manage the resources given to the IMB by Southern Baptist churches.
 
“These are some of the kindest servants and leaders in the Richmond [Va.] office,” said IMB President David Platt. “IMB is indebted to them on many levels. In the days to come, we want to express our honor and appreciation for the countless ways these brothers and sisters have served Christ through the IMB.”
 
Social media became active with speculation about the changes the day before as staff began posting information online about the layoffs. The press release clarifies some confusion generated on social media, but questions remain.
 
The roles and functions of the remaining 10 employees on the communication team remain unclear. Anonymous sources said a new, smaller public relations department may be formed.
 
The organization’s budget fell $21 million short in 2014, raising total deficits to more than $210 million in the last six years. To remedy the continuing financial problems, IMB outlined a plan in August 2015 to reduce personnel expenses, which made up more than 80 percent of the total budget.
 
A two-phase personnel reduction plan was set in motion to lower employee numbers by 600-800, including missionaries and other staff. Phase one included a voluntary retirement incentive for qualifying employees that was in effect through the end of 2015. Phase two, which is a “hand raising opportunity” for all other staff, is effective until the end of February 2016. It allows employees to voluntarily resign and receive a moderate severance package.
 
IMB leaders project the voluntary phases of the plan to reduce personnel by at least 600, meaning no missionary layoffs will be required. Final personnel numbers are scheduled for release when phase two is completed.
 
See the full text of the press release below.
 
***
 
The International Mission Board is in a position, financially, where no missionaries will be required to leave the field as the organization wraps up its two-phase reset, IMB President David Platt announced Thursday, Jan. 14.
 
In the second phase of the IMB’s plan to address revenue shortfalls and complete a reset of the organization, leadership also announced details of a Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) during two town hall meetings. The HRO plan, leaders shared, offers missionaries and stateside staff members the opportunity to transition outside the IMB if they believe God is leading them to a new place of involvement in mission.
 
“While most will remain in their current roles, some may redeploy,” IMB President David Platt said. “I use that term ‘redeploy’ intentionally because no one is stepping onto the sidelines of mission in this process. These decisions are more about what place, role, responsibility or assignment people have in the mission of God.”
 
Sebastian Traeger, IMB executive vice president, presented specific details of the plan, which includes a package beyond the scope of a normal resignation. Personnel who elect the HRO will finalize their decisions by Feb. 22.
 
The HRO information was shared in two segments during the town hall meetings: first to missionary personnel, and then to staff, who are mostly based in Richmond, Virginia. Both groups attended in person or via Web conference and had information available online (after the meeting). The two meeting times allowed leadership to convey specific details that pertain to each group.
 
Active, long-term and short-term missionaries are eligible for the HRO. Missionaries can transition from the field over the next several months. All full-time and regular part-time staff are eligible for the HRO.
 
“These next two months put a responsibility in each one of our laps to seek the Lord concerning His will for our lives,” Platt said, reiterating two points to missionaries and staff. “First, on a biblical and theological level, IMB missionaries must each resolve to do all of our work around the world in glad, wholehearted alignment with the Baptist Faith and Message adopted by the 40,000 churches we represent.”
 
“Second, along these lines, those 40,000 churches expect each of us individually and all of us collectively to work diligently and wisely for the spread of the gospel around the world. In other words, they expect all of us to give the right effort that this mission requires, and this means we must hold one another to a high bar when it comes to our work.”
 

Difficult decision

In the midst of this two-phase process, Platt shared last August that IMB leaders would be re-evaluating systems and structures across the IMB not only because of IMB’s financial realities, but also to be the best possible stewards of the resources that churches have entrusted to IMB to get the gospel to the nations. During that evaluation, leaders made the difficult decision to eliminate the Richmond Communications Center as it currently exists, effective April 29.
 
“These are some of the kindest servants and leaders in the Richmond office,” Platt said. “IMB is indebted to them on many levels. In the days to come, we want to express our honor and appreciation for the countless ways these brothers and sisters have served Christ through the IMB.”
 
Thirty stateside staff have options that allow them to remain as employees until the Center closes April 29; 10 staff are being transferred to other positions. The change does not affect any missionary positions. The functions of the Richmond Communications Center, including Lottie Moon Christmas Offering promotion, will continue to be performed by IMB’s existing global network of communication teams and other trusted partners.
 
IMB leaders will not be eliminating any other teams, groups or departments during this two-phase organizational reset.
 

Final numbers

The two-phase plan originally was announced during an Aug. 27, 2015, town hall meeting when IMB leaders laid out a strategy to address IMB’s revenue shortfalls and complete a reset of the organization. The first phase of the organizational reset was a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) that became final in December.
 
As the two-phase process has progressed, IMB leaders have sought to guard the integrity of the process to avoid swaying IMB personnel as they make their decisions. Leaders indicated they strongly desire personnel to receive clarity from God regarding His leadership in their lives.
 
In November 2015, IMB leaders communicated that based upon the results of the Voluntary Retirement Incentive, coupled with this second-phase Hand Raising Opportunity, they project IMB will meet its need to reduce the total number of personnel by at least 600 people. Leaders plan to share final and official numbers at the end of this two-phase process at the end of February.
 
IMB will continue to post updates, including frequently asked questions and answers, online on IMB.org.

(EDITOR'S NOTE – K. Allan Blume, editor of the Biblical Recorder, contributed to this story.)

1/14/2016 2:28:23 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



WMU Executive Director Wanda Lee announces retirement

January 14 2016 by Julie Walters, WMU

Wanda Lee announced a search committee will be appointed to seek her successor as executive director/treasurer of national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) at the group’s board meeting, Jan. 9-11.
 
During the meeting, WMU also heard mission reports and addressed ways it is assisting International Mission Board (IMB) personnel who have elected to take a voluntary retirement incentive. The meeting was at Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega, Ala.
 
In her report, Lee said no date has been set for her departure. She pledged to continue to lead WMU until a new executive director is named and help facilitate a smooth transition.
 
“It is my duty to give sufficient notice and it’s my desire to ensure a seamless transition as the committee seeks someone with a fresh vision for our future,” Lee shared Jan. 11 at the meeting. “May God bless the new leader of national WMU as He’s blessed me on my leadership journey.”

 
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National WMU Executive Director Wanda S. Lee addresses Woman's Missionary Union executive board members, national and state WMU staff, and guests during the organization's board meeting, Jan. 9-11, at Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega, Ala.

Lee was elected executive director of national WMU in January 2000. She is the only woman in the history of WMU who also served as national president, an office she held 1996–2000. Lee served as president of Georgia WMU from 1993–1996. In addition, she and her husband Larry served as missionaries with IMB from 1979–1981.

 
WMU encourages sharing Christ ‘by all means’

Sharing the gospel “by all means” was the challenge woven throughout national WMU’s board meeting.
 
WMU board members, along with state and national WMU staff, heard from North American and international missionaries who are seeking to share the love of Christ to those around them.
 
Whether serving in Indianapolis like Barry and Amy Rager or in Canada like Susan Booth, or across the globe, each missionary who spoke shared he or she was a product of Royal Ambassadors (RA) or Girls in Action (GA). Many first felt called to missions at a young age through these missions organizations.
 
By All Means – the WMU emphasis to be launched in Southern Baptist churches across the country in September 2016 – highlights practical ways to share the gospel in today’s postmodern culture. It is based on the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22–23: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
 
National WMU President Linda Cooper said, “Jesus’ message in Matthew 28:19 was clear: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ We must go and share Christ in our everyday lives, by all means.
 
“The lost are not knocking down our church doors,” Cooper said. “They’re out there where we do life every day. We must be alert and look for ways to introduce others to Jesus ... by all means ... as we are going.”
 

Missionary support

At the three-day meeting, much focus was placed on tangible ways WMU is supporting IMB personnel who have elected to take a voluntary retirement incentive since IMB announced efforts to address budget shortfalls.
 
“We have grieved these missionaries coming home as a WMU family, with IMB, and with our churches,” Lee said. “But the world has come to our nation, and God, in His sovereignty, is bringing home one of our greatest resources – experienced missionaries who know various languages and cultures – and we need to help them during this transition.”
 
National WMU maintains a database of available missionary housing made available by churches, associations and individuals and make that information available to IMB to share with their personnel. In addition, many state WMUs are assisting missionaries as they return through special retreats, counseling, networking, updating resumes and monetary gifts, among other practical assistance.
 
“I pray this (reduction of field personnel) will wake us up out of our complacency,” Lee said, “that we will truly understand the depth of lostness in our world and embrace our responsibility to share Christ. This understanding begins through missions discipleship programs like Mission Friends, GA and RA that cultivate a missions heart. Along with providing these learning opportunities, we pledge our strong commitment to promote and support the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, Cooperative Program and Global Hunger Relief ... those cooperative efforts to sustain and grow support for Southern Baptist missions.”
 
David Platt, IMB president, expressed appreciation to WMU for their support and partnership during his report.
 
“Thank you for all that you do to advance the gospel and for the ways you are taking the initiative and coming alongside us to take care of brothers and sisters in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of,” he said.
 
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, also shared a report and expressed appreciation for WMU’s support and promotion of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
 
In other business, the Executive Board of national WMU:

  • Awarded nearly $184,000 in endowments, grants and scholarships in partnership with the WMU Foundation.

  • Approved $155 million as the 2016 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal.

  • Approved $70 million as the 2017 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering goal.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Walters is corporate communications team leader for WMU, Woman’s Missionary Union, based in Birmingham, Ala.)

1/14/2016 12:25:01 PM by Julie Walters, WMU | with 0 comments



Martin Luther King’s advice to pastors called key to revival

January 14 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Sixty years ago, the Montgomery Bus Boycott famously catapulted Martin Luther King Jr. to national leadership of the civil rights movement and led to the end of segregated public transportation in Alabama. Less commonly known is that the boycott occasioned advice to pastors by King that some Southern Baptists say they still take to heart.
 
King, in this 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom, recounted the struggle in Montgomery, then asked, “Where do we go from here?” Pastors, he concluded, were an important part of the answer.
 
“The important thing is for every minister to dedicate himself to the Christian ideal of brotherhood, and be sure he is doing something positive to implement it,” wrote King, then pastor of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. “He must never allow the theory that it is better to remain quiet and help the cause to become a rationalization for doing nothing. Many ministers can do much more than they are doing and still hold their congregations.”
 
Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, said “biblically-oriented pastors” took such advice to heart, noting that his predecessor, longtime First Baptist Montgomery pastor J.R. White, spoke “powerfully against the sin of racism.” White “pushed against the dark currents of his day with Christ-centered truth that eventually prevailed,” Wolf said.

 
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SBTS photo
Martin Luther King Jr. preached in Southern Seminary chapel in 1961 to a warm reception by faculty and students. King met with professors (from left to right) Henlee Barnette, Nolan Howington and Allen Graves.

Wolf said King’s call for pastors to be “moral and spiritual guardians within a community” remains “a compelling standard for a pastor’s ministry.”
 
The Montgomery Bus Boycott began Dec. 1, 1955, when African-American seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a crowded bus and subsequently was arrested for failing to obey the driver’s seat assignments. The arrest sparked a year-long boycott of city buses by blacks that ended Dec. 20, 1956, when a U.S. Supreme Court order took effect declaring segregated buses unconstitutional.
 
Reflecting on next steps following the boycott, King said some pastors are called to preach so boldly against racism that they may face persecution. He lamented that during the boycott, “the white ministers, from whom I had naively expected so much, gave so little” despite the fact that “racial segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we have in Christ.”
 
Terry Turner, pastor of the predominantly African-American Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, told BP King’s council is still relevant.
 
“Today we are 52 years after the abolition of the Jim Crow laws and our churches continue to experience segregation weekly,” Turner, a former president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said in written comments. White pastors must preach “to convert any prejudiced hearts that possibly exist within their congregations while black pastors have to preach against racism to comfort their congregations from the evils of racism they experience weekly.”
 
Although the United States no longer makes blacks second-class citizens by law, Turner said, “America has ... perpetuated the shame of racism by not teaching every person to love every people group as their own and has kept the races divided. The process of integrating the church must be intentional.”

 

‘The present segregated conditions’

During the 1955-56 boycott, few Southern Baptists were proactive in seeking to integrate their churches.
 
Leon Macon, then editor of The Alabama Baptist newsjournal, wrote on May 3, 1956, “As for our churches, the present segregated conditions were brought about by the expressed desire and wish of our colored brethren.” Any move to integrate the South’s social institutions should occur gradually and not “through sudden decisions and acts,” which “would cause violent repercussions.”
 
A 1956 report from Alabama’s Christian Life Commission noting the ongoing bus boycott criticized both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and pro-segregation White Citizens Councils as “extreme groups.”
 
The report, adopted by the state convention, said outlawing segregation was not the answer to racial strife and advised “the more independent negro ministers to meet with their neighboring white minister to discuss ways and means of eliminating the untoward tension.” Heated rhetoric on both sides without a moderate middle ground, the report said, was pushing white Christians to align themselves with extreme viewpoints.
 
W.A. Criswell, then pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, is an apparent case in point. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s third month, Criswell told the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s evangelism conference he was astonished at ministers “whose forebears and predecessors were martyrs and were burned at the stake” but who themselves refused to speak about “this thing of integration,” a message he later called “a colossal blunder and mistake on my part.”
 
In his address, Criswell said mandatory desegregation was “a denial of all we believe in.” Those in favor of government-mandated integration were “a bunch of infidels dying from the neck up.”
 
At the invitation of South Carolina’s governor, Criswell delivered a modified version of the same address before the state legislature the next day, according to news reports.
 
In a 1973 interview, Criswell said the heated segregationist rhetoric he used at the time “did not represent my heart.” Criswell said he became caught up in the moment because he “just seethed on the inside when those people up there [from the North] tell us how to solve racial problems.”
 
The heated rhetoric eventually gave way to a change of tone. In 1968, Criswell preached a sermon embracing racial integration at First Baptist Dallas, a message he said was symptomatic of an “an about face” in his manner of speaking, though his “soul and attitude” remained constant.
 
Criswell, who was elected Southern Baptist Convention president in 1968, told the SBC Executive Committee that year, “I’ve never had a battle in my heart ... as I have these last several years. Nobody on earth knew that was going on in my soul. And I came to the firm conclusion that I had to change.”

 

‘Christ-centered truth’ prevails

Apparently other Southern Baptists were experiencing similar transformations.
 
Rick Lance, current executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, was only five when the Montgomery Bus Boycott took place. In a 2013 interview with SBC LIFE, he recalled an African-American church bombing in his hometown of Birmingham seven years later. Four African American students about his then age of 12 were murdered while at church. “What happened in 1963 made an indelible impression on me,” he said.
 
“Early on in my ministry, I tried to lead my churches to open their doors to all people,” he said. “Some resistance remained to such efforts, but in the main, my church families began to see people as individuals of worth created in the image of God. They became more receptive to people from all backgrounds and all walks of life. This was no small victory for Southern Baptist churches in the Deep South.”
 
Wolf said that First Baptist Montgomery eventually integrated despite some disagreements among the congregation over admitting African-Americans, and Wolf has participated in prayer gatherings involving black and white ministers in Montgomery.
 
A church that does not speak against racism loses its moral and spiritual authority within its community, Wolf said, and likely will not be effective in evangelism.
 
“A great detractor from evangelism is racism,” Wolf said in written comments. “If people within the body of Christ cannot connect to each other in unity, then we prevent God’s electrifying Spirit from moving through us to generate our desperately needed spiritual awakening.
 
“In the same way electricity cannot travel over a broken wire, God’s Spirit cannot move through the sin of division, racism or classism,” Wolf said. “Therefore, we must clearly call people we influence to adopt the attitude of inclusion and acceptance prescribed by Christ: ‘Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God’ (Romans 15:7).”
 
As Americans commemorate what would have been King’s 87th birthday, Turner urged pastors to continue following the civil rights leader’s admonitions to speak out against racism.
 
“We must work to make our churches look like heaven,” Turner said. “Christian men, women and children must reach across the aisle and befriend and love people of other races. We are all praying for revival. However, Christians must work to abolish the problem of racism in America before God will send revival.”

1/14/2016 12:19:41 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



State of the Union addresses gay marriage, Islam

January 14 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama praised nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, warned against overemphasizing the threat posed by the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and touted American exceptionalism.
 
The hour-long address made no reference to abortion-related issues, including the attempt by conservatives to withdraw government funding from Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider. Obama proposed few legislative agenda items to the Republican-controlled House and Senate, opting instead to review some of his administration’s accomplishments. At times, he criticized 2016 Republican presidential candidates without naming them specifically.
 
On three occasions during the Jan. 12 speech, Obama referenced homosexuality.
 
First, the president said employing America’s “unique strengths as a nation” was “how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love” – a reference to last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Following a second, passing reference to homosexuality, Obama praised a hypothetical “son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught” as examples of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

 
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Screen capture from WhiteHouse.gov
“I stand here confident as I have ever been that the state of our Union is strong,” President Obama said in his final State of the Union address.

Regarding ISIS, Obama said the Islamic terrorist group “can do a lot of damage” but does not “threaten our national existence.” The way to defeat ISIS is through “a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power,” not through “calls to carpet bomb civilians” – an apparent reference to GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s statement that America should “carpet bomb” ISIS.
 
Cruz clarified in a Dec. 9 interview with National Public Radio that be believes “no responsible military action targets civilians” though war may involve “inadvertent collateral casualties.”
 
Obama told Congress, “As we focus on destroying ISIL [another name for ISIS], over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages – they pose an enormous danger to civilians. They have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That is the story ISIL wants to tell. That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.”
 
The president added, “We sure don’t need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.”
 
Later, Obama referenced Islam by name.
 
“When politicians insult Muslims,” he said, “whether abroad or fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. ... It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.” The world respects America “for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”
 
Obama took issue with “all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker,” another presumed reference to GOP presidential candidates. “America,” the president said, “is the most powerful nation on earth, period.”
 
He continued, “No nation attacks us directly or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office. And when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead. They call us.”
 
Additionally, the U.S. “has the strongest, most durable economy in the world,” he said.
 
Among Obama’s other emphases:
 
Climate change is both an environmental concern and an economic opportunity, he said, noting the growth of wind and solar energy technologies.
 
“Even if the planet wasn’t at stake,” Obama said, “... why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”
 
– The Iran nuclear deal represents “principled diplomacy,” he said. Iran “has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium, and the world has avoided another war.”
 
Obama did not mention 10 U.S. Navy sailors who were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Jan. 12 after their boats drifted into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf, CNN reported. The sailors were released Jan. 13.
 
– Obama expressed hope he and Congress can work together in 2016 on criminal justice reform, drug abuse treatment programs and anti-poverty initiatives.
 
The president concluded his speech, “I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people. And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the state of our union is strong.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/14/2016 12:07:49 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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