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Christian colleges divided on response to SCOTUS

July 13 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Though some Christian colleges and universities are extending benefits to employees’ same-sex spouses in the wake of the Supreme Court’s nationwide legalization of gay marriage, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) says it sees no legal reason for institutions of higher education to do so.
 
Meanwhile, the Weekly Standard reported that Senate Democrats are divided on whether religious schools that oppose gay marriage could lose their tax-exempt status.
 
Shapri LoMaglio, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ vice president for government and external relations, said Christian colleges and universities are not obligated by the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling to adapt employment, admissions or other policies to recognize same-sex marriage.
 
CCCU is an association of “181 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world,” according to the group’s website.
 
“The court’s affirmation of the First Amendment ensures that institutions will be able to maintain policies consistent with their religious convictions,” LoMaglio said in email comments. “The new legal status of national same-sex marriage paired with the First Amendment can be balanced to ensure that our country affords civil rights to all people, including religious people.”

 

Christian institutions of higher education do not face an immediate threat of losing their tax-exempt status or being held liable for discrimination as long as they “ensure that all of their policies are clearly tied to their religious beliefs,” LoMaglio said.
 
“At this point, there is no reason to believe that religious institutions, who do immense good by educating first-generation and low-income students, providing thousands of hours of volunteer time to their communities, and are institutions essential to the fabric of their communities, would be targeted to be penalized in this way for their longstanding religious beliefs,” LoMaglio said. “The test for tax-exemption is public good, and our institutions absolutely serve the public good.”

 
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Still, Belmont University in Nashville and Hope College in Holland, Mich., say they are offering benefits to the spouses of all legally married employees, including same-sex spouses. Neither Belmont nor Hope is affiliated with CCCU.
 
“Belmont has had a longstanding practice of not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Belmont vice president for administration and university counsel Jason Rogers. “This practice was confirmed in a written policy in January 2011.
 
“We were first asked to extend benefits to legally married employees of the same gender a couple of years ago. Since Belmont doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, we extended benefits to same-sex couples at that time and continue to offer employment benefits to legally married same-sex couples today,” Rogers said.
 
Belmont formerly was affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention but ended that relationship in 2007. In 2011, the university added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy in the wake of controversy surrounding the departure of a lesbian soccer coach.
 
Hope College, which is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, announced its decision to extend benefits to same-sex spouses in early July. But the college said same-sex weddings will continue to be forbidden in its chapel.
 
“In employment policy and practice, Hope College has always followed the state’s legal definition of marriage,” Hope President John Knapp wrote in a statement, according to Christianity Today (CT). “Spouses are eligible for benefits, so long as their marriage is legally recognized by the State of Michigan.”
 
After same-sex marriage was legalized in Indiana last fall, the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College both granted healthcare and other benefits to same-sex couples, CT reported.
 
Westmont College, Wheaton College, Azusa Pacific University and Messiah College all told CT they do not plan, in light of the Supreme Court ruling, to change their policies upholding traditional marriage.
 
Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver, president of Union University, wrote in the journal First Things that he is “deeply concerned about the impact the Supreme Court’s ruling might have on faith-based and other educational institutions” that hold to a traditional definition of marriage.
 
Based on statements made by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli during oral arguments before the high court, Oliver expressed concern that Christian colleges may lose multiple sources of government funding if they refuse to acknowledge same-sex marriage in their policies.
 
“There are more than 1,700 religiously-affiliated colleges and universities in our country, the majority of which hold to religious traditions that celebrate sexual intimacy within the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman. These institutions will not abandon these convictions for any tax benefit,” Oliver wrote.
 
“Because the Court found a constitutional guarantee to same-sex marriage,” he continued, “will faith-based institutions be faced with a decision to deny their convictions or lose their tax-exempt status? Will their students be denied Pell grants and other forms of direct-to-student government aid? The consequences could be catastrophic for private, faith-based education, secular education and the common good.”
 
Professors from at least three Christian higher educational institutions signed a statement affirming the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling and calling for additional steps “towards true equality for [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] individuals.” Among the signatories of “Evangelicals Respond to SCOTUS Ruling for Equality” were Daniel Kirk of Fuller Theological Seminary, David Gushee of Mercer University and Mark Achtemeier of the University of Dubuque.
 
Other notable signatories included Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif.; author and speaker Brian McLaren; and Justin Lee, executive director of The Gay Christian Network. After signing the document, Kirk announced on his blog that he would be leaving Fuller following the 2015-16 academic year. Fuller’s Community Standards define marriage as “an unconditional covenant between a woman and a man.”
 
Kirk, associate professor of New Testament, wrote in announcing his departure, “For a small window of time, I caught sight of a Fuller in which integrity on the sexuality issue meant having conversations whose faithfulness was measured by standards of academic investigation and conversation. For now, Fuller has chosen a different route. Integrity means ensuring that the stated position of the school is upheld and affirmed and not called into question.”
 
In related news, at least two Democratic U.S. senators told the Weekly Standard they believe religious schools could lose their tax-exempt status for refusing to recognize same-sex marriage in their policies.
 
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said, “You have the freedom to teach, to preach the way you believe without losing your tax-exempt status.” But “if you are affecting the rights of third parties, then you’ve crossed the line.”
 
Cardin added, “Employment is subject to protections. I’m not sure how it applies to Christian-run schools.”
 
Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois said deciding whether to revoke tax exemptions for schools upholding traditional marriage is “getting into a challenging area.” He would “have to think about it long and hard.”
 
Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, said they would not revoke the tax-exempt status of religious schools that oppose gay marriage.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/13/2015 2:18:05 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Iran grants imprisoned pastor Fathi early release

July 13 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Pastor Farshid Fathi, imprisoned in Iran for his faith since 2010, has been granted a Dec. 10 release from the notoriously brutal Rajai Shahr prison, two years earlier than expected, Elam Ministries has announced.
 
Ann Buwalda, a board member of the Iranian-led ministry that engages in evangelism and discipleship in the Mideast nation, called the early release “positive news which has greatly encouraged Farshid and his family. We join them in praising God for this development and for those who have made it possible.”
 
The reason for the early release was not given, but Fathi was informed July 4 of his new release date, and the news was revealed to the public two days later, Elam Ministries reported.
 

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Farshid Fathi

Fathi had been imprisoned since his arrest the day after Christmas 2010 at his home in Tehran and was originally taken to Evin prison. In a February 2012 trial, he was convicted of “action against the national security,” accused of “cooperating with foreign organizations and evangelism,” Elam Ministries said.
 
His original sentence of six years was extended by a year in December 2014 on false charges. He had been injured in an attack by Evin prison guards on April 17, 2014, and was transferred to the Rajai Shahr prison in August 2014 for unknown reasons.
 
In the attack on April 2014, the Thursday before Easter, an officer broke Fathi’s foot and toe and denied him medical treatment until Easter Sunday. With his foot in a cast, Fathi sent a message of forgiveness to Christians praying for his safety.
 
“Of course, we forgive them for all they have done to us because we are the followers of the One who says, ‘Father, please forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing,’” Fathi wrote, according to a letter posted on Elam Ministries’ website. “So my dear friends, please in these days pray for me that I may know Him and be found in Him and the power of resurrection.”
 
Buwalda requested continued prayer for Fathi as he nears his release. His wife and two daughters have lived in Canada since 2013.
 
Fathi is among an estimated 90 Christians imprisoned in Iran as punishment for their faith, according to Elam Ministries, including pastor Saeed Abedini, serving an eight-year sentence in Rajai Shahr prison.
 
Abedini was “viciously” beaten, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) reported June 10, prompting renewed calls for his release as a condition of any nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran.
 
A U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, Abedini has suffered beatings and at times been denied medical treatment since his September 2012 imprisonment for planting house churches years earlier. He had been held under house arrest in Iran since July 2012.
 
His wife Naghmeh has led a campaign for his release, aided by the ACLJ and other advocates. President Obama met with Naghmeh and the two Abedini children during a visit to Boise, Idaho, in January and promised to work for Abedini’s release.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

7/13/2015 2:09:00 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Evangelicals: Pope’s proposals likely to hurt poor

July 13 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Pope Francis’ proposals to remedy climate change will likely harm those he most wants to help, according to a Baptist seminary president and an evangelical spokesman.
 
The pope issued the Vatican’s first encyclical on environmental issues – “May You Be Praised (Laudato Si’): On Care for Our Common Home” – in mid-June, prompting widespread praise from those who stress manmade causes of global warming.
 
Others, including R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and E. Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation found shortcomings in the letter – especially regarding the effects on the poor of the Roman Catholic leader’s prescriptions.
 
Pope Francis’ 191-page letter on care for God’s creation addressed climate change in only four of its 246 sections. While he did not focus on government efforts, the pope endorsed public policies in one of those sections to dramatically reduce the “emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases” in the next few years – policies such as the development of sources of renewable energy.
 
The pope connects the plight of the poor with threats to the environment in his encyclical, but Mohler and Beisner said his recommended policies could actually perpetuate poverty.
 
“While fossil fuels are surely contributing to an increase in carbon emissions, it is hardly helpful to tell the poorest nations among us that they must forego immediate needs for refrigeration, modern medicine, and the advances of the modern age that have so extended and preserved life,” Mohler said in written comments. “At this point, there is no alternative to dependency on fossil fuels, and this is as true for the Vatican as for the United States and other advanced economies.”

 
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Pope Francis

A fossil fuel is material – such as oil, coal or natural gas – collected from the remains of ancient animals and plants.
 
Beisner, founder of the Cornwall Alliance, wrote a piece in The Washington Times that the policies endorsed by the pope “would slow, stop, or reverse the rise out of absolute poverty (less than $1.25 per person per day) for the world’s 1.3 billion poorest who have no access to electricity and rely on wood and dung as primary cooking and heating fuels.” Smoke from such sources, Beisner wrote, “kills about 4 million yearly.”
 
In addition, Beisner stated in the article, about 2 billion people “who left absolute poverty for merely severe poverty over the last 25 years would find their progress checked or, more likely, would be driven back into absolute poverty.”
 
Such policies, Beisner wrote, would reduce “access to the abundant, affordable, reliable energy absolutely necessary for any society to rise out of poverty, and available now and for the foreseeable future almost entirely from fossil fuels.” More than 85 percent of all energy use in the world is from fossil fuels, he wrote.
 
Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians have addressed creation care during recent decades. The SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) sponsored a seminar on the environment as far back as 1991, and messengers to the convention’s annual meeting have passed resolutions on global warming and other environmental issues in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
 
In its 2010 resolution, the convention called for prayer for the end of the massive oil spill that began in the Gulf of Mexico two months before. The resolution endorsed actions by the government and corporations to prevent future catastrophes, as well as prudent and safe energy policies. Russell Moore, now the ERLC’s president, was chairman of the Resolutions Committee.
 
In a 2007 resolution on global warming, messengers urged government officials to “ensure an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economies, and impacts on the poor” when contemplating policies to diminish emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
 
Mohler said the pope is correct in identifying “our care for creation as a theological issue.” As stewards of creation, he said, “we are called by the Creator to take care of the world He has made.”
 
Yet, Mohler said, “several of the pope’s central claims about climate change have more to do with the current scientific consensus than with theology.”
 
Beisner called the pope’s climate change sections “riddled with vigorously debated, if not outright false, claims.” These sections are based on “unsourced claims passed on by [the [pope’s] advisors,” he wrote in The Washington Times. Among facts not reflected in the encyclical, Beisner noted, are:

  • “Computer modeling, not real-world observation, is the only basis for fears of dangerous manmade global warming.”

  • On average, the more than 110 computer models relied on by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and “other climate alarmists ... simulate more than twice as much warming from enhanced atmospheric [carbon dioxide] as actually observed over the relevant period.”

  • No model “simulated the complete absence of statistically significant global warming over the past 16 to 26 years.”

As a result, the models “not only are not validated but are invalidated – falsified,” Beisner wrote. “Therefore they provide no rational basis for predictions about future global temperature, and no rational basis for any policy whatever.”
 
Beisner wrote his commentary after a copy of the encyclical was leaked a few days before the letter’s actual release. He stood by his comments after the encyclical’s official release. Beisner is a member of a Southern Baptist church, Palm Vista Community Church in Miami Lakes, Fla., and a former associate professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
 
Although evangelicals have been more active in recent years in speaking out on the environment, finding agreement across the board among those who identify themselves with the movement has been elusive.
 
More conservative evangelicals, such as Mohler and Beisner, expressed concerns about the pope’s recommendations, but a collection of leaders identifying themselves as evangelicals joined Catholic leaders in a statement from the left-leaning Faith in Public Life in sympathy with the pope’s encyclical. Among the signers were Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, Tony Campolo of the Red Letter Christian movement, Mitchell Hescox of the Evangelical Environmental Network, former Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw and Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt.
 
The pope, unlike many secular advocates for protection of the environment, called for care for vulnerable human beings, as well as for creation.
 
“[I]t is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life,” the pope wrote. “There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development.”
 
President Obama commended the pope’s encyclical, saying he is committed to “taking bold actions at home and abroad to cut carbon pollution, to increase clean energy and energy efficiency, to build resilience in vulnerable communities, and to encourage responsible stewardship of our natural resources. We must also protect the world’s poor, who have done the least to contribute to this looming crisis and stand to lose the most if we fail to avert it.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

7/13/2015 1:56:37 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Bosnian immigrant finds more than American dream

July 13 2015 by Karen Pearce, Baptist Press

Warmth enveloped Jasmine when she came up from the baptismal waters at Broadmoor Baptist Church. “Everything was warm around me and I was feeling happiness and like finally I’m complete,” she said. “I can say it now aloud ... ‘That’s me, that’s what I am, I am Baptist.’”
 
Although being Baptist is a common thing in Jasmine’s current home state of Louisiana, it is quite unusual in her home country. She grew up in Bosnia where Islam, Orthodoxy and Catholicism vie for prominence. She was born into a Muslim family – her grandfather was an imam. But her father was an atheist and her mother was never willing to be labeled.
 
“She always said there is just one God and God will help you. That was her way – to find God, to believe that He’s a savior, He’s a father,” Jasmine said. Her mother’s faith opened the way for Jasmine to seek.
 
Today, Jasmine knows that she has met the true God, Jesus Christ, and she has taken the brave step to publically declare her faith in Him alone for her salvation.
 
“I was worried about how they would use it against me in my country,” Jasmine said. But her father, who is now a believer, encouraged her to follow through with baptism.

 
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“I can say it out loud now, ‘That’s me, that’s what I am. I am Baptist,’” Jasmine, a Bosnian immigrant, said after being baptized by Donny Durr, minister of business administration at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, La.

“He said to me, ‘You are ready now, you accepted Christ, I don’t know what you are waiting for. Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid.’” she said.
 
Jasmine’s father still resides in Bosnia, living his faith despite the dangers, while Jasmine moved to Shreveport, La., two years ago, seeking a better future for her children. It was there that she came to know the God who had been caring for her all her life.
 
“He was like my father. Jesus Christ was my father and I didn’t know,” Jasmine said. “He always took my hand through the whole way and tried to show me, ‘That’s Me, that’s Me,’ but I didn’t understand.”
 
Jasmine held out three fingers and said there were three milestones in her journey.
 
First was God’s protection and provision when there was war in her country and she had to flee as a refugee as an 18-year-old girl. Second was the miraculous healing of her infant son a decade ago, a situation that compelled her father to become outspoken about his newfound faith in Christ. And third was when she met Mack and Pam Slocum at a Shreveport high school during her daughter’s freshman orientation two years ago.
 
Only one month after moving from Bosnia, she had no idea what to do. Mack offered a helping hand and an invitation to his Sunday School class. She knows God put him in her path to show her the way.
 
“He was like a foundation,” Jasmine said. “Whatever you do here [in America], it’s hard to begin, but God sent me that man. He is like part of the circle – God showed me Himself through Mack.”
 
Mack doesn’t think he did anything special. “It was clear she wasn’t from Louisiana and I’ve always felt like it was my responsibility to help people who need it,” he said.
 
Mack knew that she needed friends and thought a logical place to start was at his Sunday School class, so he invited her and she began to come regularly.
 
“As a teacher you can look into the eyes and see if there is understanding and I could see that there was confusion in her eyes and it was likely she wouldn’t bring it up around all those people,” Mack said. So when he and his wife were alone with Jasmine he offered to answer questions and explain things to her. He was the one who first helped her understand who Jesus is.
 
“This part was hard to understand,” Jasmine said, “but I called my dad and he explained everything from top to bottom [in their native language]. I understand now. He’s our Father, our Lord – this is right.”
 
The change in her life has been evident to Mack. “It is clear to me that she now has an understanding of the Gospel, salvation and who Jesus is,” he said.
 
Mack takes no credit himself but generously gives it to his Sunday School class at Broadmoor. They have been so good to Jasmine that her friends in Bosnia thought she was making them up.
 
“They thought it was too good to be true and she had to take pictures to prove she was telling the truth,” Mack said. “It’s incredible. I was so proud of our folks – good, kindhearted, loving people.”
 
Jasmine’s life, amid the miraculous milestones, has had some tragic chapters. Her mother died of leukemia a few years ago, her father is blind, and she herself has won a battle with cancer. She is beginning to build a new life in a new country with nothing but her family and faith, but Jasmine continues to praise God for all He has done for her. She reads her Bible daily and prays with thanksgiving.
 
“First thing I do I always say, ‘Dear God, You are my Father, You’re the greatest, You’re the only one, my Savior. Thank You for all the good You have done for me. ‘“
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen Pearce is a writer currently living in Shreveport, La.)

7/13/2015 1:37:48 PM by Karen Pearce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Let’s go to the NASCAR church

July 10 2015 by Mike Creswell, BSC

You don’t have to like NASCAR to be part of Mission City Church.
 
But for now, it helps.
 
That’s because the new church meets in the famous Joe Gibbs Racing shop in Huntersville, just north of Charlotte.
 
Enter the front door and you’re in a multimillion-dollar showroom of race cars that are faithful copies of the actual Toyotas that the four Gibbs teams have driven to NASCAR victories across the country. Lobby display windows are packed with trophies, awards and souvenirs.
 
The modern building is part executive offices and part garage. There’s even a window giving a look down at the outer garage area. But pastor Kyle Dillard says the real race cars are tweaked in a very secure garage behind closed doors, safe from prying eyes. He points down to a checklist where every bit of each highly sponsored car – down to the last nut and bolt – is tracked for repair or improvement.

 
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Kyle Dillard, pastor of Mission City Church, poses in the multimillion-dollar lobby of Joe Gibbs Racing, which is filled with replicas of the expensive race cars that win NASCAR races across the country.

Church services are held in a well-equipped auditorium that seats 90 people, though the fledgling congregation will need a few more months to fill it. The church started meeting just a year ago in the Dillard home. Several months later they were ready for an outside meeting place.
 
They tested the move by asking that God not let it rain on Sunday nights at 6 p.m. when they met. “It rained a lot last summer, but it never rained on a Sunday night,” Dillard said.
 
How did such a unique meeting place come about? It became possible only because Dillard got to know some of the Joe Gibbs Racing staff. “You can’t live in this town and not know NASCAR people,” Dillard said.
 
Finding suitable (and affordable) meeting places is one of the biggest challenges newly planted churches face across North Carolina.
 
Even with financial and other help from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) church planting team, new churches often must meet in schools or other public buildings. And that can require setting up a trailer full of seats, pulpits and sound systems each week.
 
“We are so glad we’re not having to do that every Sunday,” Dillard said. “Having this place to meet is such a blessing.”
 
The convention’s church planting team worked in partnership with churches, associations and networks of churches to help them start 103 new churches during 2014. That works out to a new church started about every three days on average. N.C. Baptists support this ministry as they give through the Cooperative Program and the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO).
 
Helping start new churches is one of the many ways the Baptist State Convention is helping reach North Carolina’s estimated 5.8 million lost people for Christ. The convention also has many resources to enable churches to become disciple-makers.
 
Dillard is one of about 150 church planters getting support from the church planting ministry. He says he has developed great respect for Richard Lee, the convention’s urban church planting consultant, who is working some 20 new church plants in the Charlotte area and comes by for regular meetings.
 
A music graduate of Appalachian State University, Dillard was a traveling Christian concert musician for years before he became a worship leader at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago’s suburbs, a mega-sized congregation that is one of the nation’s largest. Listen to Mission City Church’s praise band and you’ll hear that depth of experience reflected in the quality of their sound. You’ll also hear Dillard playing some serious trumpet.
 
He later served with Lake Forest Church in Huntersville and once commuted to Boston each week for seven months to lead worship on Sundays for a church there.
 
As Dillard and his wife prayed over church job offers from across the county, he puzzled over why nothing felt right.
 
“We prayed for God to show us some direction. He did, and here we are,” Dillard says, summing up on how they got into church planting in the Charlotte area, not far from his home town of Belmont.
 
NASCAR may be just a passing phase for Mission City Church, though. Dillard is feeling led toward the north Charlotte area, where a soon-to-open I-485 beltline is apt to spur rapid development like the loop did on the city’s south side a few years ago.
 
Maybe when the church eventually leaves the Joe Gibbs building, some of that famous NASCAR speed will go with them to hasten their church’s growth, come rain or shine.

7/10/2015 11:45:35 AM by Mike Creswell, BSC | with 0 comments



Chip Hannah slated for N.C. Pastors’ Conf. VP nomination

July 10 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Josh Phillips, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Norwood, announced that he will nominate Chip Hannah as the vice president of the 2017 North Carolina Pastors’ Conference.
 
“God has used him in an amazing way” during Hannah’s time at Peace Baptist Church in Whiteville, where he has served as senior pastor since 2005.
 
“Chip has a heart for the lost and a desire to see the church be discipled.”
 
 “In addition to Chip’s passion to serve at Peace,” said Phillips, “God has given Chip an amazing heart for pastors. Chip is a pastor to pastors, and a wonderful example of what a pastor looks like.”
 
The nomination is slated for the 2015 Pastors’ Conference, Nov. 1-2 at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro, preceding the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s annual meeting. “It Shall Not Return Void” is the theme for this year’s meeting.
 
Phillips was the conference’s 2014 president.
 
Officers are elected two years in advance. This year’s officers are: Michael Pardue, president & pastor of First Baptist Church of Icard in Connelly Springs; Joe Smith, vice president & recently retired pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Faith; Dale Robertson, secretary-treasurer and pastor of North Main Baptist Church in Salisbury.
 
For 2016, Cameron McGill, pastor of Dublin First Baptist Church, will serve as president. Brian Langley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Kure Beach, will be vice president, and Robertson will serve another year as secretary-treasurer.
 
7/10/2015 11:37:33 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Evangelicals support Israel, disagree on why

July 10 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With Israel in the news related to Iran nuclear negotiations and the formation of a coalition government following the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March, conservative evangelicals largely agree that Christians should support the Jewish state. But they don’t agree on the reason for that support.
 
“When you boil it right down, there’s not that much of a difference” in the policies most evangelicals believe the U.S. should adopt relative to Israel, said Chad Brand, editor of Perspectives on Israel and the Church: Four Views, published by B&H Academic earlier this year. The book explains four distinct belief systems among evangelicals regarding Israel, and Brand said there are yet others.
 
The four views identified in Brand’s book are the traditional covenantal view, the traditional dispensational view, the progressive dispensational view and the progressive covenantal view.
 
Among the debated issues are whether the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people; whether the Jewish people have a God-given right to the land on which the modern state of Israel sits; and whether God will maintain an eternal distinction between Jews and Gentiles.
 
Evangelicals who believe the Bible is inerrant ascribe to all four views outlined in the book. The labels Brand associates with these views commonly reference theological systems that address multiple issues, but the following descriptions are limited to how the various systems address the specific topic of Israel.
 
Southern Baptist Convention resolutions have expressed support for the modern state of Israel twice since 2002, but neither resolution addressed whether contemporary Jews are God’s chosen people in the same sense as Old Testament Israel. Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed the need to share the gospel with Jewish men and women, including in a 1996 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on Jewish evangelism.
 

Covenantal theology

Brand, who has served as a pastor and teaches adjunctively at two Baptist colleges, wrote in the book that the view some call “covenant theology” or “replacement theology” began to emerge by at least A.D. 130. Around that time, a Christian writing known as “The Epistle of Barnabas” argued that “the church, in effect, replaces Israel as the locus of [God’s] covenant, with no indication that Israel is still precious in God’s sight,” Brand wrote.
 
This view was held by Augustine of Hippo in the fourth and fifth centuries, John Calvin in the 16th century and the authors of the Westminster Confession in the 17th century. Many modern proponents of covenant theology – who can be found largely in Presbyterian and Reformed denominations – argue based on Romans 9-11 among other passages that a large number of Jewish people will come to faith in Christ during the last days of human history and be incorporated into the church.
 
Christians should support Israel, covenant theologians say, only when it behaves in a just and ethical manner, not because it has any continuing right to possess the Old Testament Promised Land. Along with strong support among some evangelicals who back Israel, replacement theology also has proponents among mainline denominations and other groups that tend to criticize Israel.
 

Dispensationalism

Ric Worshill, president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, holds the view commonly labelled dispensationalism. He believes Jews are still God’s chosen people in the same sense they were in the Old Testament and that Christians are required biblically to “bless” the Jewish people.
 
Dispensationalism, which started to gain popularity in the 19th century, asserts an ongoing distinction between Israel and the church and claims that God’s promise of land to Abraham’s descendants still has a literal fulfillment.
 
Jews as an ethnic group have been chosen since the time of Abraham “to be a kingdom of priests unto the nations,” said Worshill. And “throughout the ages,” God has used the Jews to illustrate that “without a Savior, no one is able” to follow Him.
 
Today, Jews and Gentiles alike receive eternal life only by trusting Jesus as their Lord and Messiah, Worshill said. He added that all living Jews will come to faith in Christ during the seven-year period dispensationalists call the Great Tribulation. Jews may continue to play a unique role in God’s economy following Christ’s second coming, Worshill said.
 
Protecting the modern state of Israel is a matter of obedience to scripture, Worshill said. “If we don’t, we will be judged for it,” he said.
 
Brand distinguished between “traditional” and “progressive” dispensationalists, with the latter seeing “some ... of the promises of the OT to Israel being applied to the church” and not specifically to modern Israel.
 
Dispensationalism enjoys broad popularity in America as evidenced by a 2014 Pew Research Center study which found that 55 percent of U.S. Christians believe God gave Israel to the Jews. A full 82 percent of white evangelicals hold that view, according to Pew.
 

The progressive covenantal view

Baruch Maoz, an American-born Jew who pastored a Baptist church in Israel for more than 30 years, did not attach a label to his view of Israel and the church, but it seemed to reflect what Brand labels “the progressive covenantal view.”
 
Maoz, who currently is in the United States and has led mini-conferences for Southern Baptist pastors, said God has not “replaced” Israel with the church, but “the church has entered into the blessings that were promised to Israel.” Under the new covenant, the distinction between Jews and Gentiles has been abolished and members of both groups are “gathered into Christ,” Maoz said.
 
It is an error to believe God has turned His back entirely on the Jewish people, Maoz said, adding that, based on Romans 9-11, he expects “a massive work of grace among the Jewish people in the future.” It is also an error, he said, to support Israel or the Jewish people politically regardless of their actions. Jews are not entitled to the Promised Land but were granted the privilege of living there by grace so long as they continued to trust and obey God.
 
Jews in Israel “have a society in which abortion and homosexuality are both rife” along with other moral ills, Maoz said. However, Israel’s “conduct in the land, while far from perfect, is such that it justifies the continuing existence of the state of Israel.” There is “moral” but not “theological” reason to support Israel, he said.
 
Despite their disagreements on theological particulars, Brand, Worshill and Maoz agreed that Christians must reject any view of Israel that claims Jews do not need to believe the gospel to be saved – a view known as “dual covenant” theology.
 
“Israel needs the gospel. And the gospel has a prior claim upon the Jewish people. As Paul put it, ‘to the Jew first,’“ Maoz said, referencing Romans 1:16. “Therefore our deepest longing, our greatest longing as evangelicals, and our greatest endeavor vis-à-vis Israel should be that Israel will come to hear the gospel ... and come to believe.”
 
As news headlines focus on Israel, Worshill recommended that believers focus on their Bibles and rally around the core beliefs they hold in common.
 
“If we … love each other enough to hold each other accountable in spite of what difficulties we might run across when we do that, we will all grow in Christ,” Worshill said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/10/2015 11:23:13 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Film calls people to pray

July 10 2015 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

Alex and Stephen Kendrick believe God is calling His people to pray.
 
Described as a “family drama with humor and heart focused on the power of prayer and its primary role in the Christian life,” “War Room” represents that belief as well.
 
“We see God pointing to prayer of repentance and revival over and over,” said Alex Kendrick, actor and producer for War Room, the fifth film by the Kendrick brothers and the first filmed outside Albany, Ga., where they serve on staff at Sherwood Baptist Church.
 
This movie was filmed in North Carolina. The crew received help from more than 80 churches in and around Charlotte, including Pitts Baptist Church in Concord.

 
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Kendrick pointed to biblical references of people being called to unite and pray – Esther, Book of Acts. Just as Ronnie Floyd, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president, has been calling the church back to extraordinary prayer, “we are calling the church back, [to] go beyond sprinkling of prayer,” Kendrick said.
 
Starring Priscilla Shirer in her debut film, T.C. Stallings “Courageous”), Alex Kendrick (“Mom’s Night Out,” Courageous) and Karen Abercrombie (“My Name is Paul,” “Mountain Top”) as Miss Clara. Comedian Michael Jr. appears as best friend to T.C. Stallings’ character. Beth Moore, known for leading women in Bible study, makes a cameo as best friend to Shirer’s character.
 
“It is very important to us that we put people on the screen representing the gospel that believe it in real life,” said Stephen Kendrick, after a screening of the movie June 15 at the SBC annual meeting.
 
Tony (Stallings) and Elizabeth (Shirer) Jordan have jobs as a pharmaceutical salesman and real estate agent. They have a wonderful daughter Danielle, played by Alena Pitts, and a dream house. But their marriage is struggling, their relationship with their daughter is weak and their devotion to God is lukewarm. When Miss Clara decides to sell her house, Elizabeth Jordan meets her newest client. Miss Clara challenges Elizabeth’s idea of fighting against Tony and instead encourages her to enter into spiritual battle for her own personal relationship with God as well as her husband, daughter and life.
 
Miss Clara’s enthusiasm for fighting the right way inspires Elizabeth to create a war room in her home and a battle plan of prayer.
 
Stephen said was raised by God-fearing parents and could recall where he “saw powerfully answered prayer in their parents’ lives. When starting a Christian school, his dad needed certain amounts of money and people would donate that specific amount. When his mother was 6 years old, his grandmother cried out to God for protection. A tornado “hit everything around the house but their home and their family was completely left untouched,” he said.
 
“Even now, our 73-year-old mom gets up early in the morning, and she prays for us and her 19 grandchildren.”
 
Alex Kendrick shared that each of their movies – “Flywheel,” “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” “Courageous” and now War Room – have been covered in prayer.
 
“We want it to matter,” he said. 

7/10/2015 11:15:55 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments



Health care ministries move by ‘word and deed’

July 10 2015 by Mark Kelly, IMB Communications

Christians in health care ministries are living out their faith by “word and deed” throughout the world, and people are responding.
 
Among those making decisions to follow Jesus are people in places where the message of God’s love is only just now arriving.
 
In South Asia, a Vacation Bible School’s offering from First Baptist Church in Lafayette, La., purchased health and hygiene items that could be shared with terminally ill patients, along with health lessons and Bible stories.
 
The distribution gave Christians in the region access to communities where they had been unwelcome before, and about 350 people accepted Christ – one of them on his deathbed.

 
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IMB file photo
Jesus and His disciples followed a “word and deed” approach in presenting truth while meeting physical needs. IMB missionaries in health care ministries embody that principle in their work – and people are responding throughout the world with decisions to follow Jesus.

A steady stream of reports illustrates the variety of ways Southern Baptists and their local partners merge proclamation of the gospel with demonstrations of God’s love for suffering people.
 
Among the reports during a meeting of the IMB-related Global Medical Alliance in June near Richmond, Va.:

  • In West Africa, as the Ebola epidemic exploded, International Mission Board (IMB) workers focused on raising awareness and teaching prevention techniques in Liberia, Togo and Mali. An estimated 424,000 people were reached through a combination of fliers, TV spots, speakers, hand-washing stations, music concerts and food distributions. Thousands heard the good news and more than 200 professed faith in Christ.

  • In East Asia, health care strategies helped local believers conduct word-and-deed outreach in remote villages where the gospel was unknown. At the same time, health clinics in more than a dozen urban factories created opportunities for Western health care volunteers to partner with Asian counterparts. More than 1,000 people made decisions to follow Jesus – several among an unreached people group.

  • In Europe, missionaries utilized fitness programs, addiction recovery ministries, health seminars and hands-on medical service in communities plagued by alcoholism, obesity, smoking addiction, suicide and mental illness. An estimated 4,200 people heard the gospel, and 790 decided to trust Jesus – including members of an unreached people group.

Authentic Christian faith helps suffering people in both body and soul, said Terry Lassiter, IMB’s lead strategist for reaching South and Central American peoples.
 
Jesus and His disciples followed a “preach and heal” strategy that combined presenting truth with meeting physical needs, Lassiter told the missionaries who work in health care roles during their June 1-5 meeting.
 
About two-thirds of the encounters with Jesus and the apostles recorded in the New Testament involved both proclamation and demonstration, Lassiter said.
 
Followers of Jesus must resist the temptation to favor preaching over healing – or vice versa, Lassiter added. He paraphrased the words of the the late missionary and theologian E. Stanley Jones: “The social gospel is like a body without a soul – it’s a corpse. Proclamation without a concern for the social dimension is like a soul without a body – it’s a ghost.”
 
Lassiter also cited an unnamed teacher quoted by an Internet blogger, Daniel Davis: “We are neither atheists nor Gnostics. Gnostics reject the body and embrace the soul; atheists reject the soul and embrace the body. We are Christians, and we embrace both.”
 
IMB President David Platt, who addressed the gathering about the IMB’s overarching goals, often has underscored the tie between word and deed in missions, writing in his book Counter Culture: “It’s far easier to give a cup of water to the thirsty and walk away than it is to give that same cup of water and stay to share about the living water that comes through Christ alone. But … as Christians we don’t have the choice of disconnecting these two. We must proclaim the gospel as we provide for others’ good. We are compelled to speak as we serve. We testify with our lips what we attest with our lives.”
 
During each year’s Global Medical Alliance meeting, IMB missionaries discuss new approaches and strategies to enhance work among people groups where the good news of God’s love is not known.
 
To learn more about the group, email medicalmissions@imb.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly leads IMB’s human needs communications team.)

7/10/2015 11:02:25 AM by Mark Kelly, IMB Communications | with 0 comments



Baylor: homosexuality no longer in conduct policy

July 9 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Baylor University has deleted an affirmation of heterosexual marriage from its policy on sexual conduct as well as a specific prohibition of “homosexual acts.”
 
A university spokeswoman said the revised policy will be interpreted in a manner consistent with the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, including the 1998 amendment defining marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”
 
Baylor is the world’s largest Baptist university and cooperates with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The BGCT elects 25 percent of the university’s board of regents and planned to send Baylor $353,125 this year, according to the convention’s 2015 Missions and Ministries Budget.
 
“A review of the sexual conduct policy had been contemplated over the last couple of years,” said Lori Fogleman, Baylor assistant vice president for media communications. “These changes were made because we didn’t believe the language [of the previous policy] reflected Baylor’s caring community. We are pleased with the recent changes to the policy language and that it states more plainly the expectations of the university.”
 
The new policy, Fogleman said, aims to “ensure that the university has the necessary policies and processes in place to comply with the many legal and ethical mandates to which universities are subject as institutions.”
 
The new “sexual conduct policy” states, “Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality.”
 
Previously, the “sexual misconduct policy” included a statement that “Baylor will be guided by the understanding that human sexuality is a gift from the creator God and that the purposes of this gift included (1) the procreation of human life and (2) the uniting and strengthening of the marital bond in self-giving love. These purposes are to be achieved through heterosexual relationships within marriage. Misuses of God’s gift will be understood to include, but not be limited to, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, adultery, fornication and homosexual acts.”
 
Fogleman did not respond to the question in Baptist Press’s email, “Would a legally married same-sex couple be in violation of the newly adopted sexual conduct policy?”
 
Baylor’s board of regents adopted the revised policy May 15.
 
BGCT associate executive director Steve Vernon said he has not been in contact with Baylor regarding the change and does not regard it as a cause for concern.
 
“The change is not a concern for me,” Vernon said, “because of the phrase, ‘Guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.’ Do we have to list all the aberrant sexual behaviors in every code of conduct for it to be clear? I think this broadened the application to the code of conduct so that it [is] not so narrowly defined as to allow behaviors not consistent with biblical teaching.”
 
In 2013, Baylor’s student senate adopted a resolution urging the university to replace the reference to “homosexual acts” in the sexual misconduct policy with “nonmarital consensual deviate sexual intercourse,” according to the Waco Tribune. The resolution’s sponsor said the change would eliminate the targeting of same-sex couples. The then-student body president vetoed the resolution.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/9/2015 10:59:34 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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