Archives For June 2013

pull quote_MOORECOMMENTARY | Russell Moore

Posted on Baptist Press, June 26

The Supreme Court has now ruled on two monumental marriage cases, and the legal and cultural landscape has changed in this country.

The court voted to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and remand the decision of the Ninth Circuit in the Proposition 8 case, holding that California’s Proposition 8 defenders didn’t have standing. The Defense of Marriage Act decision, meanwhile, used rather sweeping language about equal protection and human dignity as they apply to the recognition of same-sex unions.

But what has changed for us, for our churches, and our witness to the Gospel?

In one sense, nothing. Jesus of Nazareth is still alive. He is calling the cosmos toward His Kingdom, and He will ultimately be Lord indeed. Regardless of what happens with marriage, the Gospel doesn’t need “family values” to flourish. In fact, it often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it. That’s why it rocketed out of the first century from places such as Ephesus and Philippi and Corinth and Rome, which were hardly Mayberry.

In another sense, though, the marginalization of conjugal marriage in American culture has profound implications for our gospel witness.

First of all, marriage isn’t incidental to gospel preaching. There’s a reason why persons don’t split apart like amoebas. We were all conceived in the union between a man and a woman. Beyond the natural reality, the Gospel tells us there’s a cosmic mystery (Ephesians 5:32).

God designed the one-flesh union of marriage as an embedded icon of the union between Christ and His church. Marriage and sexuality, among the most powerful pulls in human existence, are designed to train humanity to recognize, in the fullness of time, what it means for Jesus to be one with His church, as a head with a body.

Same-sex marriage is on the march, even apart from these decisions, and is headed to your community, regardless of whether you are sitting where I am right now, on Capitol Hill, or in a rural hamlet in southwest Georgia or eastern Idaho. This is an opportunity for gospel witness.

For a long time in American culture, we’ve acted as though we could assume marriage. Even people from what were once called “broken homes” could watch stable marriages on television or movies. Boys and girls mostly assumed they had a wedding in their futures. As marriage is redefined, these assumptions will change. Let’s not wring our hands about that.

This gives Christian churches the opportunity to do what Jesus called us to do with our marriages in the first place: to serve as a light in a dark place. Permanent, stable marriages with families with both a mother and a father may well make us seem freakish in 21st-century culture. But is there anything more “freakish” than a crucified cosmic ruler? Is there anything more “freakish” than a Gospel that can forgive rebels like us and make us sons and daughters? Let’s embrace the freakishness, and crucify our illusions of a moral majority.

That means that we must repent of our pathetic marriage cultures within the church. For too long, we’ve refused to discipline a divorce culture that has ravaged our cultures. For too long, we’ve quieted our voices on the biblical witness of the distinctive missions of fathers and mothers in favor of generic messages on “parenting.”

For too long, we’ve acted as though the officers of Christ’s church were justices of the peace, marrying people who have no accountability to the church, and in many cases were forbidden by Scripture to marry. Just because we don’t have two brides or two grooms in front of us, that doesn’t mean we’ve been holding to biblical marriage.

The dangerous winds of religious liberty suppression means that our nominal Bible-Belt-marrying parson ways are over. Good riddance. This means we have the opportunity, by God’s grace, to take marriage as seriously as the Gospel does, in a way that prompts the culture around us to ask why.

The increased attention to the question of marriage also gives us the opportunity to love our gay and lesbian neighbors as Jesus does. Some will capitulate on a Christian sexual ethic. There are always those professional “dissidents” who make a living espousing mainline Protestant shibboleths to an evangelical market. But the church will stand, and that means the Gospel which Jesus has handed down through the millennia. As we stand with conviction, we don’t look at our gay and lesbian neighbors as our enemies. They are not.

The gay and lesbian people in your community aren’t part of some global “Gay Agenda” conspiracy. They aren’t super-villains in some cartoon. They are, like all of us, seeking a way that seems right to them. If we believe marriage is as resilient as Jesus says it is (Mark 10:6-9), it cannot be eradicated by a vote of justices or a vote of a state legislature. Some will be disappointed by what they thought would answer their quest for meaning. Will our churches be ready to answer?

This also means we must change the way we preach. Those with same-sex attractions, who follow Christ, will be walking away from what their families and friends want for them: wedding cake and married life and the American Dream. Following Jesus will mean taking up a cross and following a hard narrow way. It always does.

If we’re going to preach that sort of Gospel, we must make it clear that this cross-bearing self-denial isn’t just for homosexually-tempted Christians. It is for all of us, because that’s what the Gospel is. If your church has been preaching the American Dream, with eternal life at the end and Jesus as the means you use to get all that, you don’t have a gospel that can reach your gay and lesbian neighbors – or anyone else for that matter.

Same-sex marriage is headed for your community. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. It’s a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Tuesday_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

At the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston earlier this month, messengers responded to policy changes made by Boy Scouts of America this spring. (The Scouts voted to allow gay-identifying youth as members, but stopped short of lifting a ban on gay troop leaders.)

Baptists meeting in Houston approved a resolution urging the removal of those who “sought to change both the membership and the leadership policy of the Scouts without seeking input from the full range of the Scouting family.” But the resolution stopped short of prescribing specific action by SBC churches. Rather, it affirmed “the right of all families and churches prayerfully to assess their continued relationship with the BSA,” and encouraged churches who choose to sever ties with Boy Scouts to consider Royal Ambassadors (RA’s), a Southern Baptist missions education program for boys, as a ministry alternative.

SBC President Fred Luter recently announced his church will cut ties with Boy Scouts because of the organization’s policy change. Luter told Alabama news site AL.com, “We’ll be pulling out of Boy Scouts,” at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, which has hosted a troop. Luter, once a Scout himself, also said the Scouts were trying to be “politically correct” by making the policy change, but, “There’s nothing that can be politically right if it’s biblically wrong.”

Read more at AL.com, or more about the resolution at BPNews.net.

What could a Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage mean?
The Illinois General Assembly didn’t take up the same-sex marriage issue during a recently called summer session, but the U.S. Supreme Court could rule on two pieces of legislation – the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 – this week. The Washington Post has an interactive graphic that details what could happen depending on the Court’s decision.

Frank Page on finding comfort in the wake of a loved one’s suicide
Southern Baptist Executive Committee President Frank Page spoke to the Christian Post during the convention’s annual meeting in Houston about some things that have given him comfort after his daughter’s suicide. Page’s new book, “Melissa: how parents struggling with a child’s suicide can find comfort. “Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide,” was released in June. Watch the video at ChristianPost.com.

GuideStone announces support for Church Health Plan Act
Baptist Press reports GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention is encouraging pastors to contact their senators and urge them to sign on as co-sponsors of the Church Health Plan Act. The legislation, S.B. 1164, is in response to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will allow premium tax credits beginning in 2014 for people who purchase coverage from commercial health care exchanges, but not pastors and others who get their health care coverage from church health plans. “If Congress fails to act, they will be disadvantaging church plans as compared to commercial, secular plans,” said GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins. Read GuideStone’s statement on BPNews.net.

Prodigal son gets modern-day movie treatment
The American Bible Society (ABS) is working on a series of films that update familiar parables from the Bible. The first, based on the story of the prodigal son, isn’t fully funded yet, but already has a trailer viewable here. ABS is utilizing Kickstarter, a website that allows people to help fund creative projects they believe in, to produce the films.

Youth_choirHEARTLAND | Todd Starnes, via Baptist Press

As the sun began to fade behind Pikes Peak, firefighters trudging back to their command post at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs heard a most unusual sound.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound …”

It was Tuesday, June 18. 8 p.m. Shift change.

“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear …”

The command center was a flurry of activity. Weary firefighters were returning from the front lines — looking for a hot meal. Their replacements were suiting up — fire engines rumbled, sirens wailed. But amid the clamor was that most unusual sound.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares …”

Many of the firefighters had been away from their families for days to wage war on the Black Forest Fire, a blaze that had killed at least two people, destroyed more than 500 homes and consumed more than 14,000 acres of land.

But for a brief moment on Tuesday, a group of young people from more than 1,400 miles away brought a bit of joy to the command post when they serenaded the firefighters.

The 100-voice student choir from First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., was in Colorado on their summer tour — performing at rescue missions, nursing homes and even at a Colorado Rockies baseball game.

On Tuesday, they had been invited to sing at Focus on the Family’s headquarters in Colorado Springs. After their performance, a staff member asked if they might consider singing for the firefighters.

“We said absolutely,” music minister Chip Colee told Fox News.

The Alabama youngsters were taken aback by what they saw. Local residents stood along the road leading to the command center cheering the firefighters, holding signs that read “We love our firefighters” and “Thank you.”

The group started off singing “The Star Spangled Banner” and then launched into a 20-minute concert.

“It was very moving — for all of us,” Colee said.

Caroline Elliott, 18, told Fox News it was an honor to be able to sing for the firefighters.

“I feel like it was something we had to do,” she said. “It almost felt like we had a duty to pay back to them for all they do for us.”

Chris Colee, the music minister’s son, said the choir felt compelled to extend their hours in Colorado Springs.

“These guys are putting it all on the line,” he said, referring to the firefighters. “It was the least we could do — to go out there and sing to the Lord for them.”

After their concert, they were asked to sing for firefighters eating meals in food tents.

“So we took all 100 of our kids and moved from tent to tent to sing for the guys who were eating,” the music minister said. “We were so touched. Here were these guys and ladies — hot, sweaty, exhausted. We just wanted to put a smile on their faces.”

The young choir members said they hope their songs were an encouragement to the community.

“All we’re trying to do is shine the light of the Lord,” the music minister said.

The choir went now back on the road, heading toward Wichita where they were to sing on Wednesday — but Colee believes what happened in Colorado Springs will be a lifetime memory.

“Our kids will never forget that,” he said. “They will never forget the looks on the faces of the guys fighting those fires.”

Before they left, one firefighter told the young people she had been away from her family and her church for days.

“She told us that when we started to sing “Amazing Grace,” she felt like she was back home,” Colee said.

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.”

Todd Starnes, with the Fox News Channel, is the author of “Dispatches From Bitter America.” This article first appeared at http://www.toddstarnes.com.

pull quote_MILLERCOMMENTARY | Dave Miller

Editor’s note: Dave Miller served as second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention for a year following the annual meeting in New Orleans in 2012. He wrote about his year “at the table” for the June 17 Illinois Baptist. Read it online here.

A little over a year ago, I got a call from a blogging friend who asked me if I’d allow my name to be placed in nomination for second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Stunned, I told him I would consider it. After a lot of prayer, I decided to go forward with the process.

No one, including me, really thought I would be elected, but it happened.

One of the reasons I agreed to be a candidate was to raise awareness about the whole Baptist world that exists outside of the mainline Southern states. Being a Baptist in Iowa, or the Dakotas, or Minnesota, or Wisconsin, or Illinois is different than being one in Alabama, Mississippi or Texas. I like serving as a Southern Baptist in a new work state and I wanted to raise a little awareness of the work we do.

I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. First, the SBC, while far from perfect, is led by some pretty competent and capable leaders. I got into blogging a few years ago as an outsider who was upset about a few things and wasn’t afraid to express that displeasure. But as time went on, I realized that while I still don’t agree with everything everyone does in our entities, we are well served by godly men.

Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, is exactly the leader we need at the helm during difficult days. If you don’t read Thom Rainer’s blog, you ought to. We have some remarkable men as seminary presidents, and leaders at the IMB and NAMB are working to extend the Gospel around the world.

Second, I’m excited about the movement toward greater racial diversity in our leadership. A prominent black leader at our Orlando convention a few years ago: “Dave, there has not been a single black man on that stage.”

I promised him I would join him in calling Baptists to a greater inclusion of ethnic leaders. It was my great privilege to serve this year alongside President Fred Luter. Beyond that, we have seen entity leadership positions show greater racial diversity. We haven’t arrived yet, but we have taken several steps in the right direction.

Lastly, the SBC is truly a grassroots organization. I’m a pastor of a small- to medium-sized church in Sioux City, Iowa. We are at the outer limits of the Baptist world! But, because of the democratic, grassroots nature of the SBC, I had an opportunity that I never thought I would have.

We are part of something wonderful as Southern Baptists. The challenges are great and work is never going to be easy. But we have a firm foundation in God’s Word, and an unequalled opportunity to share, through Cooperative Program missions, in perhaps the most aggressive world missions program in church history. And we have a powerful living God.

I am thankful to be part of Southern Baptists and consider this last year as a convention officer, representing Baptists in the Midwest, to be a great privilege.

Dave Miller is pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, and editor of the blog SBC Voices.

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter was re-elected to a second term during the denomination's annual meeting in Houston last week. Luter is the SBC's first African American president.

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter was re-elected to a second term during the denomination’s annual meeting in Houston last week. Luter is the SBC’s first African American president.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Southern Baptists arrived at the 2013 Annual Meeting in Houston expecting lively conversations about Calvinism and the Boy Scouts. But those issues took a back seat to a report released by LifeWay Christian Resources just before the convention, showing declines in baptisms, average attendance and membership in SBC churches across the country.

Concerns about the report and the denomination’s future were compounded by a low number of registered messengers in Houston – just 5,103 by the time the final total was tallied.

Just before the convention convened, LifeWay released the 2012 Annual Church Profile, which showed declines in baptisms, church membership, average attendance and total giving.

Almost every leader that stepped to a microphone or sat in on a panel discussion in Houston offered input on how to reverse decline in the Southern Baptist Convention. But their solutions didn’t necessarily offer hope that the downturned numbers will rebound. Rather, they encouraged Southern Baptists to look at the effectiveness of their own local churches.

“This is not a convention problem; this is a local church problem,” said David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, at a luncheon for young leaders. “To bring it a little closer to home, this is a pastor problem.”

Are we making disciples, are we multiplying the Gospel, Platt asked. “I want to lead out in this by example.”

Fred Luter’s president’s message rang out across the convention hall with a similar theme: Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me! And, let us be unified.

“Lord, revive us and make us one like the early believers in Acts 2 where the Scripture says that the believers and Jesus Christ were all together in one accord, in one place,” preached Luter, who was re-elected in Houston to a second term as SBC president.

“Let me say that again, that the believers were all together in one accord, in one place and as a consequence, because they were all together in one accord, in one place, the Bible says they turned the world upside down.”

Do Baptists have the opportunity to change the world, even a world that may not recognize them for the cultural force they once were? In his report, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page offered an optimistic outlook:

“Some have said that doing denominational work and being a part of a denomination in the 21st century is like the Titanic, it’s headed for disaster. And the best you can do is rearrange the deck chairs,” Page said.

“I choose to believe that kind of analogy is not appropriate. I believe that we together can see victory moving forward and applying Christ-like selflessness, can see days of cooperation and days of victory ahead.”

Read all of the Illinois Baptist’s 2013 SBC Annual Meeting coverage in the current issue, online at ibonline.IBSA.org.

Other news:

Lottie Moon offering tops $149M
Southern Baptists did get a piece of very good denominational news: They gave the third-largest ever Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in 2012, sending more than $149 million to support International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries serving across the globe. The offering, more than $2.4 million more than the previous year, “is a reminder that missions is the stack pole around which Southern Baptists place their hearts, afire for the Gospel,” said IMB President Tom Elliff. Read more at BPNews.net.

Atheist group plans 1-800 hotline
Recovering from Religion, an atheist group in the U.S. and Britain, plans to launch a telephone hotline to offer advice and answers to spiritual doubters, CNN reports. In response to criticism that the 24-hour hotline is devised as a way to convert people to atheism, Recovering from Religion executive director Sarah Morehead said, “Most of the people who contact us are working their way towards disbelief, so of course we are very equipped to handle that. That is not the goal, though, or the job of the facilitators.” Read the full story on CNN’s Belief blog.

Majority says gay marriage ‘inevitable’
A Pew Research survey released this month found 72% of Americans say it’s “inevitable” that same-sex marriage will be legally recognized, compared to 59% who thought so in 2004. Of those in the nearly three-fourths majority, 85% are same-sex marriage supporters, and 59% oppose it. Read more at PewForum.org.

Book explores faith on the field

“Intentional Walk”, a new book by sports writer Rob Rains, explores the Christian faith of several members of the St. Louis Cardinals, including manager Mike Matheny and stars Adam Wainwright, Carlos Beltran and David Freese. The book, subtitled “An inside look at the faith that drives the St. Louis Cardinals,” chronicles the 2012 season. “These players realize how lucky and fortunate they are to play for the Cardinals and to play Major League Baseball in general,” Rains said, “but they also realize how lucky they are to have such a strong faith in God. Read the full story at BPSports.net.

pull quote_ADAMSjuneHEARLTAND | Nate Adams

I would love to have the privilege of worshiping in every Illinois Baptist church. When I began with IBSA, I remember calculating that if I visited two churches a week, it would take about 10 years to get to all 1,000 churches. Visiting one new church per week is probably more realistic, but that would require 20 years, longer than any IBSA executive director has served.

But after seven years, I’ve learned it is more than time that limits the number of churches I can visit in a year. For one thing, I need to be in my home church at least occasionally, even if it’s only once a month. And then there are weeks when I must be out of the state, such as at the recent Southern Baptist Convention.

What would help me most of all to get acquainted with more churches, however, is simply an invitation. Sometimes people assume IBSA staff members are too busy to come to their church, or that their church is too small or too far away. That’s simply not true!

I absolutely love it when I receive an invitation to a church where I have never been before. The reality is that some churches tend to invite our staff to come over and over again, and of course we’re glad to do that too. But what really gets me pumped to drive on a Sunday morning is to know I’m going to meet some new people in a new place, even if I have to look up the town on a map to figure out where it is!

When I look at where I’ve been the past few years, I realize I could have been in a much higher percentage of IBSA churches. In fact, I would like to devote the next several months to worshiping in churches where I’ve never attended. If you pastor or attend one of those churches, please just invite me to come!

It doesn’t matter to me whether you need me to preach that day or not. I would enjoy worshiping with you and hearing a good sermon from an IBSA pastor just as much, if not more. Just invite me to church like I hope you do your neighbors every week!

That’s what I’ve been thinking recently as I’ve been “looking where I’ve been.” But let me also challenge you as a church to look where you’ve been as well.

When I get ready to visit a church for the first time, my assistant Sandy prints out for me the statistical history for that church, as well as the association it is in and directions, etc. These help me know a little about the setting into which I’m going.

Recently our director of information and support services, Drew Heironimus, has completed 20-year statistical summaries for every IBSA church. In other words, we can send you a brief report that shows your church’s worship and Sunday School attendance, baptisms, church program enrollments, missions giving, and more for the past 20 years. Recently my son Noah joined one of our church’s staff, and it’s the first thing he requested from IBSA. I guess he knew it’s easier to figure out where you need to go once you understand a little about where you’ve been.

Looking at where I’ve been these past few years makes me want to come to your church, especially if I’ve never been there before. Maybe looking at where you’ve been as a church over the past 20 years will give you some new insights, and new desires as well.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

“Elizabeth, you can now exhale, my girl.” Fred Luter adjourned the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention with a smile, a word to his wife, and probably a sigh of relief. His first convention as president brought little controversy – a half-hour discussion on a Boy Scouts resolution was the most buzz-worthy topic. And, while fewer in number than in previous years, Baptists gathered at the George R. Brown Convention Center were focused on reversing the denomination’s decline, with a focus on true revival.

“Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me,” Luter said in his last words to messengers.

Unofficial numbers show 5,103 messengers registered in Houston. Despite the low-key tone, trends emerged that could chart a new course for the SBC:

-Events targeted toward young leaders were well attended, allaying fears – for now – that the next generation is unengaged and uninterested.

-Under the leadership of new Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, Southern Baptists’ policy agency could be marked by an emphasis on “convictional kindness.”

-The convention’s declining baptism and membership numbers are very real indicators of decline, but for the most part, the meeting kept a hopeful tone, buoyed largely by Luter’s good-natured approach to his time at the podium. Re-elected to a second term, he will play a key role in reigniting Baptists’ passion and commitment to cooperate together, as the convention looks toward the 2014 Annual Meeting in Baltimore.

The June 17 issue of the Illinois Baptist will cover all this and more – read it online this Friday and ibonline.IBSA.org. And thanks for following along these past few days. As they say in Texas (we think), So long, pardner!

Fred Luter and his wife, Elizabeth, are recognized by convention messengers Wednesday afternoon. Luter was elected to a second term as SBC President in Houston this week.

Fred Luter and his wife, Elizabeth, are recognized by convention messengers Wednesday afternoon. Luter was elected to a second term as SBC President in Houston this week.