Archives For October 2017

The Briefing

Happy Reformation Day! As Christians around the world celebrate the movement’s 500th birthday, go to IllinoisBaptist.org for our coverage of the anniversary, including:

  • Baptists’ roots in the Reformation,
  • the continuing theological debate, and
  • a list of the ‘new Reformers.’

Pence promises help for persecuted Christians
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in October that the federal government will shift funds away from United Nations programs and toward faith-based and private organizations to better aid persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” Pence said at the annual summit for the group In Defense of Christians. Critics of the U.N. projects have said they have not been effective in helping Christians in the region who have been displaced due to war and the rise of ISIS.

Ahead of rallies, Baptists denounce racism
Counter-protestors far outnumbered white supremacists at two “White Lives Matter” rallies in Tennessee on Oct. 28. Prior to the protests, Southern Baptists in Tennessee joined other faith groups to take a public stand against racism and the white supremacy movement.

Church removes historical markers
A church in Alexandria, Va., is removing plaques that mark where President George Washington and Confederate General Robert E. Lee sat when they attended services there. “For some, Lee symbolizes the attempt to overthrow the Union and to preserve slavery,” reads a letter from the Christ Church board. “Today our country is trying once again to come to grips with the history of slavery and the subsequent disenfranchisement of people of color.”

The church initially considered taking out only Lee’s plaque, but later added Washington because he owned slaves, reports The Christian Post.

House of prayer
A federal judge reaffirmed the constitutionality of legislative prayer with her Oct. 11 ruling against an atheist who filed suit against the U.S. House of Representatives and its chaplain when he wasn’t allowed to deliver a secular invocation.

Major league visibility
With the Houston Astros still in the hunt for a World Series Championship, the city’s First Baptist Church is gaining notice for its prominent sign in right field.

Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, The Tennessean, Baptist Press, The Christian Post

The road ahead

ib2newseditor —  October 30, 2017

A tough but exciting journey awaits us

Postcard art w adventure inserted

If we were to drive west from Illinois, whether along Interstate 70 from St. Louis, 72 from Springfield, or 80 from Chicago, the experience would be largely the same. We would continue in a long, straight line for a very long time, rolling over a few hills and rivers in Missouri or Iowa before settling into the even longer, even straighter, seemingly eternal plains of Kansas or Nebraska and eastern Colorado. Then we would see the mountains.

Imagine what early pioneers must have thought when the amazing barrier of the Rocky Mountains first appeared on the horizon. No doubt many of them turned south or north for a while, hoping to find a way around. They knew the experience, equipment, and skills that had carried them across the slowly elevating plains would not take them over those mountains. They would need to find a pass, a way through. And even that journey would be like none they had faced before.

As we Southern Baptists in Illinois now approach our state’s bicentennial year, our journey is much the same. We have been on a long, flat path for years—in number of churches, in baptisms, in church plants, in giving, and in most measures of church involvement and growth. That’s not a criticism. It’s just a description of our recent journey.

Along the way, hardly noticeable until just recently, the altitude has gradually increased and the climb has grown steeper. So many cultural dynamics have grown counter to Christian faith, and perhaps especially to Baptist faith. We too can turn to the left or to the right for a while. But to truly advance from the plains of our status quo up into the mountains our mission now faces, I believe we must dig deep and find a new, pioneering spirit.

Go to new places
In Illinois Baptist mission life, going new places means taking the gospel to the counties and cities and communities where Baptist or even evangelical churches don’t yet exist or have a strong presence. It means church planting.

IBSA churches have numbered right around 1,000 for decades, even while planting around 20 new churches a year. With those one thousand churches baptizing between four and five new believers each, we reach about 4,000 to 5,000 people per year. Yet Illinois has 13 million people, and at least 8 million of them don’t claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And most of them do not live near our existing churches. To leave the flatland of our status quo and reach the lost people of Illinois, we must increase and accelerate the number of new churches being started. We must place a gospel witness near them.

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #1: Will your church adopt at least one of the 200 places where a new church is needed? Your commitment can be to pray, or to partner with others to get that church started, or to be the primary planting church. Will you pray, partner, or plant?

Engage new people
Establishing healthy, new churches in the places where they are needed is one important commitment of a pioneering spirit. The first Baptists arrived in Illinois during a time when it was extremely difficult and even dangerous just to survive and eke out a living. Yet they considered it a priority to share the gospel and to start new Baptist churches. Four of those churches that were in existence when Illinois became a state in 1818 are still serving their communities today!

But being blessed—and burdened—with a pioneering spirit also leads churches, both new and established, to intentionally and consistently engage new people with the gospel message. With a sense of urgency, they will evangelize.

Sadly, it’s possible even for a well-intentioned church to lose its passion for evangelism, and become more of a church of settlers than a church of pioneers. They worship, and study, and fellowship, and even serve one another and the community. But very little energy goes into seeking and saving the lost.

Consider this: The almost 1,000 IBSA churches baptized about 4,000 people last year, four per church on average. But over 300 churches reported no baptisms at all. The remaining churches that reported baptisms averaged seven each. If non-baptizing churches simply reached the same number of people with the gospel that baptizing churches did, 7,000 people would come to know Christ next year. And just imagine what would happen if the churches already baptizing seven or more started baptizing monthly!

By intentionally shifting their focus toward evangelism, churches that have settled can become pioneering churches again.

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #2: Will your church commit to turning itself inside out into your community, training its members to intentionally have gospel conversations and evangelistic events, and asking God to increase the number of baptisms you see each year? Will you do whatever it takes to become a more frequently baptizing church?

Make new sacrifices
Going to new places and engaging new people is costly. It’s one reason so many stay where they are—and settle. Many early pioneers packed literally everything they owned into a wagon, and some sacrificed it all to get to their destination. A pioneering spirit sees the value of moving toward those new places and new people, and is willing to give sacrificially to make it happen.

Going to a new place of mission effectiveness here in Illinois will be costly too, especially if God inspires more churches and raises up more leaders, planters, and missionaries to go to new places and engage many new people. Fortunately, we as Illinois Baptists have a wonderful, reliable, tested vehicle in which to entrust our sacrifices. The Cooperative Program (some call it CP Missions) prioritizes missions in Illinois by investing 56.5% of its gifts here, while also sending 43.5% to be combined with others’ gifts and take the gospel throughout North America and the world.

Today the average IBSA church gives about 7% of its undesignated offerings to local and worldwide missions through the Cooperative Program. As with baptisms, that average is the result of some churches sacrificing far more, and some sacrificing far less. At one time, 10% was the accepted norm for Cooperative Program missions, and at one time IBSA churches averaged giving 11% rather than 7%. Simply stated, a return to that 10% standard could result in over $3 million more to missions next year.

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #3: Will your church commit to a new level of sacrificial missions giving through the Cooperative Program? Will you challenge your members to faithful tithing and life stewardship, so that generous giving transforms their own lives, as well as others’?

Develop new leaders
A pioneering spirit must be multi-generational. Very few destinations that require true, pioneering effort can be fully attained in one lifetime. Our parents’ generation brought us this far into our Baptist missionary journey in Illinois, and now we lead and will go a little farther before entrusting the journey to our children. That’s why a pioneering spirit must invest in the development of new leaders, even as it sacrifices and gives its all now.

It seems that churches used to have more systematic ways of developing new leaders. Sunday nights were invested in church leadership training programs. Wednesday nights were often invested in missions education programs that developed boys and girls, and young men and women, for tomorrow’s missionary and church leadership roles.

We should be grateful for churches that still develop tomorrow’s leaders in this way, while not necessarily wishing the same programs or methods on others. But today, more than ever, we must ask ourselves with a new seriousness, “How are we systematically and intentionally developing leaders for tomorrow’s churches?”

Pioneering Spirit Challenge #4: Will your church commit to the intentional developing of younger leaders who will be tomorrow’s pastors, and church planters, and missionaries? Will you join with other Baptist partners like IBSA who can help you develop these young leaders for tomorrow’s church?

Facing our mountains
Last summer I traveled to Loveland, Colorado, in part to scout out Long’s Peak, a 14,259-foot mountain that will hopefully, next year, be the thirty-first and most difficult “fourteener” I climb. As I headed west from the Interstate and flatlands of Loveland, I could not immediately see the pass up into the mountains. But soon I noticed that the road was following a stream, and then a mighty, rushing river. There was barely room for a road in some places, but the water had cut enough of a path through the rock that we could now follow it up to previously impossible heights. We eagerly forged ahead.

To leave the flat trends of our recent journey as Illinois Baptists may seem impossible at first. Our 200-year-old mission field is more lost now than ever. And developing new leaders while making new sacrifices to engage new people in new places with the gospel—well, that’s no easy path. But I believe the living water of God’s own Spirit has already made a way for us. If we are filled with his Pioneering Spirit and will follow him forward by faith, even into difficult places, I believe God has new heights planned for us here in Illinois.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. The challenges outlined here will be presented in the Annual Meeting.

Greg Zanis.jpg

Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Nevada to install a memorial under the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

When President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, a Fresno pastor climbed the bell tower of the church and began pulling the rope. When he descended much later exhausted from sounding the alarm, he found the sanctuary filled with mourners, looking up to him for a hopeful word. That was on a Friday afternoon. The following Sunday churches everywhere were packed with people who needed help understanding the tragedy. It was called “the Sunday with God.”

On October 8, 2017, we had another Sunday with God.

We’ve had a lot of them, especially in the past two decades. Their names become shorthand for inexplicable tragedy: Columbine, New Town, Wedgwood, Emanuel AME, Boston Marathon, Pulse Nightclub. And the signal event in this category is clearly the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Churches were full the next Sunday and for several months afterward with people asking “Why?” and wondering how God could let this happen. And all these years later we might add—again.

In Las Vegas on Sunday night, October 1, it happened again. A gunman high above an open-air concert killed 58 people with high-powered assault weapons and injured more than 500 others before turning the gun on himself. He left victim’s families, the survivors, and a nation to try to make sense of the utterly senseless.

How can we respond to what we struggle to explain—or even understand?

A retired carpenter from Aurora expressed his grief in the same way he has since his father-in-law was murdered in 1996: he built crosses. His truck loaded with 58 crosses, each with a red heart and the name of one of the 58 victims, Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Nevada to install a memorial under the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. He has built such a memorial at every mass shooting since Columbine High School. His crosses are indeed welcome in places where people need to be pointed Christ-ward.

A young man who escaped the shooting told a network interviewer, “I was an agnostic going into that concert, but after what happened there, I believe in God. It’s a miracle that any of us survived.” His comment exemplifies the baseline responses to crisis: you either blame God or you embrace him; run from God or run to him.

Las Vegas pastor Vance Pittman was honest with his congregation on the Sunday morning after the killings. “The temptation of our humanness is to run from God in moments of tragedy, but the psalmist reminds us that those are the moments we should run to God.”

Pittman, who founded Hope Church in the city 17 years ago, admitted his own wrestling with the massacre. “Anyone who didn’t simply isn’t human,” he told the crowd in the packed sanctuary. “It’s OK to ask God some hard questions…He can handle it.”

He then pointed to Psalm 62. “Where is God in the midst of tragedy?” Pittman asked. “He’s right there in the midst with us… ‘God is my refuge.’” He cited the experience of two police officers. One said to the pastor, “It’s nothing short of a miracle that more people were not killed. It’s almost like someone spread their wings over that crowd and protected them.”

A thoroughly biblical response to events such as this must address the role of evil, “an act of pure evil,” as President Trump described it two days later in Las Vegas. God created a perfect world, but willful humans introduced sin. Taken to its natural ends, man inflicts that sin on others. Such monstrous evil may seem beyond us, but in all honesty it’s not. Only God restrains lawlessness in any of us. While at times he may not intervene in the ways we wish, God is still on the scene, in the business of saving humanity. In this world where evil is rampant—be it war, massacre, or the aftermath of disaster—God is still working his purpose out.

“Nowhere is this seen more clearly than looking at the cross,” Pittman said to his searching crowd. “The cross of Jesus is the single greatest act of evil and injustice in this world, and yet God—in his sovereignty—has caused it to be now seen as the greatest demonstration of love and goodness the world has ever experienced.”

– Eric Reed (with thanks for quotes from The Las Vegas Journal-Review, CNN, and Baptist Press)

The Briefing

Calif. OKs third gender, protects religious liberty
Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 179, which adds a third gender option on official state identification documents for those who reject the designation of male or female and opt instead to be considered “nonbinary.” Among his vetoes, meanwhile, was Assembly Bill 569, which would have made it illegal for religious organizations to prohibit their employees from having abortions or engaging in sex outside marriage.

Mo. Satanist challenges pro-life laws as ‘religious tenets’
Pro-abortion activists have adopted a new legal strategy against pro-life laws in Missouri, challenging them as violations of religious liberty protections. In 2016, a self-avowed Satanist sued the state, claiming its abortion regulations are “religious tenets” and therefore a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Missouri’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). The case now heads to the state’s Supreme Court for what could be a final decision.

Apple removes pro-life prayer app
Tech giant Apple removed a pro-life prayer app from its App Store following backlash from pro-abortion advocates. Human Coalition’s app, still available on the Google Play Store, displays a list of prayer requests, such as, “Someone considering abortion in Dallas, Texas.” When users signal with a swipe of their thumb that they’ve prayed for the situation, the app updates a daily tally of prayers. The group said Apple removed the app shortly after unfavorable media reports appeared on news outlets Slate and the New Statesman.

African-American leaders defend Col. baker
A group of African-American have spoken out in defense of Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips as his religious freedom case will be argued before the United States Supreme Court in December. Three conservative African-American public policy groups launched a new website titled WeGotYourBackJack.com in support of Phillip’s First Amendment right. Using videos and images, the campaign’s message emphasizes the incomparable struggle between African-American civil rights and LGBT rights.

Museum of the Bible: lots of tech, ‘very little Jesus’
The Museum of the Bible, a massive new institution set to open Nov. 17, is just as notable for what it includes as for what it leaves out. While the $500 million museum sports vivid walk-through recreations of the ancient world, one of the world’s largest private collections of Torahs, and a motion ride that sprays water at you, it doesn’t encourage visitors to take the Bible literally. And on floor after gleaming floor of exhibitions, there is very little Jesus.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine (2), The Christian Post, The Washington Post

Check up Pastors ConferenceThe 2017 IBSA Pastors’ Conference will kick off Nov. 7 at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur with a focus on the spiritual health of leaders, their families, and their churches. The conference, held prior to the IBSA Annual Meeting, is based on the qualities the Apostle Paul set out for church leadership in Titus 1:5-9.

The theme for the conference, “Time for a Check-Up,” is something pastors are familiar with when it comes to their congregations, said Brian Smith, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Granite City and president of this year’s Pastors’ Conference. Pastors provide spiritual check-ups for their people every week through preaching and teaching, but who’s doing the same for the pastor?

“That is what this conference is for, to provide pastors and staff with a spiritual health check-up and scriptural prescriptions for better spiritual health for them and ultimately their families and churches,” Smith said.

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines is among the preachers who will fill the pulpit at Tabernacle Nov. 7-8. Joining him are Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism; Curtis Gilbert, lead pastor of the Belleville campus of The Journey; and Joe Valenti, associate pastor of youth and missions at Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio.

The Pastors’ Conference also will include breakout sessions led by the speakers and other Illinois leaders:

  • Valenti will lead a session on healthy churches reaching UPG’s (unreached people groups), and also a breakout on healthy youth ministry.
  • Gilbert will lead pastors in developing healthy church elders and building a healthy multi-site ministry.
  • Rayden Hollis, pastor of Red Hill Church in Edwardsville, will lead a session on healing from an unhealthy ministry, and also will facilitate a church planting round table discussion.
  • A trio of IBSA staff members will also lead breakout sessions, which will be offered at both breakout times on Tuesday. Pat Pajak, associate executive director of evangelism, will encourage pastors with ways to make their churches more evangelistic; Mark Emerson, associate executive director of the Church Resources Team, will speak on healthy small groups and Sunday school; and Steve Hamrick, director of worship ministries, will lead a session on developing and leading healthy worship teams.
  • On Wednesday morning at 8:30, Gaines will speak to Pastors’ Conference attenders and participate in a Q&A session.

A pizza dinner will be offered onsite Tuesday evening for $10 per person. To purchase dinner tickets and for more Pastors’ Conference info, go to IBSAannualmeeting.org.

Luther movie

Joseph Fiennes as “Luther” (dir. Eric Till, 2003)

Before a few years ago, I couldn’t have told you the day or the month or the year (and probably not even the century) that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door. But now I know, thanks to a church history buff (and seminary grad) community group leader and the 2003 movie “Luther.”

Most years, on the Wednesday evening that falls closest to October 31, our group gathers in the living room to watch a scene or two from the film that chronicles the life of the most famous Reformer. We’ve cheered on Joseph Fiennes as his Luther, full of righteous anger, rebels against the corrupt religious practices of his day. We’ve seen his determination and grit (the movie, true to its medieval roots, even feels dusty). And we’ve learned what Luther was actually rebelling against — the sale of indulgences to secure pardon from sin—and marveled at how foreign that concept is to us in our modern-day church.

Watching those clips has become a fun way to celebrate Reformation Day, and to wink at that other holiday that falls on October 31. But what I haven’t appreciated until recently is the opportunity to learn about Luther with people who—with me—are inheritors of the revolutionary changes he and his fellow Reformers set into motion.

As we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, maybe this is the year to settle in and reflect more fully on Luther’s legacy. Maybe this year, it’s time to finish the movie.

– Meredith Flynn

The Briefing

15 attorneys general oppose transgender military ban
Fifteen state attorneys general, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, filed a brief Oct. 16 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia arguing that banning transgender individuals from the military is unconstitutional and against the interest of national defense and that it harms the transgender community.

Air Force punishes colonel over marriage views
U.S. Air Force officials have suspended a decorated officer and revoked his recommendation for promotion to brigadier general because he would not sign an unofficial document affirming a retiring subordinate’s same-sex marriage.

Study: Congress should end IRS oversight of sermons
In the 1950s, Congress banned charitable nonprofits–including churches — from endorsing candidates or otherwise intervening in elections. Any nonprofit that violated the ban could run afoul of the IRS. Churches risked losing their tax-exempt status if the preacher endorsed a candidate in a sermon. It’s time for that to change, most Protestant pastors say in a new survey from LifeWay Research.

Col. baker asked to make ‘Birthday Cake’ for Satan
Lawyers for “cake artist” Jack Phillips say someone e-mailed a request for him to design and bake a cake celebrating the birthday of Satan. Phillips, a Christian who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, is headed to the Supreme Court in December after declining to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding.

Bill Hybels names male, female co-pastor team as his successor
Bill Hybels, the founder and Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, announced the names of two leaders who will take on new roles to replace the role of senior pastor as he transitions out of the church leadership next year. Heather Larson, currently executive pastor, will step into the role of Lead Pastor over all Willow Creek locations, and Pastor Steve Carter, currently teaching pastor, will become Lead Teaching Pastor.

 Sources: Chicago Tribune, Baptist Press (2), Daily Signal, Christian Post