Archives For February 2019

By Nathan Carter

Like a growing number of churches, The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C., cancelled services the Sunday after Christmas. Pastor J.D. Greear took some heat on social media for the decision, but should he? What’s wrong with skipping a lightly attended service and giving everyone a break after the holidays? What about the growing practice of occasionally cancelling a Sunday service in order to send the people into the community for outreach projects? Should we ever cancel “church”?

In order to answer the question, there are at least two prior questions we must settle in our minds:

First, is a weekly gathering on Sunday commanded by God? Regular Sunday services are a firmly established part of the Christian tradition. There is strong historical warrant for gathering on Sundays, but is it a biblical requirement?

The answer to that question depends largely on whether we believe the Old Testament commandment about Sabbath-keeping teaches an inherent seven-day rhythm to time and the setting aside of one day in seven for special use. Some Christians will point out that the fourth commandment is the only one that is not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. Others will argue that it was never explicitly annulled.

Is it OK to cancel services now and then?

It is clear that Christians are commanded not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25). And there is an assumption throughout the New Testament that believers come together for meetings (see 1 Cor. 11, 14; James 2:2). But where did we get the idea that this expectation applies to every Sunday at the very least?

Well, Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week and met with his gathered disciples that evening (John 20:19) and again on the next Sunday (John 20:26). In Acts 20 we read that Paul was in Troas for seven days and it was on the first day of the week that the believers all gathered together. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says to collect an offering “on the first day of every week.” Are these examples prescriptive, or merely descriptive? That’s an interpretative decision. Wherever we land, we must at least admit that the case for first day observance cannot be easily dismissed.

The second question we must consider is this: What is the purpose of the Sunday gathering?

We’ve all probably wrestled at some point with whether Sundays are for the saints to be edified or outsiders to be evangelized. I think we must answer, “Both!” Paul envisioned unbelievers having an encounter with God after walking in on Christians worshiping and ministering to each other (1 Cor. 14:23-25).

Even more fundamentally, however, we must reckon with the very essence of what it means to be the church. Most scholars agree that the word “church” (ekklesia) means “assembly.” This would imply that when the church assembles it is being most true to its identity.

So is gathering together simply one (among many) practical means of achieving edification and/or evangelization? Or is holding a public meeting a declaration of what it means to be the church, sinners reconciled to God and each other through the blood of Christ? These are important questions church leaders must resolve in their minds before calling off a corporate gathering.

My conviction is that there is something sacred to Sundays, not as a legalistic box to check to be right with God, but as a time for the church to gather as the people of God and be regularly reminded of what indeed makes us righteous and what alone has the power to save—the work of Christ. If workers need a break, find temporary replacements or schedule a simpler service. Cancel Christmas Eve, but stick with Sundays. And if only two or three show up, his presence is still among us.

Nathan Carter pastors Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

Briefing

Survey: Church attendance linked to higher levels of happiness
Church participation leads to more happiness and civic engagement, according to Pew Research’s analysis of surveys from the U.S. and 25 other countries. Religious affiliation without participation does not lead to the same positive outcomes, Pew found.

Young adults keep Christian label; fewer ‘devout’
Most young adults who attended church as teenagers say they believe in God today, but fewer consider themselves devout Christians, according to a LifeWay Research study released Jan. 31. And some say they believe in God but are uncertain of Christianity.

Boy Scouts officially accepting girls
The Boy Scouts of America officially changed their name Feb. 1 and began accepting girls in all scouting programs. Troops, however, will continue to be single gender, the organization has said. Maybe a quick quote from the opposition?

Asia Bibi finally free to leave Pakistan
On January 29, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld its decision to acquit Asia Bibi. In one of the most high-profile Christian persecution cases in the past decade, Bibi spent eight years in prison convicted of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad—which is a crime punishable by death in the Islamic Republic—until Pakistan’s Supreme Court rejected her conviction last October. Bibi was the first Christian woman in the country to be convicted of blasphemy and to have her case go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Who is most ‘Bible engaged’ in the U.S.?
Amid cultural shifts in beliefs and reading habits, African Americans consistently outrank other racial groups for their reliance on the Word. Last year, the American Bible Society (ABS) once again named African Americans “the most Bible engaged in the US.” They are more likely to own a Bible—93 percent of African Americans do, versus 82 percent of Americans overall—and more than twice as likely to say Bible reading is crucial to their daily routine, according to the society’s 2018 State of the Bible report.

Sources: BP News (2), Christian Headlines, Christianity Today (2)

What churches need

Lisa Misner —  February 4, 2019

By Nate Adams

Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt once starred in a box office hit that bore the simple but provocative title, “What Women Want.” The movie’s premise, of course, is that men can be notoriously oblivious to understanding what women want. But after Gibson’s character receives an accidental shock from a hairdryer, he finds he can hear what the women around him are thinking. And that makes all the difference.

One of the serious take-aways from this romantic comedy is that we would all better understand what others want or need if we would just ask, and listen. None of us can hear one another’s thoughts, and most people are reluctant to talk openly about what they really need, at least until someone asks directly.

That’s one reason IBSA remains committed to an annual survey of churches each fall. It’s our way of asking churches what they really need, and hoping they will tell us, so we can help.

Our annual survey finds we have a lot in common.

Of course, Illinois Baptist churches are diverse, as we rediscover every year. From north to south and large city to rural community, each church’s size, setting, age, leadership, worship style, and culture make it unique, and deserving of individual consideration and attention.

At the same time, we found again this year that a handful of key needs appear consistently in many churches. For example, when asked what kind of assistance a church needs most, evangelism consistently again led the list of responses, followed by leadership development, and then spiritual renewal.

When asked what age groups churches need most assistance trying to reach, respondents consistently say they need help reaching college age and young adults, followed by students or youth. When asked about missions, churches ask for more help engaging in missions opportunities nearby, in Illinois, compared with international or North American mission fields.

We also ask in the survey how churches prefer to receive assistance or communication. Not surprisingly, churches prefer personal contact when possible, followed by e-mail and then phone. And recently, churches’ reported use of digital communications such as IBSA’s website or social media channels have actually slightly surpassed print communication channels, though both are still valued.

Every year we read and digest carefully this input from hundreds of churches. We seek to set our priorities and budget, and even hire and structure our staff, around the needs churches express. Here are two “take-aways” from this year’s survey I would like to communicate to every IBSA church:

First, you are not alone. Your church’s needs and even its frustrations are shared by many other churches. So don’t allow those needs to make you feel isolated. Use them as an opportunity to reach out and connect with other churches and leaders who have experienced the same needs, and who can advise or help.

Call IBSA for a connection or a consultation. Ask us to recommend a church that has found a way to meet the kind of need you have.

Second, choose to face your needs. Don’t just agonize over or lament them. Throughout the Bible, when God sees a need or hears a cry for help, he raises up a person, and that person leads others in a process that meets the need. Just ask Moses, or Gideon, or Solomon, or Nehemiah, or Jesus’ disciples, or the early church apostles. Paul promised the Philippian church, and us, that God would supply all their needs through his own riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

So what person and what process might God use to help meet your church’s greatest needs this year? He actually can read your mind. But he loves it when we admit our needs, and humbly ask for his help.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.