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Briefing

IL churches celebrate increase in baptisms
Illinois Baptist churches celebrated 3,676 baptisms in 2018, an increase of 6.8% over the previous year. The increase is one highlight of the Annual Church Profile (ACP) reports completed by 97% of IBSA churches, a new record high. “We were encouraged to see baptisms increase … after four years of gradual decline,” IBSA’s Executive Director, Nate Adams, said. “I sense a renewed passion for evangelism among many churches.” 

Churches identify ministry needs in survey
Preparing people to share the gospel, making disciples, and developing leaders remain top concerns in the latest survey of IBSA churches. Evangelism and the desire to reach young people ranked high for a large majority of Illinois churches, with respondents saying their church could use more assistance in those areas. The 2018 Church Needs Survey was conducted online in October and November.

James MacDonald fired from Harvest
Harvest Bible Chapel fired its founder and senior pastor James MacDonald for “engaging in conduct … contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” Harvest elders announced they were forced to take “immediate action” to end MacDonald’s 30-year tenure. “This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors,” the elders at Harvest said.

Greenway nominated to lead Southwestern Seminary
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumnus Adam W. Greenway has been selected as nominee to fill the presidential vacancy at Southwestern Seminary. Greenway’s nomination will be brought for a vote on Feb. 26–27. Greenway currently serves as dean of the Billy Graham School and as William Walker Brookes Associate Professor of Evangelism and Apologetics at Southern Seminary. If elected, Greenway will become Southwestern Seminary’s ninth president. 

CA must pay pro-life pregnancy centers
A U.S. District Court judge for the Central District of California issued an order saying that California must pay three pro-life pregnancy centers and a conservative law firm $399,000 in legal fees and other costs. This comes after a state law meant to force pregnancy centers to promote abortion was struck down and declared unconstitutional, with a the court granting a permanent injunction against the law.

Sources: Illinois Baptist (2), Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Christian Post

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)

Briefing

Study: 66% of young adults drop out of church for at least a year
In a 2017 LifeWay Research survey released on January 15, 66 percent of Americans between 23 and 30 years old said they stopped attending church on a regular basis for at least a year after turning 18. Moving for college was the top reason young people said they stopped attending church. Other popular reasons to include: a perception that church members were hypocritical (32%), disconnect with church life (29%), disagreement with the church’s stance on political/social issues, and the inability to attend due to work responsibilities (24%).

Harvest Church pastor takes ‘indefinite sabbatical’
On January 16, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel announced that pastor James MacDonald would take an “indefinite sabbatical” from preaching and leadership at the Chicago megachurch while it works to reconcile with past critics. The announcement follows recent reports of criticism of the church’s financial and management practices. The elders said MacDonald has permission to continue preaching at the Harvest location in Naples, Fla., this winter but he has recused himself from having any leadership role in the reconciliation process and will participate only when asked. 

Abortion defunding bill fails in Senate
An effort to remove the federal government from the abortion business failed January 17 in the U.S. Senate. Senators voted 48-47 to bring the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act to the floor for a vote on final passage. But the roll call fell short of the votes needed to succeed in the procedural move. The proposal, S. 109, would establish a permanent, government-wide ban on funds for abortions by standardizing the prohibitions that now exist in various federal programs. The bill also would block federal money for abortion coverage under the 2010 health-care law and guarantee full disclosure of abortion funding by health insurance plans that are part of the controversial arrangement.

N. Korea again tops list of countries with highest persecution
Open Doors USA has published its 2019 World Watch List of the top 50 countries in the world where Christians face the most extreme persecution for their faith. North Korea was listed at the very top of the World Watch List for the 17th-consecutive year, with Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, and India rounding up the top 10. Additionally, China jumped 16 spots, from 43 to 27. As many as 4,136 Christians were murdered last year because of their faith, while 1,266 churches or Christian buildings were attacked.

Some LifeWay stores to close
In light of “an accelerated rate of erosion” at “brick-and-mortar” stores, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer has announced that some LifeWay stores will be closing. “We will be transitioning many resources from our LifeWay stores to digital channels.” Rainer wrote in a January 15 email to LifeWay employees. “The good news is that we will be better prepared to meet the future. The challenging news is that some of our stores will have to close.” The number of stores to close and the timing of those closures has not been announced.

Sources: Christianity Today, BP News (3), Christian Post

 

Briefing

China’s church persecution grows
Chinese Communist authorities reportedly raided a children’s Bible class Dec. 15, shutting down one of China’s leading underground church and confiscating 4,000 books. The latest raid became the third prominent Protestant unregistered church to be closed by officials this season. Those arrested are being beaten, tortured and denied food and restroom accommodations according to Southeast Asia’s regional manager for International Christian Concern.

Related:
Many leaders of Early Rain Covenant Church counted the cost and pledged faithfulness in advance of arrests at homes, workplaces and on the streets that have continued since Dec. 9. The church’s pastor and elder wrote letters to their congregation saying, “We will not bend, even if it means jail, even if it means death. We will continue to preserve our faith.”

Pakistan ousts aid groups, World Vision
Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country known for persecuting religious minorities, has expelled 18 aid organizations from its country, including World Vision and other Christian groups. The expulsions will affect more than 11 million aid recipients in the country suffering in healthcare and education, entailing an estimated loss of more than $130 million in annual aid, the Associated Press reported.

Egypt approves 168 churches
Egyptian Christians now have an additional 168 legal church buildings. Prior to a new law passed in August 2016, churches faced an arduous task to secure recognition by the government. On November 30, a cabinet committee approved the requests of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic churches to formally register facilities that have functioned as centers of worship. “I am pleased,” said Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt. “The process has been slow in the beginning, but I think going forward it will be better.”

MO town keeps Christmas cross despite atheists’ warning
A town in Christian County, Missouri, has reversed its decision to take down an illuminated cross from its Holiday display at Finley River Park. Many residents voiced their outrage when, under pressure from an atheist legal group, the city of Ozark announced Dec. 11 that it would no longer include the blue-lit cross in its Christmas light display. The town, however, reversed its decision and assured residents the cross will continue to be part of the holiday display as the city looks into the atheist group’s legal claims.

Survey: Americans want more Christ in Christmas
Most Americans want more religious meaning to the Christmas season. A new study from LifeWay Research found 65% of Americans say, “Christmas should be more about Jesus.” However, those looking for more Christ in Christmas this year are significantly fewer than 2014 when LifeWay Research found 79 percent of Americans at that time said Christmas should be more about Jesus.

Sources: Christian Post (2), BP News (3), Christianity Today

Briefing

2018’s top Bible verse
According to the world’s most downloaded Bible app, YouVersion, the most popular Bible verse of 2018 is found in the Old Testament. Isaiah 41:10’s “Do not fear…” verse was shared, bookmarked, and highlighted more than any other passage by hundreds of millions of YouVersion users. 

Congress approves aid for religious minorities
Persecuted religious minorities victimized by Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria are now set to get some relief from the U.S. government. Congress unanimously passed a law designed to provide aid to Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and other religious minorities that underwent displacement and genocide at the hands of ISIS.

Evangelical church sees highest giving since 2014
Evangelical churches saw an increase in giving of almost 6% in 2017, the highest increase since 2014, according to a new report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. ECFA President Dan Busby said in a statement that he was “so pleased to see this increased support for Christ-centered churches and ministries.”

Ill. town cancels trip to Ark after complaints
An Illinois town canceled a trip to KY’s Creation Museum and Ark Encounter after an atheist group filed a complaint. Charleston’s parks and recreation department cancelled the trip for its community after the atheist group argued that the trip violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

School district faces pressure over nativity display
A Michigan civil rights group is threatening to sue the Newaygo Public School District if they do not remove a Wise Men display from an elementary school building, citing it to be a violation of the US Constitution. Most citizens of the small Michigan town, however, support keeping the display, which has been part of Newaygo’s Christmas tradition since the 1940s.

Sources: Christianity Today, World, Christian Post (2), CBN News

Briefing

Study: Americans rank family (over faith) as top priority
A Pew Research Center survey released Nov. 20 discovered twice as many Americans say family is the most meaningful aspect of their lives (40%) compared to the second most popular choice: faith (20%). Among Christians, more than half say their faith provides a “great deal” of meaning, and 29 percent identified it as the most important source of meaning. Only two religious traditions ranked religion as their top source of meaning: evangelical Protestants and historically black Protestants.

Third of Brits uncertain about theology questions
According to a Ligonier Ministries’ survey, a third of people in the United Kingdom say they don’t know whether the Resurrection actually occurred, whether God counts a person righteous based on faith alone, or whether trust in Jesus alone leads to salvation. In Ligonier Ministries’ first-ever theology survey conducted in the UK, “I don’t know” was the top response to numerous questions about Jesus, sin, the Bible, and other rudimentary theological concepts.

Survey highlights Lifeway customer service
LifeWay Christian Resources is ranked as one of the top companies in the nation for customer service by Newsweek magazine. LifeWay also landed at No. 1 for brick and mortar bookstores on Newsweek’s list of America’s Best Customer Service 2019. Statista surveyed more than 20,000 U.S. customers who have either made purchases, used services or gathered information about products or services in the past three years.

‘World’s most isolated’ tribe kills US missionary
A 26-year-old American missionary was killed Nov. 17 on a remote island off the coast of India, where he attempted to share the gospel with the most isolated tribe in the world. The All Nations missionary traveled to North Sentinel Island to evangelize its small indigenous population, who remain almost entirely untouched by modern civilization. Indian police have not yet been able to retrieve the young missionary’s body.

China sentences US pastor to prison
Chinese authorities have convicted and sentenced Christian pastor and US permanent resident John Sanqiang Cao to seven years in prison as part of China’s aggressive crackdown on Christian pastors. Cao was reportedly transporting Bibles and other materials from China into Myanmar when security agents arrested him.

Sources: Christianity Today (3), CBN News, Christian Headlines

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Baptist church saved amidst CA fire
When the deadliest wildfire in California state history struck the town of Magalia, pastor Doug Crowder of Magalia Pines Baptist Church opened his church to those unable to evacuate the town to take shelter with church members and himself. Despite the engulfing flames, the people came out unscathed the next day. While everything around the church had been incinerated, the church’s property was untouched.

Final rules guard conscience from abortion mandate
The seven-year battle by objectors to the abortion/contraception mandate has come to a regulatory close with a victory for freedom of conscience. The Trump administration issued two final rules Nov. 7 that supply conscience protections to Americans with a religious or moral objection to the 2011 mandate instituted under President Obama.

IMB taps Paul Chitwood as presidential candidate
The International Mission Board trustees’ presidential search committee announced Nov. 6 that the committee will recommend Paul Chitwood, 48, to be elected as the 173-year-old entity’s 13th president. The vote to elect Chitwood is scheduled for the Nov. 15 plenary session during their IMB board meeting in Richmond.

IBSA churches meet mission field with ‘Pioneering Spirit’
Illinois set the foundation for IBSA’s Annual Meeting Nov. 7-8 at First Baptist Church in Maryville. The state’s bicentennial highlighted the 112th annual gathering of Southern Baptists in Illinois. The meeting also focused on four “Pioneering Spirit” challenges churches have embraced over the past year so that the gospel is advanced in a state where more than 8 million people do not know Christ.

Man files lawsuit to change age
A Dutch entrepreneur has filed a lawsuit to legally change his age to 49 – that’s 20 years younger than his chronological age. Emile Ratelband wants to change his birth date, stating that if one can change genders, he is justified to change his age. of A local court in the Netherlands will rule on the case in December.

Sources: Baptist Press (3), Illinois Baptist, CBN