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Dutch Christians face opposition over statement on biblical sexuality
Christian leaders in the Netherlands are facing backlash over a statement affirming biblical sexuality, Baptist Press reported late last week. The Nashville Statement, released in 2017 by U.S. evangelicals including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in part affirms “that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2001, signers of the statement have been threatened with criminal prosecution, BP reported.

Harvest Church to drop lawsuit
Harvest Bible Chapel announced plans to drop a lawsuit against a reporter and a group of bloggers who released reports of mismanagement and poor leadership at the Chicagoland megachurch. Harvest and Pastor James MacDonald claimed defamation when they sued reporter Julie Roys and the team behind “The Elephant’s Debt” last October. Earlier this month, a judge denied the church’s attempt to keep subpoenaed documents private, Christianity Today reported.

MacDonald was scheduled to preach at the 2019 SBC Pastors’ Conference this June, but withdrew in December.

Dockery to lead Missouri university’s theology evaluation
A Southern Baptist university in Missouri will undergo an evaluation to ensure its “theological integrity is intact,” The Christian Post reported Jan. 11. Students at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar have protested the dismissal of Professor Clint Bass, who was fired after expressing concern over some faculty members’ theological views. SBU told The Christian Post it had intended to have conversations on theology in fall of 2019, but Bass’s dismissal and the public fallout moved up the timeline.

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, will be led by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Hurricane relief continues in new year
Disaster Relief efforts in Florida and North Carolina are ongoing, Baptist Press reported Jan. 8, in response to 2018’s Hurricanes Michael and Florence. Teams are continuing to serve in affected areas, and plans are underway for college students to join the response during spring break. More information is available at SendRelief.org/GenSend.

Barna releases new insights on pastors and their work
Almost three-fourths of pastors feel content with their role, Barna reports, but more than half had another career before going into ministry. And a quarter another job in addition to their work as a pastor.

Governor J.B. Pritzker and a slate of other leaders were sworn in today in Springfield, signaling what many supporters have called “a new day” for Illinois. At a prayer service at historic First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln and his family once worshiped, Pritzker and five other constitutional officers were prayed over by their own spiritual leaders to start their terms of service in Illinois.

Under the church’s towering stained glass windows, faith leaders also read passages from the Bible and the Quran, and talked about the principles held closest by people who practice their faith traditions. They spoke of justice and mercy, ideals Pritzker talked about when discussing his own Jewish faith and upbringing in an interview last summer.

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Rabbi Seth M. Limmer prays for Gov. J.B. Pritzker (right) at a service prior to his inauguration.

They celebrated the leaders who were elected in November, and spoke hopefully of how their service will benefit the people of Illinois. The crowd packed into wooden pews cheered Springfield pastor T. Ray McJunkins’ optimistic message with its refrain of “the best is yet to come.” The prayer service was a good way to start inauguration day, many would say later.

As I sat in the sanctuary, my thoughts turned to people of faith who weren’t represented on the platform. How should members of our Illinois Baptist churches engage with an administration whose views on many issues undoubtedly run counter to their own? We’ll cover that topic in a longer story in the Jan. 21 issue of the Illinois Baptist, but for now, I can say I left the prayer meeting hopeful.

My hope isn’t based on political agendas or the current administration’s position on specific issues—indeed, I disagree with more than I agree with in those areas. Rather, my hope stems from wisdom I heard while reporting on Gov. Pritzker’s inauguration: Real victory doesn’t rely on political victory. As Southeastern Seminary’s Bruce Ashford told me, “We do what we do out of witness and obedience, and not because we have to win.”

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Gov. Pritzker and his family are introduced at the inauguration ceremony in Springfield.

Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton said something similar after her swearing-in today. Community building is done when we put our own self-interests on hold, she said, and commit to working side-by-side. Even when it’s hard.

While I wasn’t necessarily represented on the platform today, I did hear the call to engage the process even when my side isn’t winning. That reminder was a good way to start inauguration day.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

 

 

Gallup poll finds low expectations for global peace
70% of Americans expect 2019 to be “a troubled year with much international discord,” according to Gallup data collected in December. Hopes are higher for economic prosperity and employment, but the nation’s political system received a gloomy forecast from many respondents. 89% predicted a year of conflict, while only 11% foresaw a year of cooperation.

Bible app gets 1 million subscriptions on New Year’s Day
The YouVersion Bible app’s Bible-reading plans got more than one million new subscriptions to start the new year, The Christian Post reported. The app offers more than 13,000 reading plans, including some offered in 1,000 languages other than English.

Greear launches evangelism emphasis with local associations
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear will work with local associations of Southern Baptist churches to implement a focus on personal evangelism in 2019. “Who’s Your One?” is an initiative to encourage every Southern Baptist to share the gospel with one person this year. Greear will introduce the emphasis to his own local association—Yates Baptist Association—at a Jan. 31 simulcast available to associations across the country. More information is forthcoming at sbcassociations.org.

Third gender option legal in New York City, California
The nation’s most populous city and state now allow people to choose a “third gender,” often designated by X on legal documents. New York City and California join Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington State, and Washington, D.C., as places that allow a non-binary gender option for people who believe they are neither male nor female.

Passion attenders raise money for deaf Bible translations
Young people at this year’s Passion conference gave $450,000 toward translating New Testament stories in sign languages used in 16 countries. The Deaf Bible Society reports only 2% of deaf people around the world have been introduced to the gospel, and that there is no Bible translation for at least 95% of more than 400 unique sign languages used globally.

Puerto Rico Convention’s annual meeting highlights new churches
Southern Baptists in Puerto Rico celebrated nine new churches gained in the year since Hurricane Maria at their annual meeting in November. The meeting of the Convención de Iglesias Bautistas del Sur de Puerto Rico (Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico) was the first since 2016. Last year, Hurricane Maria and its aftermath cut church attendance in Puerto Rico by one-third, Baptist Press reported.

With the new churches, there are now about 80 Southern Baptist congregations in Puerto Rico. Illinois Baptists will work with church planters in the U.S. territory through two mission trips planned for 2019.

SBC President issues Lottie Moon challenge
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear pledged to perform a stunt if the 2018 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions reaches $170 million. So far, suggestions on social media include wearing a mullet at the 2019 SBC annual meeting, or arm wrestling newly elected International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood.

At Liberty University, First Lady addresses opioid crisis
First Lady Melania Trump spoke at Liberty University in Virginia Nov. 28 about the country’s opioid crisis. “I know college is a time to build your independence, experience things on your own terms and make decisions on your own behalf,” Trump told students at the Baptist university. “I am here to remind you that some of those decisions, though they may seem minor at the time, could negatively impact you for the rest of your lives.”

Chau assisted by American evangelicals, officials say
New details have emerged in the death of John Allen Chau, the missionary who died last month while trying to share the gospel with people on North Sentinel island in the Bay of Bengal. The Christian Post reports Indian police now say they believe two American evangelicals helped Chau reach the island, where he is believed to have been shot to death by arrows Nov. 17.

Majority of Protestant churchgoers don’t drink, but the number who do is rising
LifeWay Research found 41% of Protestant churchgoers drink alcohol, up from 39% in 2007. And while the vast majority say the Bible teaches against drunkenness, more than half also say Scripture indicates all beverages, including alcohol, can be consumed without sin.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, LifeWay Research

Resolution calls for eradication of racism
At their annual meeting this month, the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention approved a resolution denouncing the 1857 Supreme Court ruling that Dred Scott, a slave living in a free state, was not an American citizen and therefore couldn’t file suit in a court of law. (Scott was appealing to the court for his freedom.)

The resolution at the Missouri Baptist Convention meeting called on the state’s legislature to denounce the ruling and urged “our churches to continue to reach out to all persons regardless of ethnicity showing mercy to all for whom Christ died, and look forward to the day that we will gather as a diverse assembly in heaven.”

Related: At the Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association, IBSA President Adron Robinson called for an end to divisions in the church. Watch his message here.

Chitwood unanimously elected to lead IMB
New International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood said Southern Baptists’ global missions force can grow in number again, but it will require “greater generosity and a greater willingness to sacrifice.”

ERLC, other religious agencies oppose tax law
Opponents to a provision in federal tax laws say it “will hopelessly entangle the [Internal Revenue Service] with houses of worship.” Plus, churches will face a 21% tax on employee benefits like parking and transportation.

Offerings up in 2018, pastors say
A new LifeWay Research survey found 42% of Protestant pastors say their church’s offerings are up over the previous year, and 45% say the current economy is positively impacting their church.

‘An opportunity to be human’: Seminary training transforms life in prison
Religion News Service reports on Christian education programs inside prisons, and how they’re training students to be “field ministers” to fellow inmates.

Sources: The Pathway, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research, Religion News Service

Asia Bibi released from Pakistan’s death row
The release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman imprisoned for almost nine years on blasphemy charges, was cause for celebration and caution among religious freedom advocates worldwide. “She cannot be released openly,” said an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice. “If she is, there’s no doubt, no question about it, that her life will be in jeopardy.”

‘Stand for Life’ becomes ERLC initiative
An online group promoting the sanctity of every human life will become part of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Stand for Life, which began with a post by founder Jess Barfield of her infant son, has as its mission to promote human dignity through storytelling.

Sessions faces criticism from some in his denomination
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under fire from some Methodist ministers who oppose his role in policies that separate families at the border. In a letter sent to Sessions last summer, United Methodist Church leaders urged a “reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connection [Sessions] step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families.”

Charleston church shooting is subject of documentary
The 2015 shooting at a Charleston, S.C. church is the subject of “Emanuel,” a documentary executive produced by actress Viola Davis and Golden State Warrior Steph Curry.

Midterm election: Evangelicals in the spotlight
As voters cast their ballots in today’s midterm election, slow shifts in the evangelical voting bloc are unlikely to result in gains for progressive candidates, USA Today reports.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, USA Today

“Pioneering Spirit” is the theme of the 2018 IBSA Annual Meeting, kicking off Nov. 7 at First Baptist Church in Maryville. The meeting will highlight the four challenges put before churches at last year’s meeting: go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders.

Visitors to the meeting will also be invited on a virtual prayer tour where they can intercede for ministries across the state, all from inside FBC Maryville. The life-size log cabin from last year’s meeting will also return, featuring visual displays about Illinois’ mission field.

Fritz Klein, a renowned Abraham Lincoln interpreter, will join IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams for the Wednesday evening session. Worship band Sixteen Cities will lead music during the meeting.

Prior to the Annual Meeting, the IBSA Pastors’ Conference will focus on “Blazing New Trails” with messages from urban church planting strategist Darryl Gaddy, St. Louis pastor Noah Oldham, and Illinois leaders Matt Crain and Ted Max. IBSA ministers’ wives will meet Wednesday morning for their annual conference, and there are also meetings planned for young leaders, church planters and sponsoring churches, and associational leaders.

For more information about the meetings, schedules, and meals, go to IBSAannualmeeting.org. And follow along here for news and updates from Maryville.