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A place of safety

ib2newseditor —  August 3, 2017

Place of safety

Why security should be on every church’s radar

The shooting deaths of nine people at a Wednesday night prayer meeting at a Charleston, South Carolina, church raises two thoughts almost simultaneously: How could that happen? and, That could never happen here.

Until it does.

The tragic shooting death of Maryville pastor Fred Winters in 2011 is all the reminder people in Illinois need to understand that violent attacks do happen inside the church walls, even here. With that realization comes the challenge to be ready for the next time, perhaps in our own sanctuary.

The killings at Wedgwood may be the first such attack many people recall. Coming just five months after the 1999 Columbine school massacre, it seemed unthinkable that such evil had moved from school house to church house when a gunman murdered seven people during a Sunday night service at Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church. Since then, violent attacks at church sites have increased 20-fold.

One-in-five attacks happens at a Baptist church, according to security expert Kevin Hardy.

“There is a threat against churches…We don’t know when something is coming, but we want to watch, we want to be prepared for when it does.”

Hardy led a conference on church security at Chatham Baptist Church in May. Over two days, church leaders from across Illinois received training from Strategos International, a Missouri-based company that teaches church personnel and lay leaders how to respond in stressful or crisis situations.

Hardy cited several statistics showing the need for increased security:
• Between 1999-2016 there were 1,314 deadly force incidents in churches, resulting in 651 deaths.
• In a study where 750 of 950 total motives for church violence were identified, robbery was the reason for 25% of attacks.
• Over half of incidents of church violence occur in towns with populations less than 10,000.

“You see statistics like [these],” Hardy said, “yet you’ll still hear people say ‘we don’t need protection.’” And, he warned, attacks happen in churches of all sizes.

Create a culture of awareness
James Gentry is a pastor on the west side of Chicago. Serving in an area marked by criminal activity, Gentry is concerned for his church, but not only for those in troubled neighborhoods. “I think all churches need to take a stand for security and not brush it off,” the pastor of New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church said. Many claim God will keep them safe, ignoring the need for security, he said. Yet, in the Bible, God used armies of men to fight for his will and purposes. “So we need to keep that same mindset even today. We still have to keep the flock [safe].”

His wife, Ericka, agreed. “I can see [church security] being an even more urgent need in the near future. So the more we know and implement now, the more we can learn and improve and be prepared for those things.”

Being prepared starts with creating a culture of awareness in the local church, Hardy said. “You develop a culture where people recognize when something just doesn’t look right, or when someone may be acting just a little out of sorts. It’s a mindset; it’s being actively aware of your surroundings and those around you.”

When a whole congregation is trained to recognize when something doesn’t seem right, there’s an increased chance that suspicious behavior will be reported and dealt with before it escalates.

“The idea is to pray for the best, but prepare for the worst,” said Hardy.

The role of volunteers
Not many churches have security teams—yet. But Hardy advises training volunteers to serve. When dealing with an emergency, he said law enforcement officers are not the true first responders. Volunteers already on scene are. Hardy said he could only point to 9 or 10 times in the past decade when an act of church violence was resolved by an on duty police officer.

Considering this, it’s important that each church have a volunteer security team that is ready to respond to any possible threats, said Hardy. “We want to be able to function under pressure…knowing what to do, how to do it, [and] when to do it.” And that’s only possible through prior preparation and practice, he concluded.

One time of vulnerability is during and after the weekly offering collection. As the money is being gathered, Hardy advised having security team members stationed around the sanctuary. Then make sure at least two of those individuals escort the head usher to the counting room or keeping area until the collection is counted, secured, or transported to the bank.

Hardy suggested that in larger churches, when dealing with an especially big offering, it’s a good idea to even consider having security and armed transport take money to the bank. Or if you are part of a smaller congregation, designate this as a job for the security team.

Keep calm and carry on
Some people object to the way a security team would look to visitors. How can a team be equipped to protect the congregation, while still providing an atmosphere of comfort, refuge, worship, and learning?

“Historically, churches are not security-conscious; churches are image-conscious.” Therefore, he advises taking an informal approach, using non-uniformed security on Sunday mornings.

Hardy said he has attended churches with a uniformed team, and some even have local police officers keeping watch. This is a great deterrent outside the building. But inside, this can cause churchgoers to wonder why it’s necessary to have uniformed security at the church they’re visiting.

“You don’t want an armed officer sitting up by the podium or by the platform. Pastors don’t usually like that,” Hardy said. But ultimately, this is a personal decision to be discussed by church leadership, as every congregation has different needs and security concerns based on their church size and geographic location.

Jerry Weber, minister of education and administration at Chatham Baptist Church, said he thinks all churches should be following the basic guidelines presented in this training—look and observe, and if you see something, say something.

Some of this seems to be common sense, Weber said, “but it’s these things we need to train people how to do. We come to church and we focus on worship and Bible study and not really thinking, ‘OK, we need to focus on security as well.’”

But as Hardy reiterated several times throughout the conference, security should be on every church’s radar. “We often assume we’re going to have a safe worship environment.” And most of the time we do, he clarified. But we need to be prepared for the days that are the exception.

When planning for church security, the experts advise, “have a servant’s heart with a warrior’s mindset.”

-Morgan Jackson is a freelance writer living in Bloomington.

A sunset in the rearview mirror of car as a races down the road

I recall researching an article a few years back on the actions messengers took at certain conventions. Some years were marked by insightful and course-altering votes; others had no discernable effect. With the advantage of hindsight, we ask, What actions from the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention will have lasting impact on our denomination and the effectiveness of our work in the world?

The vote on alt-right racism will be remembered; and the appointment of a task force on evangelism has the potential to change our direction. But there was one motion that could produce even greater, meaningful change—if it makes it past the Executive Committee. And there’s a second that I want to suggest.

Modest proposal 1: Shall we merge the mission boards?

A couple of years ago, a messenger moved that a merger of the North American and International Mission Boards be studied. When his motion was ruled out of order for parliamentary reasons, the messenger pleaded that exploration of the issue not be delayed because of procedural rules. He cited the emerging financial crisis of the IMB and cuts in missionaries on the field that had just been announced as motivating factors. At the time, it was clear that NAMB had plenty of reserves, and a merger could fix the money crunch. But rules are rules, and the motion was dead.

Until this year.

A similar motion was made at the 2017 meeting in Phoenix. Here’s how Baptist Press reported it, in a list of motions that were referred to the Executive Committee:

“A motion by Harvey Brown of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., requesting the president appoint a study committee to consider the feasibility of merging IMB and NAMB.”

There was no discussion this time around, or emotional pleading for the sake of missionaries on the field. And frankly, it seems some of steam has escaped on this topic.

IMB reported it is on firm financial footing. IMB President David Platt has weathered a couple of storms, and with the honeymoon over, he appears to be settling in for a long ministry focused on global missions. Platt still partners with NAMB, speaking at conferences about church planting in North America. But his heart beats for the peoples of the world.

And NAMB President Kevin Ezell has stopped making the offer, publically at least, for IMB to relocate from Richmond to Alpharetta. During Platt’s first year, Ezell said there was plenty of room at NAMB’s Georgia headquarters since his administrative staff had been radically downsized. Ezell still cheers for Platt’s presidency, but the pair aren’t making as many joint appearances. Maybe both have found their footing.

The question arises every decade or two: Is the distinction between “home” missions and “foreign” missions outdated (just as those terms are)? Should missions today be focused more on people groups and languages than geography—including in the United States? As the “nations” (translating ethnos as “nations” or “peoples”) have come to North America, should missionaries here share the gospel with them in the same ways they would back in their home countries?

And this: Should state conventions (again) lead church planting in their states, as the missions personnel most familiar with the nearby mission field and with the partner churches who can facilitate evangelistic church planting ministry?

Will one mission board focused on people groups, and state conventions focused on their own neighborhoods better achieve the evangelization of the world and the U.S.?

I can’t say for certain, but it’s a good time to explore the issue.

Modest proposal 2: Virtual messengers? In the next issue.

– Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Very bold prayer

ib2newseditor —  July 13, 2017
John Knox

John Knox

“Give me Scotland, or I die!”

It’s a bold prayer for a man whose ministry is founded on the sovereignty of God, and it might seem contradictory to some. How can a theologian count on God to do as he alone wills, yet plead for the Sovereign to be so moved for the salvation of souls and the upheaval of his nation. But that’s how John Knox believed firmly—and how he prayed fervently.

What Martin Luther was to Germany, and Knox was to Scotland. And what John Calvin was to reformed theology overall, Knox was to Presbyterian doctrine in particular. Brave, he kept his head when others were losing theirs to Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots.

John Knox House in Edinburgh

John Knox house in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Born in 1514, three years before Luther nailed his 95 accusations to the church house door in Wittenberg, Knox grew up in the foment of political revolution and spiritual reformation. He was described as violent in the streets and fiery in the pulpit. Knox was forced to flee Scotland, at one point enslaved 19 months in galley ships. Later, he met Calvin in France. He was so impressed with Calvin’s school in Geneva, according to a Christian History account, that he called it “the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on the earth since the days of the apostles.”

Returning to Scotland, Knox led the Scottish Reformation, a movement that birthed the Presbyterian Church and ultimately ended the reign of the Catholic queen. “He lived in the 16th century, and much of modern Scotland is really the fruit of his labors,” said Jeff Tippner, a minister in St. Fergus and organizer of a post-Brexit evangelistic campaign with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

When Graham’s grandson Will preached at that series of crusade meetings in Scotland last year, he invoked the prayer of Knox, as his famous grandfather had in 1955. The elder Graham explained the sometime dichotomy of reformation theology and crusade evangelism this way: “I believe in a sovereign God who still performs miracles.”

– Eric Reed

Worship w video projectorImagine this: There was a rule passed in your church business meeting that only the trained worship staff or musically auditioned laity of your church was permitted to sing in worship. It sounds preposterous, but it actually happened.

Let’s rewind the calendar about 1,650 years to the Council of Laodicea (363-364). The leaders of the church who sought for quality and reverence in worship were troubled because the untrained congregation sang loudly and so badly that something had to be done to restore beauty. A canon (practice) was adopted in the Catholic religion that continued until 1903 which left congregational participation to a minimum.

There were serious penalties for those who disagreed. Jon Hus, Czech theologian and hymn writer (1369-1415) was martyred for his views on congregational participation. The focus on who is singing was changing.

It was not always that way. In Jewish worship and early Christian worship, the congregation was biblicaly mandated to joyfully participate. Psalm 149:1 says “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. (See also Psalm 33:1, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19).

The restoration of congregational participation in worship was one of the radical reforms of Luther and later Calvin, and not without controversy.

Gains of the Reformation may be endangered by current musical trends

Luther wrote hymns with instrumental accompaniment. Calvin only allowed metrical psalmody set to a cappella tunes. Isaac Watts dared to write humanly composed hymns for churches that previously sung only psalms. Fanny Crosby was criticized for writing subjective songs that dealt with human emotions.

The praise and worship movement added the element of personal devotional singing to the Lord and not just about him. Despite these disagreements over the content of songs, post-Reformation congregations held common: participation by the people was paramount. The focus of what we sing was changing—until now.

Charles Finney (1792-1875) is the one credited with being the father of modern Revivalism. The music and congregational singing in Finney’s revival services were purposely intended as a spiritual warm-up so the congregant would be ready to receive the Word. It was very effective as many people were converted.

Many Baptist and protestant denominations adopted this design of worship which is still very common in churches today. Their rationale is that good, energetic music will prepare the attender to receive the sermon. The return to the professional leader had begun. The focus of why we sing was changing.

The seeker movement of the 1990’s unintentionally fostered the pre-Laodicean model that worship should be well done and presented to the audience. Many aspects of current worship trends contribute to a lack of participation.

Because of the digital age, there are now not just a few hundred songs in the hymnal, but hundreds of thousands from which to choose. Therefore, many people are unfamiliar with the music selection. Cover songs from well-known recording artists, often in keys which are too high for the average congregant, are regularly chosen. The bright lights of the stage combined with dim seating discourages involvement. The concert style of worship where the worshiper receives more than they give discourages participation. The focus on how we sing is changing.

In an interview with The Gospel Coalition (Feb. 2017), theologian and hymn writer Keith Getty said, “I would dare to say less than five percent of our reformed churches are taking congregational singing as seriously as any of these guys [reformation fathers] did. I’ve heard Ligon Duncan say, ‘There is no part of the worship life more in need of reformation than congregational singing.’”

If most agree that congregational singing needs to be reformed, what can be done?

Getty says, “The biggest challenge is for pastors to actually take the lead. Period… The churches with great congregational singing are the churches with the pastor who really, really cares. Music can be contemporary, traditional, black gospel, unaccompanied psalm singing, with or without choirs, leaders, sound systems or hymn books. It doesn’t matter.

“Luther prioritized choosing the hymns his churches would sing,” Getty said, “explaining why they should sing, and then setting to work on teaching and encouraging his people. That’s the single thing that needs to change most.” Getty notes that “worship should begin with the holy act of God’s people singing as the center of the musical experience, and then work out from there.”

Is congregational singing dead? “Congregational singing is far from dead,” Getty concluded, “mainly because it’s connected to a source of life higher than cultural trends or modern comparisons.

–Steve Hamrick is IBSA Director of Worship and Technology

Old Holy Bible and the American Flag

As we approach July 4th, many pastors preach about Christians in America repenting of sin and turning back to the Lord so that He will bless His churches. One text they often use is 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NASB):

“[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Is that an appropriate application of this text?

To be clear, these are God’s words spoken to Solomon, King of Israel. Likewise, the “land” referred to was the land of Israel. When the Israelites sinned against the Lord, He would send the plagues mentioned in verse 13. But if they responded by humbling themselves, praying, seeking God’s face and turning from their wicked ways, God would hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.

Can Christians in America find any appropriate application from this text?

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB), “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The word “Scripture” in this text referred to Old Testament Scripture. That would include 2 Chronicles 7:14, rightly interpreted.

Likewise, when the apostle Paul cited Old Testament examples of rebellion in Israel’s history that prompted God’s punishment, he noted that they also served as warnings for Christians living under the new covenant. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 (NASB), “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”

Is America Israel? No. Is God an American? No. But can warnings and promises to God’s people in the Old Testament be applied to Christians today? Absolutely.

Regarding 2 Chronicles 7:14, it is very appropriate for any Christian to obey the spirit of this text by endeavoring to humble himself or herself, pray, seek God’s face and turn from wicked ways, trusting that God will hear, forgive and heal.

The apostle Peter, speaking to a group of first-century Christians, said this: “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10 NASB). Today, followers of Jesus are God’s people. Christians are those who are “called by [His] name.” Therefore, it is appropriate that we apply the timeless truths of 2 Chronicles 7:14. How suitable for all Christians in America, and in any other nation, to humble ourselves, pray, seek the Lord’s face and turn from our wicked ways, asking Him to graciously hear from heaven, forgive our sin and bring spiritual healing to the ailing, impotent churches in our land.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, we note three precepts that are consistently called for by God throughout Scripture: humility, hunger and holiness.

The first requirement for such spiritual healing is humility. “[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves.” It is always good for Christians to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). God will share His glory with no one because God alone can handle His glory. Every redeemed human being should give all glory to Jesus for salvation and every benefit it brings.

Frankly, modern Christianity is marked by far too much arrogance and condescension. For instance, all of us need to use great caution and wise deliberation when posting on social media. The Bible says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 NASB). The word “unwholesome” is the Greek word sapros, meaning “rotten.” Here it refers to speech that is likened to “garbage” or “trash.” Frankly, there is too much “trash-talk” on social media. Humility is always becoming in any child of God.

The second requirement for spiritual healing is hunger. We see it in 2 Chronicles 7:14 in the words: “(If) My people who are called by My name … pray and seek My face.” Jesus urged His followers to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 NASB). All Christians in America — and other nations — would do well to increase our hunger for godliness. We should taste and see that the Lord Jesus is good (cf. Psalm 34:8).

The final requirement for spiritual healing is holiness. “[If] My people who are called by My name … turn from their wicked ways.” Holiness comes by means of repenting from sin. Repentance means to confess our sins and turn away from them. That leads to true holiness.

These three emphases from 2 Chronicles 7:14 — humility, hunger and holiness — are much needed among Christians today, whether we live in America or not. Just because 2 Chronicles 7:14 was not written to Americans does not mean that Christians in America cannot benefit from its admonitions by obeying its precepts. Again, “all Scripture is profitable.” The warnings in the Old Testament “were written for our instruction.”

Many Christians in America are praying for a fresh spiritual awakening and revival among those of us who know Jesus Christ. I for one am praying for American Christians to embrace genuine humility, hunger and holiness. I am also praying that the Lord will graciously see fit to hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and send His much-needed healing.

When I think of it that way, I don’t know of a verse in the Bible that serves as a better guide for praying for revival than 2 Chronicles 7:14.

–Steve Gaines is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church. This column originally appeared at BPnews.net.

Phoenix map 1

It’s going to be hot enough in Phoenix without a squabble. Maybe we won’t see motions from the floor at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention to defund the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission or dismiss its president, Russell Moore.

There are several reasons for this new hope. First, both sides in the election-year dust up have offered conciliatory statements. Jack Graham, pastor of Dallas-area megachurch Prestonwood, announced his congregation would restore their Cooperative Program giving in April. The church had “escrowed” its SBC missions contributions while they examined complaints that Moore had criticized presidential candidate Donald Trump and those who planned to vote for him.

The complaints from the Texas church and others exposed some theological and political distance between ERLC leadership responsible for articulating Southern Baptist views in Washington and those Southern Baptists back home who fund them.

Similarly, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Executive Board studied “issues of concern” related to the ERLC. But recently, the board said “it has evaluated the complaints lodged against the ERLC, that its leadership has met with Dr. Moore and has sent a letter to the trustees of the ERLC and encourages the churches to continue their generous financial support for all our convention work.”

And there’s the action by Moore himself.

His tone toward Graham and Prestonwood Church may have helped. Moore explained that his comments about the election were never aimed at the Southern Baptist rank-and-file; and in explaining his actions, Moore never sought to defend himself.

More important, there’s word to this editorial team and others that the ERLC staff is making new efforts to connect with the grassroots. For example, Vice President for Communications Dan Darling appeared at the Illinois Baptist Women’s Priority Conference. (He addressed family issues in a declining culture.) The ERLC, fond of sending videos to state and regional events, is more likely to appear in person in the future. Now three years into their tenure, the ERLC leadership is learning that it should not get too far ahead of the people who sent them.

And, with the placement of the ERLC’s report last on the convention agenda, rather than on the first day as in years past, there may only be time to accept their mea culpa and move forward.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

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London | I went to Borough Market on a bright, sunny Friday in late September. The market, which has been in existence in one form or another for about 1,000 years, was filled with people going about their business. Vendor stalls were piled high with fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, cheeses, fish, and just about anything else you might want to eat. Surrounding the market stalls, the streets were lined with cake shops, restaurants, and pubs. People were enjoying delicious food, celebrating special occasions, and simply having a good time.

I’m sure the scene was much the same that warm Saturday night in early June as people dined in the restaurants and pubs. The vendor stalls would have been closed for the evening, but there was still plenty of food to enjoy and fun to be had. At least until three terrorists plowed a van into people walking on nearby London Bridge, then jumped out of the van, running to the market area, and into the restaurants where they began stabbing people with knives intent on killing them. As they did this, eyewitnesses reported one of the terrorists cried, “This is for Allah!” The terrorists killed seven and injured 48.

London prides itself on being a multicultural city — 37% of its residents come from outside the United Kingdom and one-quarter of its population arrived within the last five years. At least 45% of the population has no religious affiliation. Many Brits view Christianity as “been there, done that.”

The June 3 attacks on London Bridge and in Borough Market, the May 23 Manchester suicide bomber, and the March 22 Westminster bridge attack highlight the need for Christ, not only in London, but the rest of England. The International Mission Board is building missional communities in London using the 280 Tube (underground subway) stops as hubs to organize these communities around.

Still others are working in immigrant communities with Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. These communities isolate themselves keeping their customs and religions. There is a very real danger for those missionaries and those who convert to Christ.

Pray for the English people, that as a nation they will turn back to Christ, reviving their strong Christian heritage. Pray also that immigrants, first, second, and third generations — will find true freedom in Christ. The deception and oppression they endured in their home countries has traveled with them and is spreading. The only way to stop it is the through the Truth of Christ.

Last fall, Lisa Misner Sergent visited London to learn about the International Mission Board’s new strategies.