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Nathan Carter

Nathan Carter

At our church we have a questionnaire that anyone who desires to be an elder has to fill out. One of the questions is, “What are the five solas of the Reformation and would you be willing to be burned alive at the stake for holding these?” We strongly believe these rallying cries of the Reformation are still just as needed today as they were 500 years ago.

Before returning to Germany and facing his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived for a time in the United States. His assessment of the religious scene here was “Protestantism without Reformation.” This critique still largely holds true. We may not be Roman Catholic, but might some of the same problems that precipitated the Reformation in 16th century Europe be present in 21st century evangelicalism? I am afraid so.

The five solas provide a helpful grid for assessing the American church’s current spiritual climate and guide us in how to pray and work for revival.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
I think there are many churches who say on paper that they believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God. But in practice, you cannot tell. Scripture does not saturate their worship services. The sermon is cut short and full of stories and tips instead of exposition and proclamation of the whole counsel of God. The Word is not trusted to grow the church, but rather we look to and lean on techniques and tricks. Science is respected over Scripture, psychology prized over theology, experience trusted over exegesis. And many church-goers today are as biblically illiterate as they were in the Middle Ages.

Sola Fide (faith alone)
If we gave Southern Baptist church-goers a test with this true or false question—“People get into heaven by doing good”—I imagine a majority would know enough to say FALSE. But that doesn’t mean they could pass an essay question on what justification by faith entails.

We may have simply lowered the bar or tried to lighten the law, but we still are preaching a form of works-righteousness when we major on what people need to do…to end sex-trafficking, get out of debt, have healthy families…instead of what Christ has done to free us from sin, forgive us our debts, and adopt us into his family. The truth is that you actually have to be perfect to get into heaven, and thus our only hope is having Jesus’ perfect record given to us as a gift, received by faith.

Sola Gratia (grace alone)
We like grace—when it is seen as an assist for our slam dunk. The polls are heart-rending that show the number of Christians who think that the quote “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible. Do we really believe our salvation is wholly of grace? If so, we could never allow our Christianity to be a badge of pride that makes us feel superior to or live in fear of the big, bad world.

Solus Christus (Christ alone)
We may say that we believe Jesus is the only way to God, but do our actions back that up? We live in a highly pluralistic society. Do we really believe that the nice Hindu family living down the street is destined for hell apart from faith in Christ? Do we believe it enough to lovingly and sacrificially share with them the gospel of what Christ has uniquely done?

Our lack of evangelism betrays our lack of belief in the exclusivity of Christ. Furthermore, so much of our faith talk is vague spirituality that does not really need the virgin birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, and imminent return of the historical God-man Jesus Christ. We spout meaningless Oprah-esque mumbo-jumbo and it is no wonder that our kids start to think Christianity is not that distinct from the other religions and philosophies of their friends.

Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone)
Ministry can so easily become about our name or brand. We like to take the credit for our successes. Plus, there is a pervasive man-centeredness in our culture which has seeped into our churches. We are not in awe of God, but obsessed with our felt needs. Therefore, we fundamentally view God as there to serve us instead of the other way around. We have not been struck by the utter weightiness of the triune God, but are pathetically shallow and flit easily from this fad to that fad.

In our consumeristic context where everyone is bombarded with endless options all the time, the solas can at first seem like a straightjacket. But they truly represent our only hope. We are in desperate need of a fresh vision of God’s glory, in the face of Jesus Christ, as a result of his grace, perceived by faith, in the pages of the Bible.

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

Luther: action hero

ib2newseditor —  March 9, 2017
Martin Luther playmobll

This 3” tall toy from Playmobil is a big seller in Germany this year.

His story has all the markings of a summer blockbuster: thunder, lightning, daring escapes, an imprisonment (of sorts) in a German castle. But Martin Luther, born in 1483, was supposed to have been a lawyer and lived a much quieter, less adventurous life.

As a young teen, Luther was sent to school to study the law. His life changed dramatically in 1505 as he was traveling through a thunderstorm and a bolt of lightning struck too close for comfort. In desperation, Luther promised to become a monk.

He was ordained as a priest in 1507, but after 10 years of monastic life and increasing disillusionment with church practices, he sent a letter to leaders protesting the sale of indulgences, or pardons for sin. He included in the letter 95 Theses on faith, grace, sin, redemption, and religious authority. Those concepts, which sparked the Protestant Reformation, will celebrate their 500th anniversary this October 31, the date of Luther’s letter to church leaders.

Of the Scripture passages believed to have inspired Luther’s transformation, it is Romans 1:17 that theologian R.C. Sproul said “turned the lights on for Luther” because it details a righteousness given by God to those who would receive it by faith, rather than to those who could earn it.

In 1523, his life took another unexpected turn when a group of nuns asked for his help to escape their convent. He did so, sneaking them out in fish barrels. One of the sisters, Katherine Von Bora, eventually became Luther’s wife and the mother of his six children. (Von Bora must have been an unlikely partner for Luther; he once said that upon hearing of his choice, his close friends said, “For heaven’s sake, not this one.”)

Luther’s battles with established religion continued throughout his life, leading to his excommunication from the Catholic church after he refused to recant the Reformation’s ideals. Labeled a heretic and an outlaw, he was put in protective custody at Wartburg Castle. There, he translated the New Testament into German.

In the end, Luther left a legacy even larger than the life he led.

– Meredith Flynn, with info from Christianity Today, Ligonier Ministries, and Britannica.com

Steve GainesIt seems a fair question, especially following the loquacious and public presidency of Ronnie Floyd. Steve Gaines, by comparison, is almost invisible. This is not a criticism of Gaines, that he would have a different style as Southern Baptist Convention president. That is to be expected. Each president makes his own way and leads from his own strengths. But Gaines’s style, working in a less public way that his immediate predecessors, leaves us wondering: What is Steve Gaines doing?

And we find ourselves hoping that he’s focusing on issues that we just haven’t heard about yet.

Floyd wrote. Floyd spoke. A lot. Almost every week Floyd published on his blog and in Baptist Press his thoughts on righting the denomination and meeting the culture conflict head on. He quickly assumed a statesman position for his two years in office, urging support for missions and the Cooperative Program. We in the local Baptist news media came to rely on his thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis of current events.

Gaines, on the other hand, has spoken for publication rarely. He offered a few comments in the election season and after the January inauguration, mostly encouraging Southern Baptists to pray for the Trump Administration. And in February he addressed Baptist newspaper editors and state convention executive directors in Los Angeles. Gaines spoke on Trump’s election, appointments, and early actions as president. And he urged prayer for revival in America. Gaines has themed the 2017 SBC Annual Meeting “Pray: For Such a Time as This,” following Floyd and his predecessor, Fred Luter, in bringing Southern Baptists to our knees for spiritual awakening.

But it’s his comment on the complaints about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and its president Russell Moore that, we hope, gives a glimpse at Gaines’s work behind the curtain.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” Gaines said in Los Angeles. His comment came almost simultaneously with the announcement by Dallas-area pastor Jack Graham that his megachurch, Prestonwood Baptist, would be holding in escrow its $1-million offering through the Cooperative Program. Graham expressed concerns about the direction of the SBC and the ERLC, in particular, after an election cycle marked by anti-Trump tweets, Moore’s ongoing concern for refugees, and the “friend of the court” support of a freedom of religion case, in which both the ERLC and the International Mission Board (IMB) opposed onerous government regulations placed on a New Jersey mosque.

Southern Baptists do not need another era of suspicion, doubt, and sometime demagoguery. Our mission cause is too important to withhold funding over ancillary anxieties. The reconciliation that Gaines spoke about requires behind-the-scenes diplomacy and skillful mediation. That’s what we might hope Gaines is doing, even if we never hear about it publicly.

-Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist

The old adage says there are three things you should never talk about in polite company—money, religion, and politics. We already break two of those three rules every Sunday in church. Are we ready to break the third—politics?

The Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Feb. 1. The bill doesn’t repeal the Johnson Amendment, which limits church involvement in politics, but offers what Alliance Defending Freedom calls a “relief valve”—“as you carry out the mission of your church, you would have the right to speak freely on all matters of life, including candidates and elections.” Most importantly it maintains the prohibition against churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations from donating money to candidates and political campaigns.

The Johnson Amendment became part of the U.S. tax code in 1954 when then Senator Lyndon Johnson successfully restricted tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates under penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.

President Donald Trump discussed eliminating the amendment numerous times throughout his campaign and most recently at the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2. “[Thomas] Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God,” Trump said. “Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that, remember.”

The question is, are churches ready for this? The pastor of the small church I grew up in was not shy about sharing his political views. He shared from the pulpit who he was voting for in the presidential election, and told congregants they could vote for whomever they wanted, just go vote. I remember as a middle-schooler being shocked, not so much by his action, but by the person he was voting for on election day. His candidate lost, there was no outcry in the church, and the IRS never came knocking on our church doors.

Not all pastors and congregants want to discuss politics within the church walls, but, if passed, the Free Speech Fairness Act would give those who want to the freedom to do so.

– LMS

should-congress-fix-the-johnson-amendment-2-27-17

Leverage others’ strengths

ib2newseditor —  February 23, 2017
carmen-halsey

Carmen Halsey

Because she was only 13 months younger than her brother in their small high school, there were many classes Carmen Halsey attended with him.

“I took the book home to study and he never did, yet he’s the one that always pulled the A,” said Halsey during a breakout session at the Illinois Leadership Summit. “ That mentality is setting people up to fail. Sometimes we are just not a natural, and all the practice just depletes our energy level and leaves us feeling incompetent.”

Halsey, who serves as IBSA’s director of women’s ministry and missions, as well as Illinois WMU executive director, spoke on how to leverage the strengths of leaders.

First, Halsey said, leaders should have a general knowledge of how God created the brain and understand how their emotions impact them.

“All people experience things emotionally before their reason kicks in, but not all people do this at the same level,” she said. “Understanding the differences of how this works within a team will increase performance and decrease time wasted and drama.”

Halsey said the next step is identifying a person’s natural talents and strengths. “Take inventory. Ask them to take a strengths survey, to describe their dream job, and the sweet spot of their current ministry,” she said. “Watch them. People will naturally nurture their strengths without much thought behind it.”

Once strengths are identified, the leader must be intentional to invest in further developing those strengths.

“We must find ways to cultivate the natural talents in people to make them even stronger,” Halsey said. “We do this in practical ways with our encouragement, and by providing training opportunities. As we come alongside our team, we are confirming their strengths.”

Finally, Halsey said, a church or organization should always position people according to their strengths. “Sometimes out of need we ask someone to sit in a seat that might not be their best position,” she said. “If that’s the case, communicate that it’s temporary. And move them to a better fit as soon as you can. That’s how a person can get from good to great.”

– Kayla Rinker

face-the-nation-moore

WELCOME TO MARS HILL – ERLC President Russell Moore joined a panel discussion on Face the Nation.

Russell Moore has the hardest job in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is required to speak on behalf of a people who take great pride in speaking for themselves, even (or especially) with the Almighty. It’s in our theology (priesthood of all believers). It’s in our polity (autonomy of the local congregation). It’s in our DNA (we’re preachers).

So when someone dares to speak for all of us, and says something we might disagree with, we bristle.

Some are bristling over Moore’s anti-Trump stance during the election. And, as the Wall Street Journal and NPR reported a month ago, some churches are considering withdrawing support for the Southern Baptist agency Moore heads, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore apologized for any ill will he caused, but has that settled the conflict?

Moore is two years into his presidency, succeeding Richard Land who served 25 years in the role. Land was brusque, but his views matched the vast majority of Southern Baptists’ on issues of religious liberty and sanctity of life, and we mostly agreed with him when he spoke for us.

But times have changed. As evidenced by Moore, a new generation is rising to SBC leadership, and they focus on different issues than their predecessors did. Moore has spoken to the church’s handling of refugees and the theology of adoption and gender issues—and politics.

Several questions arise from the murmurings about the ERLC:

Is the ERLC really out of touch with mainstream Southern Baptist opinion? Or are we finding, especially in this election cycle, that the world is more complex and even once-monolithic Southern Baptists have varying opinions on some issues—especially political issues?

Is this a squall that will subside as Moore finds a more modulated approach to his “spokesman-ship”? Or is there really a storm brewing?

Will older leaders assume the statesman role, and let younger leaders lead? Or, is there truly a divide among Southern Baptists among generational, geographical, educational, economic, or political divides that will not be bridged.

Time will tell, we suppose. But in the meantime—

We need the ERLC, and it shouldn’t be muzzled. The ERLC should still represent Southern Baptists in the public discourse on religious liberty, the church, and sanctity of life. True, some ERLC staff posted political opinions on their personal blogs and Twitter feeds during the election cycle. Their views might have been too easily mistaken for Southern Baptists’ as a whole. Only Moore should address the SBC’s core issues in the blogosphere or Twitterverse.

Stop the habitual tweeting. The tweet may be the lingua franca, but the 140-character debate hasn’t served the ERLC well lately. At times in 2016, we wondered if the ERLC really needed to express opinions on so many topics. Those who speak for Southern Baptists should not be reactionary, but instead offer considered opinions and measured words.

Finally, we should acknowledge generational differences and allow the hand-off to proceed. This is no longer the Land era. Younger Baptists may have a different perspective on some things, but, so long as their views are biblical, we must let them speak to their times—and ours.

-Eric Reed

Read more about this story, “Baptists debate politics, religious liberty, missions funding”

Follow the follower

ib2newseditor —  February 16, 2017

follow-jesus

Christian leadership training experts like to cite Jesus as an example of the best leader ever, Michael Kramer told Illinois Leadership Summit breakout attenders. While he agrees, the pastor also believes Jesus is an example of the best follower the world will ever see.

The education pastor from Immanuel Baptist in Benton based his claim on this: “Christ called us to be followers. Even Jesus followed the will of the Father. Jesus was the greatest follower and his disciples followed him… As followers we are to be deeply dependent on Jesus.”

As leaders, Kramer stressed, we are to follow the tenet of John 3:30—He must increase, I must decrease. “Our intake of Jesus must be greater than our outtake,” he said. “We need to be spending much time in the Word. Not time in sermon preparation, don’t count that.”

Kramer suggested several ways to increase private prayer time and Bible reading. “Read through the Bible in a year or read a Psalm a night. Download a Bible app and listen. Buy the Jesus Storybook Bible, it’s the most creative Bible I’ve come in contact with. It goes straight to the heart. Memorize a Bible verse a week.”

“Pray the Lord’s Prayer every morning before your feet hit the floor,” Kramer said. “Go away for a few hours or an even longer period of time once a month just for prayer.” Kramer will spend a few hours in the woods walking and talking with God. He also recommended praying through a prayer list with your spouse, children, or grandchildren

By increasing time spent with God, you begin to decrease your focus on self. “What’s it look like to decrease?” he asked. “When God wants to go after your heart he’s going to do it in an unexpected way. Christ is going to go after the places that he wants to claim in our hearts.”