Archives For Commentary

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Bryan Price

Bryan Price

The notion that Martin Luther was a reformer of preaching is one that receives little attention. Yet the changes to preaching brought about by his influence were instrumental not only in helping people grasp the fundamental truths of the faith, but also in transforming the very nature of Christian worship.

As we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Luther’s contributions to church’s thinking about the content, priority, and simplification of preaching still challenge us as modern-day pastors and worshipers.

Luther was a product of the preaching tradition of the medieval period, which, according to scholar Dennis Ngien, placed a significant burden upon the listener to do good works in hopes of earning favor with God. Grace was contingent upon performance, and Christ was emphasized as a judge who demanded righteous living.

But Reformation theology presented just the opposite view, emphasizing justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Consequently, as the Reformation challenged the theology behind the sermon, it also brought about a shift in the content of the sermon. In Luther’s preaching, good works were no longer a means to acquire grace, but were the result of having received grace.

Along with transforming preaching content, the Reformation also led to a renewed emphasis on its priority. Writer Hughes Old explains that where worship was previously centered around the sacraments, with very little emphasis on the proclamation of Scripture, Luther was adamant that when the church gathered, clear exposition of the Word was to be first in order. He believed since true biblical worship was always in response to the preached Word, worship in the form of the sacraments and singing should come after hearing the Word proclaimed, and not before. In fact, Luther saw the preached Word as sacramental in and of itself. In his view, it was through the preached Word that the worshiper encountered the living Word.

In my own experience as a church planter, during the early years when our choir was young and inexperienced, the running joke was that whoever attended Love Fellowship came just for the preaching, because the choir was certainly not on the level of many of the established churches in the area. We would laugh about it, but there was a part of me that wished we had the luxury of a glorious choir that could help set the atmosphere of worship.

Since then, and having read Luther, I now see how blessed we were. Having to do without the ideal choir allowed us to establish a church where the preaching was and continues to be the central part of our worship. In a day where choirs and worship bands are employed for their ability to draw crowds and keep people on their feet, I think a re-reading of Luther would be a tremendous benefit to the body of Christ who, perhaps in this area, has lost her way.

Lastly, the Reformation led to the simplification of preaching. Though he was undoubtedly one of the greatest theological minds in Christian history, Luther was compelled to make deep spiritual truths accessible to the common layman.

In my survey of contemporary sermons by popular preachers, I am beginning to think those who preach may feel they have not done an adequate job unless they have parsed not less than two Greek words and have offered the opinion of at least ten noted scholars. I am sure their people leave on Sunday proud to have a pastor with such a high level of academic training, but whether they understood what was said is up for debate.

I can recall an instance where I used the word “eschatological” during the sermon. Afterwards, a brother asked me what “eschatological” meant. I told him, it refers to the end times. He then replied, “Why didn’t you just say that?” I think Luther would offer the same critique.

The Reformation forever altered the theological landscape of the Christian faith, but it also changed how that faith was proclaimed, for the glory of God and for the edification of the people of God. For this reason, we celebrate Luther. May we who preach continuously re-evaluate our work in light of his, so that the people to whom we preach will grow in God’s grace and become increasingly confident in the righteousness of Christ as the basis for their justification before God.

Bryan Price pastors Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville.

The long road to peace

The docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War, will be shown in theaters one night only, May 23.

Update: Due to a near record turnout in theaters May 23, Fathom Events will bring “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem” back to theaters on June 1. To learn more visit InOurHands1967.com.

Here’s something I never thought I would do—discuss Middle East policy with Gordon Robertson, son of “700 Club” and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.

I met the younger Robertson, now the CEO of his father’s network, at the recent Evangelical Press Association Conference in Chicagoland. He was there to screen his docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War as they battled their way into the old city, eventually unifying it under Israeli control.

The film, which is being released prior to the 50th anniversary of the war in June, includes interviews with the soldiers who fought and re-enactments showing how armies from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria joined together to attempt to banish the state of Israel. It highlights the determination of the Israeli people, the tension between them and Arab leaders, how God keeps his promises, and how some of those who fought felt they didn’t really win because they didn’t keep the Temple Mount for Israel.

Robertson was incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, having made several trips to the Middle East and met many of its leaders. My conversation with him, and my viewing of the documentary, felt especially timely in light of current global events—and throws into sharp relief the severe divisions still present in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump met earlier this month Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and is likely to visit Israel at the end of May, according to media outlets. The president hopes to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, but many who are knowledgeable about the long-standing conflict between the two have noted the leaders of both appear much less willing to meet in the middle.

In a column for Denver Post, writer Greg Dobbs pointed out that the eight U.S. presidents preceding Trump have all worked in some capacity toward peace between Israel and Palestine—ultimately to no avail. “Some expended more energy and intellect than others. Some came closer than others,” Dobbs wrote. “But ultimately, all failed.”

Taken in the current context, Gordon Robertson’s documentary is an important picture of the complicated struggle that embroils the Middle East, and of the often arduous journey toward any lasting peace. The film will be shown in theaters for one night on May 23; I highly recommend it.

-Lisa Misner Sergent

woman w flowers

Almost six months ago, God gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received besides salvation and an amazing husband: a son.

Sheridan Steele Colter, born at 8 pounds and half an ounce after 30 hours of labor, is truly an answer to innumerable prayers. I’m continually in awe of the miracle of his life each time I whisper my love in his ear, stroke his strawberry-blonde hair, and tickle his tiny toes.

I’ve wanted to be a mom as far back as I can remember. My own mother modeled the role with excellence, and I grew up wanting to be just like her. Early in my marriage, however, God allowed my husband and me to experience the loss of precious life through miscarriage. Years that felt like decades passed, and with each one, we became a little less confident that we would ever become parents to biological children.

Like other holidays, this one can also be stressful.

We were in near disbelief and cautiously elated when a positive result registered on an at-home pregnancy test. We cried tears of joy that were every bit as wet and salty as those we’d shed over our previous losses. Months later, six days after his due date, our precious son arrived, a gift who shines brightly in my life, and all the brighter juxtaposed with the dimness that came before him.

I want to be sure “to forget not all [the Lord’s] benefits” (Psalm 103:2) and to thank God for the graciously sweet gift of a child. Yet, my heart remains bruised for those who approach Mother’s Day with deep sadness. Some have experienced the loss of their own mother. Some have had to bury children. Some have grieved through the pain of miscarriage. And some have watched the dream of parenthood die.

Scripture tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and on Mother’s Day, we have the opportunity to practice both ends of that command. It seems to me that most of us have an easier time with the rejoicing part, but it’s the bearing one another’s burdens portion that can prove a bit more difficult. Here are just a few thoughts on how we might do that this year:

1. Don’t try to fix it. Only God can administer the “peace which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Tell hurting friends you are praying for them, and then don’t forget to do it. Consider sending a snail mail card or even a text message to someone after you have prayed, letting them know you did so. Often, that will arrive at just the right moment to encourage your friend’s heart, and they will no doubt be grateful you’ve approached the Lord on their behalf.

2. Create an environment where they are welcomed to rejoice with you in your celebrations. Think less about the fact that it might make you feel awkward that you have been given a blessing they would love to have, and more about the fact that they might love to have something to celebrate along with you, even in the midst of their own pain. Don’t think that just because they are hurting they will not want to share in your times of rejoicing.

3. Give them space. After you have created a welcoming environment for them to join in with you, respect the fact that they might wish to step back for a moment. There is not one single way to grieve—some people might desire a bit of space to themselves as they work through their pain. This is one of those times when sending a card might be the way to go. There is nothing intrusive about an envelope with a note of care being delivered to their mailbox, but it certainly lets your friend know you have thought of them.

4. Don’t do nothing. Horrible grammar, I know. But, truly, this is not one of those if-you-just-ignore-something-it-goes-away things. Your friend is hurting, and even though you cannot take away their pain, you can acknowledge it. Be honest with your friend that you don’t know what to say but you want them to know you are there for them.

As I finish typing this, my son is squealing with delight in his swing next to my rocking chair. He is a beautiful gift and the “joy” that has come in my “morning” (Psalm 30:5). I’ll celebrate being his mom this year, thanking the Lord for his faithfulness in the darkest of times and the brightest. I pray God reveals that faithfulness to those who mourn this Mother’s Day and that my celebration won’t multiply their pain, but instead point to a God whose character is good in the bad times and the pleasant, and whose love is without end.

Sharayah Colter is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas, and owner of Colter & Co. Design.

– From Baptist Press

Trump-religious-liberty-EO

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect faith beliefs and practice in a ceremony May 4. Screen capture from WhiteHouse.gov. Courtesy Baptist Press

On May 4 – The National Day of Prayer – President Donald Trump, signed an executive order promising to provide churches, non-profit organizations, and Christian-owned business greater religious liberty. Reaction among Christians, especially evangelicals has been mixed. Here’s a round-up of some of those reactions:

Baptists cautious on Trump executive order
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “After years of open hostility toward religious institutions and conscience from the previous administration, this executive order is a welcome change in direction toward people of faith from the White House. Not only that, but many federal agencies are working already to ensure that the executive and administrative violations of religious freedom from the Obama administration are being rolled back.” Read more from Moore and other Southern Baptists.

Concern Trump’s order doesn’t address key issues
Some evangelical voices, like Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; David French, a lawyer and writer at National Review; and Gregory Baylor with Alliance Defending Freedom had critical words for the president’s religious liberty executive order. They called the order woefully inadequate, weak, and a promise unfulfilled.

What Trump understands about religious liberty in America
There is a war on religious liberty in America – and this war is targeting people of the Christian faith. An Army of militant atheists and LGBT activists are hell-bent on eradicating Christianity from the public marketplace and punishing Christians who follow the teachings of Christ. That’s why President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty Thursday in the Rose Garden – to protect Americans who have been targeted by a politically correct lynch mob.

Reaction mixed on order targeting birth control, churches, politics
Trump’s executive order targeted the Johnson Amendment, a provision of tax law which prohibits churches from getting directly involved in political campaigns. But it stopped short of his vow to “totally destroy” the amendment, instead instructing the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the law consistent with how it’s done so in the past — allowing speech on political and moral issues as long as it doesn’t advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

Analysis: Trump order unlikely to alter sermonizing
Many Americans want religious leaders to be clear about their values and how those values impact every aspect of life, including politics. And they want churches to be free to practice their faith, which includes discussing politics without any government intervention. But few want their preacher’s advice on which candidate to vote for.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine, Fox News, USA Today, Baptist Press

Michael Allen

In a complete revamp from any year in memory, the 2017 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference features pastors of average-sized SBC churches who will preach through one book of the Bible—Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago and a former president of IBSA’s Pastors’ Conference, is one of 12 pastors who will take the stage in Phoenix June 11-12. The group also includes David Choi, pastor of Chicago’s Church of the Beloved.

Allen spoke with the Illinois Baptist about his upcoming message and what pastors like him contribute to the SBC family:

Q: What passage will you preach in Phoenix?

A: I’ll be preaching Philippians 3:17-21. This passage gives us a reminder of our citizenship in heaven, and helps the church distinguish itself from the world in how we think, act, and live. And then it also reminds us that it is the resurrection power of Christ that changes us both inside and out.

Q: What do you think is unique about what smaller or average-sized churches (and their pastors) add to SBC life?

A: The conference choice of pastors who lead small and medium-sized churches helps the conference attendees better identify and relate to guys just like them. We know that most churches in America, regardless of denomination, are small (less than 100). It also highlights the fact that pastors of smaller churches can effectively handle the Word of God, even in big venues. The Scriptures remind us not to “despise small beginnings” (Zech. 4:10).

Q: The conference this year also is focused on diversity. In your opinion, what is the value of hearing from pastors of different ethnicities and backgrounds?

A: We all have a unique cultural background which colors how we see and experience life. Culture also is a lens through which we see and interpret God’s Word and God himself. So hearing from ethnically diverse preachers in our convention enriches us all, because God made us different and his intentions are that we learn from and complement each other.

Q: You represent both the Midwest and one of the country’s largest cities. What about your ministry experience in Chicago do you want the larger SBC family to hear and understand?

A: The SBC family needs to understand that the world continues to move into ever-growing metropolitan cities, making them more and more diverse—ethnically, socio-economically, religiously, and every other measurement of diversity. Therefore, we have a great opportunity to win the world to Christ without ever boarding a plane.

At the same time [increasing diversity] makes ministry more complex, and more resources are needed to do ministry here. Whatever strategy the International Mission Board is using to reach the world for Christ can and should be prayerfully considered to be employed in America’s rich and diverse urban centers. IMB and the North American Mission Board ought to continue to seek ways they can collaborate with each other for the glory of God in the salvation of souls.

The primary group of preachers at the Pastors’ Conference will be joined by four pastors who will give testimonies of how their lives and ministries have benefited from smaller membership churches:

  • SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis
  • J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
  • Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., and former SBC president
  • Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, and former SBC president

For more information on the Pastors’ Conference, including a full schedule, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.