Editor’s note: The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation collided with the reality that there are still martyrs today. Ron F. Hale, a former IBSA director of evangelism, examines the Anabaptist movement that catalyzed a second Reformation of sorts, and gives Baptists another piece of their spiritual heritage.

Balthasar_Hubmaier

Dr. Balthasar Hübmaier of Friedberg

On the heels of the Reformation came the Radical Reformers, who questioned everything that didn’t have scriptural authority. Infant baptism and the observance of Mass caused the greatest angst for Anabaptists. And like shooting stars against the backdrop of the Dark Ages, many forces came forth to snuff out these bright lights.

Sixteenth-century Anabaptists were put to death by state-church authorities as they launched the most revolutionary act of the Reformation. Thousands died—burned at the stake, drowned in the rivers of Europe, run through with swords, or starved in putrid prisons.

The wheels of this revolution began turning as young intellectuals gathered around the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli in serious study of the Greek New Testament. Some of the young theologians became convinced that Zwingli and others lacked sufficient reforms in purifying the church and recovering New Testament practices.

In all this Reformation talk, don’t forget the Anabaptists.

On the evening of Jan. 21, 1525, several men who became known as the Swiss Brethren met without Zwingli in the home of Felix Manz in Zürich. After earnest prayer, George Blaurock (a Catholic priest) begged Conrad Grebel to baptize him with true Christian baptism upon his confession of faith in Jesus.

After Blaurock received his own baptism, he baptized the others as they came humbly, promising God and each other to live separated from the world and to preach the gospel. The next morning, these young men hit the streets preaching and baptizing new believers as they boldly lived out the Great Commission of Jesus.

Thousands executed
The Zurich council vigorously suppressed this movement and established an ordinance that the teaching or preaching of Anabaptism was against the law. The radicals were derisively labeled “re-baptizers.”

Withholding your baby from the baptism font or re-baptizing citizens upon their profession of faith became illegal. Sam Storms, a pastor and former professor at Wheaton College, indicates that more than 5,000 Anabaptists were executed in Switzerland by 1535.

Felix Manz was the first person to be executed from the tiny group that met in his home on that historic night. With the support of Zwingli, Manz was taken from the Wallenberg prison tower on a cold winter day. He was taken to the fish market by the Limmat River to be read his death sentence. He was forced into a boat and escorted to a little hut in the middle of the river by a pastor and his executioner. Felix Manz was shackled and pulled from the top of the fishing hut, disappearing into his watery grave.

George Blaurock, the first to be baptized that fateful night, was later burned at the stake on Sept. 6, 1529, in Klassen (now Austria), after winning and baptizing hundreds to Christ.

The movement continues
The Anabaptist movement would grow to be important beyond the issues of Mass and infant baptism. It became a new paradigm of doing church. The old parish concept of every baby being baptized as a new member of the church was being replaced by a “free church” model where only those mature enough to confess Christ as Lord and follow him in believer’s baptism would be regenerate members of the local church. These members would observe the Lord’s Supper as a memorial meal without sacramental and medieval trappings.

Michael Sattler became important to the movement as the writer of the Seven Articles, the first Anabaptist declaration of faith. The articles, now referred to as the Schleitheim Confession of Faith, became widely circulated and accepted. However, Sattler became a marked man.

On May 20, 1527, he was tortured prior to being burned at the stake. A part of his tongue was cut out, his flesh was burned with red-hot tongs. His faithful wife, Margaretha, was drowned eight days later.

Sola Scriptura…
If biblical authority was the major issue between Magisterial Reformers (those associated with Martin Luther and John Calvin) and the Roman Catholics, believers’ baptism became that between the Anabaptists and the Magisterial Reformers. Anabaptist historian William Estep said, “Believers’ baptism was for the Anabaptists the logical implementation of the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura.”

Dr. Balthasar Hübmaier of Friedberg became the ablest defender of the Anabaptist position on believers-only baptism in the 16th century. Estep called him the Simon Peter of early Anabaptists.

Hübmaier saw that the regenerate nature of the church presupposes a certain degree of maturity, personal faith, and volition. Since infants cannot confess sins and believe, then infant baptism had to be dismissed as unscriptural. Since neither John [the Baptist], Jesus, nor the apostles taught or practiced infant baptism, Hübmaier never tired of denouncing this practice. He saw no saving power in church water. Nor could he find any New Testament evidence of a godfather or spiritual sponsor being able to believe for the infant undergoing baptism.

Hübmaier and his wife were martyred in Vienna in 1528. Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to them and other Anabaptists who stood firmly—even unto death—on Scripture, rather than church tradition, as the final authority on matters of faith and practice.

Ron F. Hale has served as a Southern Baptist pastor, denominational leader, and religion writer. He currently ministers on the pastoral staff of a local SBC congregation in his hometown of Jackson, Tenn.

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Springfield | Ten years ago, the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee sponsored a privately funded display depicting the birth of Jesus Christ at the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol. The first display of its kind in any state Capitol, the nativity scene has become a Springfield tradition in the decade since, and has been followed by similar displays in 15 other states.

Julie Zanoza, Chair Woman of the SNSC, opened this year’s ceremony Nov. 28 by reminding the audience of the two-fold purpose of SNSC’s mission: “We want to be able to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as well as demonstrate the constitutional right we have to publicly meet and celebrate his birth.”

Several other guests spoke at the dedication, representing the Thomas More Society, a law firm specializing in religious liberty issues; the Catholic Diocese of Springfield; and Hope Chapel, a Nazarene congregation in Lincoln. State Senator Sam McCann (R-Plainview) also addressed the hour-long gathering attended by around 50 people.

Greg Wooten, pastor of Hope Chapel, described the manger scene as too small for a savior. But, he said, “In a weirdly wonderful point of view, God made that small little stable big enough for the whole world to come to Jesus.”

Bernie Lutchmann, president of Business Men in Christ of Springfield, opened the gathering in prayer after reading the biblical account of John the Baptist’s birth in Luke 1.

“We had very good attendance this year,” Lutchmann said after the ceremony, “But we’re even more excited that 15 other states have adopted our idea too….And we hope that someday, the nativity scene will be displayed in all 50 of our U.S. State Capitols.”

-Story and photos by Andrew Woodrow

The Briefing

Here’s where evangelicals are giving the most and least
Giving continues to rise for many categories of ministry, according to new research released today by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). An analysis of the finances of more than 1,800 of its accredited members found a 2.2% rise in cash contributions from 2015 to 2016. This group also saw a 3.6% rise in non-cash giving, which includes income such as government grants or real estate. That adds up to $16.2 billion of giving—$12.6 billion in cash and $3.6 billion in non-cash—to evangelical ministries in 2016.

It’s official: Evangelicals appreciate Chick-fil-A the most
You could say Chick-fil-A is one of those fast-food restaurants with a cult following. But in this case, the closed-on-Sunday chicken sandwich chain clearly has a church following. Evangelicals and fellow Christians have the most positive view of the Chick-fil-A brand, according to Morning Consult’s 2017 Community Impact Ratings. In breakout poll results provided to CT, 62 percent of evangelicals considered Chick-fil-A to have a positive impact on their community, compared to 48 percent of Americans on average.

Former fire chief Cochran’s rights aired in court
A federal court is weighing not only former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran’s right to express his beliefs but the right of others as well, religious liberty advocates say. A federal judge heard arguments Nov. 17 in Atlanta regarding the city’s 2015 firing of Cochran. The city terminated Cochran, now a staff member of a Southern Baptist church, after he wrote a men’s devotional book that advocated in a brief section the biblical view of marriage and sexuality, including that homosexual behavior is immoral.

Iraqi Archbishop pleads with Trump to save 20,000 Christians
The Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, is urging President Donald Trump to help 20,000 Iraqi Christian families that have been driven out of their homes following attacks and dangers from Islamic extremists. Warda said in an interview that 20,000 Iraqi Christian families, or around 100,000 people, still need vital assistance following years of attacks by Islamic radicals and other conflicts.

Church of Sweden to stop using ‘he’ and ‘Lord’
The Church of Sweden has urged its clergy to use more gender-neutral language when referring to God and to avoid referring to the deity as “Lord” or “he”. The move is one of many made by the national Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is in the process of updating a 31-year-old handbook, which outlines how services should be conducted in terms of language, hymns and other aspects.

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

Churches urged to take lessons from Illinois’ early settlers

You know the pioneer in the video you made, Stephen Stilley?” the woman said. “I’m his great niece. Seven greats.”

Stilley was a veteran of the War of 1812 who returned home to Illinois to continue the church planting work he started before joining the army at age 47. Stilley’s name is on a plaque outside First Baptist Church of Elizabethtown, founded in 1806. It’s IBSA’s oldest continually operating congregation, and one of four IBSA churches that predate Illinois’ statehood in 1818.

FBC Elizabethtown

“When I heard his name, my ears perked up,” said Sheila Jessen, assistant for the Baptist Foundation of Illinois. “My maiden name is Stilley.

“I went home and looked it up in our genealogy,” she continued. “My great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather John was Stephen Stilley’s brother. I’m the niece of a Baptist pioneer,” she said, her eyes welling up a little. “It’s beginning to make sense why I’m at IBSA.”

The descendant of one of the pioneering forebears was having a moment that could be common to all Illinois Baptists: realizing that we are descendants of hearty stock, both spiritual and literal, and in their pioneering DNA we find the fortitude to inhabit the land and build the Kingdom.

With the observation of Illinois’ 200th anniversary set to begin in 2018, IBSA offered a new call to spread the gospel across the state.

“What are we going to do to get off of the flat line we are on as Illinois Baptists?” Executive Director Nate Adams asked at the Annual Meeting. Adams outlined a four-fold plan to engage churches in new commitments to church planting, evangelism, missions-giving, and leader development. “We think these are at the very core of what it means to have a pioneering spirit.”

As with the pioneers in the early 19th century, the need of the 21st century is brave souls willing to do whatever it takes to stake new territory, taking the gospel where it has never been before. The goal is to have 200 or more churches committed to each of the four challenges.

Roles and role models
Throughout the meeting, the theme was interpreted with a series of interviews. First up, a couple who found in her family tree inspiration to go to a new place to plant a new church.

Bryan and Marci Coble moved their family from Texas, where he was in seminary, to Chicago. After briefly considering planting a church in Portland, Oregon, the Cobles felt led to explore Marci’s home state. Her grandmother sent them a clipping from the Illinois Baptist saying more churches are needed in Chicago.

But there was another influence. Marci, who grew up in Chatham, is the granddaughter of former IBSA executive director Maurice Swinford (1988-1993). “He was like a second father to me,” she said at the meeting in Decatur. “He encouraged me and invested in my life. He planted those seeds of leadership in my life.”

New places

Answering the call to church planting led the couple to the Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago, a diverse community of Anglo, Hispanic, African American, and Asian people on the city’s north side. The location explains why Bryan wore a Chicago Cubs cap for 30 days during their exploration process. Could this diehard Cards fan from Missouri minister successfully in the heart of Cubs territory? During that month, Bryan felt a growing love for the city and its lost people.

Across Illinois, there are more than 200 places and people groups in need of an evangelical church. There are many places similar to the Cobles’ neighborhood. Many are in highly populated urban areas. Many are in small towns and rural crossroads. In all of them, gospel-teaching Baptist churches are needed.

The church planting challenge is for churches to pray for new congregations, partner with a church planter to assist his work, or to lead in the planting of a new congregation.
Talking about Jesus

Pat Pajak shares Christ everywhere—even in the hospital where he had open-heart surgery. Pat told his story to show the pioneering need to engage people with the gospel. “We need to believe that God can do a marvelous thing in our church,” Pajak said. “There are lost people all around us.”

Pajak described two emphases that will be part of his work as IBSA’s Associate Executive Director for evangelism in 2018. One of them is part of a larger project led by the North American Mission Board: Gospel Conversations. Talking about Jesus is the simple calling of every believer, but many are shy to speak up. NAMB’s goal is to register one-million gospel conversations prior to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in June. NAMB has created a website where church members can report their personal conversations with lost people. There are also short videos from people sharing their “conversation” experiences. (GCChallenge.com)

new people

Pajak announced an IBSA project to baptize 1,000 people on April 8, 2018. “One GRAND Sunday” follows Easter, with the intent that witness training and gospel conversations will lead to baptisms. “We have 8 million-plus people in the state of Illinois who don’t know Jesus,” Pajak said.

This is an evangelism challenge. “We’re praying that 200 of our IBSA churches will baptize 12 people next year,” or more than the church’s previous three-year average. The hope is that churches will turn the decline in baptisms by setting evangelism goals and equipping members to share their faith, and by engaging lost people through evangelistic events and mission trips.

The commitment is for IBSA churches to become “frequently baptizing churches.”

Walking the walk
Lindsey Yoder charmed the crowd with her account of walking from Arthur, Illinois to Nashville, Tennessee: 300 miles in 27 days. The teenager first learned about human trafficking at an AWSOM weekend for teen girls, led by Illinois Baptist Women. Then, a movie on the subject convinced Lindsey that she must do something to help free young women, girls, and boys caught in the sex trade worldwide. Even in Illinois people are forced into sexual subservience. The most common route for bringing them into the state is along I-55 from St. Louis to Chicago.

Lindsey’s story is one of sacrifice.

A 14-year-old girl from central Illinois doesn’t often take on such a massive and awful cause. But this one did, one step at a time.

“It felt like I wanted to quit a lot. I refused to quit. I don’t like to quit. Sometimes putting one foot in front of the other is a lot harder than it sounds,” Lindsey said. And yet, she kept walking. On the journey she raised enough money to sponsor two “rescues” in a South Asian country.

Such sacrifice is what it takes to save people enslaved by sin.

Lindsay’s mother, Regina, who handled logistics for the trip and followed her all the way, said the support of their church was crucial. The people of Arthur Southern Baptist Church encouraged the teen and contributed to her cause, and by their example showed how Southern Baptists everywhere give for missions.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ best channel for supporting life-saving missions. With regular, systematic, percentage giving from its offerings, each church makes the sacrifice each week. The need calls us to greater sacrifice.

New sacrifices

Here’s how Nate Adams described this missions-giving challenge. “We’re asking churches to make missions-giving a higher priority in your budget. We’re asking would your church be willing to make CP a greater percentage of your budget—if the Lord would lead you to make new sacrifices to give through CP.”

The Pioneering Spirit commitment is for 200 or more churches to increase CP giving (for example, 1% per year) with a goal of reaching at least 10% of undesignated offerings.

Follow the leader
Roger Marshall said in his first 10 years as pastor of FBC Effingham, he conducted 150 funerals. Raising up new leaders was not an option, it was imperative. So he began to pray. “God really does identify new leaders,” he said. “It’s not just about finding new slots. It’s really about finding God’s person.”

New leaders

Roger was on the platform with his brother, David, who recently retired as associate pastor at Mt. Zion, and their father, Frank, a 63-year veteran of ministry who is 94.
“Be the kind of leader someone ought to follow,” David said. “That’s what my father was.”
The senior Marshall’s advice for leader development: help people identify their spiritual gifts and put them to use. And “don’t blame someone else for what you are…. Live your responsibility.”

This is a leadership challenge. IBSA’s Mark Emerson urged pastors to commit to leadership development for current members and potential young leaders. The goal is for 200 or more churches to have intentional development processes in place.

During the Annual Meeting, 53 IBSA churches made one or more of these commitments.
As Illinois itself turns 200, it’s clear the work of Baptist pioneers, begun by Stilley and others, is as much needed today as when the state was founded.

WATCH IT
See the video about four early Baptist pioneers in Illinois. Two current pastors tell the stories of the first church planters, starting with New Design near the Mississippi River in 1796.

Plus, watch the videos about the ministry of the Cobles (“Heart for the City”) and Pat Pajak (“Sharing Christ Everywhere”).

TAKE THE CHALLENGE
Read more about the four Pioneering Spirit challenges and how IBSA can help your church with training, goal-setting, and ministry partnership. Register your church’s commitment online.

Thanks for everything on blackboard

There are a few verses that most Christ followers at least sort of know by heart. Verses like John 3:16. Or Hebrews 11:1. Or this one:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

It’s a strange passage coming from someone like the apostle Paul. He’s been bitten by snakes, shipwrecked, beaten within an inch of his life on numerous occasions, abandoned by his friends on some occasions, maligned by people he cared about on others. And yet, Paul stresses the obedience of joy and thankfulness almost as much as he stresses grace and faith.

And make no mistake—it is an issue of obedience. Often we think of joy and gratitude in the realm of feelings. Either we feel joyful or thankful, or we don’t. When we feel it, we do it. But obedience doesn’t work that way.

Obedience is doing regardless of whether you’re feeling. Thankfully, as we grow in Christ, we find the Lord not only bringing about in us the correct actions but also the correct feelings that come alongside those actions. But until we are made right and whole again, it is left to us to give ourselves to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit by continuing to do, even (and perhaps most especially) when we do not feel.

So, your gratitude—just like mine—is not a question of whether you feel thankful, but whether you are willing to obey this command from the Lord.

But there is another issue here to examine during this season set aside for giving thanks—whether there is a difference between giving thanks IN all circumstances and giving thanks FOR all circumstances.

Gratitude isn’t a matter of how we feel in the moment, but a measure of our obedience.

If there is, it means that no matter what situation you find yourself in, there is always something to be thankful for. You may not be thankful for the suffering, the pain, the hardship or the persecution, but there are other things to lift your heart. When you consider everything that the Lord is, all that he continues to do in the world, and the next world waiting for the believer, there are plenty of reasons to say “thanks,” no matter what happens to be going on.

If there’s not a difference, it means you believe that every circumstance, regardless of how devastating or marvelous, has come from God. And since you know that God is for you, not against you, then you can be thankful for the circumstance, even if you are doing so in faith. You are thankful because you believe that ultimately good will come of it.

I think people love Jesus and believe both of these things. And at the end of the day, both sets of believers are thankful.

In my own life, I have seen how, over time, you become more thankful “for.” Over time, and with perspective, you begin to see the invisible hand of God moving in times that, in the moment, you could not see. You begin to reflect on God’s providential care and love and wisdom even when he may have seemed so significantly absent. You see how he has shaped you and guided you into a deeper experience of Jesus. And so, over time, you become thankful “for.”

To bring it full circle, notice that the command here is to give thanks in all circumstances. That’s what you can do right now, even if you don’t feel like it. You can practice the discipline of gratitude, finding the grace of God, in general and in particular, at work in your life.

But as you do that, think back a bit. Think back to those moments when you thought you would never have another reason to feel thankful again. Think back, and then look and see the redemptive hand of God at work because of those times. And maybe this is the year that you are not only obediently thankful in, but also being thankful for.

Michael Kelley is director of groups ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is on Twitter at @_michaelkelley and online at michaelkelley.com, where this article first appeared.

– From Baptist Press

The real first Thanksgiving

ib2newseditor —  November 22, 2017
The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_Ferris

The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (Public domain)

Images from the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving Day feast are easy to call to mind—black hats, wide white collars, Native American guests, and an idyllic feast bringing together two very different cultures. But historian Robert Tracy McKenzie—along with others in his field—say that many of those images are, to put it simply, not true.

The Pilgrims often wore bright colors, for example. And while the 1621 feast did include Native Americans, the dynamic between the two groups was likely tense.

McKenzie, chair of the history department at Wheaton College, explores the Pilgrims’ journey from England to Holland to America in his 2013 book “The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History.”

The Pilgrims, he writes, wouldn’t have been given to celebrating very many holy days. This set them apart from the Catholic and Anglican Churches. Aside from a weekly Sabbath, the Pilgrims had two distinct reasons to call for a holy day: a day of humiliation and fasting, and a day of thanksgiving.

Both happened in 1623, as new settlers arrived while the existing colonists were already struggling to survive. Food was scarce, and now there were more mouths to feed. And on top of all that, McKenzie writes, they faced a two-month drought that summer.

The Pilgrims called a day of humiliation “to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer.” They prayed for eight or nine hours, McKenzie writes, during which the sky became overcast. Then, it rained for the next 14 days.

And then the Pilgrims saw reason for another holy day—a day of thanksgiving. McKenzie writes this particular day was very different from what we traditionally think of as the first Thanksgiving, which historians generally consider to have been a kind of harvest festival. The real first Thanksgiving, he says, was “called to acknowledge a very specific, extraordinary blessing from the Lord.”

The current vestiges of Thanksgiving Day celebrations are very different than what the Pilgrims embraced, McKenzie says. “In their view, an annual Thanksgiving taught human conceit and divine predictability and could easily degenerate into a meaningless ritual that reduced God’s provision for human news to his creation of the crop cycle.

“By observing Thanksgiving irregularly, on the other hand…the Pilgrims reminded one another to look with expectancy for God’s ongoing, direct intervention in every aspect of their lives.”

– The First Thanksgiving (IVP Academic, 2013)

Supreme Court will hear pregnancy center case
The Supreme Court announced this month it will rule on a California law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to inform clients of abortion options available elsewhere.

The FACT Act, passed in 2015, shares some similarities with an Illinois law that requires pregnancy centers and pro-life physicians to discuss abortion as a legal treatment option and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers. Multiple pregnancy centers in Illinois sued Gov. Bruce Rauner earlier this year over the law, and were granted a preliminary injunction.

Dockery elected to lead theologian group
The annual meeting of the Evangelical Theology Society focused on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The group also elected David Dockery, a Southern Baptist and president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, as president.

Zimbabwe’s Christian leaders see unrest as ‘opportunity’
The conflict between Zimbabwe’s president and its military could be resolved by a “winner-takes-all-mentality,” many of the country’s religious leaders wrote in a letter following President Robert Mugabe’s military arrest. But it doesn’t have to, they said, calling the the situation an opportunity for “permanent healing” in Zimbabwe.

Hillsong pastor won’t change marriage views, despite Australian vote
While Australian voters decided in November to legalize same-sex marriage, Brian Houston, who pastors Sydney megachurch Hillsong, said his view of marriage as between a man and a woman “will not change.”

Coming to the big screen: Apostle Paul
A silver screen version of Paul’s life is set for release next Easter. “Paul, Apostle of Christ” tells the story of a persecutor of Christians who became the world’s most famous missionary and martyr. James Faulkner stars as Paul, and “Passion of the Christ” actor Jim Caviezel is Gospel-writer Luke.